Mental Gardening


February 5, 2016 by Jean

side slopeDreary winter days are a great time to get out into the garden of the imagination while remaining warm and cozy indoors. This winter, I’ve been taking advantage of the Portland Public Library’s great collection of gardening books for inspiration. On Wednesday, with cold rain pouring down outside, I sat down at my desk to begin designing the next section of my new front garden.

The photo above is of the slope on the side of my house where this planting will go. Many gardeners can look at a site like this and then just buy plants and put them in the ground. Because I have lousy spatial reasoning skills, this approach doesn’t work for me; I’m always surprised by either how many or how few plants can fit in the space available. So I carefully lay out a planting plan before I begin(knowing that it will inevitably get adjusted to conditions on the ground). I used to do this on graph paper, but now I use the computer. I don’t need a fancy CAD program; Microsoft Word’s drawing tools are good enough for me. Playing with the shapes and colors reminds me of coloring (even better, because you can change your mind and change the colors with just a click of the mouse!).

I had created a file with a close approximation of the awkward shape of this slope months ago, so I opened the file and began to fill it in. First I put in some lines to represent horizontal bands of plants that would help to give this amorphous space some structure and definition. By the time I went to bed, I had added shrubs at both ends of the slope to provide needed mass and put in a row of Baptisia and peonies along the top. (To see the status of the plan when I went to bed on Wednesday night, click here.)

Of course, when you are working on a project like this, your brain doesn’t necessarily stop when you turn off the lights and get into bed. As I lay between waking and sleep, I was problem solving issues in the design and mentally moving plants around. I even dreamed about this garden design. By the time I got up in the morning, I had changed the number and location of some plants along the top of the flower bed and made a list of other plants I wanted to include. I was so eager to get those changes recorded that I was at my computer working before I had even showered and dressed, eaten breakfast, or made my morning pot of tea. Of course, this totally threw off my schedule for the rest of the day. But that’s one of the joys of retirement – you can jettison your schedule and go with the flow when the creative urge strikes. By the end of the day on Thursday, I had a draft of the whole planting design:


This is not the final design for this planting; I still have about three more months of mental gardening ahead of me before I can get out and actually work on this. During those months, as I learn more and think more, I will make revisions. I am already looking for places to include some clumps of Liatris. And I always end up making changes when it’s time to buy plants and when I actually put them in the ground. As I sit at my desk on a snowy February morning, mental gardening warms my soul.

5 thoughts on “Mental Gardening

  1. Janet Stavropoulos says:

    Should be beautiful, Jean! You clearly don’t have the issue with urban deer that we have in southern Indiana! They see our hostas and day lilies, especially, as lettuce; and their interest requires a lot of net fencing.

    • Jean says:

      Janet, I guess one advantage of living in a rural area is that we don’t have urban deer problems. I do get occasional deer in my garden, but plants are mostly vulnerable in early spring when the deer are very hungry and the pickings are slim. I have one euonymous that is still the same size today that it was when I planted it more than a dozen years ago, because the deer browse it back to size each spring. There are some plants right at the edge of the woods that I cover with netting in late winter to protect them from spring browsing. Otherwise, as long as I walk around the garden each day and leave my scent, the deer shy away.

  2. Jean R. says:

    I wish we lived close-by. I could give you enough Hostas to fill in all your projected Hosta needs. Mine are beautiful but grow like weeds and need thinning every other year. It’s going to be fun to follow you this summer.

    Planning while trying to sleep is a major issue with me, too. Sometimes I’ll have to take a sleeping pill just to turn off my brain. But often in the morning, solutions or ideas show up to amaze me.

    • Jean says:

      LOL, Jean, even if we lived nearby I wouldn’t be in the market for your hostas. I wouldn’t normally plant hostas in an area this sunny. But I need to thin out the ones growing in the same conditions nearby on the back slope. I’ve already revised this considerably since I posted it. I love how easy it is to move those plants around on the computer screen!

  3. I do so much mental gardening but need to get my plans down on paper. I also have spatial reasoning issues so plans are essential…this will be new for me. And sticking with a plan will also be new…..I have been waiting to finally get some new plans done for my garden. It has been waiting for so long.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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