Can you relate to feeling like life has become all about your to-do list?

No gardening mistake that I ever made was bigger than letting my garden be all work and no fun. Actually, though, it went beyond gardening. This mistake could have stopped me in my tracks for good.

View from Patio 2016

The Early Years

In the early years of living in our little white house, I was working full time. My husband was starting a business.

My deepest desire was to be home with my children. Meanwhile, my family was depending on me for income.

I was dealing with a long commute and a steep learning curve in the first truly professional job I’d ever held.

And I was scared to death of the general manager to begin with (although I came to like her very much by the time I left my job, five years later). I wanted to please, but during the first year in particular, I caught the whiff of disapproval and impatience whenever our paths crossed.

I was trying to be kind to my husband, who was dealing with problems of his own in getting a new business up and running.

And I was trying to make up for my daily absence by spending time with my kids reading, playing, supervising bath time – every night.

With only one income, money was tight for a few years, with all the chafing associated with having to watch every dime by necessity, rather than by choice.

In the midst of all this, gardening was my comfort, the thing I did for myself. Or at least it was in theory.

What Happened Next

In reality, I was big on ideas and great at taking a project to an initially finished state. But maintenance was my nemesis.

This drove my husband, who would happily have had a yard consisting largely of lawn, crazy.

I’d periodically do the garden equivalent of crisis cleaning. Often enough, this was instigated by my frustrated husband threatening to take the lawn mower to my gardens and pave them with grass.

I really wanted to pull it all together and be a model of seemingly effortless efficiency across the entire landscape of my life (pun intended). But I just couldn’t seem to hit my stride.

I look back on those days and feel a lot of compassion for both of us.

To say I was dealing with a lot of conflict at the time, both internal and external, is putting it mildly.

Life was Serious Business and other than the occasional bath paired with a book, it never really occurred to me to bring elements of fun or pleasure into it. Life was about getting things done that needed to be done. I alternated between dutifully throwing my weight into the harness and resenting the pressure of the load with quiet ferocity.


Things eased financially as my husband’s business started taking off. Thanks to his hard work, when I left my job, I was able to spend a year “just” being a stay-at-home mom. There was no role I wanted more fervently to play to perfection.

Unfortunately, we’re not perfect people.

And the internal conflict I talked about earlier didn’t just disappear. It was almost like I substituted the old pressure with a new one. This time, it was self-imposed pressure to be (or try to be) a “perfect” mom – to somehow make up for not being there (as I saw it at the time) before.

Life as I knew it stopped when my body took a break for me in the form of a serious illness.

My gardens went to wrack and ruin while I concentrated on regaining my health.

I can’t say I didn’t care about them at all, but the gardens just weren’t that important in comparison. It depressed me to look at the state they’d fallen into, so I didn’t do much looking.

What I Learned

Difficult though that season was, it wasn’t all bad. When I once again enjoyed health and vigor, I tentatively started making inroads into the garden again.

But this time, things were different.

For one thing, I’d learned that taking care of myself had an inherent value of its own. The penalty for taking on too much and ignoring legitimate needs was sharp.

To be honest, there’s still a part of me that keeps trying to raise the bar of what’s enough. It’s just that now, I talk back.

And I’m careful to balance work with ease. Spend an hour working in the yard? I match the energy output with something that gives me energy.

Sometimes, that’s basking in my zero-gravity chair for an hour or two with a tasty drink at hand, listening to the wind ruffle the treetops, enjoying the pleasant tiredness that comes from physical work, watching the clouds float by.

Doing nothing, in other words, that’s actually a whole lot of something.

How do you balance your energy output and input?

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