Cultivated: Try a pre-season garden cleanse

January is a good time to take stock of your various garden tools, seeds and potions

Christin Geall

It wouldn’t be January without a bracing dose of self-help. Even here in the Cultivated column it’s time for some pep-talk straight-talk. Let’s start with a question: What personal habits of yours exert influence on your garden?

One of my Christmas gifts this year was a little book titled The life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing by Marie Kondo. Over six million people have read it so I wanted to as well.

Kondo’s big de-cluttering question is simple: “Does the item spark joy?” If the answer is no, an object is let go.

It would be easy to take a walk around the garden, look at your plants and ask that question, but Kondo’s method is a little more involved: you must touch every thing you contemplate. This connection and your engagement with the object allow you to thank it for its usefulness, even if that usefulness was solely the joy the plant provided you when you bought it, convinced at the cash register of your fine future together.

Given it’s January and gardens are frozen solid, I think Kondo’s methods may work best for a pre-season purge indoors. So let’s try her method with common gardening accoutrements: tools, seeds and potions.

Kondo systematically divides goods into categories, thus reducing the surfeit of stuff into more manageable sets. With this approach, one doesn’t set out to ‘clean the garage,’ but rather address one group of things.

Take tools. First, gather every single one you have from every location on your property. Heap them all in one place. This viewing of what you own (in one pile) is important as we tend to scatter objects about and thus avoid facing clutter. In my case, I have shovels stashed in two locations, hand tools in another, and a greenhouse and garage also used for garden tool storage. Compile first, then edit by asking the magic question: Does it spark joy?

Placing my hori-hori in my hand makes me happy. No question. The old trowel too large for my hand? No (and naturally I can’t recall the last time I used it). The crunchy leather garden gloves I keep as a back-up pair for roses? I won’t even slip one on my hand.

Garden tools are particularly tricky to keep track of as they move around with you in a garden. So once you’ve purged, commit the keepers to a place. Know where they go and Kondo claims you will save time looking for what you need (and lead a happier life).

Next address your seed stash. Seeds expire. Seeds are small and inexpensive, make great souvenirs and sweet gifts for gardeners. So we accumulate wacky wonders, plants we’re unlikely to grow. Loofa squash seeds? Blue poppies? Address your folly. Appreciate the fact that you wouldn’t be a gardening at all if you weren’t the type to run long on hope. Love this about yourself and let go. Or read the packet’s date stamp and purge. Organize what remains by sow date, stacking your seed like index cards for flip-through access.

Next: How often did you really spray that anti-Bambi stuff on your plants? This category I’ll call potions given it includes powders and poisons. Everything from old lime, to deer repellents, to fertilizers, pesticides and fishy foliar feed. Not long in the joy department, these are the only oh-so-rarely applied salves for poor horticultural practices. (I’m being a bit harsh for your benefit, but most pest problems arise from health issues. 2017 mantra: prevent, don’t poison. And if you do get rid of poisons, do so responsibly please.)

Keep what might feed your soil or plants and kibosh the rest. As the owner of glacial rock dust and mycorrhiza, I am not above a little juju.

But use it or lose it, Kondo says. Move on.

Christin Geall is an avid Oak Bay gardener and a creative non-fiction writing instructor at the University of Victoria.


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