Decluttering

Sunday, 02 February 2014

Clutter can accumulate in the garden as well as in the house

Like many people at this time of year, I have been decluttering cupboards and drawers in the house. It is a horrid job, made worse by the fact that I have avoided doing it for so long that much junk has built up. It's strange that I can 'see' boxes of unused stuff in my cupboards crying out to be sorted, yet ignore them for years. Much stuff is hard to throw away because it has sentimental value - or because it simply has always just been there! I've decided that keeping anything non-essential is where hoarding begins, as the mere fact of having been kept confers a certain significance on what are really not such important items - such as every single newsletter from each school my children attended: and those children are now adults!

Plectranthus Nico with Tradescantia pallida Purpurea and Buddleja farreri growing alongside a path in my garden

I've been pondering how clutter can accumulate in the garden as well as in the house. The obvious things include an overabundance of empty plastic pots, broken garden tools and so on, but it can also involve plants. I, like most gardeners, try to cram too many plants into limited areas, and the result is a cluttered, busy-looking garden. None of the plants have enough space to really develop into the specimens that they could be. Removing plants that aren't performing well (as maybe they don't suit our climate, for example) or which simply don't please us provides space and frees up resources in the soil for the rest to flourish. Also, I have learned over the years that massing a few plants of the same type can actually look a lot better than cramming 50 different plants into the same space. The area pictured in the photo above is one of my favourite parts of the garden yet it contains only a couple of different plants. The same plants are repeated further along the border with just a few different types.

Annual Cleome hassleriana

Plants contributing to a cluttered garden may be doing poorly or be downright ugly, but because they have been there a long time, we tend to not see this objectively, so leave them there for even longer. I think it is better to get rid of a plant as soon as you realise it is a dud or fall out of love with it, to avoid it acquiring an undeserved status by simply having hung around your garden for so long. Some plants we may have once loved but we've grown tired of them, they require too much maintenance, or we just don't enjoy them anymore. One example in my garden is the tall annual Cleome. For 20 years, they have been one of the mainstays of my main summer border, but I am now completely over them, as they take up too much space, the flowers wilt badly on hot days and the plants become very gawky as they age. The plants are also horribly sticky, have thorns, and self-seed very vigorously. I've decided to grow the hybrid perennial form instead, which seems to be more compact, has none of the vices of the annual form, and flowers most of the year as well! Other plants (such as a number of my Salvia and Buddleja shrubs) are still favourites but they have become old and woody, and are in a decline - so not contributing the way they used to. They are the equivalent to the worn-out clothes in your wardrobe that really should be tossed away - and in the case of plants, replaced with fresh specimens of the same thing if you still love them!

A tip I have found useful in decluttering the house is that for every new item bought, you have to throw an old one away (or donate it to the thrift shop). The same thinking can apply in the garden, if you are tempted into buying a new plant but there is nowhere to put it. I buy very few plants nowadays, because of lack of space, but if I could be disciplined enough to remove an underperforming plant every time in order to put in a new one, this could be the way forward.

As in the house, the process of decluttering a garden requires one to walk round looking systematically and objectively at each and every plant and decide what contribution that is making to your garden, making lists if necessary. I do find the most difficult things to throw out are ones that dear friends have given me as cuttings over the years. The same applies for items given to me as presents inside the house as well - it as if the item almost personifies that friend and it would be an act of betrayal to get rid of it. However, when I really think about all presents - and plants - I have given to people over the last 40 years, there are very, very few I can really remember at all, so I wouldn't be offended to know that people have chucked them away! I try to apply the same reasoning outdoors. Another tip I've learned from the (many) decluttering guidebooks I own is to take a picture of a particularly heart-rendering item for posterity, then ditch the item itself. This has helped me part with old toys from my childhood and even baby clothes worn by my children. The same principle applies to plants that seem hard to part with - take a photo then despatch the unworthy plant. At least in gardening, the offending items can find a good home in the compost heap - or with another gardener!

Plants propagated for no reason soon clutter a bench

The potting area of a garden can become very cluttered if, like me, you tend to be unable to throw away prunings of favourite plants. It seems such a waste to compost these when they could be propagated into new plants ... but then I end up with racks of plants and have no idea what to do with them, and they become a burden to look after. It' best not to pot these cuttings up in the first place, I've decided!

The very best part about decluttering is that the older you get, the sooner you forget about what has gone from your life. One large box I found in the house recently whilst decluttering contained the label from every plant that had ever died in my garden (the labels having been kept as 'research' I was doing at one stage into which plants do and don't thrive in Sydney). I hadn't thought about any of these plants for years! AND I successfully managed to throw those plant labels away ...

Reader Comments

  • By Jean 4035 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 03 February 2014

    Oh Deidre we are going through decluttering and reshaping the garden. We hope to plant easy to maintain plants. The garden is a heavy maintenance one. We can"t go away anywhere for fear of losing our treasured plants in baskets. No one can take care of them like we do. And yes, I am forever planting cuttings and as you say, now have so many,I really don"t know where to put them. So big changes are happening. Made a note of some of the ones you mentioned in your last blog. So thanks. Jean I do think clutter is connected to maintenance and the less there is, the easier it is to maintain. Certainly that is true in the house. Good luck with your decluttering. Deirdre

  • By Peta 6253 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 03 February 2014

    Well that was well timed! I have been looking just today at the pile of plant pots that need rationalising. And I have at least two or three boxes of labels of plants that I have bought over the years that I"ve saved for some reason. Most of the pots and the labels can go. As to plants, I"ve taken out seven escallonias in the past few days that were getting far too big and bulky. We live in a fire-prone area and whilst these plants are not very flammable they could help fuel a fire. It"s funny how we keep those plant labels. I guess it is a record of plants we"ve bought but these days I write all that down in a notebook. All my empty pots went out to the council cleanup yesterday, and all were picked up by someone, so I feel better that they are going to be reused. Deirdre

  • By Janice 2211 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 03 February 2014

    Its very difficult for me to get rid of plants. My husband who doesn"t garden never lets me hear the end of it each time I remove a plant. He doesn"t understand why after 5 years I still haven"t worked out what works where in the garden. We used to have 3 wisteria plants which he bought home. I got rid of 2 of them and he used to always remind me of that until recently when I allocated wisteria pruning duties to him. LOL A good strategy, Janice. Wisteria seems to grow metres a day at this time of year. Deirdre

  • By Sue T. 2566 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 03 February 2014

    i wish i could do that. Sue I am a hoarder by nature so it is very hard for me but I am forcing myself. I can only do a bit each day - it is very draining! Deirdre

  • By Nikki 7325 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 03 February 2014

    Thanks for this Deirdre - I really relate to it on all aspects. I enjoy your blogs very much. However as I live in Tasmania, the climate is somewhat different and therefore a lot of the subjects are irrelevant (although enjoyable to read). This one rally struck a chord! Nikki Thanks, Nikki. Wish I knew about gardening in a cooler climate! Deirdre

  • By Maureen 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 03 February 2014

    Great tips for decluttering inside and outside the house Deirdre. Taking it all on board despite how one gets attached to what has been lovingly given by others over the years. Maureen Yes it is so hard to part with them. Deirdre

  • By Chris 4034 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 03 February 2014

    Thanks Deirdre, It is time as you say to de clutter in the house and garden. An attempt was made once to hand over the duty of keeping family memorabilia and was asked to put a price on my treasures,so that they could sell them in a garage sale. Maybe I am becoming a relic as well. My garden is constantly changing to what will grow with ease, it"s just a matter of finding the right hardy plants. As we age,it seems to relate to what we can do in our gardens. We are all different, like plants. Very true. Deirdre

  • By Rhonda 2830 (Zone:11B - Arid) Monday, 03 February 2014

    Ha, I can relate to these posts! I am now organising my cuttings, repotting etc, and am giving them to people who lost their gardens in bush fires. Some people have lost every skerrick of their garden, and I hope that having new plants for autumn planting will lift their spirits and help them rebuild their home. That is such a good idea; I think we forget about gardens being lost in bushfires. Deirdre

  • By Carole 2230 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 03 February 2014

    Ha from me too - only I will just sit back and moan about my need to declutter both in the house and the garden. I do have a valid excuse of health limitation but I can not bring myself to ask or pay someone else to do it. They might not do it properly ;-) In the meantime I look out and enjoy my jungle still and to those who can do may they and those like myself continue the pleasure we have. Thanks Deidre and do enjoy your decluttering :-) I agree it is hard to have someone else doing the decluttering. Though some people say it helps to work alongside someone else who is detached from our clutter! Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 03 February 2014

    Can totally relate to the task of de-cluttering, both inside and out - it is a time consuming task, but you feel better after it, except, where do you put the leftovers? In the garden, I tend to take numerous cuttings, pot them up and they have to nurture them until I can find a home for them - give to friends, to fetes, etc. I have learnt now to discard "struggling" plants, but it has taken me a long time, and it is not always an easy decision to make. It certainly is hard to take out a struggling plant. I am getting better at it now and luckily I soon forget about that plant! It is hard not to pot up cuttings. But it does create a lot of extra work, unfortunately. But everyone who receives your plants are very grateful!, Margaret! Deirdre

  • By Lynne 2479 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Tuesday, 04 February 2014

    Loved your blog on this Deirdre. Sometimes an added bonus of de-cluttering overgrown plants - a vista that had been hidden for years! Yes that is a great point. Deirdre

  • By Marinka 2041 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 04 February 2014

    I"m always de cluttering - then getting new stuff to fill up the empty spaces! :-) Yes, I am sure that will be what will happen to me too! Deirdre

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