Why I needed to establish a Gardening Habit


Four years after moving in, my ambitious permaculture-inspired garden was mostly set up. I'd joyfully dug up lawns, planted trees, laid paths, built hugelkulture beds and an elaborate chicken coop. 

But once the structure and most perennial plants were in place, the enthusiasm of establishment, what I call project energy, needed to give way to habits of maintenance. Making a garden is not like making a work of art that is eventually finished. A successful garden needs regular attention, following the cycles of the seasons. As someone who loves both starting and finishing projects, this transition to ongoing maintenance proved difficult for me.  

Instead, I began a series of new projects that kept me inside and the garden was neglected for many months. Looking out my windows at the overgrown mess around my house, the garden stopped being a source of pleasure but instead felt like a burden, a guilty failure. The less time I spent in the garden, the worse I felt about gardening, and the less time I wanted to spend there. It seemed to require huge reserves of willpower just to carry out simple garden tasks.

After successfully using Gretchen Rubin's habit strategies from her book Better than Before to establish some new habits like standing at work every day, I decided I needed to establish a Gardening Habit. Using the strategies I was able to harness my natural fount of project energy and apply it to the project of establishing a Gardening Habit.  In future blog posts I will share some of the details of my Gardening Habit strategy but here's the first thing I did.

I made myself go outside and do some garden tasks, as research into my feelings about the experience.  I tried to really notice my emotional responses as I was working, whether mundane or transcendental.

 I noticed feeling overwhelmed by how much there is to do, or disappointed by the results of past mistakes; feeling the pleasure of sunshine or birdsong or the sight of a butterfly. The sense of accomplishment when a task is completed or excitement of at noticing new buds. The repetitive pleasures of chop and drop. The discomfort of cold muddy clothes. Feeling tired, thirsty, hungry or desperate to pee.

Paying attention to the feelings they helped me to see what I needed to do differently in order to reduce the amount of willpower required to garden regularly.

This is the first in a series about establishing my Gardening Habit. You can read them all here.