A Guide to Planting with Purpose

A good garden has a lot in common with a good recipe. You start with a detailed plan and enjoy the results, but suddenly you’re adding a tablespoon and a half cup of food to make it your own. Before long, you’re cooking by feel rather than using strict measurements.

I do gardening the way I cook and there’s nothing quite like it. That’s all it takes to dive in with a loose idea of ​​what to produce.

Most plants are either thrown from job sites or salvaged from clearance racks at the garden center. I try to work with a particular palette of color, but in the end I plant by intuition alone.

That’s “ish” gardening. Learn the basics and the recipe for success, then dive into the project with burning ambitions. By relinquishing some degree of control to the garden, we can breathe a sigh of relief, and enjoy our time there more.

This won’t be your typical gardening post; Here are other excellent articles on The Gardener’s Path that have that covered! Instead you are going to read about one of the reasons why to garden.

We’ll get there by taking a look at the basic ideas of “ish” gardening.

but first…

Before we jump in, it’s a good idea to refresh your understanding of basic garden design.

Some people want an outdoor space with clean, straight lines and carefully pruned shrubs with neat perennial arrangements. These are formal gardens.

Formal gardens have a sense of purpose and design. Straight lines and symmetrical plantings become the focal point themselves. Here, the land is transformed and reorganized in the vision of ideal perfection.

The plants here are trimmed immaculately. Beautiful statuary and water fountains are usually found in the formal gardens, and well-manicured walkways guide visitors on a tour of the space.

The formal garden is fringed with boxwoods and crab apples, and majus between the stepping stones. Photo by Matt Suwak.

At the other end of the scale are the more naturalistic designs; Flowing and curving bed lines, a smattering of native wildflowers, and a no small accumulation of garden statuary and a hodgepodge of decor. This is called informal garden.

Informal gardens are less structured but have exciting attractions. The splash of yellow from Carolina lupine serves as an attraction in itself, and the hues of garden features keep an eye out for unexpected surprises. The natural terrain is used as an accompaniment to the garden design.

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The Informal Garden, a grassy area with a dozen different plants planted haphazardly. Photo by Matt Suwak.

At the end of the day, most gardens fit into either the formal or informal category. So where does “ish” gardening fit in?

It fits anywhere you want it! One of the greatest virtues of “ish” gardening is that it is not subject to any particular style because it is all about feel.

folk wisdom

Growing alliums to ward off Japanese beetles and planting marigolds to repel unwanted garden pests are examples of good ol’ knowledge.

There’s no hard evidence that supports that any of these tricks work; I’ve planted marigolds around all my tomatoes, but it hasn’t stopped the hornet bug infestation! But this approach to gardening is the direction we want to go.

It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s a concept at the heart of gardening. One of mankind’s oldest inventions is agriculture, and we only got better at the activity by listening to the oral lessons of our forefathers.

A more practical perspective on the value of people’s knowledge is that making mistakes makes you a better gardener. I’ve always said that the secret to a green thumb is to paint it that color with lots of dead plants.

You can digest a hundred books on gardening and still watch that basil wither. Folk wisdom is like street smarts for gardeners.
I’ve always said that the secret to a green thumb is to paint it that color with lots of dead plants.

Gardening “ish” contains a library of knowledge unique to each gardener. That’s why you’re reading this article now – because everyone has their own piece of the puzzle! Deeply scan through the information on The Gardener’s Path for tips and tricks and share it with your fellow gardeners.

plant with purpose

There’s a scene in Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, the greatest movie of all time, that really applies to gardening “ish”.

In the scene, Bruce plays a monk teaching a novice how to throw a punch properly. But instead of showing the young student the physical technique behind the punch, Bruce tells the student to punch with “emotional content”.

When the student fails and strikes out with anger, he learns that he needs to practice his art with focus and intention.

Throwing punches is not enough; The student should feel the punch and understand why he is doing this. In much the same way, gardeners should feel like they’re doing what they’re doing, rather than just going through the paces to achieve some stale goal.

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There are as many reasons to garden as there are gardeners, but they all have an underlying theme. We love to garden. The specific aspects we care so much about are not important, but the practice is what moves us forward.

“ish” gardening has only one real requirement: that the gardener care about what they’re doing with unconditional love. Love for tomatoes with blossom end rot, love for sun-sick begonias, and love for every last slug crawling out there.

There’s no need to create sonnets for your sunflowers. I mean, you could, but you don’t need to.

Instead, consider your intention when gardening. I know I’m prone to frustration when gardening. After working nine hours a day in other people’s gardens, sometimes the last place I want to do is get down on my knees clearing the ground in my yard!

So, instead of feeding into those frustrations, I step outside and kick off my shoes. Often I take slow walks and greet the plants (more on that in the next section!), taking in all the growing things around me.

After walking around for a few minutes, I can jump into the weeding without hesitation. I am determined to take care of my much-loved garden away from household chores. Instead of powering blankly through work, I am cultivating gratitude.

If we’re not gardening for the love of it, then what are we there for? The next time you’re pruning or fertilizing, think about how you feel when you do it and decide if that’s the intention you want to put into your plants.

respect the plant

In early summer I was tasked with routinely removing large amounts of poison ivy. My co-workers became increasingly concerned that I never developed the typical itchy rash that plagues poison ivy handlers. He asked how I avoided contact and I replied, “I befriended poison ivy.”

It’s a trick from a book that I consider essential reading for any gardener, John Eastman’s Book of Forests and Thickets, available on Amazon. This book is not intended for plant identification, rather it is intended to illustrate material commonly omitted in ID guides. Eastman recommends that people who spend a lot of time in the woods befriend poison ivy to avoid an itchy rash.

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The Book of Forest and Thicket: Trees, Shrubs and Wildflowers of Eastern North America

“Hey, Poison Ivy,” I’d say. “You can grow anywhere you want, but you can’t grow here.” I removed it carefully, folding each vine and leaf into a small bundle before throwing them into a bucket to hold the stuff securely.

And it’s true. I know it sounds a bit weird of me talking to plants (at least to people who don’t garden…), but a little conversation helped me avoid contact with the leaves.

Did it know what I was talking about? maybe maybe not. But the conversation helped me become more aware of what I was doing and encouraged me to respect the plant.

A freeform garden walkway where ivy, daylilies, and sweet peas were allowed to grow freely before being cut into the path. Photo by Matt Suwak.

“ish” gardening encourages being respectful of the plants we work with. When there is a realization that everything in the garden is a living thing, and the garden itself is one big living thing made up of many smaller things, respect blossoms between the gardener and the gardener.

Our plants trust us to give them what they need, so in return we must trust that a rose knows how to be a rose. The garden has its own habitat in your local ecosystem. Everything we do in the garden affects everything that happens outside.

garden and gardener

Everything is pretty straightforward in “ish” gardening, and so is the intent: to merge the gardener and the gardener into one. It’s an exercise that encourages relaxation and hands-on learning, and most importantly, respects the garden as a living thing.

“ish” gardening encourages wildlife to come into the garden to help complete the mosaic. There’s no need to take everything out of the garden, and living creatures are often invited into this green space.

A favorite backyard visitor. Photo by Matt Suwak.

These gardens may not win awards, but they certainly are recognized as places that are lovingly tended to by their gardeners. And for the gardeners themselves, it’s a welcoming place to pair up.

What approach do you have to gardening? Tell us about it on the Gardener’s Path Facebook page or in the comments below!

Photos by Matt Suwak, © Ask the Experts, LLC. All rights reserved. See our TOS for more details. Book cover image via Stackpole Books. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.