The View From My Garden

BY: LJ Grabow

It’s Spring in Wisconsin!

Do you have your gardening wish list/to-do list/to buy list written up? No? It’s April! You need to start one! You can begin with…wait a minute. I bet you haven’t had any TIME to get a list prepared.

In fact, that’s the item that should be at the top of our list – TIME. Of course, we can’t purchase that item anywhere and it’s the item that we often have the least control over (besides our notorious Wisconsin weather, of course). Summer in Wisconsin is precious and seems to fly by. We all want to savor every beautiful minute.  How to do that with all the work that a garden entails?

Through several decades of messy trial and error, I’ve managed to come up with 12 tips to help you lessen your work load, and in the long run, save yourself precious TIME.

  1. Identify the micro-climates that you have in your own yard. For instance: a low lying area that might be cooler and moister; the area around the foundation of the house that traps and radiates warmth and will be drier; a hillside prone to runoff; areas of shade versus areas of sunlight. Keep these micro climates in mind as you set up gardens, position containers, and make plant choices.
  2. Know your soil and be realistic about it’s’ deficiencies. My soil is very shallow and rests on top of the remnants of a vast sand and gravel deposit. The soil perks rapidly and is nutrient poor. I compost and mulch. A lot. I have 3 rain barrels and need more. Fix what you can.  Plant what works in it.
  3. Know your plants! Different plants have different requirements. Roses like lots of sun and water. Hosta loves the shade. Lettuce and cabbage and peas can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked but tomatoes, peppers and beans should not be planted until after the last spring frost date. Nursing along plants in an environment that is ill suited to them will not give you positive results.
  4. You have no yard? Your yard is too shady? Your soil is lousy? Garden in containers. You can grow almost anything that way. Choose a good potting soil, the correct sized pot/container, mulch the soil and water whenever dry, know your plants requirements. You can buy some beautiful pots and containers but you can also find any number of them around your own home or at a rummage sale. I have seen flower arrangements grown in old boots and potatoes grown in old farm cattle troughs. Containers really offer a simple and easy alternative to a traditional garden. They can be completely utilitarian or be an attractive addition to a porch, patio, balcony, landing, walkway, or driveway. You choose.  Be creative!
  5. Raised beds are a pain to build but they are easy to work in and maintain. I have found they dry out quickly. Heat and drought are even more problematic in a raised bed. I used all my rain barrels and had sprinklers running last summer and it wasn’t enough. Think carefully before spending both precious hours and money on raised beds.
  6. MULCH. EVERYTHING. THAT INCLUDES CONTAINERS.  Mulching conserves moisture in the soil, adds humus and nutrients, and suppresses weeds.
  7. There is no need to cultivate the soil deeply despite what your grandmother might have told you. It spreads weed seeds, disrupts and dries the soil, and damages plant roots.
  8. Grow heirloom vegetables. They are hardier, less fussy, tastier, and more drought and pest resistant than their modern counterparts. Be advised you will probably not get the same yield but the quality is worth it!
  9. Compost.  You can make it very complicated or very easy. Make it easy. A pile or bin (several piles/bins at different stages is ideal) tucked somewhere in a convenient area of the yard or right in the garden where it can leech nutrients into the soil. Alternate layers of green (vegetable/fruit/grass clippings but NO weeds) with brown (fall leaves/a little dirt/maybe some compost from an older batch). Turn with a pitch fork every week or so. Keep the pile lightly moist.  Spread compost on the gardens in the fall. (Added tip- save your autumn leaves for composting layers in the spring/summer)
  10. Don’t want to keep a compost bin or pile? Want something even easier? Dig a 6 inch deep trench. Put your vegetable and fruit scraps in and cover with soil as the trench fills up. Plant in the trench in the spring.  (If you have a dog, cover the trench with chicken wire to keep the pooch out of it.)
  11. Garden organically. Stay away from pesticides, herbicides and rodenticides. Make your garden a welcome spot for bees, butterflies, pets and humans. You don’t need artificial fertilizers if you are making your own compost and you can easily control any number of pests by using a spray bottle and soapy water. Does this save you TIME? Maybe not.  Gardening organically is more labor intensive. Think about it as your small contribution to the health of the planet.
  12. Don’t grow any food crop that you won’t eat. Really? You’re going to eat that egg plant?


We all garden for different reasons. It’s nice, though, to have the time to sit back and enjoy the beauty of the garden and the fruits of our labor. Save yourself precious summer hours by planning ahead and keeping it simple and you’ll get the chance to admire the view! Happy gardening!

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