When people look at my luxurious tiny garden, they think I spend all my time in there. In fact, most non-gardeners are under the impression that gardening is difficult and time-consuming – a hobby for retired people who have nothing but time on their hands.
Well, as a professional in my mid-thirties, I can tell you gardening is not that hard. Not by my standards, anyway. I’m talking about owning a small or mid-sized kitchen garden, not a full-fledged farm. If you’re tempted to start your own garden, you’ve come to the right place. I’ll try to describe, in a nutshell, what kind of efforts gardening requires.
Gardening is hard work, but well worth it
Objectively speaking, yes, gardening is hard work. It can challenge you physically and mentally, but only in certain seasons. And if you’re passionate about it (which you soon will be if you go down this road), it won’t even feel like work.
Here’s where gardening can sometimes get difficult:
Planning for a garden can get overwhelming
You can start a garden on a whim, without a plan, but most of the gardeners I know are big planners. If you’re a type A personality, you’ll love this part of a job.
Believe it or not, gardening starts in January, when there’s still snow on the ground. That’s when you map out what you want to grow, plan for new beds and structures, order new seeds and make sure you have all the tools you need.
All this can get overwhelming and you may feel like there’s too much to do, buy, build – and too little time. But it’s part of the job.
Physical work isn’t for everybody
As you might suspect, gardening has a very physical aspect to it. There’s a lot of bending and kneeling involved. At times, you’ll need to dig, handle a wheelbarrow, lift heavy bags of compost, or risk your life on a ladder while building a trellis.
Gardening involves a lot of DIY, so if you’re not much of a handyman (or handywoman), it can get difficult. Some tasks, like digging trenches or building compost stations even require a lot of strength.
To be honest, I don’t have that kind of strength. Fortunately, I have my husband to rely on, but I’ve even hired workers for more complicated work like building fences or permanent trellises.
If you have a chronic illness or a bad back and can’t do a lot of physical work, don’t worry. Gardening isn’t off limits just yet. Get yourself some gardening elevated planter boxes so that you’re upright when you’re planting, and choose plants that are small and won’t grow out of hand – like lettuce, radishes, spring onions, herbs or determinate cherry tomatoes. The options are basically endless.
Garden work can be tedious
Pulling weeds is tedious for some, therapeutic for others. I kind of like it. What I don’t like, though, is sowing thousands of tiny seeds, then having to thin them and transplant them into bigger pots. We all have our own idea of an annoying task.
Gardening has a lot of tiny chores to get done – much like housework. You need to clean and disinfect trays and pots, sow, water, keep seedlings alive. You make a big mess so you need to clean up after yourself, clean tools after each use (not gonna lie, I skip that one), pull dead plants, prune, stake…there are a million things to do.
Some will be slow and tedious. Others, exciting and rewarding. You won’t know until you try.
Gardening requires a lot of learning
During a conversation about gardening, a friend asked me – “How do you know all this stuff?” And she was right, it wasn’t like I grew up on a farm or picked up gardening from my parents. That’s when I stopped and marveled at how much I’d learned in the past couple of years.
Learning comes naturally in gardening, but it does require some intentional effort. And for some people that might be hard and confusing at first. There are hundreds of books you can read and countless YouTube channels to follow (shameless plug to my channel).
But the cool thing is, you read because you NEED this information. You’re in the thick of it. So even if it feels hard, it’s doable, and even fun. Here, at Tiny Garden Habit, you’ll find 100+ resources on starting seeds and caring for all kinds of plants.
What is the hardest part of gardening?
By far, the hardest part of gardening is getting the garden started. It’s much like building a house. You decide if you want to build a hut, a tiny house or a mansion. With gardening, you can go dig or no-dig, raised beds or in ground beds, neat weed-free paths or just grass, vertical or container gardening, the options are endless.
Building a garden and adding structures to it – a fence, trellises, a polytunnel or greenhouse – is hard, labor-intensive work. It can also get very expensive. But once you do it, it will last you for years to come, and you’ll just make it better and better.
The second hardest thing about gardening is keeping plants alive when they’re really young. You have to deal with frosts, pests, or poor germination rates. If you’re growing your seedlings indoors, it can still get tricky, as you can easily overwater seedlings, or start them too early to survive. Starting seeds is a skill you’ll learn in time, but don’t be surprised if you struggle with it at first.
And lastly, it’s sometimes hard to stay consistent. A garden isn’t something you just start in spring and then ignore for the rest of the year. It requires consistent, weekly (if not daily) work. But sometimes life can throw curveballs at us and our gardens get away from us – even then, it’s not too late to recover. Check my garden tour after a long absence to see what I mean:
Is a garden hard to maintain?
Garden maintenance can get difficult because there are so many things to stay on top of. But there are some hacks to maintaining your garden.
For example, if you’re very diligent in spring, weed your beds consistently, practice no dig and use barriers to keep pests away, you can relax in early summer and step back a bit.
Gardening chores come in waves. There’s busy work in early spring, with sowing and transplanting. Then you get to take a break for a month or two, as your plants grow. Next, summer comes, with booming growth, and you need to stay on top of pruning and harvesting, unless you want your garden to become a jungle.
Autumn is a bountiful season, but there’s hard work involved, like curing, storing, pickling, canning and freezing your food. Which you’ll also be doing in summer, by the way. Autumn is also the time for cleanup, bed prep and compost amendments.
So, while weeds tend to go down over the years, garden maintenance isn’t just about weeding or watering. It’s about getting things done at the right time.
Is gardening time-consuming?
How much time you want to invest in your gardening hobby is up to you. At the very least, with a mid-sized garden, you want to spend at least 2-3 hours per week in your garden. Some months it will be less, and some it will be more.
I like to divide my time in the garden in two ways:
- Doing my “rounds” – every day I take a 15-30 min stroll in the garden, check for pests, do some harvesting (at the very least, that’s where our lunch salad comes from every day), and see what needs to get done. I sometimes just sit there and admire the miracle of plants growing – it’s very therapeutic.
- Scheduling time for bigger chores – I could have a transplanting day, a pruning day, a weeding day or a harvesting / bed prep day. There are all kinds of tasks to choose from, and picking a stretch of 2-3 hours over the weekend is perfect. I often end up losing track of time and doing much more than I anticipated. It’s also a great way to bond with family.
So if you have 3-4 hours in a week, you’ll have an excellent garden. If you have even less time, you can still have a great garden, just scale it down a bit – maybe stick to just a few beds or a balcony container garden.
Does gardening make you feel good?
Okay, so we’ve established that gardening is hard. Anything worth having or experiencing can be challenging at times. But if you can get passed that, gardening can make you feel really good. Here’s how you’ll be rewarded:
- You’ll spend more time in the sun without trying too hard. Yes, we’re all defficient in vitamin D these days, but not during gardening season! So put some sunscreen on and let your body enjoy those rays that are so essential for our wellbeing.
- Organic produce from your garden can cure all kinds of ailments. You’ll literally feel your insides being flooded with nutrients if you only eat what you grow, and that can do wonders to the body. As someone with chronic bowel issues, infertility and all kinds of stress-related problems, I can attest that my garden helped fix many issues.
- You’ll move and it will feel good. Yes, your back will hurt and you’ll feel tired – but there’s a satisfaction to it. A feeling that we’ve lost after spending so much time indoors at our desks. My grandparents were farmers and they always looked so content after a hard day of physical work.
- Gardening is amazing for anxiety. It’s a moving meditation – you feel the wind, hear the birds, see the bugs and wildlife. You’re out of your head for a while, because there’s no way you can get your hands in the soil and still think about your problems. I’ve been there, so I know.
- Soil bacteria wants you to be happy. Speaking of getting your hands dirty – here’s a fun fact. Research suggests that mycobacterium in the soil improves brain function and mood. There are also plenty of resources about grounding – walking barefoot in the garden and physically connecting to the earth as a way to feel better.
I’ve felt dread many times when thinking about tasks I had to do in the garden. But I never felt bad AFTER (or even during) doing them. Just like with exercise, it’s hard to get started with gardening, but once you do, you’re on a momentum that brings lots of joy.
Are you excited yet? You’d better be, because I’m excited for you! This year is going to be glorious! But before you get started, here are a few things to help you keep things easy and joyful:
- Keep it simple. If you’re a beginner, only start with a couple of beds in your first year of gardening. You can expand during the 2nd and 3rd year – you’ll surely be an expert by then!
- Don’t grow too many vegetables and varieties at once. This is a trap that many gardeners fall into – even experienced ones. We always want to grow that special, one of a kind, veggie. But remember, you’re learning – so stick to the basics and only choose to grow what you like to eat.
- Some plants will fail and that’s okay. You may have slug damage, drought, blight – all kinds of problems. Don’t panic, it’s normal to lose a part of your crop. If you notice ALL your plants dying, it might have something to do with the soil you bought – and not with your gardening skills at all. Toss that soil, buy good organic compost and try again.
Gardening is hard and beautiful at the same time. You don’t have to be retired to do it, you can be young or old, single or a busy parent, healthy and strong or dealing with a disability. Gardening can be such a blessing once you give it a try. Hope to have you in our community soon!