The Gestalt Gardener: Dissonance can rear its stressful head in the garden


Dissonance is a real thing in the garden, often rearing its stressful head in everyday “if you do it, if you don’t” dilemmas.

I spent two hot, sweaty hours this week pulling out a plant I treasure, all the while mumbling about all the little seedlings I missed. On the one hand, it is a durable evergreen shrub with multiple landscape values. On the other hand, it occupies entire flowerbeds, crowding out everything else.

I hesitate to tell you the name of the plant, lest mere invocation harm my efforts to get it out of my garden, or someone should get the idea that I do not cherish the plant despite its propensity to hiking. Suffice to say, I planted it because I wanted to, but now I have more than I can handle.

I guess I could ignore it, but that’s a fateful decision in itself. And my little garden doesn’t have the luxury of room for the plant to run wild. Incidentally, while I’m not one to drop things, I subscribe to a simple 1960s platitude I posted on my computer that still holds true today. In order of importance, “If you can’t fix it, run from it or fight it, sink with it.”

I know, some people say that only a dead fish goes with the flow. But where the conventional wisdom for dealing with quicksand is to relax, lay down and float on it, then slowly back down to firm ground; it’s a lot easier said than done because your brain is screaming for you to struggle.

Fortunately, most of our garden problems are not so urgent and do not require such quick and dramatic decisions. Aside from plant pests, most garden problems are not life or death situations and can be pondered for a while until an acceptable solution is found.

There are of course some urgent situations. I sometimes surprise wandering birds, bats, snakes, lizards, wood cockroaches and termites in my house. I have to get up and do something. And this time a tree fell on my truck and split open, knocking over a beehive of startled and upset bees. And my water garden fountain pump once broke and clogged the pond and its fish with oil. And I overdid the nitrogen in my compost pile, and it temporarily caught fire. They were all emergencies.

But what about when you find yourself with a major garden dilemma for which all the solutions are equally difficult? Say you have a willful oak seedling that promises good shade but has grown into the crack in the sidewalk? And end up destroying the sidewalk while shading the sun-loving daylilies? A shade tree is certainly valuable, but does it remain or must it disappear?

There are other very desirable plants that, once established, are nearly impossible to control. Pulling up isn’t fun, but spraying with herbicides isn’t always practical, nor does it prevent weeds from coming back from bulbs or seeds.

Dissonance is a fantastic motivator, to fix what you can as easily as possible. With the tree, you might learn to love hostas, ferns, and other shade plants. Gardening is more than mowing the grass, isn’t it?

As far as pretty weeds go, my best advice, which I personally don’t like but don’t have a reliable professional alternative, is to pull the plants out, mulch them heavily, then within a few weeks, ditch them. ‘tear out what I missed and mulch some more. Gets easier each time we stay on top. Meanwhile, repeat the pull/mulch thing until you win or move.

Life is short and the garden is the last place to worry. Follow it if you can.

Felder Rushing is a Mississippi “Gestalt Gardener” author, columnist and host on MPB Think Radio. Email your gardening questions to


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