Piddling (verb): the art and certainly not science of spending random amounts of time in your garden, aimlessly doing nothing of significance and without any specific agenda or purpose.
Once upon a time, people worked in their gardens and yards not only to create a beautiful setting, but for the simple enjoyment provided by the process. Somewhere between then and now, we’ve lost sight of the pleasure of piddling. I believe it’s one of the greatest emotional liberators the human spirit has ever known.
Unfortunately, the act of garden piddling is losing ground so to speak to our busier lifestyles. Current trends indicate that these increasing demands on our time are competing and winning out over the more leisurely activity of gardening. Specifically, careers, children, the internet and a new generation spending less time outdoors than ever before are cited as the main reasons.
But it’s not as though people are less interested in having a beautiful garden or landscape. Simply put, busy affluent homeowners are moving away from do-it-yourself and more towards do-it-for-me. Although usually more expensive, the results are far quicker and much less demanding physically.
Outdoor rooms, equipped with kitchens, fire pits, seating areas and water features are becoming as common today as a bed of marigolds was just a few years ago. With less available time, homeowners are demanding more from their outdoor environments and the plants that go into them. Today, our backyards are becoming more an extension of our indoor living space. The biggest difference with these outdoor rooms is the sky is our ceiling and our walls are lush plants and trees.
However, as we are investing more time and money into these backyard rooms, we don’t want to live in a fishbowl either, on display for all our neighbors to see. Homeowners are so anxious for privacy and a mature looking landscape, many times they are directing their builders and landscapers to install plant material that is either too big for the location, or positioned too closely together.
They want that “Rooms-To-Go” furniture concept outdoors. However, sofas don’t get bigger over time and lamps don’t get taller. Unfortunately, some homeowners don’t take into consideration that once newly installed plants get established, many will become much larger in a relatively short time. The consequences are plants that look totally out of place for that location, or they become diseased and die due to overcrowding. Either case is not good.
Many growers have noted this movement toward instant gratification through over-planting and new alternatives are being offered. Thankfully, there are solutions for just about every situation. Along with products designed for outdoor living and entertaining, mature, dwarf, low maintenance, high impact, goof proof plants seem to be leading the way.
More and more nurseries are stocking large, mature plants and trees in varieties that are developed to grow very slowly or reach mature sizes that are a fraction of what the traditional variety would be. For example, magnolia trees that tower 50 feet tall now have related varieties such at “Little Gem” that when mature, are less than half that size. The result is a more balanced, healthy landscape and less money spent on replacement or redesign later.
This trend towards high impact, low maintenance landscapes has even had an influence on seasonal bedding plants. Colorful, yet short-lived annuals have given way to more hardy perennials, which are now being replaced by tough evergreen shrubs with interesting foliage, flowers and color. The days of replacing annual beds or even cutting back perennials at the end of the growing season are no longer necessary or as popular.
Even passionate lifelong gardeners are appreciating the innovations and choices in plant material that offers lower maintenance and sustainability. Additional benefits include improvements in foliage and flower color, pests and disease resistance. All said, the drive for more bulletproof plants with a specific purpose benefits all of us, no matter what type of gardener, even piddlers.