Garden downsizing— losses lamented; smaller celebrated

Growing beautiful gladiolus such as these will be missed at my new garden. These were planted in March at my old garden in March.

One of the things that Master Gardeners and others teach new gardeners is to not bite off too much when starting to garden. With experience one can take on more efforts if you want to. Here is what one family magazine has to say, “Be realistic when you plan your first garden. Start small; you can always expand later in the summer or next spring.”

I had to follow the ‘garden small’ advice out of necessity when I lived in the city and was a frustrated gardener with small back and front yards. I love to grow stuff and I wanted to find a place where I could fulfill my passion. I found that country place of 6 acres in 1976, where I planted and grew lots: table grapes, wine grapes, fruit trees like apples, apricots, figs, peaches, pears, plums and citrus, heirloom vegetables and melons, black berries, blueberries and myriad flowers: Camellias, roses, gladiolus, dahlias Narcissus, Iris, daylilies, zinnias and others.

Over the past 40 years, I got carried away with gardening projects and activities like canning and freezing produce. It pretty much consumed my life and then I finally realized that I was not quite up to maintaining it all as it should be maintained. I didn’t really want to give up this demanding beautiful mistress, but reality has to be faced. Age has a way of creeping up on you or perhaps it flies at you as the proverbial ‘time that flies’ or ‘life is short’. The latter proverb is not evident to youths, but I can now wonder, where did those 40 years go?

So, we made a tough decision to downsize from our current10 acres to 0.6 acres. Fortunately, I found a place that another Master Gardener had developed with a passion for gardening. There is so much that I will miss, like growing several rows of gladiolus annually. I will also miss the citrus and fruit trees, the grapes and the wine making with so many friends helping, but I will enjoy the peace of body and mind that I can now handle the beautiful diverse garden that she created. It is also easier to live in a single story rancher than in a two story Victorian. I will also stay optimistic that any fruit trees I plant will bear fruit before I fade away. Optimism is the gardener’s strength and maybe partly why gardeners live longer lives on average;

I have a nagging question as I downsize. What will the new owner; if I find one, do about all the gardens I have created? What will happen to all those wonderful plants, cared for over the years? This might be a concern that most serious gardeners experience as they move on. I am taking on a Master Gardener’s garden and I suspect that all the changes I make will not be greeted enthusiastically by her as she herself downsizes. I had to start by taking out some old mature trees to lighten the garden area for dahlias which need lots of sunlight. I am pretty passionate about dahlias as evidenced by the expense of taking out those three large, old trees. This was not an egregious desecration as she never planted the trees and they were old and tired and dahlias are lovely to view and enjoy. I hope that she will come back to see them when they bloom. I planted over 100 dahlias to enjoy—not much downsizing of that addiction!

Gladiolus will be especially missed in downsizing as their beauty won a lot of best of show ribbons at the old San Joaquin Fair when adult horticulture was in vogue.

My concern for my old garden’s future will need to be abolished sometime. Monet’s gardens were restored and revitalized recently.  Vita Sackville-West, a celebrity gardener of Virginia Wolf fame, deeded her Sissinghurst Castle gardens in England to the National Trust in 1947. Alas, most of us who love gardening are neither celebrities nor gardeners of great note, nor do we donate gardens to avoid taxes. Gardens are always a work in progress, they evolve over time and are not completed like a sculpture or a painting to be posed in a museum. They require a lot of care and maintenance over the years. I will have little to say about the future of my gardens, but just hope someone who loves plants and gardens will appreciate and enjoy them, despite the work involved.

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website:

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