Benefits of Becoming An Essentialist In The Garden

Leonitus leonorus with Salvia
Leonitus leonorus with Salvia

Leonitus leonorus with Salvia
Are you a gardener who’s in a perpetual state of overwhelm?

Are you constantly feeling pressure to complete your never ending ‘to do’ list?

Do you rarely feel like you’ve mastered anyone area of your garden?

If you answered yes to any or all of the above questions, don’t worry! You’re not alone.

With our culture’s emphasis on productivity,  our ‘more is better’ mentality, and our non-stop 24/7 lifestyle,  it’s difficult to experience equanimity, balance, and a sense of self-confidence and mastery in the garden – and in life.

When I recently completed reading Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less I immediately knew that I wanted to share what I learned. This book has tremendous value for  gardeners who want to work smart, gain more joy and better results from what they’re doing, and feel less stress.

Keep in mind, as you read this article, that how we garden, I believe, is frequently a metaphor for how we are living in other areas of our lives.

Sorin garden- back hill,- yarrow, lavandula

First off,  here are the realities that are the CORE MIND- SET OF ESSENTIALISTS

1. Individual choice: We can choose how to spend our time and energy.

2. The prevalence of noise: Almost everything is noise, and very few things are exceptionally valuable.

3. The reality of trade-offs: We can’t have it all or do it all.

As the author, Greg McKeon, writes “Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”

I don’t know about you but I worked in the garden for decades with a nonessentialist attitude. I felt like I had to get everything done-from design to planting to maintenance. Yes, I was passionate and I don’t begrudge the time I put into the garden. But in hindsight, what I now understand is that I would have been better off using my energy for only a few selected projects at a given time, rather than running in millions of different directions all at once: thinking that I could do and have it all.

For example, although I was immersed in continuing to design and maintain 2 sweeping perennial beds, I decided I wanted to develop the woodland area in my garden. Rather than staying detached and reminding myself to slow down and work on one or two things at a time,  I moved forward with wild abandon, designed a huge woodland area, and created a situation that took my focus and time away from what I had been working on (and loved doing). Plus I added a tremendous amount of stress by needing to research how and what to plant in this area AND then found myself in the position of needing to maintain it.

2005-09-05 07.47.42-19.jpg-COG-31.jpg-1

“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passe. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.” Greg McKeon

Steps to take to begin to think like an Essentialist:


As gardeners, we’ve brainwashed ourselves into believing that there is SO MUCH to do. And we continue to commit to doing everything as we always have without pausing (because we see no other way).

An Essentialist actually takes the time to explore lots of options before committing to anything. Because they ultimately will only ‘go big’ on one or two activities, they explore more options and are deliberate in making the right choice.


How many times have you spent an afternoon in the garden doing dozens of different tasks feeling like you’ve accomplished little?

On the other hand, think about a time where you spent 2-3 hours in one area in the garden- working with focus and purpose to accomplish whatever your intent was? I don’t know about you but I find doing that ‘deep, focused’ work in the garden to be particularly satisfying as well as productive.


If you follow the Essentialist approach, you won’t feel the need to ‘make it happen’. Because you have taken the time to remove obstacles that would prevent from doing your work in a flowing manner, the process of execution become effortless  and joyful.

Sorin garden-


If you’re interested in becoming an Essentialist, work on giving up these 3 assumptions:

“I have to.” “It’s all important.” “I can do both.”

And replace them with these 3 core truths:

“I choose to.” “Only a few things really matter.” “I can  do anything but not everything.”

Now it’s your turn. Do you consider yourself to be a nonessentialist or an essentialist?

from Gardening Gone Wild


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