Real Estate

A little cleanup goes a long way

Clearing garden clutter will soothe the soul

It's time for autumn cleanup. This means lawn renovation, bulb planting, detail work and the last pruning before winter. We tend to look at our gardens several times a day but often never really see what's going on.

Gardens, like homes, tend to get cluttered. The only solution I can think of besides total war is to divide and conquer. What I mean is that the big project is too much to cope with, so nothing changes. What I have found is if I take one area of the garden at a time and clean that up, eventually the whole garden looks good. Here are tips for doing that.

Jack McKinnon. File photo/Palo Alto Weekly
1 Do something rather than nothing. Even little actions toward cleaning up your garden make a difference. Doing one little thing each day eventually gets big projects done.

2 Make a checklist. Airline pilots check their planes before every flight. They walk around the whole thing and look at every part on their check list. Surgeons do this as well before and during every operation. Both save lives and make the whole better. We can do the same in our gardens, with a checklist.

3 Throw something out. "If in doubt, throw it out" my father used to say. The same goes for our gardens, tool shed, old pot collection and sickly plants. There is no reason to keep a sick plant unless it is rare and can be cured.

4 Expect surprises. As Roger Von Oech says in his book "A Whack on the Side of the Head," "Columbus was looking for India, Edison was trying to make a hearing aid." Start in your garden with something and be open to new ideas. Who knows, you may have a burst of genius.

5 Think out of the box. I have known people who grew tomatoes upside down, grew sun plants in the shade and shade plants in full sun. Show a little panache and let your creative side shine.

6 Ask for help if you need it. It's natural for friends and family to respond to a good old fashioned call for HELP!. Don't try to do it all yourself.

7 Throw a gardening party and have everybody bring gloves. Of course some can bring pruning shears and trowels. You provide the snacks and lemonade and all will be fun.

8 Start completely over. Strip the old, bring in the new. In fall new planting in California is going to need some tender loving care. It still may be hot and dry so check or replace irrigation systems as needed.

9 Lawn renovation is done at this time of the year. Many people are reducing their lawn size or letting them die. I think a small well-maintained area of turf is quite appealing and if it is kept healthy with de-thatching, aeration and fertilizing the water needs are not that great. Reduced size is the key. A good design can make a small oval of turf look like a grassy meadow.

10 Make a small secret place to go and forget your troubles for an hour.

Good Gardening!

Jack McKinnon is a Garden Coach and worked at the Sunset Magazine gardens for 12 years. He can be reached at 650-455-0687 or by email at or check out his website at

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