For years, it’s taken us half the summer or more to get our gardens and yard in shape after winter gives way to spring. We have an acre here and while there’s a fair amount of lawn to mow, the gardens take up more of the available space than grass.

I wasn’t always a gardener. Oh, we have always had a small vegetable garden “out back” and I planted a petunia or two up around the house, but hard core gardening? Not until 2005 did I make it an obsession.

The next few years after that were spent in an attempt to grow All The Plants. The flower beds grew exponentially and my husband and I had many a “discussion” over the removal of grass. I won more of those battles than I lost.

After a few years of establishing flower beds, raised beds, vegetable beds, and even an orphan bed (for plants that didn’t play well with others that I couldn’t quite get rid of), it was clear that we were in it for the long haul. It was at this point that my mother, a lifelong experienced gardener, said to us, “You’re creating a monster here.”

What? A monster? What does that mean? We thought things looked pretty awesome. Lots of flowers, sweet-smelling herbs, delicious vegetables… those didn’t seem monstrous to us. It was all part of our growing experience and we were proud of it!

Being 20+ years older than us meant, of course, that she looked at our property with different eyes. Because she’d been there herself, she knew the day would come when we would see all those beautiful gardens in a different light.

It’s now 15 years or so later and we’re beginning to understand. For years, people would say to us, “It’s beautiful, but it looks like a lot of work.” We’d deny, deny, deny and say, “Not really. Only in the spring, when we have to clean things up and mulch.” And for the most part, it was and still is true.

The beds are full of plants, so between that and mulching, there isn’t much weeding to do. I enjoy weeding because of that, and a quick swipe through on a daily basis or so makes it pretty easy to maintain. I love pruning and deadheading too, so those tasks are a joy to do as well. If it’s fun, it’s not work, right?

Anything like this worth having IS work. It doesn’t just happen. I started justifying things by thinking of our gardens as being similar to giving birth to a baby. Labor sucks. But what you get in the end makes it all worth it. Yet, even the child-bearing years come to an end.

Gardening doesn’t have to. You just have to know what you can handle without it being overwhelming. At this stage of our lives (mid-60s), things look and feel different than they did when we started.

This doesn’t mean that our gardens are being returned to grass lawn. It just means we’re trying to be smarter about what we plant and what we’re willing or able to do. While I was once happy to get out there and give that Ligularia the extra water it needed, I no longer am.

I’m also more aware of my limitations as a gardener. There are some things I’m just not capable of doing as well as I used to. The day after this column goes to print, I’ll be having cervical spinal fusion to correct a situation caused mainly by 40 years of being a dental hygienist.

Though I’m getting the problem fixed with my neck, I still need to consider that every year I’m getting older. I truly enjoy gardening and want to keep doing it, but now I look at what it costs my body to do things rather than what it costs my wallet.

There are few things more rewarding than gardening. Those of us who do it know that. It’s why we keep doing it, even if it may look and feel a little different as time goes on. I’m learning to not take on more than I can handle, to scale back on my plant wants, and trying not to rely on my husband to bail me out when I’ve gone too far.

Thankfully, gardening isn’t an all-or-none endeavor. Do it a little or do it a lot – the things that make it enjoyable are still there. No matter what your age or limitations, for many of us, there’s a garden of some sort. For us, for now, we garden on, just at a little slower pace.

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