Your Garden — A Pleaser or a Teaser?


What’s weight-loss got to do with gardening? Not what you might think. Many years ago, I read Judy Wardell’s classic weight-loss book, Thin Within. She distinguished between foods that are “pleasers” and foods that are “teasers” – between tens and zeros. I’ve since used this “tens” notion in nearly every aspect of my life. What with spring just around the corner, I’ve begun to mull over the concept in terms of gardening.

Think about your garden for a moment. How many of the plants in it are those that hold a special affinity for you? Plants that you consider so special that every time you look at them, or smell them, give you a deep-down, total satisfaction? These are pleasers, tens. They are very specific, may not be easy to obtain, or may be expensive to buy. They may have sentimental value, reminding you of a certain person, place, or time in your life. Furthermore, what you consider a pleaser can change over time.

So what are teasers? Plants that are easy to get and look great, but only for a while; plants we really didn’t plan for, because they weren’t on our minds until we saw them. Teasers can be the wrong plant in the wrong place. Or a plant we picked up to fill a hole just because it was cheap.

You could think of this as junk gardening, similar to eating junk food. If we fill our gardens up with junk plants and junk ornaments, we’ll eventually end up with a garden that is basically a teaser. It might be lush and full, but we won’t find it satisfying because it doesn’t really reflect what we want, or who we are. It will not nurture us. Thus, we might produce a picture-perfect colorful flower garden that requires lots of hot sun, when what we really crave is a low-maintenance woodland garden filled with ferns, shrubs, and trees that lowers the temperature by ten degrees and generates a sense of cool serenity.

Thinking about what really pleases us in the garden is a lot of work. It’s so tempting to have a landscape designer woosh in and tell us what to buy and where to put it. However, we would be spending a lot of money to create a garden that is a pleaser only for the designer. Despite what so-called lifestyle gardening promises, instant results cannot deliver lasting satisfaction — those special atmospherics of the garden that speak to the soul. Some lucky gardeners have a natural ability to produce this result as unconsciously as they till the soil. Others require long periods of introspection and experimentation.

Whether you execute the design and planting yourself, or hire someone else to do it for you, take the time to think through what your garden means to you. That way, you’ll be sure to get a pleaser, not a teaser.

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