Debra Prinzing

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Gardener’s Resolutions

December 30th, 2008

In early 2005, Cool Springs Press published the Washington & Oregon Gardener’s Guide, a book I co-authored with the wise and gifted garden writer Mary Robson. We combined our talents to share years of garden experience to help readers plan, plant, and maintain a beautiful and healthy garden.

The book is filled with our personal recommendations of plants that thrive in the Northwest, presented in a concise, helpful format. The major challenge of writing WOGG, as we called it, was to limit ourselves to 186 individual plant selections, from annuals to vines. No gardener wants to be told she has to “choose” a finite plant list!

Our fabulous publicist, Lola Honeybone, who now runs Media Workshop, a Nashville-based book PR shop, suggested that Mary (shown at left) and I develop a lecture to accompany our book-signings and appearances. She dreamed up the title “Seven Habits of a Highly Successful Gardener.” Lola’s clever angle brought Mary and me together for a 2005 lecture at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle. It was so much fun to plan this talk knowing Mary and I would have a friendly give-and-take as we walked the audience through our Seven Tips.

Later, our friend Richard Turner, editor of Pacific Horticulture, asked us to turn the lecture into an article. Here is the article, from the journal’s Winter 2006 issue. It seems appropriate to share this as we approach 2009 – and I encourage you to adapt these tips for your own New Year in the Garden:

Seven Habits of a Highly Successful Gardener

Gardeners in the west enjoy the unique luxury of living with few rules about what’s right or wrong in the way we grow our plants. We appreciate and adapt to our garden’s cultural conditions. We are overwhelmed with a seemingly endless selection of excellent, healthy and suitable trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, vines, bulbs and ground covers from which to choose for our landscapes.

In the Pacific Northwest [my former home], we’re particularly lucky to have temperate conditions where it’s not too hot – and not too cold. This welcoming, plant-friendly climate bestows added blessings. Imagine how hard it was for us to compile a regional gardening book and limit ourselves to only 186 great plants!

Perhaps the horticultural excesses in our lives call for a little discipline. Certainly, we want to be good stewards of our gardens, both to ensure our immediate enjoyment and the long-term health of the plants and places we tend.

So, with apologies to the original “7 Habits” author Steven R. Covey, we offer the following Seven Habits of a Highly Successful Gardener:


Invest time in knowing your garden’s micro climate, noting everything from light patterns to the location of sheltered or exposed spots. This skill also benefits plants, as you can watch for clues about the type of care they need. As you assess your site, take note of the following:

Follow the shade and plant accordingly

Know where it’s hot and dry


With thousands of plants from which to choose, you’re more likely to realize success as a gardener if you enjoy the plants you grow. If a plant is high-maintenance, aggressive or an under performer, it’s okay to edit it (okay, we mean dig it up and toss it) from the garden!

As we gardeners mature, we move beyond our passion for lavish blooms to a humble appreciation for stunning specimen trees and shrubs. We embrace plants with unique foliage and plants that serve specific roles in our design scheme. Here are some of our tips for selecting plants:


Find useful reference books and plant lists, tour gardens, visit nurseries and keep learning about your own plants.

Local garden tours have introduced us to the creative efforts of hundreds of gardeners and their private “Edens.” Likewise, when we visit botanical gardens, arboretums and nursery plant displays, we amass an abundance of great ideas for plant choices, placement and design.

Be a student of your surroundings and do your plant homework:


When you understand the conditions that add up to healthy soil, you have the key to success. A high “Soil I-Q” will help you and your plants survive the Northwest’s soggy winters. In other regions, you may be gardening in sandy or hard-pan soil. Once you know the composition of the soil in your garden, you can begin improving it.


When you understand how to cope with summer drought, your plant choices will begin to reflect that reality. Gardeners in the maritime Northwest region have a further challenge, which is choosing plants adapted to dry summers and wet winters.

Try these tips for water-smart gardening:


Don’t let gardening tasks overwhelm you.

If you see a weed – pull a weed; if your roses need deadheading – grab the snips and deadhead away.

Tend to tasks in short chunks of time and you’ll have a well-maintained garden that’s easy to enjoy.

In other words, remember to divide your time between “doing” and “being” in the garden: 


Enjoy your garden during every season. Share plants and ideas with other gardeners along the way. Embrace the generous spirit of gardening and try these healthy, lifelong habits:

For more than a decade, Mary Robson authored “The Practical Gardener” column for The Seattle Times. She also wrote Month-by-Month Gardening in the Northwest (Cool Springs Press) and is the Western Washington editor of Master Gardener magazine.

9 Responses to “Gardener’s Resolutions”

  1. Christina Salwitz Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful article! I really enjoyed it. As a teacher myself and longtime follower of Mary Robson, I relate thoroughly to the “7 Habits” method for teaching gardening techniques and methods. I use a similar system for most of the class outlines that I write.
    Beginners and advanced gardeners alike can get great bits of info from this list!
    Best regards,
    The Personal Garden Coach
    Christina Salwitz

  2. Lydia Plunk Says:

    Hi, Debra- If there was room for one more “rule” it would be to know your limit. Whether time or money- it is frustrating to stop before a piece of the vision was complete or done being maintained.
    Looking at the weather channel- I would say your new home in Southern California gets the award for temperate weather over the Pacific Northwest.

  3. Dee/reddirtramblings Says:

    Happy New Year, Debra. May your days ahead be filled with blessings untold. I am sending this link to my friend, Wanda, who is a transplant in WA. She’s doing fine, but your book will make her happy.~~Dee

  4. Garden resolutions for 2009 | Says:

    […] author of  the wonderful book “Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways,” offers the seven habits of highly effective gardeners, to make 2009 a more successful year in your garden. (No. 2: Choose plants you […]

  5. Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden) Says:

    Debra — this is an awesome post! I would like to spread the word about your 7 habits article with my blog readers. Okay if I “Share This” with my readers?

    I am really enjoying your book, “Stylish Sheds” — but, I have trouble getting it away from my husband! Thanks to Helen (we had a wonderful time chatting over coffee the other day).


  6. Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden) Says:

    I have posted the link to your Seven Habits story.


  7. Rose Says:

    I just arrived here through the link on Cameron’s blog. This is an excellent summary of what is needed to be a successful gardener!
    Reminding us to also enjoy and just “be” in the garden is so important.

  8. Suzin Says:

    Habit #6 was good for me because I have a hard time distinquishing between “doing” and “being” in the garden! there are days when I have nothing to leave my home for and go out to the garden and when I do think to check the time, I find I’ve been there for most of the day and I’ve basically been doing the chores. So this year I will try to do my chores as they happenand and I’ve learned the 108 moves of the art of Tai Chi and I plan to due this every morning in my garden! ahhhh Bliss!

  9. Rudy Niswander Says:

    Excellent post, I’m regular visitor of your blog, keep up the great work, and I’ll be a regular for a long time.

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