Welcome to the 10th issue of PITH + VIGOR, a weekly newsletter by me, Rochelle Greayer, with a focus on garden design, plants, and making this world a better place. I'm glad you're here. Was this newsletter forwarded to you? You deserve your own: Subscribe here.


Harvard, MA, March 5th, 2023


You should probably unsubscribe right now it your garden isn’t a mess…. At least sometimes, or seasonally, or because you are "working on it"…


We are all a hot mess.  If you genuinely aren't - this isn't for you.  (and also, can we even be friends?)




The pretense of garden perfection is just as annoying and detrimental as face filters - one just makes you have a dysmorphic relationship with your own refleciton and the other leads you to accelerate global warming by installing a -"quick fix" lawn.  


Which is is worse? I don't even know. 🤷‍♀️




Lauren wrote to me:


"I have a pre-existing large yard with several garden beds that were here when we purchased our house 2 years ago, the yard and gardens are in disrepair— the flower beds are mostly weeds (there is A LOT of weed pressure), some of the hardscaping was once nice (dry stack stone walls), other areas not as nice but most of it is starting to fall apart and it has become too overwhelming and expensive to try to get everything in shape and looking good. My husband and I are at the point where we are contemplating ripping everything up and planting grass just so things look neat and tidy and less of a mess until we have the time and money to actually do it right and make it the dream garden.

Additionally, because it was once a lovely place the living areas in the house are situated towards that view as well as the main door we use. So it’s hard to put it out of site out of mind, it causes a lot of mental frustration on a daily basis. Do you have any advice on how move forward with a falling apart garden that we can’t tackle yet and prevent it from getting worse?" 


Here are my thoughts (in the style of my new favorite internet format... The List of 40 things). 




But first, a few mindset calibrations:

1) Completely ripping out everything and just planting grass is moving the opposite direction of the goal.  It will destroy so much of what is there and actually working.  Despite what you think you see - many things are actually pretty great. (and I can say this with 100% confidence - even though I haven't even seen a picture of this garden). You just need to change your viewpoint and filter to find them. 

2) Weeds are only weeds because we say they are - I know this can feel flippant, - but the plants that are there are there because they work so well that other stuff can’t get a word in edgewise.  They are, in fact, very well suited to your situation.  

3) WE are all creatures of habit - ("WE" includes your garden and all living things).  Your garden has a habit of growing lots of unwanted 'weeds' and falling apart.  Just like I have a habit of eating too much ice cream.

"There’s just one way to radically change your behavior: radically change your environment."

—Dr. B.J. Fogg, Director of Stanford Persuasive Lab



4) In physics, horror vacui, or plenism is commonly stated as "nature abhors a vacuum". Aristotle was the first to come up with the idea and despite a whole bunch of nerds arguing about it over countless centuries - it holds up. 


Gardens abhor a vacuum - and will fill empty space unless you fill it first.  Keep this in mind as you start to improve and make changes - it will help you to be less frustrated.  


Dear Lauren,


  1. Mow the weeds.  This will likely stop or vastly slow their spread (by preventing them from seeding, weakening them from spreading under ground). Mown weeds don’t look so bad. They can even look lawn-y. Don't do it just once, but regularly.
  2. String trim the weeds.  The more lines you create on the landscape the more it will appear in control in that classical way we think of and tend to aspire to. Lawn mowers make fat lines, string trimmers give you a little more control and create details that add refinement.
  3. Approach the project in a very specific way - closest to your house first, then work your way out.  What you see daily first - what you don’t see, last.  This will help reign in your overwhelm.
  4. Stop worrying about what the neighbors think. Groupthink* takes hold of neighborhoods just like does high school students and leaders at the highest levels of our governments --- and it messes people up. (Mean Girls, Lord of the Flies, The Challenger Disaster, The Bay of Pigs Invasion...). 
  5. Obvious progress buys time and patience. (both with you and your neighbors). Take it one thing at a time - but keep going. 
  6. Make a plan. That is why you joined my course** - finish the task.  Even if it is a plan you end up modifying - having one will give you a road map to start.  Right now you feel lost - and hopeless - a map will help to guide you out of it. 
  7. Take pictures.  This is a long game - but what you are looking at is the absolute worst - every little improvement you make will make the picture better. Looking back over these pictures will help you stay motivated. 
  8. Don’t rip out any thing too fast. Do all the steps above first and see how you feel. Dry stone walls that are tumbling down can be beautiful. There are even companies that specialize in building them. Things that look a mess are often just in need of a re-frame.*** 
  9. Repair, don't replace (as much as possible). I'm not saying that replacing is bad and it is often what is needed - just that we tend to do it too quickly and thoughtlessly.  
  10. Fix real problems first - like drainage.  Or safety issues. 
  11. Rip out any thing that is dead. You will feel much better. 
  12. Consolidate. Do you have rocks that migrated?  Move them into a pile. Like with like. Are there other materials that have been strewn about? If they are out of place - put them in a pile together. Organization - however temporary, will feel better.  This can work with plants too. 
  13. It's like cleaning up a kids playroom. Put the legos all in a box. Then gather all the doll clothes and put them in a place. Once you start to be able to see the floor again - you can start to see how it might be nice with a tree planted in the middle. 
  14. Prune.  
  15. Be patient. And confident (I know you can totally create something amazing!). But nothing happens overnight. 
  16. Consider temporary solutions - like container gardens.
  17. Give it some ambiance - a string of overhead lights can literally turn a nasty alley into a charming alcove. They can also turn your mown weeds and crumbing stone walls into a romantic naturalistic meadow. 
  18. Do you have nice patio furniture? Drawing yourself out into the garden you already have will help you understand how you want to use what you've got - and how you will want to evolve it. You have to be in it to understand it.  Plus there is excitement in contrast - new clean furniture in a rustic space makes everything a little more lively.
  19. If you have to get something green growing (that is lawn like) consider a cover crop like clover instead. This will build your soil, and it is much easier to work with when it comes time to make it into something else. Also consider seeding wildflowers - better and prettier than a lawn in the short term.
  20. Gravel is a cheap way to get started with hardscaping. Paving materials can be pricey and they aren’t something you want to invest in until you know what you want. But all hardscaping requires a gravel base layer. You can get started for a lot less by creating paths and patios that might become more permanent by creating them just with gravel. The expensive stuff can be an added upgrade later - but in the interim you have a functional spaces and walkways. 
  21. Do this test - close your eyes (take a deep calming breath while you are at it) and clear your head for just minute. Make sure your body is pointed at the garden (preferably in one of the main spots you view the garden - like the approach to the driveway or out the main windows). When you open your eyes - be very conscious of your eye's path. What do you see first, second, third… etc?  If you lose track -just reset by closing your eyes again. Your husband should do the same - write the list down and compare. Is the first thing you notice something good or bad? The bad things that are at the top of the list should be the first things you deal with - the good things should be protected at all cost. Repeat this as you progress. 
  22. Get started. Starting helps. Momentum is easier to sustain than create. Do something - Anything!

Ok - so this is getting loooonnnnggg - but there are still 18 more fantastic tips!  I'll cut this off here - but you can get the rest of them on the blog.  





All this is to say - once you have started to change the environment - you will start to change the garden's behavior as well as yours. (Like maybe by not having Ben and Jerry's in the freezer - it will stop calling to you every time you sit down to watch White Lotus. After a while, the cravings will start to subside a bit).


Things will get easier with time - in many subtle and profound ways. By working with nature and going at her pace, you will start to tune into each other and garden making will get easier. You will only have to go back to look at the before pictures to remind yourself how far you have come.


See you next week. 



P.S. Thank you for reaching out about the trees. So many of you wrote to me about my last email that I am overwhelmed to get to all the replies. I am working on it. Your support made me feel a little less upset, knowing that I am not just shouting into the void. We are still working on a resolution... I'll let you know what happens. 

*Definition: Groupthink, /ˈɡro͞opˌTHiNGk/:  a phenomenon that occurs when a group of individuals reaches a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the consequences or alternatives.

STRAIGHT TRUTH - "A lawn is a great solution to 'quick-fix' my yard" is pernicious and vile example of groupthink. 

**Lauren is one of my garden design students - if you would like to also join one of my courses email me - I am happy to answer questions.  Also - learn more here.

***It’s like going to a junk store and finding a cool old thing and adding it to a new house or composition. You might need to buff it up or clean it - but it usually gives history, gravitas, and personality.  


****Don't forget - bricks are natural (and if they are from a regional source, their color and style will likely feel good in your landscape). Even if they are garish - remember they can always be painted or treated with a lime wash or just rub dirt into them - that usually takes the edge off.  

Greayer Design Associates

PO Box 394, Harvard, MA
United States