How to Spruce Up Your Garden—or Take a Break From It

When to whip your garden into shape, or walk away in style

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Don't feel like reading about gardening after a failed effort to turn your yard into an Eden-like fantasy? Don't worry—you have a friend in me. I can guess the story, at least loosely.

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Eat + Run -- Farmer D
You got all excited about gardening. Maybe you had a revelation on a trip somewhere, and you realized, from that hermetically-sealed cabin 30,000 feet up in the air, how disconnected from nature your life had become. Or maybe it was when you shelled out an obscene amount of cash yet again at the farmers market and wondered if you could grow your own food instead. So you built or purchased the beds, got good soil, planted seeds, and watered. Things went well. You felt great. Your coworkers got used to you showing pictures of your plants as if they were babies. But then the seasons changed. You got busy. You kind of stopped going out there to check on things. Weeds grew. It wasn't so pretty and fun anymore, and, by the way, you now take a spinning class on Saturdays, leaving you little to no time to garden. Let's just say, the project has become a thorn in your side

The good news? You are really just two hours away from recapturing the joy you once felt about gardening. If nothing else, I'll help you dust off the infrastructure in which you've already invested so it's not a waste. And, I'll even show you how you can walk away in style, if that's what you simply must do at this point in your life.

Here's how:

1. Take two hours, and just knock it out. That's it. Just head on out there and whack away at your weeds. Take no prisoners. Clear it all (well, maybe leave the perennials). Invite a friend or family member to help you, and you can make this time a catch-up visit as well. I suspect that within 15 minutes of this, you will actually start enjoying it. The cool fall air and light breeze will feel great on your face, working those office-stiff muscles will invigorate you, and blasting through some pent-up aggression will release more tension than you even realized you had. Go to 2A if you're ready to quit. Go to 2B if you're feeling like you just found an old friend in gardening.

2A. Had enough? OK, you're five minutes away from a nice tall one. Toss some winter cover crop seeds (order online now so you have them), rake them in gently, and give them a good watering. Hairy vetch and winter rye are pretty winter-hardy so they'll do well in many climates. These will grow all winter and crowd out weeds, and will eventually nourish your soil and attract pollinators. They will look beautiful in the spring, with no work at all from you (now we're talkin'). In short, they will let you enjoy your garden without having to work it for a while, and then you can make a new decision in the spring. By then, you may be feeling more refreshed or may have had some schedule changes that make gardening possible again for you.

2B. Revving up? If you're feeling rejuvenated about gardening after your power cleanup, add some fresh compost and organic fertilizer, and plant some fall crops. Check a planting calendar for your climate to see what's best to plant and whether to opt for seeds or transplants. Also, see if your beds need to be covered with row cover, which is a light, gauzy fabric that adds a few degrees of warmth while still letting air, sun, and water penetrate. If you're into the whole winter gardening scene (maybe you abandoned your garden because you didn't like the summer heat?), then be sure to check out Four-Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman. If he can grow all winter long in Maine, then much is possible!

If my attempt to rope you back in to your garden one way or another didn't work, then give some thought to donating your gardening supplies to a local school or community garden. If your garden space is not easily movable, you could even ask your neighbors if they want to cultivate it for their own harvests. That way you'd get to come home and see good things growing out there—and I bet they'll share with you. A total win-win.

Tap in next week and I'll give you some tips for putting winter to work for you so that your spring garden is a cinch to start.

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Daron Joffe is a 30-something eco-entrepreneur who lives to make a difference in the world one homegrown organic fruit and vegetable at a time. Known as "Farmer D," Joffe has grown food for celebrities, private communities, and elementary schools in his "town-by-town mission to re-energize the food culture." His products are sold at select Whole Foods and Williams-Sonoma stores. Born in South Africa and based in Atlanta, Farmer D is online at www.farmerD.com.