Do Less = Sustainable Gardening Redefined by Gerald Klingaman

Sustainable gardening is the term used for gardening with the least.

Instead of blasting the garden with chemical fertilizers and bug sprays, use the least possible. Rather than using a timed system to irrigate lawn and gardens on a schedule, wait until plants signal a need for water.

Gardeners who use a sustainable approach make an effort to add back to the earth. Simple changes can make a difference. Examples include: Use sheets of newspaper under mulch instead of plastic, make a compost pile, dig a basin in the garden to collect rainwater or switch to wildlife friendly fertilizers such as composted animal waste or seaweed.

Last Saturday when Dr. Gerald Klingaman spoke at the Northwest Arkansas Flower and Garden Club in Fayetteville, he added his own twist to the whole topic of sustainable gardening.

Klingaman chose The Quest for a Sustainable Garden as the topic for his talk knowing that gardeners cannot resist a few high maintenance plants.

Any garden we plant is destined to be short lived unless it at least 80 percent sustainable. Even if we skip the optional 20 percent one year, there would still be great, minimal maintenance plants.

Klingaman calls these sustainable plants survivors. For example, many trees will thrive with minimal attention after that first year of regular watering.

Some shrubs fall into the sustainable category. Flowering quince, locally called Japonica, is an example of a tough shrub. Junipers, and Forsythia are also in that category. We think of Azalea and Holly as tough but they cannot survive without water during a drought.

Sustainable gardens also help sustain the gardener by requiring minimal time for maintenance. Minimal time usually means less spraying, fertilizing and watering which are all better for the health of the soil and wildlife.

In a recent article, Klingaman said, I've begun bringing my own survival-of-the-fittest approach to my own garden planning: First, I use lots of rocks. I know they’ll survive. Next, I find myself dividing and moving about the plants that flourish in my garden to give them more precious space.”( )

Like many gardeners, Klingaman enjoys trying new plants and seeds (20 percent of the garden) but also appreciates the need to have low-maintenance bones of the garden in place (80 percent).

In my shady hillside yard, Liriope, several of the various Epimedium (barrenwort) and Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae survive despite heavy clay soil, neglect and general mistreatment, so they’re deservedly gaining prominence, Klingaman said. I’m also starting to identify which hostas have long-term survival potential, so they'll get more room as the less-vigorous ones check out.

Klingaman's quest is to fill his garden with survivors whether they are heirloom or new introductions from the plant trade.
Let nature fill the water basin, let birds eat the bugs off plants and let the worms till the soil. Gardeners' part of the arrangement is to avoid poisoning natural predators, use compost to attract worms and dig a rain basin.

In the end, work less and enjoy more could sum up the sustainable approach.

Dr. Gerald Klingaman grew up in Mulhall, Oklahoma and recently retired as Emeritus professor of Horticulture and Extension horticulturist at the University of Arkansas.

Dr. Klingaman is a prolific writer for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette,, Arkansas Gardener ( ), Arkansas Online (

Klingaman has volunteered with the Northwest Arkansas Botanical Garden in Fayetteville since 2003 and is now the executive director. He designed and built the Children’s Garden.

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs has the Euphorbia amygdaloides also called Mrs. Robb’s Bonnet Spurge (

Heronswood ( and Plant Delights ( offer several varieties of Epimedium. For fall color in a woodland garden use Epimedium x versicolor Sulphureum


Martha, this was so interesting. I love his views on sustainability.~~Dee
Very interesting blog with great ideas and information.and everybody like this..

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