The art of doing nothing

Published 9:56 pm Tuesday, April 25, 2017

By Susan and Biff Andrews

Many of our friends and neighbors are working hard on their lawns and gardens and experiencing all the joy and the work that comes with spring.

You know who you are. We’ve seen you at the local plant sales and garden centers, loaded down with supplies, ready to do battle.


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We would like to invite you to give yourself permission to take a break, relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Take time to smell the roses and explore with us the art of doing nothing.

Sometimes, when we stop worrying about our problems, things just work out on their own. It’s the same with the relationship we have with our yards and gardens — relax and let nature take its course.

The art of doing nothing is tricky, as it is a conscious act, the conscious act of inaction or detachment. Therefore, it does not involve neglect or laziness or carelessness.

It is an awareness of whatever is there before you  — the yard work, the problem — but a choice to allow yourself some time to step back, see how it goes, come back to it later or let it go.

We encourage you to allow yourself to let the wild places on your property be wild. Make a conscious effort to leave some leaves. They will attract all the good stuff that improves the soil. Brush aside the brush. The birds will sing your praises.

Ignore the natives, the little plants (some folks call them weeds). They’re desperately needed by all the pollinators (not just bees). Cultivars from the big-box store are not on their diet. Native pollinators don’t recognize many of them, anyway, which is why some claim to be insect resistant. So, no need to have them on the menu.

We’re not saying get rid of the plants you love, just have some that the bees, bugs and critters love, too. Something for everybody!

We’ve had our hosta phase, our bulb phase, and we still buy our obligatory pansies and mums in the fall, just because.

We love and honor all that grows around us, with the exception of the invasive plants that we bought in ignorance years ago or tracked in on our boots from somewhere or another that we’re still trying to tame or eliminate.

Most of our self-inflicted pain is from raking, mulching, digging and amending the soil. It reflects our life under the hardwoods with dry clay soil, deep shade, tons of leaves and misguided dreams of winning that battle.

We’ve developed a greater appreciation of ferns and moss, rather than grass; maintenance-free native mountain laurels, dogwoods, beauty berry and other native trees and shrubs that grace our property and don’t put us to work.

We are starting to feel our age and, we hope, getting a little wiser.

So instead of working hard and spending your time, energy and money on a perfectly manicured yard (that Suffolk water isn’t getting any cheaper, either), we urge you to join us in letting go, in giving the yard work a rest, even if just a little.

You don’t have to go wild all at once. Make some time for yourself, a little ”Dolce far Niente” as the Italians call it, the sweetness of doing nothing — pure, blissful, indulgent relaxation.

Take the day off, especially if it’s the weekend. Sit outside. Watch the clouds float by. Listen to the birds. Can you hear them? They’re singing: “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Yard Work!” “Don’t throw out your back, Jack; hang up the hose, Rose; make a new plan, Stan; just set yourself free.”

Ahhhhhhh. Now you’ve got it!

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at