Garden ShapeUp-Along: Step 1

by Daisy

Thank you for visiting Little House in the Suburbs. If you like what you see, please SUBSCRIBE.

In case you missed the first post on this Garden CleanUp-Along, here’s the link to review.

To re-cap, I’m going to post periodic garden tasks (sometimes weekly, sometimes more often) to help get our gardens ready for spring.

If you’re like me, you’ve spent the winter pretending the garden elves were going to take care of the mess for you. Since that probably didn’t work out, we’re stuck doing it ourselves and spring is barreling down the road.

If you want to participate, you can join on this post or the original post, or just start anywhere along the process.

One of the best things about this project is that, unlike many other projects, part of this one will take care of itself. As spring arrives and the flowers bloom, the shrubs and trees bloom out and green up, things will start looking better all by themselves!

With that in mind, try not to get overwhelmed while we embark on the first step:

Step 1: Stranger Walk-Through

I want you to get a clipboard, paper and pencil, and (optional) a camera, and go out to the garden. Start where a guest would first view the garden. Pretending you’ve never been there before, try to see your garden with fresh eyes: What first catches your eye?

What have you been ignoring, saying to yourself, that’s just so and so, it’s weird but I’m planning to do x with it later?

In my garden, for one example, there’s this:


I’m not sure what to call it, I put it together from leftovers from a lattice I built. I intended to put little hangers on it to keep small garden tools on, but I never did and just propped it in the middle of the garden. It’s fallen over because it isn’t stuck in the ground, it doesn’t function as it is, and it’s strange.

To make matters worse, there’s the rotten log, the pile of stones waiting for a project, an empty planter, and general messiness.

Go around with the clipboard, writing down all of the sore thumbs like the one above.

Don’t worry about the small stuff, just shoot for things that will make the biggest impact, like:

  • actual trash
  • piles of junk
  • things that are broken
  • tools that need storing
  • weedy beds
  • trees and shrubs that desperately need pruning

For extra points, take photos of these problem areas. These are your BEFORE pictures.

Once you’ve gone all over the garden area, go back inside where it’s warm, make yourself a cup of tea, and sit down with the list.

Refine and prioritize the list based on your style of working.

If you’re the type who needs to start small and gain momentum, put the easier, quicker fixes at the top and work down to the bigger, more time-consuming jobs.

If you’re the type who prefers to get the big stuff out of the way first and then coast to the finish line, put the hardest jobs at the top and let the small jobs be your dessert.

For the bigger jobs, break them down into smaller pieces. In my example of the “thing” above, I wrote:

  • Put “thing” in shop
  • Buy and attach hooks
  • Relocate to convenient spot, install properly
  • Take log to compost area
  • Empty, wash and store planter
  • Get started on stone project
  • Rake/clean area

And here’s my complete list:


Front bench area

–weed & rake


Kitchen door

–prune shrubs, rake (yes, that is a hula hoop)


Lattice panel

–wash, repair, & repaint


Stone circle

–move and convert to an herb spiral


Rain barrel area

–tidy, weed & rake



–weed, build up soil, mulch



–throw away


Espalier area

–weed, rake, mulch


Behind coop

–clean up, mow


Compost pile

–relocate, clean up


Swing set

–salvage, remove


Garbage can area

–clean up


Canna bed

–clean out

I’ve interspersed easy and tough jobs. I may even jump around. The important thing is, for me, to see one job through from start to finish before I start any other jobs. As I finish, I’ll take an after picture. It really helps to see just how far I’ve come and how much of a difference there is.

So, get out your pen and paper and take your tour. Remember, don’t write down every little thing that needs doing. Pick and choose based on impact.

Come back and share in the comments how it went.

Next step I’ll talk about setting aside time and keeping ourselves accountable.

Disclaimer: This post may contain a link to an affiliate.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Mickie February 22, 2016 at 8:54 am

Little by little–this sounds doable! I’m following along with the clean up and my first task is to pick up the litter that blows into my yard. I’m not actually sure where it all comes from, but I am a corner lot so I guess my yard is a catch-all.

In my walk around I noted several areas of clutter that I need to tackle–the rainbarrel that hasn’t been installed, the fire bricks for the outdoor smithy station that never materialized, the broken raised bed. Lots to do!

Daisy February 22, 2016 at 9:35 am

Mickie–I’m getting so much more done now I have a list. It may not have everything on it that needs doing, but it’s a good start. So glad to have you along!

Meridith February 23, 2016 at 6:18 am

So, I went and took a look yesterday. It’s pretty bleak. I garden in 25-gallon tubs, and they all need some work of one sort or another, mostly removing the carcasses of last year’s plants. But I planted garlic last fall, and it’s showing signs of progress. And I have started my seeds indoors (can’t plant tomatoes here until Derby Day, but it gives me a boost to watch the seedlings grow!) so there is hope. Thanks for the nudge to get going!

Daisy February 23, 2016 at 6:58 am

Meridith–I’ve been noticing the jobs on my list go much quicker than I thought they would, and the results are very satisfying. I’ll be posting some pictures soon of the ‘after.’

Bonnie North February 23, 2016 at 9:46 am

We have had a brief snow melt so I can go about making my lists because the ground is actually visible. I’d better hurry because 6″ of snow is coming tomorrow.

Mickie, we don’t live on a corner lot, but we also have ridiculous amounts of garbage that blows into our yard. I like to joke that our yard is the neighbourhood place where garbage comes to die.

And, oh my! Have I got weeds!

Daisy: Any tips on removing weeds like wild strawberry?

I love the idea of taking “before” pictures. Let’s hope I can make it so the “after” pictures don’t look as bad or worse than the before pictures!


Daisy February 23, 2016 at 12:32 pm

Bonnie–I have wild strawberries, too. They like to hide in my REAL strawberries. I don’t have anything other than old-fashioned get-in-there-and-git-it. I take my gloved hand, grab the crown way down at the base like I mean business, and yank/wiggle it out. They are very deep-rooted and persistent!
Your afters will be so much better!

Heather February 23, 2016 at 3:10 pm

I know I’m a little late in joining the party, but I only got the email this morning, so I figure, jump in and hope to not straggle. 🙂 I am so glad to see this being done….my garden’s a mess (didn’t do anything last year due to Mom’s death) and I’m ready to get going again, but don’t know where to start! Love, love, love your tasks to help us muddle our way through.

Daughter has tutoring this afternoon so getting my camera and paper out and spending the hour re-familiarizing with my yard will surely help with this overwhelmed feeling I have! Thanks!

Daisy February 23, 2016 at 3:53 pm

Heather–Terrific! I’m so happy to have you along. Getting ready for this is helping me so much already, and I love having company while I struggle through.

F Kane March 2, 2016 at 6:23 pm

I’d like to follow along your garden shape-up posts. Thanks!

Daisy March 2, 2016 at 10:47 pm

F Kane–Welcome!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: