7 Reasons Why Making A ‘To Done’ List Will Help You Be More Creative In Your Garden and Life

– Posted in: Garden Design

You may see the ‘TO DO’ lists in your life and garden as a necessity.

The problem is that the majority of the time they make you feel lousy.


The ‘productive you’ writes a list of everything you plan on getting done each day.
If you’re like most people, your list is way too long.

cuttinggarden 1
A Playful and Naturalized Garden


You rarely complete what you set out to do. You feel unproductive, negative, and frustrated….and immediately go to that critical place in your head where you’re ‘not enough’. Doing this effects your quality of work, creativity, and enjoyment in the garden.

Think about it.

If you’re always rushing to get to the next task, how can you possibly be in the moment?

Can you imagine how it would feel not only to wipe away all of your negative feelings but to replace them with new and exciting ones?

YOU CAN DO IT. It’s simple. Here’s how.

Make a ‘TO DONE’ list.

A ‘TO DONE’ List is what you’ve accomplished from the time you began gardening up through the present.

This is how to compile the list.

Start backwards and work up until present day. It doesn’t matter what age you started or where you gardened.

For example, when I was 10 years old, I had a mini vegetable garden, a few tomatoes and carrots. Add to my ‘TO DONE’ LIST.

In college, I had 40+ plants in my basement apt. Add to my ‘TO DONE’ List.

In my first apt. after I got married, I had window boxes filled with geraniums. Add to my ‘TO DONE’ list.

No ‘TO DONE’ is too small to add to the list.

If you went from planting nothing to planting flats of annuals one season, add it to the list.

If you tore up an area that deers were destroying, add that to the list.

If you tried a ‘must have’ plant in your garden for 5 years and each year it died, add that to your list (you get an A+ for persistence).

By now, you may be thinking to yourself, ‘What the heck is Fran talking about’?’ and ‘Why should I bother doing this?’


You will:

1. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. Keep that ‘TO DONE’ list in a place where you can look at it everyday. Add to it as you remember more things that you’ve done in your gardens over the years.

Reading it several times a day is like saying a mantra. It becomes a part of your repertoire.

Before too long, you’re feeling a heck of a lot better about yourself. You radiate with POSITIVE ENERGY. You’re on the road to ‘believing in yourself.’

Jacqueline Van Der Kloet’s Garden In Early Spring


2. OPEN TO POSSIBILITY. You no longer need to control situations. You choose to take risks. Every spring you’ve planted tulips in rows like soldiers. Not this coming spring! You’ve already decided to buy a huge variety and  scatter them throughout the beds.

You’ve always played it safe with your container plantings. But now when you see a chartreuse vine at the garden store, you get excited and start visualizing how it will look in a container with red coleus and perennial grasses.

My Rooftop Garden In Tel Aviv


3. IMAGINE AND DREAM. Out of nowhere, ideas flow out of you. Stuff you never imagined. The sky is the limit. And because you believe in yourself, you take some of these ideas and implement them in your garden.

Picture #1-self seeding of plants in walkway-Doe Run-71407 059
Front Walkway at Doe Run Garden In The Brandywine Valley


4. PLEASE YOURSELFand not care what anyone else thinks about your garden. There was a time when you needed to follow the experts, fit in with everyone in the neighborhood, play it safe.

No more.

NOW? Your motto is the bolder the better. You want to mix pink with orange? Go for it. You only do what brings you pleasure.

#3-funky colors leaning towards hot-Jock Chrisite-Doe Run-71407 016
Front Walkway at Doe Run Garden in The Brandywine Valley-


5. TAKE RISKS. Having self confidence, opening to possibility, and imagining are all ingredients for taking risks.

Want to create that pond you’ve been dreaming about but have always been too afraid to do?

You choose to take that leap of faith, bring the bulldozers in, and get the job done. The result? A sublime, fairytale setting – scented water lilies floating on the surface, frogs jumping in and out of the water, and the sounds of silence.

My New Home in Bryn Mawr with ‘builder’s landscaping’ – A Horror


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Front of Home in Bryn Mawr after several transformations


Front Walkway in Bryn Mawr Garden


6. PLAY. You used to think of play as something kids do when they’re young. But now you know that play is an integral element of the creative process. And that includes gardening.

You begin to ‘play’ in the garden rather than ‘work’. Whoever thought that you would experience the ‘zen of weeding’?’ Or that deadheading perennials could give you such satisfaction?

Twin Brothers Playing On The Beach


A tip for getting your brain ready to PLAY.

Before starting, take some deep breaths. Look at your garden and give thanks for the pleasure and beauty it gives you.

Then proceed. Work at staying in the moment. If you hear your brain racing, telling you that you need to rush and get other things done, ignore it. Go back to what you’re doing. If necessary, use a mantra to stay focused like: ‘I deserve this time to do what I love doing.’

Appreciate the silence.

#10-simple ornamnetal grass garden-Doe Run-71407 044
Perennial Grass Garden at Doe Run in The Brandywine Valley


7. REFLECT and ENJOY the the garden. Sit with a glass of iced tea and look at your garden. Be grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with nature. Sink into knowing that what you’re creating is not merely a garden. You’re unearthing your creative roots so that you can get to the best of who you are …and live a life of joy and abundance.

Meadow at my garden in Bryn Mawr, Pa.


NOW IT’S YOUR TURN. Make a ‘TO DONE’ list and tell me about it. How did it make you feel? Is it giving you a sense of accomplishment and a boost of self confidence?

Any other thoughts about garden making? Share them.

My book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, will guide you through my 7 stages of creative awakening that will help you unearth your creativity in your garden – and life. This translates into living a life filled with joy, abundance, and love.

You can buy it on Amazon in Paperback or Kindle and on Barnes and Noble.

** Please note: The 3 photos of the gardens at Doe  Run were taken when Jock Christie was the Head Gardener. Through all the decades that he was there, the majority of the gardens were created by him. I apprenticed with him for 2 years at Doe Run. He was not only an extremely talented gardener, both technically and artistically, but he was one of the most humble and kindest individual I have ever met.

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at www.fransorin.com.

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Fran Sorin
29 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Tess The Bold Life August 1, 2012, 9:45 am

This is exactly what I need;) My favorite post of yours so far and the photos are Divine!

Flâneur Gardener August 1, 2012, 1:15 pm

I actually did an entry with a list similar to this last year; stuff that I had done and could be proud of, rather than the usual list of stuff to be done (let’s face it; there’s ALWAYS stuff to be done in a garden).

Mind you, it’s time to do it again, and I shall gladly link up to this entry!

Randy August 1, 2012, 2:30 pm

My biggest issue when I try to sit and enjoy my garden is seeing all the things that need to be done!

Fran August 2, 2012, 3:23 am

I’m impressed that you did a list last year. I’m curious as to how it made you feel;
You are 100% correct. There is always things to be done in the garden..but that’s also true of everyday life.
If you’re going to get pleasure out of anything you do, you have to slow down, breathe, and just be in the moment.
Thanks for stopping by. Great to see you here. Fran

Fran August 2, 2012, 3:27 am

Tess….I’m glad that this article came at the right time for you. It is so difficult when you’re always trying to do and experience more to not get into the mindset of ‘I need to…’ or ‘why didn’t I?’

Favorite post and divine photos? Thanks so much. That’s a great compliment! xxoo-Fran

Fran August 2, 2012, 3:31 am

Randy…..Most of us live that way…always thinking about what we need to do. As I suggested in the article, in order to get pleasure from anything you do, including garden, you need to train your racing brain to slow down. A beginning step is just to take some deep breaths. And then pause (even for a few seconds). Believe it or not Randy, doing those few things is the beginning of making changes in yourself.

I’d love for you to try doing the ‘TO DONE’ list. I think it could prove helpful. Thanks for stopping by. Great to see you on GGW. Fran

Donna August 2, 2012, 5:48 am

I do like the change of perspective and subsequent change of attitude. It is a more positive, less stressful approach. I am never done (always trying new things) and always changing large scale (third major garden) , so things on the list would be getting crossed off just like on a to do list. I took a break from work the other day to actually sit, relax, and enjoy. It was a couple hours to, like you said, breathe, take a moment, and slow down. It felt good to take a break and it was something I had not done in a really long time.

teachkd August 2, 2012, 9:21 am

I loved the positive nature of your post today. What a great idea! I also loved the photos of your garden ( especially the meadow) and Doe Run Garden in Brandywine. Since I live sort of close to the area, is Doe Run Garden a garden that you can visit? Also do you ever give a garden tour of your garden? Just thought I’d ask! Thanks for the lovely post!

Fran August 2, 2012, 10:56 am

Hi ‘teachkid’….Thanks for your kind words.

When Sir John Thouron owned Doe Run, he offered tours through PHS, etc. He died at the ripe age of 90 something. The new owner is the CEO/Founder of Urban Outfitters/Anthropologie and Terrain. I don’t know what he has done with the gardens and if he gives tours. I would google Doe Run Garden to find out.

I know longer live in Bryn Mawr. I sold my home 3 years ago. I used to give a lot of garden tours and PHS classes….which I miss tremendously. BUT I am in the process of creating an urban rooftop garden (which I’ve written about) that is keeping me motivated, busy, and filled with passion.

Thanks for stopping by. Hope to see you on GGW again. Fran

Fran August 2, 2012, 11:05 am

Donna….That’s great news that you’ve already made some changes and gave yourself the ‘OK’ to sit and just experience. We gardeners are so busy and intent on getting things done that we do tend to forget the reason why we’re gardening in the first place. My philosophy is that a lot of us are perfectionists which adds more than a little pressure.

You made my day Donna. Keep up the good work! 🙂 Fran

ricki - sprig to twig August 5, 2012, 3:35 pm

My version of the “to done” list is a “to do”list that is broken down into small tasks. Crossing each chore off with a highlighter gives great satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. Before and during photos (there is no such thing as “after”) are another great way to see how far we have come. I revisit these whenever I feel discouraged. Love your attitude…thanks for the fun post.

Fran August 6, 2012, 5:06 am

Ricki….I love your approach to breaking down your ‘to do’ lists into small tasks. I have a friend who keeps a daily ‘to do’ list who after completing each one, puts a line through it. When he’s done for the day and has accomplished what he set out to do, he crumples up the paper and throws it out with a look of satisfaction on his face. I still use a pink or aqua marker to highlight lines in books i want to remember. You’ve just given me another use for them.

I have never heard of anyone doing ‘before’ and ‘during’ photos without the after. What a smart strategy to keep you feeling inspired and confident in your artistic self. Thanks for stopping by and sharing what you do! Fran

Marcia August 9, 2012, 5:51 am

We keep a page that holds a doz pics of the property & plantings from the earliest years. New visitors are sometimes shown the “befores”. The gardens are now 28 yrs old & the comparisons are rewarding. It helps to have an energizer bunny for gardening partner.

Sheila Schultz August 9, 2012, 10:33 pm

We moved to CO from IL in 2005. I had gardened for years and was sure I couldn’t design my own space and be happy with the results, even though my co-workers assured me that I was wrong. I went from sweeps of colors to small space rock gardens filled with lots of color and texture. I decided it was time to play and try every plant that looked interesting. Lots worked and many didn’t, but the Garden Conservancy Open Days tour will be visiting my home in 9 days. It’s been a kick! My ‘To Done’ list has just begun!

Fran August 10, 2012, 4:18 am

Sheila….What a great story. And bravo to you for not only making the adjustment to a different type of gardening and playing and but for creating a garden that sounds quite extraordinary.

I also moved from a large garden where I had created my paradise for 25 years to a new part of the world (Israel) living in the city on a rooftop. It took me a few years to re-adjust. I experimented with succulents in containers the first year and thought ‘This just won’t do’. I was determined to create my rooftop perennial garden…I took my time, got frustrated, found a great wholesaler who happened to have studied at NYBG and attends the PPA conference each year AND a great designer who built the ‘hard structure’ that allowed me to create a long, narrow garden. Guess what? I now have several native panicums from Neil Diboll’s nursery…other grasses, dotted with some annuals and a few bulbs. And yes, I am now letting it rip and having a blast.

Good luck with the Garden Conservancy Open Days. Either send me pictures the day before or day of (fran.sorin@gmail.com) OR let me know if you’re planning to post on your site. Thanks for stopping by. Your story has made my day! 🙂 Fran

Fran August 10, 2012, 4:23 am

Marcia…..what a fabulous idea! Not only for your visitors but for you and your energizer bunny gardening partner! I used to give a presentation at flower shows and other gardening venues of my garden… from the time when I moved in and how it transformed over the years. The audience loved it because my message was ‘if I can do it, so can you!’. And that’s the truth, isn’t it? I’m in a new garden (urban rooftop) but am taking several photos as it develops. Thanks for sharing your great idea and inspiration with us. Fran

Theresa Forte August 10, 2012, 8:18 am

I like the way you think – great article!

Garden Health Audit August 10, 2012, 10:33 am

Great article, lovely photos

Sheila Schultz August 10, 2012, 9:47 pm

Fran… every time I read your words you make my day, too. We would make great neighbors! BTW, I’m close to a Luddite when it comes to sending photos, but I’ll do my best… learning the technology is also on my ‘To Done’ list!

Fran August 11, 2012, 2:35 am

Sheila….yes, I do think we’re cut from the same cloth. Who knows? Maybe in another life time we were neighbors (did you see the move “The Adjustment Bureau?”)
I hear you about taking photos….I’ll mark it down to get onto your site next week to see if you’ve posted any there. And enjoy the Open Day. Even with all of the work, I always found them to be great fun. 🙂 Fran

Fran August 11, 2012, 2:37 am

Thank you so much for your kind words Garden Heath (?). Great to see you on GGW. Hope you hang out more here in the future! Fran

Fran August 11, 2012, 2:39 am

You know what how the saying goes that whatever you see in another person is a reflection of yourself. So right back at you. You see some of yourself in my words (does that make sense?) Anyway, thanks for your kind words….and taking the time to comment. I hope I see more of you on GGW. 🙂 Fran

James C. August 13, 2012, 11:57 am

Great advice, I am constantly looking at my to-do list and beating myself up at the lack of things I have achieved on there. A done list on the other hand would most likely lift my spirits and hopefully better encourage me to complete more stuff.

Ibukun August 14, 2012, 5:29 am

Thanks for an inspirational blog post. The pictures are lovely and the to done list is something I have taken on board!! keep the great posts coming!!

Fran August 14, 2012, 8:28 am

I’m glad you enjoyed it. Love seeing your ‘face’ on GGW. 🙂 Fran

Nancy Kirkpatrick May 6, 2016, 12:33 pm

Just discovering your wonderfully written articles and purchased your book via Kindle. I’m fond of saying I’ve gardened all my life. But I’ve never made a “To Done” list in my life, so this will be a first. I will share it on my own blog and am looking forward to writing it! Thanks!

Nancy Kirkpatrick May 11, 2016, 2:03 pm

I am a writer/blogger/photographer and loved your article about the TO DONE list. I’d like to reference it, as well as use that phrase and link to your article on my own blog. Please let me know if that is OK. I want to make sure I give you proper credit as well, so let me know if you require something specific. Thanks!

Fran Sorin May 14, 2016, 7:34 am

Hi Nancy, I wrote you a response on your FB page. Thanks for connecting. Fran

Fran Sorin May 14, 2016, 7:35 am

Nancy- So glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for your comment! Fran

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