Cultivating Patience

“I?ve noticed that the older gardeners get, the more patient they become”

I like to think that one of the best lessons I have learned from gardening is patience. I usually buy young trees and shrubs in hopes that they will spend time getting used to my garden, put down strong roots and grow into healthy mature plants. Older and bigger trees are used to other venues and will take that much longer to get used to mine.

Similarly, I love to see the big specimen perennials now available in nurseries, but if they?re tricky plants (saxifrages, for example), I?d rather get them small and nurture them along to make sure they survive.

Even though we?re told that patience is a great virtue, it?s a quality many gardeners seem to forget about. We want things to happen quickly and, if possible, right now. And we want them to happen on time. We read about bloom times, and then expect some poor, underwatered creature to flower precisely when the encyclopedia or plant tag says it should. I got a flurry of phone calls last October when none of the foliage plants in our area changed colour exactly when expected. The weather was weirdly warm, causing many plants to dump their leaves unceremoniously.
The problem is every plant is an individual, possessing a genetic code slightly different from every other plant on earth, just like people. Any pronouncement about when a plant blooms or appears in spring is based only on an average. Unless you are skilled enough to force plants into doing things they aren?t genetically coded to do, such as blooming out of season, you simply have to wait?patiently.

That said, I have just the plant for impatient gardeners: foxglove or empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa). It grows at the startling rate of 10 feet a year, to about 30 feet (triple that in warm climates), with enormous, velvety leaves. Unfortunately, here in Zone 6, it dies back to the ground each winter, but I adore its strangeness even if I may never see its violet blooms. Equally speedy specimens include bamboos, willows and many vines.

I?ve noticed that the older gardeners get, the more patient they become. They plant things they?ll never live long enough to see in maturity and arrange for effects that won?t come to fruition in their lifetimes. (I have fun imagining how someone is going to deal with the gigantic dawn redwood I?ve put in the back of my narrow city garden. I don?t care how big it gets, I just like watching it grow, which is way faster than I thought plantily possible.) It?s the planning, the work and then maybe way down the road, the results. The patient gardener doesn?t care about jamming in loads of plants for instant impact.
A gardener must take the time to examine each plant, and get to know its habits, its likes and dislikes, its physical characteristics from roots to shoots. This is a friend you have in your hands, and you should treat it with respect. Like all friends, it?s going to be quirky and difficult at times. So you need to wait patiently for things to improve?the rewards will last a lifetime.