The Waiting Game

– Posted in: Garden Design

Sept 14.09 002-1Sing it Carly! “Anticipation, anticipation/Is making me late/Is keeping me waiting.” Maybe Carly Simon was a horticulturist, because it strikes me lately that no one knows more about anticipation than a gardener. If you told me there’s any pursuit that is more about delayed gratification, about waiting for green dreams to be realized, about being just plain old patient, than gardening, well, I just wouldn’t believe it.

You’d think, by this late in the season, that the breathless wait for the next wave of bloom would have abated. But no. And for me it grows ever more acute. That’s not to say it’s easier in spring, when the whole waiting game begins. Each morning finds me out on my daily tour, seeking the first sprig of snowdrop, watching the swelling buds of the hellebores, probing through the leaf mulch for the emerging nubbins that will one day erupt, impossibly, into the big colorful corrugated leaves of Hosta ‘Sum and Substance.’ All the while I’m waiting for the passionately purple crozier-like peony stems to arise for their moment of glory, only to see it shortened by the pounding rain that inevitably follows their bloom. Oh well, they’ll be back next year.

There’s a lesson in all this. And I’ve learned it.  I used to be very impatient. Back in the day, I never took out a magazine subscription longer than 12 months at a time. Anything that distant on the timeline was way too far in the future to seriously contemplate. Now I plant trees no bigger around than a pencil, and look forward to one day sitting in their shade. I start seeds that may not produce a bloom –or even germinate!–for a year or two.  I’ve learned to slow down and look around me, to stop and smell the roses…and the lilies (of course!), the Nicotianas, the Brugmansias, and the gingers. I’ve learned to appreciate the journey, and not worry so much about the destination. I’ve become engaged in the process, and obssess less about the outcome.

orange ginger

Speaking of gingers, they are the focal point of the autumnal era of my waiting game. And talk about anticipation…wow! It’s tough to get Hedychiums to flower in my part of the world if you can’t give them a head start in a greenhouse, which I can’t really do all that effectively. But I do love my tropicals and annuals (hmmm, guess I still do seek out instant gratification, or at least what passes for it in the world of horticulture), and have discovered, after much trial–and even more error–that Hedychium ‘Tara’ is reliable, more or less. And what a show it puts on. The flower is a long (must be at least 16 inches in length) bottlebrush affair with fragrant orange flowers. It’s an absolute showstopper. Even the foliage is neat.

But it’s slow. Sloooow.  The bud emerges, gradually elongates, swells and then gets little nibs from which the flowers will ultimately emerge (top of the post). Then, taking their oh-so-sweetly languourous time, those little nubbins push forth teeny tufts of orange, and then, finally, flowers (above).  I had one flush earlier this season and await a whole group of swelling buds at the moment. I hoped they’d be ready for my Open Garden, but no. And they still aren’t open. But they are swelling. And I am waiting. Which will come first–a final floral hurrah or a icy blast of frost? Oh, the anticipation!

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

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Nancy J. Ondra October 9, 2009, 4:46 am

Just so you know, readers: there will be a bit of delay in Steve answering your comments. So don’t think he’s ignoring you; he’ll respond when he’s back!

Deborah at Kilbourne Grove October 9, 2009, 6:45 am

I went to a garden lecture on starting trees from seeds. Maybe I am finally learning patience as well. Now matter how well my garden does, I can’t wait till next year, after all it will be even better then.

I’ve done a few trees and shrubs from seed, Deborah. Some are surprisingly fast. I’ve had some bloom from seed in less time than some of my magnolias purchased as plants-but then some species mags take a notoriously long time to get to blooming stage.–Steve

Pam/Digging October 9, 2009, 11:35 am

Great post, Steve. Gardening, like parenting, does teach you patience. Either that or you go crazy. I’m trying to be patient as I begin a new garden, and not just about watching plants grow. I’m also impatiently trying to save money for hardscape improvements I want *right now*.

I know what you mean Pam! I can wait for a plant, a year, two, three or more…but hardscape? Just gotta have it NOW! Sometimes it just doesn’t seem the garden is a garden without the hardscape.–Steve

Joseph Tychonievich October 9, 2009, 11:53 am

I love hedychium, but I’ve always wondered which would be best to try in a colder climate — but now I’ve written ‘Tara’ on my list of Things to Buy This Spring!

Just give it as early a start as you can Joseph. And the little sprig you’re likely to get mail order won’t make enough plant until at least the second year anyway. Store it dormant in a cool, dark basement for winter.–Steve

Alice Joyce October 9, 2009, 3:46 pm

In all the years that I’ve been growing gingers in my California garden, there have only been a few tiny blooms known to emerge before the rains arrive and the cold nights (relative to the Bay Area, of course!) call a halt to the growing season.

Guess I need to borrow space in a greenhouse ;~]

Hi Alice- I do without a greenhouse-just seek a variety that will bloom in mid-summer and you should be able to enjoy those awesome flowers on a regular basis.–Steve

Town Mouse October 9, 2009, 6:47 pm

How interesting, Alice Joyce. I inherited some ginger from the previous owner, and it faithfully delights me with beautiful fragrant blooms in late fall, just when everything else looks tired. I always give up, it doesn’t look so great before, and then…
(and very much worth the wait).

Here’s a post with ginger on the side I did not too long ago. And the ginger is still blooming.

Town Mouse–I even like the foliage of most gingers, and use them wherever I need a beefy, leafy presence.–Steve.

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