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!

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Steve Silk

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

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