Lesson of the Garden


Gardening has taught me many vital things over the years, most often those things I never thought I needed to know. First and foremost is patience, and I fought against it every step of the way. From the eternal wait for seeds to germinate to the endless gestation of a flower bud, patience is a trait largely lacking in a growing boy, and I was no exception. In the realm of the garden, however, patience is a necessity, and it will be required no matter how much you find it infuriating.

I remember when I planted my first pair of Siberian iris in the backyard of my parents’ home. I’d purchased plants already in bud for the imminent explosion of indigo glory, and each day I anticipated the burst of violet-hued beauty. Each day I came from school, bounded into the backyard, and promptly felt the growing familiar feeling of disappointment as the buds stayed closed and silvery green, with nary a peek of purple lip. After what seemed an endless wait, the buds grew plump, and when I had almost given up on them a spot of color was revealed before a curtain of pines and evergreens. The wait was worth it, the color deeper and more rich than I imagined possible. Like some graceful exotic butterfly, it floated and waved in the slightest breeze. In many ways, I appreciated it all the more for the wait. It was an early lesson of the importance of anticipation. The reward of a drawn-out process.

Of course, that didn’t satisfy my desire for the instant gratification, but that’s not in ready supply in the garden. Rumor had it that there was even a certain bamboo you could actually see growing on prime sunny days. I couldn’t locate such a magical creature in the Northeast, but I’d heard similar quick-growth tales of papyrus, and when one was available at the local nursery, I snapped it up and immersed it in a bucket of water, with visions of a fountain of foliage. I didn’t take into account the heat and sun that such plants required to thrive, and the fact that our climate was a poor substitute. When it failed, I felt I had failed. The garden doesn’t sugarcoat its lessons.

Since that time, I had to learn that the process of gardening was one in which the satisfaction and allure is not based on immediate results. The best sort of garden takes years to plan and prepare, then years to maintain and edit, and then a few years of reshuffling and decline, until it all has to start over again. The main lesson of the garden has been that nothing is permanent. Even the oldest trees or shrubs need pruning at some point. The end will come in a storm or an animal or an accident. That’s all right. That’s ok. The garden will not be rushed or hurried. Everything unfolds as it was meant to unfold, like the petals of that Siberian iris.

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