Patience has never really been one of my virtues. I hate waiting. And I especially hate waiting for a gradual thing to come to pass.
But then, I’m so rarely asked if I mind about such matters. So I generally end up just rolling with it.
Gardening is so obviously an exercise in which patience is called for in extreme measure. I think that’s why so much of gardening is physically taxing. If you could actually do everything you wanted to do all at once, you might be tempted to expect a little reciprocity from the soil and sun. A little immediate return on effort. A soupçon of instant gratification.
But no, growing things takes time.
When I was a kid, I never really recognized the significance of the song Inch by inch, row by row, I’m gonna make my garden grow. This is, of course, because I did not garden as a child.
Boy, you ain’t kidding, song. Inch by motherlovin’ slow inch.
I went into spring this year with the knowledge that it had been ten years since I’d moved back to the Cape this May. I kept meaning to mark the occasion here on the blog, but the timing never seemed quite right.
Instead, I kept my thoughts to myself. I pondered things, like Mary, in my heart.
And mostly I thought about my garden.
As you already know, I’ve been getting a whole lot of action in my garden these days. We’ve got some real showstoppers holding court out there right now, I’m not gonna lie.
But I wanted to give a little extra love right now to the first three things I ever planted here, humble though they may be. They’ve put up with a lot out of me, mostly in the form of extreme neglect. But they keep on showing up, year after year, and continually surprise me by thriving despite my worst efforts at caring for them.
Let’s hear it for the Little House By The Sea Garden Originals.
These heathers were the first thing I ever planted here. It was shortly after we moved that we realized we needed to get a whole new septic system put in, which entailed the wholesale brutalizing of half the yard. They bulldozed down a bunch of trees, mowed down anything green, and basically just killed everything that stood in their way. They left us with what was supposed to be several inches of “good topsoil,” but was really nothing but the scantest layer of parched, inhospitable brown dirt. It was like a moonscape out there.
That was when I realized I needed to start gardening.
I planted heather because it seemed easy, and because the internet told me it would be drought-tolerant. I knew I couldn’t be counted on to water my plants with anything like regularity.
Also, I wanted to have a great expanse of heather in my yard so that I could go staggering woefully across it like my hero Jane Eyre. What? That’s normal.
Ten years later, my heather is still there. One or two patches have died out. But the vast majority of it is thriving, spilling over the edges of the bed, panting to be divided and propagated in pastures new. Some of it has even started to naturalize, staking out self-selected little homesteads among the rowdier wildflowers yards away.
The neighborhood I grew up in was absolutely filthy with lilacs, great big overflowing stands of them lining the curving dirt road that ran between our house and the house my great grandparents lived in. Old local history books even regularly referred to our street as Lilac Hill. So naturally I needed lilacs, too.
I ordered these lilacs through a catalogue, because at the time I didn’t know you could propagate things, and it was my first experience planting bare root woody plants. I thought there had been some kind of mistake. They looked like twigs you might collect for roasting s’mores. No more than six or eight inches long, they looked mighty silly poking up out of my solemnly constructed and dutifully watered mound of soil and mulch.
They now reach up past my shoulder. Two of them have even started blooming. They’re past all that for this year, of course. But you can take my word for it.
I planted beach roses, because when I decided it was time to move back to the Cape I kept fantasizing about having a little house by the sea (that’s how I always talked about it inside my head, my Little House By The Sea) with rugosas rambling in a wild thicket out front. By this time, I’d been here for a couple years, and had managed to locate my local garden store. Had noticed that they marked things way down in the fall. Scored a half dozen roses for 75% off.
Now they are taller than I am, spilling out over the fence and sending up spikes against the sandy shoulder of the road like they own the place. Some of the more ambitious shoots are even starting to reach up into the lower branches of the pin oak above them. I think I’ll let them. I mean really. Who am I to judge?
Honorable Mention: The Wildflowers
The wildflowers, of course, have been a tremendous success. If you ever want to feel like an accomplished gardener with a minimum of effort expended, throw down some wildflowers. I use the excellent Northeastern Natives mixture from American Meadows, augmented by the occasional bulk single species spree. The lupins, for instance, were a one-off. Highly recommended. This year I put down a bunch of purple coneflower. We’ll see how they come out next year.
Wildflowers are so disproportionately rewarding. A little bit of effort gets you so much in return. I mean, you can’t just hurl out fistfuls of seed across your grassy lawn and expect a meadow to appear. I went through the whole process of turning the soil, tilling it out, scattering the seed in the proper mixture of sand for even distribution, and even went around stomping on top of a piece of plywood so as to press the seeds firmly into the soil.
That first year, the results were only Pretty Good. But every year since then, it’s been nothing short of Spectacular. Of course I throw down a bag of something new each year, just to keep things fresh. But the perennials from that first batch are still doing the lion’s share of the work in here.
I’m not saying I am getting good at patience. All I am saying is that I am starting to see why it gets such a good reputation.
I’m so glad to be here in my little house by the sea. In the summer it is open and blowsy with the southeast salt breeze. It the winter it is all tight and snug like a nut. It holds me like a cupped palm, like a curled leaf.
Like a patient friend.