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Patience is a Virtue

I write in January 2020 and, as I ponder the wonder of the garden looking forward to Spring, this phrase that I’ve taken as my heading, seems to weigh heavily on me and I realise I am a complete mix of the patient and the impatient when it comes to growing things. Last year I wrote a number of articles about appreciating change in the garden and the thing about it is that once you come to accept that life in the garden is all about change, that can evoke various feelings in you.


When you start contemplating those changes (as I did in those articles) then you are confronted with a fact that can create a sense of frustration – waiting for the next change to take place – in you. Alternatively you learn to settle into a stoical attitude where you sit back, accept and enjoy today for what it is and smile and appear smug, knowledgeable and contented; this despite the wife jumping up and down agitatedly beside you (almost literally) because her bulbs are taking so long to come up! Nothing you can do is going to make them come up any faster; they are waiting for the sun to add a degree or two to the earth. Just relax, they’ll show signs of appearing soon!

Smugness like this, I find, soon dissipates the moment I sow seeds in trays. They just seem to take too long and often not do what they should do. I’ve tried using the right seed compost, tried to maintain the right temperature, not too warm or too cold, tried to maintain moisture, not too much that causes mildew or letting them dry out and die, but the truth is that I’ve not got green fingers when it comes to seeds. For that reason I’ve given up growing tomatoes from seed and now I just go to our favourite garden centre and buy three or four plants once they are two or three inches high. That works. I can, for some reason, just watch those plants develop without the angst that I experience with seeds! (However, if you want to persevere, the Gardeners’ World advice is use a good quality, peat-free, proprietary, multi-purpose or loam-based seed compost. That helps.)  

We’ve often said on these pages that our goal is to encourage those who consider themselves beginners or at least amateurs, encourage them to think and work for bigger, better or at least for more enjoyment and a sense of fulfilment when it comes to our gardens. We recently did an article on Monty Don of Gardeners’ World fame, and one of the endearing things I think about him is his regular confession that “Certain things just didn’t work this year”. We’ve probably said it before that a good old adage for gardening is, “win some, lose some”. Aim to make it work but when it doesn’t, just say, OK, maybe next year. But THE most basic thing about gardening, I’ve concluded, is that for full enjoyment you need patience.    

I’m normally a broad-beans-in-the-ground-in-November person (I didn’t last November because we still had too many in the freezer from the last harvest) and I know that if there are shoots appearing within four to six weeks, they’re doing really well; the climate must be just right for them. But, yes, I confess to going out there in the failing temperatures to watch for the early signs, but after that, sit back, stop being impatient because they have several months ahead of them and apart from feeding them there will be little I can do to make them grow to the point when the flowers appear and then the beans form. Patience is essential; there’s nothing to be done and no point getting frustrated. Growing broccoli, leeks and the like is even worse, they need much more time. Basically put them in and almost forget them – well not quite, but you know what I mean!  

Despite the often gloomy prognosis about January, it is a delightful time as the first bulbs start pushing up. There are the plants like Hellebores that are producing their early flowers which is such a delight. Then in the grass near the bottom of the garden the first delicate crocuses give little dashes of white or purple or yellow, getting ahead of the various other bulbs that are only just pushing up out of the soil. Winter-flowering Jasmin, weaving up through a flowerless rambling rose, also causes me to do a double-take at this time of year before the real Spring flowers break loose. Trying to identify the leaves of the various bulbs that are appearing becomes another pleasure in this otherwise inhospitable month. And there it is, a yearning for February and then March when more and more of the bulbs power colour into the otherwise barren looking remnant of Winter.

Who knows what will come next? Will it be a mild Spring or will we have the icy blasts that the tabloids on a slow-news day predict from time to time? Will snow sneak over here from Kent or will it stay on the hills of the north? Yes, I confess a certain impatience to get the other side of April when the threats of such things have died away. But weather or season watching can be a frustrating time for the impatient. When will it get warmer? (When the sun gets higher you clot! Be patient!) When will this rain stop, when will the grey skies disappear? Possibly next week because that is the thing about this amazing climate of ours, it is changeable, very changeable!

Already this year the grey clouds, the drizzle and the mist have given way to bright sunshine and clear blue skies several days at a time and I have scuttled outside and raked some leaves, cleared the remains of a decrepit and disintegrating raised bed and pruned back some brambles. And, yes, I did manage to relocate some perennials that had grown too big where they were and needed a more spacious location. Impatience with the weather gave way for a few days at least to the joy of being wrapped up against the still chill wind and “achieving something”!  

That, I find, if where a large degree of impatience rises to the surface in me – I want to get on with stuff in the garden – but the trouble is, having done it in the few brief days of rain-free sunshine, there is little more to be done but just stand back and let it grow.  The bushes, hedges and trees were pruned back last Autumn and so now the next game is spotting which ones will be the first to show buds appearing and, yes, some of them are at it already, but just to make sure I don’t get too smug about it all, there will be a number that will hold back, as if they are watching me and saying, “come on, ease up, we need some more sunshine warmth before we’re getting under way. Relax!”  

Impatience can show itself in many different forms. My wife says I am competitive; a case of the kettle calling the pot black, I say!  Last Autumn we had two raised beds, cleaned up and empty and so she planted one of them with onion sets. There were a number of them left over so I freshly composted the other bed and planted the rest. Guess whose are growing best? (My wife’s as it happens!) The only way to find out is to just watch them – and we both do!  Impatient? Well….

But whatever you plant in the garden – seeds, bulbs, corms, root cuttings, full blown plants – time is a feature, and you need lots of it and an attitude to go with it. Different seeds take different times to germinate, different plants come to life at different times. Plants that need the warmth of a high-in-the-sky sun are just not going to be as advanced as those that need less warmth to develop. If you look back at my articles on appreciating change you’ll see the various plants I mention there as examples of the way the early seasons bring on different plants.

Watching fruit ripen on bushes or trees always creates in me, I find, a certain level of impatience or uncertainty. Are those pears ready to pick yet or are they still too hard? Similarly the apples. Should I leave the gooseberries for another couple of weeks or will they start dropping off if I don’t get to work harvesting them now? The same applies to redcurrants or blackcurrants or cultivated blackberries.  Leave them too long and they’ll go soft and squishy. And if I leave them any longer will the birds decide I have lost any claim to them? Patience versus impatience, the battle is rarely far away.

But it’s not only fruit. I find the same is true of our vegetables. The leeks have weathered over Winter with my wife champing at the bit for me to pull them. Impatience isn’t in it,  “But I like them when they are not so thick.” Yes, well I’m trying to let them grow to show-winning size. Some hope. Potatoes are just as bad. Are those ‘earlies’ ready for digging yet? You won’t know until you try one plant. I realise there are times when I am a split personality. Much of the time I am a blue-sky and sunshine person but when it comes to the rhubarb, which I love, I look at the sky and mutter where is the rain they need to bulk out? And that’s how it goes on, a continual tug-of-war between that side of me that is happy to potter and watch, and the other side that agitates and tells the plants to grow faster, the content side versus the impatient side. And, of course, the antidote to impatience is a vision of the end product you are growing. The thought of those potatoes, those beans, that wonderfully spreading climbing rose or other climber that you are using to transform that fence or shed face, (but which seems to be taking too long) that thought helps counter the impatience and transform it into patience. Yeah!  

I take refuge and imbibe the quotes of the Internet: “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished,”  or, “Nature never rushes but always gets there,” or, “Gardening dreams must always be watered with an abundance of patience,” or, “The day you plant the seed is not the day you harvest the fruit,” or, “If you can sit under a great tree that you planted as a sapling, you surely must have had patience,” or, “The work of the gardener is a work that reveals patience, perseverance and a willingness to go on when it sometimes doesn’t work out as you planned.” OK, enough said!

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