On Patience

Isn’t it human nature to want results quickly? And to get impatient when you don’t get what you want right away?

During my working years, I found myself getting impatient with my transportation woes: my job required frequent business trips which meant dealing with airport lines and flight delays.  When I wasn’t traveling, I was commuting to the office in Boston along the Southeast Expressway, notorious for its lovely combination of gridlock traffic and aggressive drivers.

When I got tired of being angry with these situations, I began trying to cultivate patience by repeating to myself “You can’t control this, so don’t waste your energy, just relax and be patient.”  Eventually my “patience muscle” got stronger, and while I never enjoyed waiting for planes and traffic, it bothered me less.

Of course, the patience muscle is needed in gardening, too.  I’ve observed myself getting impatient in the garden from time to time, so I am writing this blog post as a reminder to myself about just relaxing and being patient.

Patience to be persnickety

There are times when weeding is satisfying work, but not always.  Sure, I want to reduce competition for the garden plants, and I appreciate the finished look of a neat garden bed, but I also want it to be done quickly.  I want to give the weeding “a lick and a promise” as the saying goes, but with that approach I need to weed again soon.  Really, it’s much better to use some patience to weed thoroughly. And if I keep saying that, one day I might just believe it!

Working on weeding between rows of young lettuces

It’s the same thing with planting.  With a little bit of patience to dig the holes big enough and in the right place, get the plants carefully prepared, place them at the right depth and with their best side facing forward, arrange the backfill properly, and get the everything watered in and fenced against the rabbits, the planting will settle in and be off to a nice start.

Patience to let the planting mature

Gardening isn’t the kind of craft where we see the results immediately.  Our raw materials, plants, grow and change over time, so our planting designs need to accommodate that change.  I know I have been disappointed by the initial installation of some garden beds because they look so empty, and it takes frequent reminders to be patient and let the plants mature, and not cram in more plants so it looks better right now. After a few years the beds almost always look full, and the shrubs have grown to take up the space allocated for them.  If I have had the patience, that is the point I evaluate whether the design worked or not and decide if the planting needs any adjustments.

A shade garden at my in-law’s house, newly planted in 2019 on the left, and nicely filled out in 2022
Rosebay rhododendron (R. maximum cultivar), in 2017, just a knee-high plant, and in 2022, now more than double in size, with some real presence in the landscape. This shrub is likely to double in size again.

Patience to plant for the future

Working on restoring my back property to be a coastal woodland involves a whole different level of patience, one that can take me into a meditative state.  A lot of my gardening is right-now, especially the weeding and maintenance.  But the restoration project is years and years in length.  Visualizing what it could be is hard, and it takes patience (and a quiet room with no distractions) to get my mind into thinking big-picture and long-term, and to iterate on the master plan until it is good. Then it takes more patience to plant just a handful of trees, leaving a very bare landscape, but knowing that eventually a shady tree canopy will form.

The key to restoring a woodland is adding trees of various ages and sizes. In addition to some seedling-sized trees, I added this large red maple (Acer rubrum) in 2017, to expand the area with tree coverage. I’m still working on the under-plantings to make this look more like a woodland edge than a standalone tree. The evergreens are red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and the twisty small tree on the left is winged sumac (Rhus copallinum).

3 comments

  1. Thank you Cathy for this valuable reminder! We all sooner or later give in to the “impatient brain” when we need really just to take a deep breath, remember the long term and keep our “eye on the prize.” It sure is a challenge with everything around us screaming “now!”. Thanks! And your garden looks beautiful at all stages of its evolution!

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    • Glad this resonated with you! I will say it is so much easier to be patient when it’s a beautiful day and I deliberately leave my devices behind when I go out into the garden! Cathy

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