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Garden with Patience

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Patience is not one of my virtues. Time, a critical element in gardening, causes me difficulty. I want immediate gratification; I love time-lapse movies of flowers that go from seed to bloom in less than a minute. Gardening deals with time frames of minutes and hours and years and decades.

An example: a colorful and fragrant lavender garden would be a great welcome to our home. Thinking in an immediate time frame, I bought 24 plants for a 4×6 area. After they were all planted, it looked good.

Fast forward two years and the lavender is a veritable mound. Perfection will be fleeting. If I had the patience to read the label, I might have noticed that this variety of English lavender grows up to three feet tall and wide. They will get straggly and crowd each other out.

Here is where patience in gardening comes into play. Take time to read the label. If a label says three feet tall, don’t plant a foot apart. Secondly, take time to plan. If the vision is a three-foot-tall mound of lavender, more plants won’t make it happen quicker. In fact, you will be lucky if it happens at all. Plants compete with each other for sun, water and nutrients. Planting too closely creates a horticultural war zone. (If I had the patience to read labels, I would have found dwarf lavenders that grow only a foot tall.)

Sowing seeds also requires patience. My favorite seeds come up in a day or two, but there are some, like peppers, that take two weeks or more. By the time they sprout, I’m sure seed is bad and I’m giving up. Even worse, some seeds need to be frozen first, called stratification. Perennial sweet pea seeds need cold to germinate. Seeds can be planted in pots and left outside, or be put in the refrigerator (on a damp paper towel in a baggy) for up to a month. Frankly, that kind of detail tries my patience. Preplan months in advance, then check the refrigerator every couple of days. That’s crazy—a time frame of months to a year.

But it gets worse for the patience-deprived. There are trees. I wanted a little orchard for my retirement home, so I installed a rudimentary drip system and planted eight bare root fruit trees one February. It takes three years before a dwarf apple tree will bear fruit. Some full-sized apple trees take up to eight years. My patience snapped, dwarf trees it is. Now the time frame is years and decades. It’s almost more than a body can bear. My orchard is almost five years old; I still haven’t had an apple. To add insult to injury, we had a late frost this year and I lost peaches, almonds and cherries, as well. Patience is vastly overrated!

There is more. A large black oak on the property is not doing well. A replacement won’t provide benefits for me at all. That tree will be for my children’s children to enjoy, a time frame of decades to centuries.

Jim Bliss is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.