Recently I was a member of the rapt audience, willingly entrapped by Monty Don who was speaking at Dorking Halls. He began by showing a picture of his own garden when it was a cold and windswept field – a very large vista of bumpy grass clumps with their flattened beige flower-stalks lying on top of them. Did everyone simultaneously shrink at the enormity of the task that he had faced, whilst just longing to get stuck in, one spade turn at a time? The message Monty Don gave was, not to just get stuck in. At first one should simply observe.
This waiting time is a mighty and important message to gardeners. We do all long to start digging, to lay claim, to change. Waiting, Monty Don said, wasn’t passive. It is truly getting to know the territory. One should learn the character of the place – the squidgy parts, the dry parts, the parts where nothing much grows. Then there is the movement of light over the year and, what lies beyond, that which should be concealed and that which can be used. Very few of us are lucky enough to start with a virgin plot. In a garden that has been acquired it is worth waiting to see what turns up; obviously bulbs will make their show, and then go, as will perennials. Even a bare and scrubby shrub may be revealed as a treasure. The ‘I want it NOW feeling’ and the need, perhaps to sweep everything away and start-over can be expensive in a well-stocked garden.
Once the period of observation has ended and we begin to plant the garden the need to wait can become an intense irritant. Beautiful gardens need patience and planning and the garden works best if you choose and plan your planting. Sometimes, the search for a specific plant can take months, if not a year or two and is far worse than finding a matching handbag! Patience is almost anti-matter these days – and it shouldn’t be.
We all try to cheat time. Plants are bought in containers, not seed packets. If we have money it is large containers and even spindly six-metre trees. Even with this modest shortcut one moves into a further period of waiting. This is a time-frame that covers years, if not decades; patience must be developed. One needs to look at the plants in the garden and to observe the gentle process of their evolution. Their timelines can be an ongoing joy. What ‘instant’ can never deliver is that ride on the heft of time. Over time the whippersnapper sapling will be sturdy enough to be climbed. It will rise towards the sky and spread its branches so one can lie in their shade. And then, you may say to your child: “I planted that when you were born”.
The best is worth waiting for.
Susan A. Tindall