The longer I garden, the more I have to resist the urge to start over with a clean slate. Patience is, alas, not one of my defining characteristics, as I have a hard time waiting for many perennials to do their thing.
Working a lot with sustainable roses, I have learned that it is not wise to judge a rose shrub until it has spent four years residing in my garden. Three years ago, I picked up “Ann’s Beautiful Daughter.” Simply put my Ann, “Ann’s Beautiful Daughter” did not live up to her name.
She was wretchedly scrawny and in two years threw out one pathetic bloom. If ever there was a misnamed rose, I was in possession of it. Last year — her third year — she managed to toss out several magnificent blooms, surprising me with the idea that perhaps I should keep her but her shrub form was still scraggy. This year she suddenly has turned into a substantial, albeit small rose shrub, proving that she is indeed an asset in the garden.
Dealing with perennials is frustrating because unlike with annuals, they do not conform to the idea of instant gratification. A few will take off, such as Rudbeckias and Coreopsis, but so many will simply sit there asking to be watered, and doing seemingly little to enhance the garden.
Of course, we tell ourselves that they are busy putting down roots but sometimes I think that there must be an awful lot of roots supporting a mere tuft of foliage. All of this can be tiresome to the gardener who has spent both money and energy establishing this plant.
Five years ago, I planted a smoke tree, Cotinus obovatas, that refused to smoke. I would introduce it to friends as “my non-smoking smoke tree” and had just about given up on it until one late spring it did its thing, encircling itself with large wisps of smoke. Yes, it was a frustrating wait—but well worth it.
And this is my point: It’s okay to dislike a plant. It’s okay to pull it out but first please give it a chance. Too often I find myself wondering why I even bothered with a particular plant, only to be filled with awe in a couple of years’ time.
The old adage, “The first year they sleep, the second year they creep and the third year they leap” has a lot of truth to it. Perennials are not annuals — they are in it for the long haul so they take their time settling into their new home.
Resist throwing a lot of fertilizer on the young plants. Fertilizer burn occurs when the plant receives more fertilizer than it can use. I never fertilize the roses during their first year, despite their reputation that they are heavy feeders. Give them good, well-draining soil and let them sleep through that first year. Some varieties, such as Knockout, will bloom that first year but many will not.
Three years ago, I planted the rose “Madame Anisette.” She grew one cane over six feet tall; weird behavior for a hybrid tea. She didn’t bloom at all, a common occurrence with this rose I soon discovered, but last year she rewarded me with two blooms. Clearly this was a lady pondering whether she wanted to be here or not. This year, I’m happy to say, she is covered with blooms.
The wait is worth it, proving that this old gardener is capable of learning new tricks — I’m adding patience to my bag of gardening tricks.
Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email firstname.lastname@example.org.