Two notable characteristics missing in my DNA are prudence and patience, two attributes I have become increasingly aware are needed in the garden. I, in an act of desperation, even named two of my dogs Patience and Prudence in an effort to acquire these two traits. I have written about patience but let’s now investigate prudence.

According to the dictionary, prudence is the act of demonstrating care and thought for the future, something it behooves all of us gardeners to consider.

We perennial gardeners must have patience to wait two to four years to see the fruits of our labors. However, it is equally important to demonstrate prudence in our choice of plants. Simply put, there are a lot of invasive plants found in nursery centers, plants we need to avoid.

Take English ivy, for example. This is a legally sold invasive plant, one that is outlawed in the states of Oregon and Washington and several counties in Virginia. This ivy will grow in both sun and shade. It’s deceptive as it is slow to take off but once it does, watch out. Then it will begin to climb, entering its adult stage, producing fruits that birds love. Soon you will have too much English ivy — and it’s not easy to get rid of.

Clematis ternifolia, aka C. paniculata, aka Sweet Autumn Clematis is a beautiful monster. Catalogues show its masses of small flowers — and you will immediately want it. Once you have it you will never get rid of it as it’s terribly seedy. Knowing this, I smugly bought C. virginiana instead.

Now, this clematis is also huge, it needs to climb, and it produces small, white flowers. If any of the stems remain on the ground — and it’s not easy containing this clematis — they will root in, providing a tiresome chore come next spring. The good thing is that it isn’t seedy, but it takes ever-observant management to keep it under control. Is this a prudent substitute for Sweet Autumn Clematis? Perhaps — but only if you are willing to be its caretaker.

Some words in plant descriptions should arouse your prudence: “exuberant,” “not for the small garden,” and “vigorous” are three words that excite my emerging prudence. Instead I seek out “mannerly,” “self-contained” and “clumping.” Simply put, “clumping” in my garden is better than “galloping.”

We all know the perils of Japanese wisteria or Japanese honeysuckle — but our native ones are no slouches. Instead of covering your house and barn, our native honeysuckle will cover only half our house.

Prudence also dictates that instead of buying ten daylilies when you have room for four is something you will come to regret. Plants need room to expand, and if they don’t get it, soon your garden will resemble a slum.

Now this is a sin against prudence that I’m guilty of. I’m intellectually interested in how plants look in the garden, so I tend to overdo it — and I live to regret it. Roses really look better if they can drape their canes over several feet rather than being scrunched in between a flourishing clematis and a clump of lilies. You can transplant roses but it takes several years for them to catch up, requiring a lot of patience on your part.

Prudence demands that you do not grow anything that will affect your neighbors, one of the reasons I am passionately against nurturing English Ivy or Sweet Autumn Clematis. If you want to grow hellebores, go ahead, as their heavy seeds will be your problem, not the neighborhood’s.

As for acquiring prudence and patience, I’m working on it. When I look at Prudence and Patience Flynn, I know that I’m on my way to becoming (perhaps) both a prudent and patient gardener.

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

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