Gardening is a slow pursuit, measured in the ebb and flow of seasons and even years. I’ve always been a proponent of a mostly-perennial flower garden, and I know that it can take several years for perennials to get to full flowering potential. Of course, growing trees and shrubs is another level in long-term thinking and patience.
I’ve been gardening on my current small urban piece of land for 23 years. What started as mostly dying grass, a couple of shrubs and 2 large trees now includes many varieties of perennials, shrubs, several more trees, much less grass, and some persistent weeds. I often include a few annual seeds in the mix – usually cosmos and zinnias. But I struggle with nurturing young seeds in the midst of the garden. So this year I decided to grow seeds in pots – where fresh soil would solve the weed problem, and I would hopefully remember to water them enough. (My established perennial garden is mostly low-water, to fit into Colorado’s semi-arid climate.)
For some reason, I have found myself quite impatient with my seeds this year! This week (mid-August) I finally have 2 small blooms, one nasturtium and one zinnia. I looked back to see when I planted the seeds and wondered if it was worth the effort!
I planted an assortment of seeds on May 24 – zinnias, nasturtiums, and a couple of climbing vines – in a recycled (free) planter on my deck. For some of you who live in mild climates, May 24 sounds late – but in Denver, our average last frost is mid-May, and this year was particularly cool even into June. On June 20, I have a picture of the seedlings that needed thinning, and they were only a few inches tall.
I know we still have another month of summer, but as September approaches, the nights get cooler and the question of the first frost looms. At a mile-high elevation, a cold snap can arrive in September, or we can enjoy a longer growing season into October. No guarantees. On average, Denver is frost-free from May 9 – October 1.
I also planted some sunflower seeds this year – with our very cool spring, I decided not to plants tomatoes in my usual pots (although I have one tomato plant, a dear friend and neighbor gave me – so far with one green tomato). On a whim I planted sunflowers in the 2 pots I usually dedicate to tomatoes, on a warm south brick wall. I planted them June 11 and they have shot up to more than 4 feet tall – I can see buds forming, so I’m cautiously optimistic that I might get a few flowers before the end of August (which is on target for sunflowers).
As I reflect on the shorter than average growing season this year, in a location that has a short season anyway, I wonder at my impatience. I’ve been gardening in Colorado for 35 years, so I’m not new to the realities of our seasons.
In some ways, as I age (just celebrated a milestone of 60 years) I find that I have more patience. I can see the trajectory of 10, 20, 30 years of life in a way that was impossible when I was younger. I know that growing things – plants, people, a community, faith, me – takes time – even years.
So why my seed frustration this summer in particular? What if my vines don’t bloom at all – is it enough to have greenery climbing up the planter and wrapping tendrils around the deck railing? Is the point to have something living and growing, or it is all about the flowers?
Or is there some restlessness in my soul, that is manifesting itself in my gardening? Perhaps some deep-rooted fear that I have limited future summers to bring forth flowers? Or just a bit of sadness over the brevity of summer, this one seeming all-the-more brief since it was so slow in starting.
I’m not sure I’ll discern the answers to all these questions this season. But I’ll keep watering, keep watching, keep waiting, keep hoping – and focus on living to the fullest for however many days of greenery and flowers are allotted to this growing season.