Put Your Best Bloom Forward

The peonies didn’t bloom again (I’m on it). Neither did the rhododendron (no clue). I planted dozens of sunflower seeds. They would have been perfect towering high along the back fence. Not even one survived. Fellow gardeners felt sorry for me and gave me six fully germinated sunflowers. I followed their advice and inserted nails all around the stems to prevent that gnarly worm from chewing through. Every plant was gone by morning. Finally, they sent me home with fully bloomed sunflowers to put in a vase.

Roses turn brown on the vine. They look awful. Day lilies have the attention span of exactly one day. This garden has no less than six hydrangeas. Not one has bloomed. We planted a fig tree two years ago. It sprouted so many suckers that I divided the whole bunch and now we have two fig bunches. No figs. Whoever said gardening was easy has surely never tended a garden.

Jim, my gardening mentor, tells the story of the hydrangeas he planted when he first landscaped his garden thirty years ago. They were horrible and after tolerating them for several years he gave up, pulled every one out and threw them away. Not every plant will be amazing just because you want it to be. But not every plant will be horrible either.

The dahlias are more beautiful than I could have imagined and the bearded iris were a really pleasant surprise. I decided not to prune the smoke bush so that it would become a tree. It tripled in size this summer.

The gladiolus are determined to bloom even when they’ve fallen over and lay flat on the ground. They are the most determined plant in the garden. I can’t remember how many times I’ve moved the burgundy-black calla lily that has never bloomed. It bloomed this summer.

Every plant, mind you, every plant will thrive in the right environment. That environment may not be in your garden, but the proper environment is out there somewhere.

The peonies don’t like being too deep in the soil, and they may not bloom for up to five years after they’ve been moved. I wish I had known this before I moved them three times.

The young buds on the hydrangea and rhododendron may have been bitten by that late frost we had. Some day the river birch will grow up tall enough to protect the rhododendron, but it’s possible the hydrangea are the wrong type of hydrangea for my garden. I don’t know what to say about that. Experienced gardeners have suggested to simply appreciate the beauty of the bush – without the flower?

Like Jim, I have been tempted to rip out the hydrangeas and toss them away in frustration, except that I keep believing they will some day respond to my coaxing. Or, I’ll finally prune them correctly. But what if some day, let’s say twenty years from now, they have still not bloomed? I’d be obliged to decide whether my efforts are worthwhile. Sometimes it’s gardener’s error, and sometimes it’s environment.

Some plants bloom at the first hint of spring while others wait all summer long to take this first step. There are those remarkable few that will bloom in the dead of winter, or the gladiolus that can be knocked to the ground yet still reach for the sky.

Still others, such as my peony, are so fussy they’d live years without a bloom to protest an innocent mistake. And the fig that has grown bigger than life with no bloom in sight.

So if it seems you simply can not put your best bloom forward, follow the advice of the experienced gardener.

The gardener might say, give it your earnest effort, give it time. Decide if that bloom is the most important thing to your garden. And when all else fails, maybe they will tell us the most generous thing a gardener can do is to help every plant find its best environment. They might say, go. . . find your happy place, and put your best bloom forward.

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