Anticipating Change in the Garden

We can experience the garden as an instance in the flow of time, beginning in the past, through the present, and into the future.

Except for rare occasions, we give little thought to the garden’s past. We might take pride in the improvements over the wasteland (or mess) it once was, but usually we focus on the present.

We enjoy the plants that show good health and colorful blossoms.

In my garden, for example, I am currently appreciating an irregular row of Madeira Germanders (Teucrium betonicum) that are growing to screen the view to and from my neighbors. These evergreen shrubs began as divisions of and cuttings from an established plant, and are growing to about six feet high and five feet wide with attractive inflorescences of fragrant, violet-rose flowers.

Madeira Germanders (Teucrium betonicum)

Several other plants are still in flower at this time, but as the season winds down, many blossoms are beginning to fade, and some have already shriveled. At this time of the year, the present includes the late stages of seasonal blossoms and the anticipation of their natural demise.

Our attention shifts now to the anticipation of the garden’s future, which unfolds in a series of stages.

The first stage embraces the emergence of the fall-blooming plants; here are three examples from my garden.

Tree Dahlia (Dahlia imperialis). This amazing plant from Mexico sends up twenty-foot high stalks and blooms in November with sprays of light lavender-pink flowers high above the ground. These are single blossoms, unlike the multiple forms of hybrid dahlias. After bloom, we cut the stalks to the ground and begin the cycle over again.  

Daisy Tree (Montanoa Grandiflora). Another dramatic plant from Central America, the Daisy Tree grows from its base to produce multiple branches up to twelve feet tall. In November and December it produces an abundance of white, daisy-like flowers with yellow centers and a fragrance reminiscent of chocolate or vanilla. It is cut back hard in early spring to encourage the development of new branches form the base.

Black Mission Fig (Ficus carica).  One of the most popular varieties of the common fig, Black Mission was introduced in the United States in 1768 and Franciscan missionaries planted it in all the gardens of the California missions. This plant produces two good crops each year: the first or breba crop develops in the spring on last year’s shoot growth. The main crop develops on the current year’s shoot growth and ripens in the late summer or fall. My tree is bouncing back nicely after last year’s extensive pruning. Its first crop was sparse, but now its main crop is developing now and looks to be quite productive. I might drape bird netting over the tree to enable the harvest of figs for eating and gifting.

The next stage of anticipating the garden’s future targets the spring bloom. This is when we see irises, daffodils, other spring geophytes, and annual flowers coming into their own, assuming of course that we planted them in the fall.

The spring is also the time when fall-planted perennial plants leaf out, after developing their root systems during the winter months, drawing upon the seasonal rains.

Our stages of anticipation then address the gradual development of young plants that we had installed in our gardens. Each year’s growth advances these plants toward their mature size, and the realization of the goals we had when bringing small plants to the garden. There is great joy—and little effort—in watching plants achieve their potential.

The last stage of anticipation begins with the gardener’s vision of what the garden could be, and could sustain for a very long time. The vision can only become real when the gardener puts hands in the soil.

It can be satisfying to enjoy your garden in the present, but the joy of gardening also resides in these stages of anticipation. Gardens evolve continuously, and gardening includes engaging with nature’s processes.

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