A Lot Of Gardening Involves Waiting

How long are you willing to wait for a plant to reach peak performance in your garden?

We’ve all heard the saying about perennials. The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and finally the third year they leap.

This isn’t always true, but generally, the point is there are no instant gardens. Gardens can take years, decades, to mature and become the plant paradises that we all dream of.

In my garden, I planted the white-flowering shrub clematis (Clematis integrifolia ‘Alba’) ten years ago.

It’s been an interesting plant, one that people ask about. It has bloomed each year, but for some reason this year, after ten years, I feel like it has come into its own. It is no longer a background plant with a few white flowers each year, it’s a focal point that draws attention.

Or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention?

In my sunroom, the night-blooming cereus (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) sat in a large pot for 13 years before it bloomed for me. Then it was another five years before it bloomed again, I assume because I repotted it.

My night-bloomer seems to bloom best when I let it get pot bound, withhold fertilizer, and water sparingly. Under these conditions, it has bloomed more consistently the last several years, twice last year, and has a flower bud on it now, so I should have a bloom in a few weeks, or maybe a week.

When it does bloom, it is a one night event, and it is the closest you can get to ‘instant gratification’ in terms of a bud opening and flowering in just a few hours. I’ll use Twitter if I’m home when it blooms to post updates so others can see the rapid progression from bud to bloom.

But rapid is a relative term. It will still take a few hours.

And in this age of instant gratification, a few hours can seem like forever. We want it, and we want it now. Have we lost the ability to be patient, to wait? How often have you heard someone say “I can’t wait?”

In the garden, it doesn’t matter if you can’t wait, you have to wait.

We can be impatient with the rest of life, but in the garden impatience gets you no where. You have to wait for seeds to sprout, for the weather to warm up, for flowers to bloom, for trees to grow tall, for tomatoes to ripen, and for perennials to sleep, creep and leap.

If you can’t wait, get out of the garden!

How long are you willing to wait for a plant to flower in your garden?


I believe I have effectively used botanical names in this post without going overboard or distracting from the content.

It occurred to me while I was writing this post that I could have told you to "embrace waiting" but I might have gotten a comment or two telling me, "Oh, yeah, well embrace THIS! It really is too soon to ask anyone to embrace something else besides weeding, bugs, your weather, your soil, mowing, and botanical names. I'm going to WAIT before I ask you to embrace anything else.


  1. Great post Carol. You are exactly right about gardening requiring alot of waiting and patience. I feel that it is worth the wait though, the anticipation of how it will all come together is exciting.

  2. So true! I think gardening has helped me become more patient of a person. In just two years time since we have moved into our new home I have witnessed my little plants grow into such hearty and healthy gardens.

  3. I am totally reaping the benefits of patience with my little plot, people always compliment me and are so surprised that it even exists because this is the first year anyone has actually noticed what I'm doing (it's been about three years now). It was hanging on and struggling and this summer it is finally blooming on so many levels.

  4. I can wait for ages - in fact, I think having to wait for a plant makes the plant even more precious. (I'm not that patient about other things in life, though...)

  5. Carol, I have been meaning to post about your use of botanical names. Being from the UK we use different common names so it is often the botanical name that tells me what you are talking about. If someone hasn't used them I have to google the common name to understand.

    Your veg post made me chuckle, like you we don't use botanical names in the veg garden.

    Waiting for plants is what got me through some difficult times - the plant will grow and bloom, there is a happier tomorrow. Instant containers are nice but don't have the magic that anticipation has.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  6. There are so many life lessons in gardening!

  7. I'm sort of odd...for a 21st century American, anyway. I've always enjoyed anticipation as much (if not more) than fulfillment, Advent more than Christmas, and curiosity over satisfaction.

    In the garden I like to watch seeds come up and flowers come into bud. But once the plants are flowering, I begin to lose interest. I like the garden as it's becoming and get bored when it achieves static fullness. Not that it does for very long. I think the reason I prefer gardening to other hobbies is that the garden is different every day. It's never finished.

  8. So true! Waiting is even more critical when your soil is terrible and you have to spend the first couple years ammending before you can even think about buying nice plants. I have spent the last 5 ammending soil in many of my beds, it's far from perfect, but the plants are doing well this year!

    I always tell my friends, I'm a very patient gardener. I prefer to propogate my own plants through cuttings & seeds rather and run out to the greenhouse and buy more. This adds some years to the plan, but what else do I have to do? A garden is a journey, not something with instant gratification.

    I always chuckle when those perfect gardens in magazines were planned by garden designers, installed by professionals and maintained by landscape companies, can you really call yourself a gardener at that point? Or are you just a garden manager?

  9. I agree with MSS. I think the anticipation is always better. That is, until I smell the lilies! This post is a really good one, Carol, especially because we seem to be turning into an "instant" society. I wonder how many young gardeners there are (or at least the percentage) and whether or not us patient ones got that way because we aged or because we gardened.

  10. Waiting is just a part of being a gardener. For me, it represents the Zen of gardening. I have become a much more patient person and a more peaceful person since I started gardening seriously, instead of just puttering around in the yard. Gardening - and, sometimes, waiting patiently - is good for the soul.

  11. One of the wonderful things about a garden is that even while you wait patiently for the clematis to bloom or the tomato to ripen, there are other rewards to be found and surprises in store.

  12. Yes, it is a waiting game. Some of my plants are finally really coming into their own this year. I find myself worrying that we'll have to move for some unexpected reason and I'll have to leave yet another garden behind before I REALLY get to enjoy all those plants I put in...

  13. I believe that gardening teaches patience, among many things. :) This seems to be *thee* summer when things really come into their own in a lot of gardens.

  14. My patience has not been tested beyond 7 years...that's how long I waited for the Viburnum rufidulum to bloom!

    Fabulous question Carol!

  15. I'm pretty patient with waiting for a plant to bloom or come into its own. And I'll keep a plant even if the bloom time is short, if I like it enough. Waiting is half the fun. If everything looked perfect from the get-go, what would be the point?

  16. Since we are all somewhat patient gardeners that read your blog we will be patiently waiting for the next subject to embrace.

  17. Thanks for this post, Carol. I started planting two years ago and I'm still waiting for the big leap into full-grown, mature flowers. It's frustrating but I know in a few years I'll walk outside and smile...

    Miss being here.

  18. Although I haven't had to wait as long as you did for the night-blooming cereus, Carol - I can be very patient when waiting years for perennials and I can now sit underneath a trees that was a 4-leaved seedling.

    With those "Slow-gardening" credentials established I'll now play devil's advocate and say it might not be a good idea to wait too long for blooms where a flowering plant is important to the whole garden design. For the good of the garden, either give away the non-performing plant or move it to a less prominent position.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  19. The companion idea to waiting is that you can't rush in a garden. You can rush at a lot of things, but you just can't rush Mother Nature.

    Gardening Examiner

  20. Perennial Gardener, I agree, for as quiet as some gardens can be, they are full of excitement.

    SuzyQ, That's a goog point about gardening, it does teach the impatient how to be patient.

    Anne(in Reno), Congrats on your garden coming into its own! Worth the wait, I'm sure.

    Katarina, How true! Patience in the garden may not carry over into 'real life'.

    Sylvia(England), I think you are right about the anticipation aspect being as important to some of us.

    Garden Girl, Yes, there are a lot of lessons from gardening!

    MSS @ ZanthanGardens, Why, I don't think you are odd at all! I think we gardeners might be just a bit addicted to 'waiting', to 'anticipating'.

    Susy, I don't think people who have others install complete gardens for them are even garden managers, more like garden wallets!

    Kim, I think the patience comes from gardening...

    Plantwoman, Well-said!

    Cindy, MCOK, I agree, while we wait there is much to do and other things to see.

    Amy, Take the plants with you!

    Nancy J. Bond, In some areas, like mine, the abundant rain has really helped the gardens 'come into their own'. I'm just sorry that's not true everywhere.

    Gail, 7 years is a long time!

    Pam/digging, I agree, what's the point if you can make it perfect, have it all, right from the beginning?

    Lisa at Greenbow, The next thing to embrace will probably be posted next week sometime.

    Mary, With your dry weather in NC, you need patience. Come back anytime!

    Annie in Austin, I agree, for the good of the garden, sometimes a plant has to be moved. There are some gardeners who seem addicted to moving their plants around.

    Robin, Oh, yeah, Mother Nature gets very upset if you try to rush her!

    Thanks all for the nice comments and for joining into the conversation and adding to it!

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  21. I've waited four years for the baptisia to flower--that was the year I took the shovel out and put it beside it and told it what would happen if it failed to bloom that year. With trees and shrubs, I just let them do their thing--when they're ready, they'll flower. There's always enough going on here that it doesn't matter if that tree or this shrub doesn't put on a show this year. We do get in too much of a hurry, sometimes, don't we?


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