One of the things I love about the sayings of really good gardeners is the kind of humility that only arrives from coping with the mix of disasters, joyful surprises, and embarrassing mistakes that are inevitable for people working with plants and the soil.
For instance, Helen Dillon confesses (in her book Helen Dillon on Gardening): "For me, clematis hold a fatal attraction. Fatal, that is, for the clematis. I've killed more of these irresistible climbers than anyone else so feel quite entitled to pontificate on their cultivation or lack of it."
The truth is, the more plants a gardener attempts to grow the greater the count of eventual casualties - especially if they are rare or little-known.
Ultimately the death count is accompanied by a few successes and the persistent gardener becomes philosophical about the vagaries of certain plants.
As the eminent alpine gardener Geoffrey Charlesworth observed: "Aquilegia jonesii: seed is available, we get plants, they die. If they don't die, they don't flower. Occasionally one will flower and then die." (from his book The Opinionated Gardener).
Seed-growing of perennials, shrubs, and trees is one of the most tempting gardening gambles to some of us.
Frequently the most beautiful species are the least available and the most difficult.
For instance, nature is usually determined not to let all its seed babies germinate at once because a drought or animal browsing on seedlings could wipe out one whole generation.
That's why seed pots of perennial, shrub, or tree seed should never be considered a failure for at least five years.
I've had hellebore seedlings emerge 10 years later in places where I dumped the seed pots.
Preserving the species is also the motivation behind bulbs that put down droppers.
Snowdrops, bluebells, and crocosmia will put down a sturdy root below a shallow bulb and form another bulb (or more) several inches deeper than the first one. I found three dropper bulbs at different levels on one snowdrop plant once.
It can be quite disconcerting when plants in our gardens march to their own timing, not ours. For instance, Hellelbore foetidus is reputed to be a shade and moisture lover. But mine like to self-seed in a sunny west-facing bed, which almost never gets watered in summer.
Whether it's transplanting, pruning, keeping weeds and pests at bay or obtaining a crop in good years and bad, gardening isn't just healthy physical exercise.
It's a test of patience, resilience, ability to plan, and most of all to develop a philosophy that can carry you through good years and bad.
For instance I have been trying unsuccessfully to get viable cuttings and/or seed of the yellow berried form of the native elderberry (Sambuscus racem-a) for 15 years.
Now the roadside tree has been
cut down. But perhaps it will shoot again.
In his book, Crazy about Gardening, Des Kennedy says after describing a tomato disaster: "One learns not to question this thing nor to be too thrown off by it."
Best wishes to all of you for a happy New Year and success in your gardens.
Anne Marrison is happy to answer garden questions. Send them to amarrison@ shaw.ca