Why Cultivating Patience In The Garden Is Transformative

– Posted in: Garden Musings

Cultivating patience in the garden is the ultimate lesson.

We learn that we have no choice but to wait for plants to grow in their own sweet time – no matter what we do.

Patience In The Garden Isn’t Easy

In today’s world, it’s not easy to be patient. We don’t like to wait.

We’ve created a world of quick mastery in which we can learn languages in a few days and grasp intricate practices like hypnosis  in a weekend workshop.

The internet has fed into the belief that we can become experts in a chosen field overnight.

cultivating patience in garden

Tropical Bird in Ecuador’s Rainforest

 Mastery Is A Life Long Process

So much of what we are rewarded for today is based on productivity rather than on cultivating mastery.

Yet it’s the quiet process – the one that happens in private – that allows for deep learning and molds our character.

This type of process doesn’t happen quickly.

patience in the garden

Macleya cordata – Plume Poppy

Zen practitioners spend their entire lives perfecting the art of the tea ceremony. Eastern philosophy understands that there is always another level.

So do seasoned gardeners.

True beauty must have depth and soul. It takes time to develop these qualities. And patience.

When I began my garden close to 30 years ago, my skills were limited. So was my landscaping budget. We barely had enough money for the down payment on our new home.

I started my garden with a $3.99 rose bush from the grocery store, $5. evergreens from Home Depot, plants from friends, and several packets of seeds.

To this day, the rose bush is one of my favorites out of 25+ specimens. I marvel at the evergreens from Home Depot that are now 30+ feet tall. The 6 Robinia pseudocacia ‘frisia’ –  that are knock outs  –  arrived as 5′ sticks from Gossler Farms Nursery. I’ve written an article on the problems I’ve had with them.

Select small specimens so that you can observe and appreciate their journey to maturity

If someone gave me the option today of having mature trees, shrubs, and perennials planted in my garden from the get- go, I would turn them down flat.

So many people want large specimens so their garden can look completed instantaneously. But that just doesn’t feel like the natural order of things.

If something already arrives finished, you have no chance to really bond with it. It would be like adopting children when they were 18. You’d miss out on the entire growing up process

Remember, gardening is having meaningful involvement with some sort of plant life.

Observing Seeds Germinate and Baby Plants Grow

I’m into my 3rd season of creating an urban rooftop garden in Tel Aviv. My patience has been and continues to be tested in a garden that is tiny compared to what I had in my last garden.

I finally was able to find someone who actually understood what raised beds are. He built the 4 containers for my veggie garden that I wanted to be the next step in designing the back rooftop.

The garden is now planted up and my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds have taken off. Authentic Haven Brand Soil Conditioner Tea is part of the reason that I have a veggie garden that is thriving.

Already my patience has paid off with rambling vines, long runner beans, and green tomatoes ready to pop.

Vegetable Garden on Rooftop

Vegetable Garden on Rooftop

The act of gardening is very different from just having a garden.

When you watch your plants grow over the years, you see how the contours of your garden change as it matures. You begin to develop a keen eye for what it needs year by year. You add in and amend things gradually. You go on walkabouts – times to simply wander and lose yourself in the garden through observation.

Intimacy develops with the garden from seeing it at distinct times of the day. Filling in what is needed to give it life and breadth throughout different moments of sunlight, weather, seasons, and moods.

A garden has to go through a few cycles before it will reveal what else it requires. It needs a gardener who is willing to give it a chance to grow into itself.

There Is Meaning In Creating A Garden With Patience

A garden planted with patience can, over the years, become a road map of your life. You will remember when you did this over here, or that over there.

It is the stages of your life in full bloom. The memories are all there for you to pore over like a well-thumbed scrapbook.

All you have to do is to dig up the soil, nestle each plant into its new home, tend to it, feel gratitude – and be patient.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN. Share your experience of needing patience in or out of the garden.

Fran Sorin
The 10th Anniversary Edition of Fran's classic book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, has recently been published. Updated with a new foreword by the renowned author, Larry Dossey, M.D., it has dozens of endorsements from renowned spiritual, gardening, and personal development authors and experts in their fields. A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology and One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, Fran is a renowned gardening expert, passionate gardener, deep ecologist, inspirational speaker, ordained interfaith minister, soul tending coach, and CBS Radio news contributor. See less Google+ | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest
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Gareth June 16, 2013, 4:56 am

I’ve had an Actinidia kolomikta in my garden for 7 years and its done nothing I’ve moved it twice to new locations to no avail. At the back end of last year I moved it on to the dry stone wall at my dads house to give it one last chance and its done its first decent display!! Patience is a virtue!!

karen June 16, 2013, 8:26 am

Could you tell me what is growing behind Macleya cordata in picture #014.jpg? Thanks!

allan becker June 16, 2013, 8:43 am

Congratulations Fran. This is the one and only post that a new gardener needs to read in order to take the first steps. It is encouraging and confidence-building.

BTW, the trellis roof garden is beautiful. Hope the produce tastes as good as the garden space looks.

Jennifer June 16, 2013, 9:02 am

Fran, it seems we as gardeners, feel compelled to create a garden wherever we happen to live, even if it is on a rooftop, pots on a patio or in a regular backyard. Lately, I have been noticing how much more energy I need to get my gardening done and thought to myself, gosh! I am 66 years old, and I am going to be very sad when I won’t be able to do this anymore. This is when I will grow in pot on the deck, as I can’t see myself not growing anything at all.

Mara Aditajs June 16, 2013, 9:26 am

Loved it! Tending my plants is such a Zen time for me … I loose all track of time and space when I am with them. You put into words what I have felt all of my life tending to the souls in my charge. Thank You!
Mara

TC June 16, 2013, 12:43 pm

The patient gardener might very well have spurts of impatience. But that’s ok, I see no wrong in buying a mature tree, shrub, or a perennial flower or two because doing so might also provide that needed moment of instant gratification. The impatient gardener most usually succumbs to the natural flow soon enough.

Mary Brady June 16, 2013, 3:26 pm

Good advice. My grandmother and parents loved to garden. They thought me that in the garden you were humbled and thus closer to God. I have learned many lessons thoughout the years in the various gardens we have had on the same property . One is you never stop learning in the garden.
We helped our 4 children plant their own gardens both vegetable and flower, and tried to nurture their individuality, patience and artistic and creative sides along with perseverance, sense of loss and joy with planting something and seeing it grow, bloom and produce fruit then die.

Nadine Feldman June 16, 2013, 6:57 pm

I really enjoyed reading this post. I started gardening at 51 (54 now), and each day brings new discoveries about both gardening and life.

I loved your comment about how it takes time for the garden to reveal itself. I’ve been in this home for just over a year, and last year we expanded the garden by turning a steep slope into terraces. I’m just starting to learn my way around, and it will take a long time to get to know my garden well.

There are those wonderful, profound moments that make it worthwhile…this morning I picked a pea pod and opened it right then and there, letting the sweet peas make little bursts of flavor in my mouth. What a treasure!

Town Mouse June 16, 2013, 10:15 pm

A timely post for me. Coming back from vacation, I found my garden looking dried out and sad after a rather hot spring. Patience for me will also mean accepting loss, learning from my mistakes. And I know that with patience, the garden will recover and fill my heart with joy.

So glad to see your rooftop garden is starting to thrive…

Fran Sorin June 17, 2013, 6:37 am

Town Mouse –
I know how that feels. It has happened to me before and my heart sank. It’s smart of you to mourn the loss of what was. But you will create more beauty – different and unique that will be a hallmark of who you are today. And yes, you will need patience :) Fran

Fran Sorin June 17, 2013, 6:41 am

Nadine –
How wonderful that you’ve become a gardener – there’s nothing like. I think at this stage of life, you can appreciate the sweetness and magic of nature. Your gratitude for the daily discoveries and your patience in knowing it will take time to get a feel for your new landscape are heartwarming. Your plants are lucky to have you tending them :) Fran

Fran Sorin June 17, 2013, 6:45 am

Mary –
I’m humbled by what you wrote. It’s beautiful that each child had their own area to garden – what you taught and what they learned is invaluable. I would love to know how they think it has impacted them ~ Fran

Fran Sorin June 17, 2013, 6:48 am

TC-
Thanks for your words – they have given me pause for thought. I think what you said makes perfect sense and it has opened me up to a new way of seeing the situation ~ Fran

Fran Sorin June 17, 2013, 6:51 am

Mara-
First, I love your phrase ‘tending to the souls in my charge’. It’s a keeper.
I’m so glad you wrote in – it is heartwarming for me – as much as you – to discover like minded souls. Fran

Fran Sorin June 17, 2013, 6:57 am

Jennifer-
Yep – as we get older – how we garden changes.
You are a wise woman to know that the garden nourishes you and no matter what the circumstances, where you are, or how old you are, you will garden.

In my book ‘Digging Deep’, I talk about even if you tend to one plant – you are gardening. For me, it’s the relationship between you and the plant that matters.

I must say that although I miss my large suburban garden, there is something freeing about gardening on a rooftop. Different challenges and certainly one of them is re-defining what beauty is BUT it’s also freeing not to spend so much time maintaining it.

Thanks for your lovely thoughts. Fran

Fran Sorin June 17, 2013, 6:59 am

Gareth-
I love your story.
Yes, patience is a virtue.
I’ll take it one step further and say that the plant was ‘meant to be’ at your father’s.
Thanks for sharing ~ Fran

Lisa-St. Marys ON June 17, 2013, 8:32 am

Three years ago I started on the process to raise some jack-in-the-pulpits from seed. They spent a full year going in and out of my fridge. Now I have hundreds of babies. Perhaps next year some of them will be mature enough to produce a jack.

I transplanted a double file viburnum from my previous home. It finally bloomed last year for the first time, that was 5 years in.

Last year I bought a tree peony. It didn’t bloom this year, but perhaps next year I will get one.

The joy is in the anticipation.

Katty Bradshore June 17, 2013, 11:48 am

Hi Fran,

I totally agree with you. When I was still a little girl, my mom told me that gardening is an art. It needs passion and patience. I really admire her beautiful garden. When she passed away, I can still feel her presence in my garden. ;-)

Fran Sorin June 17, 2013, 1:06 pm

Katty –
How beautiful that your mother taught you about gardening as being an art form. I also felt my Mom’s presence in my garden after she died – It also brought back a lot of memories of her gardening in my childhood~ it brought tears to my eyes (and still does even though I am no longer at that garden). But good tears. Thanks for sharing. :) Fran

Fran Sorin June 17, 2013, 1:09 pm

Lisa-
WOW is all I can say.
School should hire you to speak to students about passion, patience, and exploration.
I really admire your persistence at growing jack-in-the-pulpits from seed. I’ve never done it.
And how right you are ~ the joy is in the anticipation. Thanks for sharing – I love it. Fran

Fran Sorin June 17, 2013, 1:10 pm

Karen –
I’m quite sure that it’s 2 magnolias…Fran

Fran Sorin June 17, 2013, 1:14 pm

Allan –

Thanks for your kind words. I do hope that this post would inspire a new gardener ~

The trellis roof garden is a delight. If you knew the story behind it, you’d be laughing your head off. If you live in the Mediterranean, you need a slew of patience…

I hope you’re having a good season and that your spring came earlier rather than later. Warmly, Fran

Saxon Holt June 17, 2013, 1:16 pm

Nice Fran. I love the idea that becoming good at gardening is not something you can speed up and that it rewards patience. One piece of advice that rewards patience that I would add to any beginning gardener, is to have some sort of plan. This may not apply to rooftop and tiny gardens but many impatient gardeners with a plot of land tend to want to do everything at once. Slow down, look at the physical limitations and possibilities, and plan for long term.
I was reminded of this last week visiting the extraordinarily gifted landscape architect, Gary Ratway, at his own garden at Digging Dog Nursery. He is still planting out his garden, 20 years after planning the spaces. Patience and long term vision offer continual excitement and the feeling of creating a garden with the flexibility to adapt.

Fran Sorin June 18, 2013, 6:04 am

Saxon – Lucky you visiting Gary Ratway’s garden – I would love to see photos. Am a huge fan of Digging Dog Nursery.
You offer wise advice – start slowly and experiment, learn, and garden. If you don’t know what you’re doing initially and don’t have a plan, if you go slowly, over time it will evolve. I have worked with people and seen gardeners who are incredibly scattered – it’s the old story. If you try to get everything done at once in any pursuits, your results are most likely not going to be excellent.
Appreciate your input. :)

Katie June 20, 2013, 9:19 am

Great article! I learned early on about patience when gardening – it was hard at first, but it’s always worth the wait when you see your garden literally come to life!

Noemi Bostrom June 20, 2013, 11:26 am

Hi Fran,

I admire people who have the patience and skills in putting up a garden. I hope I can improve my gardening skills but I feel like I’m failing on some important aspects you have mentioned. Anyway, I will definitely follow your tips. I believe I can still improve and become a seasoned gardener like you! ;-)

Susan June 28, 2013, 6:56 pm

Fran, this was a beautiful piece. My daughter now has a house and yard and is a budding gardener wanting everything NOW. Patience, I tell her is what you are growing.

Kris C. June 29, 2013, 5:03 pm

Great tips, thanks for sharing. And I love the rooftop garden!

Aaron June 30, 2013, 7:25 am

This is a beautiful post, you are right most of the people, including me, do not have patience to do the hard work in order to acquire mastery in a particular trade. Infact many people practice gardening just to acquire a little more patience and calmness.

Fran Sorin July 2, 2013, 11:47 am

Hi Aaron – Thanks for your note. You’re right about individuals practicing gardening to learn patience and a sense of peace. Fran

Fran Sorin July 2, 2013, 11:48 am

Hi Kris- Thanks for your kind words. Much more to come on the garden. It is growing like crazy – which I love! Fran

Fran Sorin July 2, 2013, 11:52 am

Dear Susan –

The words you offered your daughter are beautiful. Thanks for sharing – you’ve made my day after a 12 hour flight! :) Fran

Shirley July 6, 2013, 9:09 am

Gardening is one of my greatest sources of peace. Several years ago I transitioned from a job that required my attention 24/7 and was very stressful to a job working at a greenhouse. The peace it brought to me, the necessary relaxation of the task of transplanting, offered me the very thing I needed at that time. I worked there for about five years before transitioning to another job but the love of gardening is ingrained and my soul still yearns to find those green spaces, to feel the soil caress my fingers, to smell the fresh crisp scents of earth right after rain. For me, gardening employs all my senses to great satisfaction.