Patience is a Virtue

Patience Flynn. Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

Patience, alas, is a virtue I lack. In fact, I named one of my beloved dogs “Patience” in an effort to acquire this asset. Anyone who gardens, however, quickly learns that patience is a required virtue if one is to maintain their sanity.

There is an old saying regarding perennials: “The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap.” This adage is one to keep in mind because it will hold your expectations in check.

Roses, in particular, demand patience from the gardener because they can be downright ornery.  Once, I misplanted ‘Eden’ in an area that received far more shade than any respectable rose can tolerate so I moved her to the front of the house, enabling her to bask in the sun. I watered her, telling her I thought she’d like this new location – and she sat disapprovingly for two years, producing neither flowers nor new canes. Finally, she consented to produce a few canes and a couple of flowers – almost like an enticement – before behaving as a respectable rose should. This process only took four long years.

In the spring when I order my bulbs from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, I tend to order far more Amarcrinum bulbs than I can possibly use, as they make lovely hostess presents. After planting them, the aforementioned hostesses need to forget their existence because these bulbs do not do much of anything for three long years. During this period, they might throw out a couple of leaves but you can forget about any flowers as they will not be forthcoming. It is only after this delinquent period that they produce long-lasting blooms and thereby make a bold statement in the garden.

This is OK if you have given them to close friends who are understanding about the long wait, but it’s frustrating when you give them as a thank-you gift. This is the equivalent of a “Gosh” present: In my family, a “Gosh” present is one that, when you open it, you are rendered almost speechless as you gaze on a gift filled with mystery. All you can utter is, “Gosh.”

Eden in bloom. Photo by Kit Flynn.

Baptisia is another plant requiring a dogged patience. For years I have tried to make friends with this genus, only to be rebuffed by plant indifference. Baptisia simply doesn’t care for what I have to offer it – and part of the problem lies in my impatience. Baptisia takes a good three years to bring forth flowers of any significance because it insists upon establishing a proper taproot first. Because of this taproot, it is of vital importance to pick a sunny site wisely as you won’t be able to move it easily once it’s established

The other problem with Baptisia is that it’s frequently difficult to find a particular cultivar that is the right size for your garden. Baptisias can reach shrub size, as high as 58 inches, which is fine if your garden can accommodate that size. However, vacant room in my garden comes at a premium price simply because there is so little of it.

When I turned to the Mt. Cuba Center recommendations, I saw that ‘Screamin’ Yellow’ with its medium-sized habit came in first place in their study – but, alas, it is impossible to find. Likewise, when the Mt. Cuba Center recommended Echinacea purpurea ‘Pica Bella’ as a superb echinacea that required no staking (a big deal in my book), it was equally hard to find. Finally, I located it at one small nursery online that was so overwhelmed by orders that it could no longer accept any more – and I found myself dealing with a great case of impatience.

Clearly, what I require is more patience. Consequently, I have placed E. ‘Pica Bella’ and B. ‘Screamin’ Yellow’ on a list in Notes under the headline “Plants for 2022.” Nurseries please note: When the Mt. Cuba Center issues a final report on a genus, please carry some of its recommendations.

Sometimes, I recognize that there has to be an end to my patience. Three years ago, I planted the rose ‘Mme. Anisette’ because her blooms were reportedly lovely and very fragrant. The first year she specialized in producing long canes with nary a flower. According to Internet sources, this was to be expected of this particular rose. The second year, I received three flowers, all deliciously fragrant but, you must admit, three blooms is a paltry yield. This past year she grudgingly gave me five flowers. Her residency in my garden is now on the short end. Either she produces or out she goes.

All this goes to show that patience is a necessary gardening virtue. After all, it did take time for the ugly duckling to transform into a beautiful swan. However, it’s also worth remembering that certain plants can take advantage of your patience – and then it’s up to you to act upon it.

As for me, when I need patience, I lovingly hug Patience Flynn.

After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at

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