The Burst of the Blossom Bubble

I clearly recall, as an eighteen year old in my first year of garden-love, picking up a packet of seed of stocks and reading the info on the back, telling me how many weeks to expect the seedlings to take to get to flowering size, then promising up to ten weeks of flower.  ‘Only ten?’ I thought. ‘What am I supposed to do for the rest of the year?.  What a lame plant!’

Stocks, glanced through a gate in Oxford, UK

Now, nearly forty years later, I know that ten weeks is an outrageously long time for any one thing to be in bloom.  Almost (if it’s possible to say it) too long.  It’s certainly long enough for me to move from joyous phase through to simply grateful phase.  I’d never be less than grateful.  But the highest and deepest of gardening pleasures sits way, way above grateful.

But it raises the question for me – what’s the optimum length of time to have any plant in bloom?

My place, last week

This year, a heavy year of blossom coincided with rare benign weather conditions resulting in the the longest-lasting blossom-blooming period I can remember.  We sat at peak bloom for about 10 days, with many happy days in the build-up, and a few after (the decline being accelerated by wind and rain).  While at that exquisite peak, a part of me wanted to hold my breath, as if that might help to hold the moment.  Another part of me knew that pleasure is enormously amplified by brevity, and that what was demanded from me was to pay more attention, and to extract more enjoyment from the passing moment.  To have that amount of blossom all the time would render it invisible, and therefore, paradoxically, to reduce the pleasure harvest.

When, after the wild weekend we just had, there was hardly anything left of the blossom, I wasn’t even really sorry.  I’m kind of ready to move on.  

It’s a bit the same with some pots of hyacinths and tulips I planted back in autumn.  The sense of anticipation started, right back then, at a very high level.  Hyacinth bulbs are particularly fat, and feel like the horticultural equivalent of a loaded gun, or a jack-in-the-box after too many windings of the handle.  The potting mix started to rise and crack open a few months later as huge, hefty points pierced the surface. 

Great spears like obese asparagus eventually emerged and opened to solid clubs of scented lemon flowers.  I put the pots in a prominent place, and loved them, smelt them, fawned over them for a week or more.  I’m reluctant to admit that the novelty wore off before the flowers faded after about three weeks.  I still enjoyed them in the latter phase, but I was perfectly ready to move them out of sight when the show was over.

Perhaps the longest flowering plant in my garden (besides some very successful weeds) is Gaura.  Once it starts in early summer it goes on and on until it’s pounded by so much frost and persistent cold that it goes to ground.  I don’t think it’s so much asleep overwinter as unconscious, following the battle.  And I can only conclude that the only reason why I never tire of it in bloom is that it’s part of a supporting cast.  It’s never a front-runner.  It just dances around whatever A-lister is currently in the spotlight, and boosts its performance.

Gaura playing amongst Sedum ‘Matrona’ and Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’

But having no conclusions to offer on the optimum length of flowering time for any garden plant, what’s clear is that this Covid year has provided me with more uninterrupted home-time than ever before to extract every layer of joy out of this passing show.  It’s a great reminder that what’s most lacking isn’t the floral longevity, but the time, and more pertinently the mindfulness, to give these exquisite ephemeral moments the attention they deserve.

Has this year changed the way you’ve enjoyed your garden?

Discussion

  1. This year’s given me a perspective on my garden that I’ve never seen before – theoretically I live in Europe too and never see winter and spring here. New joys! One of the things I’ve seen now is the denuding and then flowering and then leaving of our deciduous trees. The flowers are an over-the-top contrast to the bareness of the months before. They have their moment and then the leaves take over, which is as it should be. The flowers would be too much otherwise.

  2. I am totally with you on this – a never-changing floral display is my idea of hell… I want to be surprised and intrigued, and drawn out to explore every time I look out. It’s the best reason for succession gardening, to know that there is always the next thing to look forward to, and to never need to mourn one display ending because you know something just as good is on its way.

  3. I have a Grevillea “Lady O” in Wellington New Zealand and it has flowered consistently for two years. It has more flowers in early spring, but always some in evidence the rest of the year. Rather than getting tired of seeing it in constant bloom, it is a lovely splash of red in a corner spot that never fails to delight.
    Another long term bloomer, with such a pretty mauve flower that it goes with everything else that comes along as the seasons shift, is Erysimum Bowles’ Mauve (wallflower).

  4. What a wonderfully thought-provoking reflection! If I may say it reminds me of the observation that life too has this quality; immortality would in fact be meaningless – it’s in the grasping at our moments and phases of strength and confidence and good health that we blossom so to speak. A garden without peaks and troughs is a very dull thing.

  5. Interesting question – One example that comes to mind is Lobularia ‘Blushing princess’ which is growing at a couple of locations around my garden.
    Being a sterile interspecific hybrid, it does not set seed and has been flowering non stop ever since I planted it two years ago.
    Now, with such a reliable performer, the slightest decline in shape or flower production is the cause of a lot of stress: ‘Is it finally dying out on me ? What have I done wrong’. Usually a little pick-me-up of fertiliser and off it goes again, but it is part of every day’s expectation that those pink sub-shrubby things are supposed to be covered with flowers at all times.
    With short-flowered plants, it is more about pacing along and the rhythm of the seasons.
    When I see the rosettes of my sedums emerge it is a sign that spring is almost here, when the stems start taking off I know that spring is soon to be followed by summer, by the time the flowers open we are soon to reach autumn, and when they flowers are all dried up there comes winter. This feels more like real life to me.
    On the subject of Covid, one of the benefit has obviously been the opportunity to trade a 45min commute to the office for some additional quality time in the garden, being able to take-in, stop and observe rather than the usual weekend rush to have everything weeded, trimmed, sown and dug out (if weather allows…).
    I hope some of this will, at least partially, remain a feature of the years to come as people are encouraged to work from home if they can.

  6. Admire the staying power of roses in particular but find the unfurling of irises and lilies to be more exciting

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