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!’
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?
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.
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?