March: The Month of Endless Waiting

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Oh, my aching muscles...

By Lucy Hardiman

For passionate and ever optimistic gardeners and hort heads March is the month of endless waiting. Not unlike Estragon and Vladimir, characters in Samuel Beckett’s iconoclastic existentialist play “Waiting for Godot” we are ever hopeful.  While they anticipated divining the full meaning of life we anxiously await the arrival of parcels filled to the brim with baby plants or packets of seed – the tangible signs of hope for all gardeners.

At this time of year the distinctive low pitched rumble of a Federal Express or United Parcel Service truck is cause to abandon work and rush to the window to see if this is the moment of truth. My almost daily conversation with our mail carrier assumes a note of urgency I as inquire in a high- pitched whine if perhaps, today, he has a package or large, stuffed envelope for me. 

The actual contents of the parcels yet to come were ordered months ago. Every year in the throes of holiday madness I stay somewhat sane by devouring the contents of all the new arrived mail order plant and seed catalogs.  Tantalizing purple prose and overly tinted color pictures lure me right down the garden path.  Piles of catalogs cover my desk spilling onto the floor.  At the midnight hour I crawl into bed happy to rest my aching body but unable to turn out the light.  In the still of the night vivid descriptions of plants from all over the globe incite me to rethink my version of paradise.  With each new entry on the order form I am revising the garden of my dreams hoping that each new plant can help disguise my shortcomings as a gardener and designer. 

A three- strike rule of sorts prevails in my garden.  Trying to discipline myself and not waste too much time and money I allow new plants three tries at becoming established in the garden before I give up and admit that conditions aren’t right and admit my failures as a gardener. 

Chrysosplenium davidianum, a woodland groundcover from China, has succumbed twice already probably due to lack of summer water.  Every time I become reacquainted with its lovely felted round leaves and vivid chartreuse flower  heads in the garden at Heronswood I vow to return home and find that perfect spot where it will thrive. Ever the optimist it has once again been ordered and I know in my heart of hearts that for this plant the third time will be charmed.

I am a sucker for hardy geraniums.  Geranium phaeum ‘Ring of Fire’ caught my eye in the Heronswood catalog lovingly described by Dan Hinkley as possessing “a flash of golden yellow foliage in spring, accentuated by a central zoning of bright red.”  How could I possibly resist this beauty.  Or how about Geranium ‘Rozanne’which has “handsome deep green lightly marbled foliage”… and “a flurry of large saucer-shaped violet-blue flowers.”  Of course I have just the spot for this long blooming lovely.

When it comes to seeds, my eyes always imagine more space than actually exists, so seedling annuals tend to end up in pots rather than in the ground.  Pennisetum glaucum ‘Purple Majesty,’ an ornamental millet is poised to take the hort world by storm this year.  Deep purple seeds heads and dark, dusky foliage characterize this annual new addition to the designer’s palette.  With my luck the seed catalog will be sold out and they will be unable to fill my order.

There are just too many good plants and not enough time, garden space or money.  However, I remain ever hopeful that this spring’s deliveries will thrive becoming part of the living tapestry of the garden. 

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