Optimal Growing Conditions? A few thoughts.

A bit of research work has had me at my books lately, looking up optimal growing conditions for several plants and making notes for spring purchases.

It has taken me years to successfully grow poppies, or rather, for seeds to find the right conditions in which to flourish. However, even at half-strength they have managed to reseed themselves each fall, trying to find that perfect place. This spring they did.

It has taken me years to successfully grow poppies, or rather, for seeds to find the right conditions in which to flourish. However, even at half-strength they have managed to reseed themselves each fall, trying to find that perfect place. This spring they did.

This hasn’t been nearly as boring as it sounds. Yesterday in fact, things became quite humorous as I perused an entry on Daphne odora, a plant I recently acquired at a nursery in North Carolina:

“Prefers a drier, Mediterranean summer.”

“…is happiest in filtered sunlight.”

“Needs protection from winter wind…”

“…resents disturbance…”

Turns out that this girl Daphne and I have more than just a nice fragrance in common. Add, “Has a fondness for Jack Russell Terriers and a good drop of Cabernet Franc” and we could be cut from the same cloth. But it did make me stop for a moment and think how highly adaptable we are as human beings, and just how adaptable many of our plants are.

In many ways, watching our plants adapt to challenging conditions in our gardens is inspiring – in fact it inspired a whole chapter in my new book.

“Nowhere is the lifelong metaphorical journey of change and growth more physically evident than in a garden.  Adaptation, struggle, perseverance, victory, loss…quiet dormancy and exquisite rebirth – all are on view to the observant gardener with heart and hands connected to the soil.

Is it any wonder then that witnessing and experiencing such events on a daily basis can have a remarkable healing effect on the individual who is feeling battered and bruised by a hectic week or a difficult period in life?”

pretoria2For instance, I’m pulling up ‘Pretoria’ canna right now that has lived out the growing season in three very different places in my garden: submerged in a water feature, sitting in rich, partly-shaded container soil, and exposed on a mostly sunny, drier hillside.  Certainly it was happiest in the container, but boy did it work hard in the other two places. Not all plants are as adaptable (that Daphne for instance) but many can exist for periods of time in difficult circumstances – much like their attendant human beings.

We’ve all got a growing manual. We all want optimal conditions.  And yet we are, most of us, struggling and blossoming in varying degrees of sub-optimal. If each of us was to write out our own growing manual for an ideal life, how close would it be to the reality of the life we lead every day?

And, if it were achieved, how many of us would add more to the list, convinced that one more something would bring us closer to nirvana? A Giorgio Armani jacket? Yet another building with our name on it? This is perhaps where my analogy ends, and where human beings differ quite distinctly from our plants. You won’t see that canna swimming in fertilizer and begging for a few capfuls more.

Strip away all that my husband and I have worked for, and I know I can grow and develop just as well (if not as well-fed) in an 8×15 room with a hot plate and a bathroom shared by ten strangers. I’d rather not do that again (the soap situation was pretty grim), but I know I can.  I can deal with living in a host of other situations that over the years have been less than ideal – and even less-than less than ideal – but they all of them forced me to buckle down, adapt…and grow.

This Sedum ternatum has been devastated by Southern blight twice. Twice it has re-emerged, more beautiful than ever.

This Sedum ternatum has been devastated by Southern blight twice. Twice it has re-emerged, more beautiful than ever.

That Daphne isn’t going to take kindly to the sub-optimal conditions I currently have for her, but there’s just a possibility that we’ll work out a compromise and she’ll make it. If so…what a fragrance to look forward to some February morning a few years from now – made all the better by the obstacles overcome to achieve it.

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By | 2018-02-20T20:41:02+00:00 November 4th, 2016|

About the Author:

Marianne is the mother of two, wife of one and the voice of The Small Town Gardener. She gardens and writes from her home in the scenic (and exceptionally convenient) heart of Virginia's wine country.

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