The Patience to Wait


Great gardeners and optimists know that a dead plant represents an opportunity to grow something new. But what of a dead tree? What of five? So much opportunity at one time can cloud a mind already weakened by the fumes of a chainsaw.

It’s probably best then to stifle knee-jerk reactions – particularly the one which argues for immediate replacement. Eye for eye, tree for tree, shade for shade, problems with problems.

Not that I’d replant ash trees in a land ravaged by borer of course. But metasequoia…the luscious thought had occurred.  I’d play up the lodge aspect of the house with a bit of associated redwood, satisfy long-held yearnings for a small grove of this favorite of trees, and score a few points in certain circles.

The thought was indeed luscious; but as I stood contemplating it again this morning, I was struck by another, greater, thought – a sudden awareness of sky.

Sky is good.  Stars are even better.  Why obstruct a new view to the heavens for a redwood thrill? And there is the little matter of the new roof. Or to be more accurate, the new roof twenty years from now, deep in the shadow of more roof-destroying trees.  Yes, a luscious, terrible idea, but fun for a mental fiddle on a Sunday afternoon.

So, smaller trees perhaps. Dogwoods and redbuds are the obvious choice in an Eastern setting, but then so are serviceberry, scarlet buckeye, or white fringetree,  And what of the evergreen touch of an American holly or a well-behaved Southern magnolia?  Do such things even exist?

Sky is good.  Stars are even better. 

Right then, no trees at all.  Maybe this is the time instead to encourage those plants that got their start as understory shrubs and will now benefit from increased light levels: the rhododendron, azalea, pieris, boxwood, forsythia and hydrangea. Perhaps one should add even more.

Again, the mind clouds.

I share these thoughts with you because we all have doubts when designing our gardens, and working around something that once was, but is no longer, is one of the most challenging. I am in the thick of it right now.

The difficulty is getting used to the space as it now presents itself – not as something missing something else.  In this case it is not as if what was was particularly stunning or even attractive, but the absence of it is overwhelming.

Frankly, there’s a whole lot of opportunity to screw up.

>>To plant a grove of metasequoia fifteen yards from a new roof simply because you love them and remember the feeling of coniferous forests from your childhood.

>>To plant a random selection of small trees because they’re small and that’s all the rage and won’t so-and-so be impressed.

>>To encourage smaller shrubs because they’re there, no matter that their existence currently bores the pants off you.

Yes. A tremendous opportunity to make some tremendous mistakes.

Perhaps then, a better question to be asked of oneself is, “Do I need to do anything at all right now.”  And the answer?

Almost certainly no.

Reaction is not a basis for gardening.  Inspiration is.  Inspiration cannot be forced, and thankfully I don’t have a homeowner paying me by the minute to force some.  It’s my garden and I’m going to wait.

What’s more, I’m going to wait until

…the roof is replaced

…the deck is rebuilt

…the ceiling is repainted

…the trees are split and stacked

…the world is warmer

…the mind is clearer

And suddenly – perhaps surprisingly – I am inspired.

It may happen in the garden of another.  It may happen as I slurp my soup over the pages of a new book.  It might just happen as I fall asleep at night, dreaming of something else entirely.  But I have no doubt that it will, eventually, happen.

And that, my gardening friends, is an opportunity worth waiting for.

By | 2018-04-11T00:20:22+00:00 April 10th, 2018|

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.


  1. tonytomeo April 12, 2018 at 5:09 am - Reply

    Score a few point in certain circles? That is the wrong reason to plant a dawn redwood. That is the main reason I dislike the tree. Almost all of those that I know of are trophy trees to provide bragging rights for whomever planted it, whether or not it is the right tree for the right situation. We have one at work, as well as a giant redwood, surrounded by huge native coastal redwoods. We will soon be placing a plaque so that everyone knows that we have it. Goodness, I am so embarrassed. It is not even a very good tree, especially where coastal redwoods grow wild! Anyway, I am sorry for the rant. I would only recommend planting a dawn redwood if you really like the tree.

    • Marianne Willburn April 12, 2018 at 10:22 am - Reply

      The phrase referred to smaller, rarer trees – the metasequoia is a great love of mine and I would love to have several on the property. We’re probably going to think of this one differently as I cannot grow CA redwoods successfully here and even ‘Atlanta’ – a hardier variety – is cut down to the ground! every year by wind. Losing battle. Dawn redwoods really stick out in Eastern landscapes but I don’t know if I’d grow them in the west when so close to so many wonderful ‘true’ redwoods.

  2. tonytomeo April 13, 2018 at 2:27 am - Reply

    They do very well here as well; and I really have no problem with people planting them here if they really like them. I happen to like some of the worst trees in our region, like the blue gum eucalyptus. (Although I never had a chance to plant even one. I grew one from seed in a big tub.) The one that is the least adaptable to our climate happens to be the giant redwood from the Sierra Nevada. It does better in the Northwest than it does here, much closer to their natural range. It like cooler winters. The specimen we have at work is healthy so far, but there are no old ones that I am aware of. President Theodore Roosevelt planted a few giant redwood trees around San Jose a very long time ago, and as far as I know, they are all gone now. The coastal redwood that is native here is planted extensively in landscapes, but does not tolerate cold weather and certainly dislikes snow.

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