Garden Patience

Jun 20, 2013

snail on marigold
When I was a child in Ireland, my mother was much given to reciting aphorisms--jewels of what might be called common sense. “Trifles make perfection, but perfection is no trifle she would remind my siblings and me if we attempted to belittle her injunctions of tidiness and order.

It is surprising to me today how many of these counsels have remained in my recollections. One in particular, concerning the importance of patience, has had a lasting effect on my life:

Patience is a virtue

Catch if you can

Seldom in a woman

But never in a man.

The fact that this homily had a gender bias probably added to the attraction for my mother.

I am the very model of a patient gardener. I realized many years ago that you can’t rush things in your garden. A seed may take what seems like forever to germinate. Many fruit trees relax for three years or so before fulfilling their fruiting mission. Patience is also required when dealing with those slimy visitors that regard our carefully cultivated plants as a banquet.

I’ve had some moments of trauma on this front. On one occasion I purchased a flat of beautiful marigolds. I planted them in my garden, looked admiringly at them, smiled a well-pleased kind of smile and then retired to dream.

The next next morning, my first mission was to visit my baby marigolds: how had they fared on their first night? Had they survived the creatures moving around in the darkness?

Lighthearted and expecting a joyful scenario, I approached the marigold bed. Expectant joy turned to eye-popping horror. Gone. Vanished. Nary a petal to be seen. Was this some kind of horrifying chimera? Had thieves in the night come and abducted my neonates? Had some malicious being spirited them away? 

I immediately identified with the image of a desolate Silas Marner when he discovered that his gold hoard had been stolen. His gold coins were as children to him. He loved them. Their disappearance was a devastating trauma. He put his trembling hands to his head, and gave a wild ringing scream, the cry of desolation.

I didn’t scream or cry but I allowed thoughts of vengeance to grow in my gardener’s heart. On the night after this shocking discovery, armed with a powerful flashlight, I patrolled my flower beds. The perpetrators were sashaying in extraordinary numbers all over my garden.

With violence in my heart I eliminated that night’s promenaders, dozens of them. Night after night, patiently and methodically, my process of decimation continued until I knew the most fragile of flowers would be safe in my garden, day or night. Since that time, it has been my practice to patrol my garden for a number of nights at the beginning of each planting season to ensure a snail-free environment for my vulnerable seedlings and buds. This effort requires a little patience, but patience is more effective than snail bait. I have not seen a snail in my garden for several years.

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