I am not a patient person. It has never been a strength of mine. I finished undergrad in three years with a double major because I didn’t want to waste my time and my parents’ money by dragging it out for another year. The oven never cooks fast enough for me and I’ve ruined more than one batch of frosting by applying it to a cake before it had a chance to fully cool. I come by it honestly as both of my parents are the kind of people who will do something themselves instead of waiting for someone else to do it. New Englanders through and through, they need to get where they’re going fast and soon. No time for lollygagging. My father is a champion tailgater. He once tailgated a logging truck on a rural Vermont road for 25 miles before passing it. There were no other cars on the road. We were not in a hurry. But he found the only other vehicle around and followed it closely enough to let the driver know that my father did not believe he was driving fast enough. My brother has the same impatient gene. While stopped at a crosswalk, waiting for the pedestrian light to change, he said “50 seconds! Who needs 50 seconds to cross the street?”
Patience: not a Merrill family virtue.
So for the life of me, I can’t understand why I chose to start the container garden on my deck from seeds rather than sprouts. For weeks, I’d inspect the pots every day, looking for a spot of green or some change in the porous dirt surface, any sign that something was happening down there. It was an interminable few weeks. But during all that waiting, something happened. I began not to mind it. I began to look forward to the eventual sprouts and to relish the morning watering before I’d even had coffee. I’d wake up every morning, walk out onto the deck in my pajamas and peer into the pots, looking for something growing there. And when it finally happened, it was more rewarding than I’d imagined. To me, there’s something different about starting a plant from seed rather than a sprout. It seems to me that when you buy a sprout, you’re getting the plant halfway home. Someone else has taken care of the hard part for you – the days and weeks of waiting – and given you a head start. But when you start something from seed, you have a hand in the entire process. Sure, it’s frustrating to have no choice but to wait for nature to take its course and turn your carefully tended seed into a plant, but it does teach you patience, a virtue often sorely lacking.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the rosemary, sage and lavender plants in my garden that are full and lush and useful immediately in cooking and fragrance. But I bought them that way. Other than not killing them, I haven’t had to put in a whole lot of effort. But the heirloom Thai and lemon basil and zebra tomatoes I planted as seeds? I love those even more even though at the moment, they’re nothing more than tiny sprouts, the leaves miniatures of what they will eventually become. To use a family analogy: the sprouted plants are like adopted children. I love them and wouldn’t give them up for anything. But the seed plants I made myself. I take a special pride in those.
I never would have anticipated that gardening would teach me patience. I thought after thirty years that wasn’t something I was ever going to learn. I certainly wasn’t going to get it from my parents (my father is likely tailgating someone in rural Maine as I write this). But when it comes to gardening, I’ve found that I’m content to plant some seeds, water them when needed and let nature do the rest. I’ve found how fulfilling it is to have my patience rewarded.