Stop Waiting & Start Planting: Lessons from Lilacs

Lilacs, by Karly via Unsplash

“I was hoping you’d show up with lilacs!” I said when my mom handed me the bouquet, immediately bringing them to my face and inhaling.  

It was one of the first sunny and warm spring days of the season, and lilacs were blooming right on cue.  

Despite the fact that vegetables claim the majority of our farm, it’s flowers that planted the seed of wonder and my desire to grow as a child.  

Growing up, my mom and I went to the farmers market each Saturday, always stopping to see the “flower lady” for a fresh bouquet to supplement our home-grown flowers, and then to the “cookie lady” for a peanut-butter blossom—you know the kind with the big chocolate kiss in the middle?  I loved those.

But out of all the flowers we bought and grew, lilacs were always my favorite.

It likely started out that way because I knew how much my mom loved them, and love has a way of sending out runners and growing in the people around us.

One year, when we gave Mom a lilac bush for Mother’s Day, she instinctively bent down and said “It smells so beautiful!”

“Mom, it hasn’t even bloomed yet!  There’s no smell!” My brother and I said as we looked at the potted bush with tightly wrapped buds.

“Oh, but I can smell it in my heart,” she said.

Lilacs, photo by Brandon Green via Unsplash

So it’s not just their color and scent that makes me love them—it’s the way joy and home and wildness are wrapped up in their buds, the way these things unfurl as the petals open, beckoning me always to pause and breathe in, or to roll down the car window anytime I drive past a row of lilacs.

We don’t have mature lilac bushes at the farm, yet.

I was so sure we’d immediately plant perennials when we found our own land, but it’s taken us time to get to know the land, time to find the right place to plant something that we’ll never move.  Slowly, we’ve added pears, apples, plums and cherry trees. Elderberries, blueberries and raspberries.

A few years ago, a friend potted up two little lilac suckers from her own mature bushes and gifted them to me.  They stayed in pots for another year before I found their spot: on either side of the path that leads from our parking area to the CSA-pick up—living sign-posts welcoming people to the farm.  

I can imagine them now as they will be in 20 years, a magical blooming threshold from gravel to grass, from driveway to walkway.  

It takes time, but they’re growing.  

I don’t know when exactly they’ll bloom, but I last week I weeded around them, gave them new compost and mulch.  It all comes down to three simple things:

Tend.  Give.  Be patient.

Growing perennials has taught me that it’s not so much about waiting as it is about being patient, and continuing to work alongside your patience.

Waiting implies sitting and doing nothing.  This doesn’t get you very far. Especially in a garden—if all you do is wait, weeds will take over.

Waiting doesn’t send any signals that you’d actually like a bloom to unfurl or a fruit to ripen, but patience and consistency—consistently showing up, tending to the garden, and doing it again the next day—will bring you from seed to harvest every time.

Most days you won’t notice any growth.  Transformation is often imperceptible to the eye until all of a sudden growth shoots up.  You go to bed, and in the morning your plants (or your children) are taller.

Let it be this way.  

Let yourself be delightfully surprised with each leap of growth, and when impatience sets in, go hang out with the annuals.  

Eventually, the blooms will come.  Like love, they’ll show up as gifts and surprises—a potted sucker from a friend, a bouquet from your mom—and in those moments you don’t have to do any work at all.  

Just say thank you.

What perennials are you growing—or dreaming of growing?  Let me know in the comments below.  I’m always dreaming of adding more perennials to the farm ?

2 thoughts on “Stop Waiting & Start Planting: Lessons from Lilacs”

  1. You have a better memory than me, but I do remember that Mother’s Day and “smelling” those lilacs – I’m so glad you will be continuing the “tradition” of growing them – I look forward to a vase full from your garden in the years ahead!
    Thanks for this lovely memory
    I love you

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