Plants aren’t that different from people in some respects.
This story begins the April after I bought my house in January. It was the first growing season in my new home in the Pacific Northwest. I had two things working against me: one, I came from Arizona, where plants have to be forced out of the ground practically at gunpoint, unless they’re spiky; and two, I’d never really gardened before. Boy, was I in for some surprises.
I wanted an herb garden, and planted it in the wrong place (not enough sun). I wanted basil to make pesto, and ended up with enough to supply the entire West coast. I thought the fuschia was a stunted apple tree, and it turned invasive. The neighbors’ trees blocked the sun in the established garden spot. A plague of squirrels dug up mystery bulbs over and over. I could not get beans to grow over anything for shade. Weird volunteer tomatoes grew everywhere from seeds that had been in a compost pile for years.
“Wait a year,” I was advised. “Then you’ll see what your yard does in every season.”
That advice should have been, “wait two years.” Because biennials.
That first year, the parsley behaved like I thought it would. The second year, it didn’t. And that’s how I learned about biennials, perennials and annuals. Perennials come back year after year without any additional effort on my part, which is majorly awesome. Annuals are just for one year, so why bother, unless they’re vegetables. And biennials….who the hell knows what biennials are thinking.
I’ll never really “get” biennials. They do one thing one year, and something else the next. Fruit or seed, make up your mind you stupid plant. I can’t ever keep track of whether it’s their year to produce fruit, or seeds, or roots, or just leaves. I can’t remember which of my raspberries fruit on first-year canes, or second-year canes, so I just trim them all down. Survivors will be watered and expected to produce something edible.
Biennials just blow all my preconceptions out of the water. They just don’t behave like I expect. But, they behave like biennials do, and I know it.
Biennials remind me I should be paying better attention. I should get to know them better. As long as I don’t, they’ll continue to surprise and frustrate me. I need to put in some effort if I want less surprise and more delight.
It’s not so different with people, you know. Whether they frustrate or delight me largely depends on me. I can’t have any expectations of them until I’ve seen them through a few seasons. Like people, I just have to accept biennials for who they are, and appreciate their gifts, whatever they may be.