Oct 20, 2023, 06:24AM

Pain in the Aster

Learning patience from a late-blooming flower.

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With a name like Mary, I’ve been asked too many annoying times how my garden grows. With corpses buried where you’ll never find them, asshole, I think to myself as I answer once again with a tight-lipped smile about cockle shells and maids in a row.

Darwinian gardening, like in parenting, has always been my modus operandi. It’s survival of the fittest, kids. Food and water will be provided when you fend for it yourselves; if you’re tall enough to reach a kitchen counter you’re tall enough to make a sandwich, hear that, summer veggies? I can’t handle anything high maintenance. I can barely maintain myself. Plant-wise, I try to stick to succulents and air plants: those that survive in the desert stand a better chance of surviving in a place where I only remember they exist about every other week or so.

I have a large container garden on my patio and in spring I planted the usual assortment of easy, drought-tolerant plants that bloom for a long time: verbena and lantana are standards. I bought a small plant that I remember was an aster variety and promptly forgot all about it. Over the course of the summer, the plant grew into some Rocky Horror-style giant bush-size monster. Not a single flower in sight, it stole shade from my zinnias and everything else in its path, reaching around five feet tall. I thought about ripping it out, convinced it wasn’t a flowering plant but some sort of massive gangly weed I’d planted by mistake. It proved to be strong; a summer tornado didn’t even rip it out, though I secretly hoped it would. For nearly six months I watched it grow; it was accidentally fertilized when I fed the more desirable plants around it.

Since it was now October and I’d planted this leggy, behemoth monstrosity around April, I figured there were two possible outcomes: first frost would come and put us both out of misery, or suddenly it would produce flowers against all odds. I decided to fertilize the garden once more for fall on behalf of the faithfully flowering lantana that was near the all-consuming aster or whatever it was.

During the first week of this month, I noticed there were blossoms on it. I couldn’t believe it. It had looked so brown, scraggly and hopeless, I thought there was no way it would ever thrive. After another week, the most beautiful magenta blossom appeared on the giant bush of a plant, six months after I planted a four-inch plant. Within a few days, the bushy mess was completely covered in the brightest, most gorgeous bright pink fall blooms.

I thought about patience cliches like “all good things to those who wait.” Yawn. I’ve never had any patience for anything or anyone, a “virtue” I was born without. But as I’ve aged, I’ve learned it’s something of an acquired skill, and can often have great rewards. Like Audrey II, which has to be the name of the Pain in the Aster plant here, after the Rocky Horror monster. I cursed at it all summer, so much frustration—seemed like I cared for it and gave and gave and kept watering it, feeding it, and it was going to do nothing but just say “fuck off” and die, and I’d rip it out and hurl it into the Chesapeake. But I had hope, and one day, after all the other flowers were done for the season and having waited for a moment to shine, she bloomed into the most majestic beauty ever, worth waiting for, showing me that maybe patience isn’t such an unattainable virtue after all.


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