I've waited on a lot of plants over the years.
It's difficult for a gardener to insist on instant gratification. Plants take time and there's no getting around it. Even if you can afford to hire a backhoe to dig a hole and utilize a tree-planting machine to bring in a mature specimen, plants will go into shock, drop leaves, or just sit in limbo above the surface of the soil while the roots get themselves established.
There is an adage that gardeners use to describe the growth of most perennial plants, ''First year sleep, second year creep, third year leap!'' This slogan is most often used to describe clematis, but it fits pretty much all perennial plants. Visitors to a new garden can tell at first glance it is a new garden. Plants are small and if planted correctly, are quite a good distance apart in anticipation of their maturity.
It takes about three years for most and even more for some. But I'm not going anywhere.
I've been waiting about five years, maybe six, to see flowers on my Cornus kousa, also known as Japanese Flowering Dogwood, or as most gardeners call it, the Kousa Dogwood. I've written about this plant before, most recently when I saw a mature kousa towering over a driveway at a nursery in Geneva. At that time, I was concerned that I'd planted my Kousa too close to the house. I debated moving it to another location or leaving it there with regular prunings to keep it within its boundaries. I didn't move it, but I haven't pruned it yet either, mainly because it is a slow grower and still hasn't shown any sign of wandering further than it should. Nor has it bloomed.
I was excited when I first got the plant because I wanted to see those strawberry-like seedpods hanging from its branches. It was OK that it also bloomed in spring, but to me the flowers are insignificant. The seed pods are what lured me to buy such a plant. I'm still waiting, although watching it expand in both height and girth each season with its lime colored red-tinged leaf edges is nearly as gratifying. I almost don't mind the wait.
This is the same feeling I get anytime I introduce a new plant to the garden. Last year, after working on a new garden bed, I planted a clematis vine. I knew the clematis growth habit well and didn't expect much. I wasn't proven wrong. This spring, my husband said, ''I don't think it's going to make it.''
''Give it time,'' I told him and recited the slogan.
Now a month later, the vine, although slow to get started this year, is about three feet long with four deep purple flowers peeking through the spaces in the chain-link fence it was meant to climb. Next year, I expect more from it; more branching, more vines and more flowers. I don't think I'll be disappointed.
This waiting on plants to establish themselves underground before focusing their attention on what goes on above isn't an issue with annuals. Annuals strive to grow, bloom and set seed in one season. They have to hustle to accomplish this goal because time isn't on their side. Some of them will even continue to entertain us with their showy flowers even after they've been hit with one or two light frosts in early fall.
I waited about three years for the viburnum to bloom - the same one I've been ranting about lately that lost its life to the viburnum leaf beetle. Viburnums, I've decided, are my new favorite plants, in spite of the pest that wants nothing more than to destroy them.
Michael Dirr, horticulturist, professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia, and woody plant expert, wrote in his book, ''Manual of Woody Landscape Plants,'' that having a garden without viburnum is like a life without art or music. And there are so many varieties to collect it is nearly impossible not to start with one and keep going until the garden is filled. For example, cranberry bush viburnum, V. trilobum, is filled with brilliant red berries that last as long as the birds will let them.
Many species bear fruit, in fact. Most will grow in bright sun but there are several that prefer shade and their flowers can resemble large snowballs or lacecaps that we often associate with hydrangeas. There are at least 150 varieties, including dwarf viburnums that can fit into smaller landscapes.
Now that we know the beetle is here, we can prepare to spray in April with horticultural oil before the plants start to bud out and we can treat with insecticidal soap as soon as we see the first signs of leaf growth. We can use sticky traps to keep the larvae from crawling down to the soil to pupate if they do appear on the plants and if all else fails, we can use a systemic pesticide as recommended by the garden center.
There are ways to combat these pests and the viburnum is not only worth the effort, it is worth the wait.