Sunday Opinion: Endurance

I happen to be very fond of the poems of Marge Piercy. I first discovered her work when I was in my twenties; she is a Michigan artist.  There are times when I I will pick up her volumes and read all of them, over again.  Having emailed a client today at 5:30 am, and now home from work at 7pm, I am thinking about one poem in particular she wrote about oak trees.  Not that this is unusual for her.  Her poetry may have political or social implications, but she writes from a gardeners point of view.  She grows things.  The upshot of the poem-and do not quote me as I cannot look up the particulars-is that the oaks are stately, stubborn, long lived, immoveable, silent-enduring.  At the end she concludes that what she so admires so about the oaks depresses her in people.

Today I am not much in agreement with that. Values, traditions, recipes,  ideas, skills, history gets passed from one generation to the next in human culture-via that vehicle I would call endurance. Not one thing about this depresses me.  I am, in fact, encouraged by this.   Just imagine what it took to establish and takes to maintain the Library of Congress, or the Smithsonian, or the Chicago Museum of Natural History.  How is it that centuries later visitors to the Sistine Chapel can still see-restored and protected- exactly what visitors saw during the Renaissance?  We have the plays of Shakespeare, the music of Mozart, the history of the growing of espaliers, the volumes of Linneaus detailing plant nomenclature, the Taj Mahal, the drawings of Michaelangelo, seed catalogues from Suttons in the 1920’s-the instinct to preserve knowledge is fueled by that sheer will to prevail and protect that I call endurance. 

I have all manner of examples in my own personal experience of nature that supports my theory.  Yews in my yard that are getting too much water from the lawn irrigation endure my thoughtlessness until the eleventh hour.  The New Guinea impatiens flopped flat to the ground from lack of water will rise again with the first flush of moisture.  A tree completely defoliated by bugs or fungus with throw new leaves.  A landscape besieged by freezing rain, below zero temperatures, hail and wind, poor pruning, a heavy airless soil to which no compost has ever been added, thoughtless little or too heavy irrigation, and all other manner of neglect-still survives.  The instinct to survive, to endure, is a strong one. 

My late call this afternoon routed me on a major Michigan highway.  On the roadsides-all manner of plants thriving.  My last choice of a home would be just off the median on M-5, but there are plenty of plant species thriving-enduring there.  The ox eye daisy has been prohibited in some states as a noxious weed-but I love seeing white daisies in bloom everywhere right now.  I do not fault their endurance. They make living on the relentlessly windy, exhaust blasted, overheated and untended roadside seem like a walk in the park.  This description applies equally to the thistles, the buffalo grass, wild hemerocallis, the cattails, and the wild grapes.  This time of year, I see women enduring the blast of roadside conditions known for heat, speed and exhaust to collect grape leaves for what they cook for their families-they are all about endurance too. Many places, plant and human species endure- without much in the way of encouragement. 

Clients that wring their hands about providing for this perennial or that shrub, I tell therm that the instinct of the plants living on their property to survive, to endure, is an incredibly powerful one.  You can sometimes make mistakes that won’t kill your plants.  You can make repeated mistakes with plants-they do not give up easily.  I see trees poorly placed and neglected, I see perennials planted in light and water conditions they abhor, I see pruning for which I have no explanantion, I see the cracks in the concrete roadways that someohow support colonies of plants.  The natural world is all about endurance. 

If I had a sizeable field at my disposal, it would be tough to decide if I should line out every peony known to man, or give over the entire space to Queen Anne’s Lace.  A field of Queen Anne’s Lace in full bloom-breathtaking.  No small amount of my sense of breathtaking has to do with the biology of  the endurance of this wild carrot.  Wild, wiry, and so very beautiful-a freely existing field of Queen Anne’s Lace  might be better than any perennial garden I have ever designed. I would not ditch the rows of peonies-how I love peonies!  Everything in the garden is about giving up this to have that -I am sure you understand this. 

Some plants have beyond enormous endurance.  Properties on which the farmhouse has long disappeared still sport rows of asparagus.  You can easily see where the house might have been, given the arrangement of the asparagus.  Poenies are reputed to live better than one hundred years.  I have clients with peonies that came from a great grandmother-enough said.  Old lilacs such as what graces Mackinac Island in Michigan, ancient and unpruned beauty bush (kolwitzia)-I do love those blooming plants with exceptional endurance.  Given the entire list of plants hardy in my zone, each and every one has an exceptional endurance gene.

As for me, I have good ideas some days, and no ideas other days.  I am as likely to miss as I am to hit.  I regularly forget what I have not written down.  Some days what I have written down, I still miss. I handle lots of projects simultaneously.  Does this make me talented-absolutely not.  It only means that I was gifted with endurance.  I start early, I stay engaged, and I end late.  The difference between so-so and better than so-so -a matter of endurance.

There are times when a design issue with a landscape stymies me.  With one hand  raised, I ask for time.  With the other hand raised, I ask for help.  This is not about talent-it is about endurance.


  1. “I start early, I stay engaged, and I end late.” Another way to describe love.

    What a wonderful post – thank you, Deborah! You remind me very much of a Deborah in my life very dear to me, who is also a philosopher.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Kathe, I always so enjoy hearing from you. Who knows why I waited so long to say, but I bought a copy of every one of your books, and gave them to my landscape superintendent’s teen girls. I hear the gift was a hit. Thanks for your comment, Deborah

  2. Deborah, thank you so much! How wonderful to be able to “meet” these young friends of yours through my work, thanks to you.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Kathe, what you write to me, and write so succintly and clearly, was such that I looked you up. That you are a writer did not surprise me in the least. That you read what I write-thanks. Those young friends-they read everything I sent them. I told them they had to. When they finished-they wrote me thank you notes; they were hilarious. “Dear Deborah, you made me want to not read, but when I did, I was happy. Thanks, Piper. Thanks, Violet”. This exchange between us with you as the the point woman-all good. Thanks, Deborah

  3. Young women need the virtues of both hilarity and endurance to grow in the garden of the world: Piper and Violet, I salute you! And thanks again to you, Deborah, for the chance to speak to them with my books.

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