The Lesson from Aunt Winnie’s Gardenia Cutting

I love gardenias. I am likely supporting the gardenia nursery industry with my love. I’ve ceased to count how many gardenia bushes I have bought, and killed. There is one now in the corner of my flower garden that I nursed for two years. Last month I gave up and said, “Die then.” It did.

Didn’t keep track of the name of this one, but I recall it gets large and seems it is from a bush over at a Louisiana plantation.

Still, I have managed to keep three bushes alive in my yard, even if none of them bloom very proficiently. Encouraged the past spring on Nell Jean’s blog, Secrets of a Seed Scatterer, that gardenia bushes are easily rooted from a cutting, I broke a piece with a blossom off a bush at a house that once belonged my Great-Aunt Winnie. I stole it.

Here is how it happened: It was during the cousins reunion in Savannah. We were visiting Cousin Janie’s house. Cousin Janie is Winnie’s daughter, and they had houses built right next to each other, with a connecting walkway. I followed the walkway, likely drawn by the voices of relatives that seemed very close after all the hours of talking about them and seeing their faces in faded photographs. In my mind, I was seeing my grandmother talking to Aunt Winnie. The two had been good friends. I suppose I saw their shadows in the screened porch at the end of the walkway.

Then I spied the window-high, sparkling gardenia bush studded with white blossoms. Just the sort of bush for which my heart longs. I quick as a wink broke off a branch with a divine blossom from ‘Aunt Winnie’s bush’. The next instant reality hit: “This is not Aunt Winnie’s bush anymore…I don’t even know the owners of this house!” I ran like the thief I was back to Cousin Janie’s house, the gardenia cutting firmly in hand.

I kept the branch wet and brought it the two-day trip home and put it into a vase. This was all the way back in April. Weeks, months passed and no sign of a root. I refreshed the water a number of times and would look for signs of a root. Seeing none, half a dozen times I went to throw it out. But when I saw a tiny green leaf come, and the stick remained green, I would hope. Then, last week, when cleaning the kitchen, I finally decided it was time to give up. But I took a final look– and saw a miracle had occurred. There was a long root!

Sometimes things you want take a lot longer to happen than you anticipated. Sometimes there is being worked out within, where it isn’t visible to the eye, all manner of miracles. How many times, I wonder, have I killed ideas and hopes simply by giving up before the miracle happened?

I don’t think those who succeed in gardening, or writing, or any endeavor, are necessarily the talented ones. They are the ones who persevere, who wait and keep on watering their ideas and dreams with work and hope, until growth happens.

All the performances of human art, at which we look with praise or wonder, are instances of the resistless force of perseverance. ~ Samuel Johnson.

An old wives tale: it is said that when a cutting is ‘stolen’ it is almost guaranteed to grow. My mother’s neighbor, Mamie, used to say to my mother, “May I steal a piece of your wisteria?” She swore that was the only way it worked.