Take A Chance

We added a patio to our back yard several years ago, which left an area between our house and the new patio that needed some landscaping.  I went to a garden supply store and bought several bushes, which we planted according to the directions on the labels, paying careful attention to how large they were supposed to grow.  But either the person who wrote those labels knows even less about plants than I do or the bushes had their own ideas regarding optimal growth, because every one of them grew to at least three times their predicted size.  What was supposed to be an artistic  arrangement of greenery and flowers looked more like an over-grown jungle with each passing week.

We dug up a few bushes and moved them to other parts of our yard, hoping they would survive the transplant.  Most of them did.  But then we were left with a scraggly-looking plant that was wedged in between a crepe myrtle and an evergreen.  I didn’t remember buying it and wasn’t even sure whether it was a bush or a particularly ambitious weed.  My husband and I debated whether we should transplant it or simply pull it out, but in the end we decided to move it to the side of the house to replace a rose bush that had died last year.

It was in the middle of summer and I had no idea what kind of sunlight this particular plant preferred, so I knew the odds of survival weren’t good.  I also knew it was entirely possible that we were going to all this effort to save a weed, possibly even a version of a ragweed that both my husband and I are allergic to.  But for some strange reason, replanting seemed the right thing to do.

IMG_2815The plant not only lived, it thrived.  And the last time I was at a garden center, I saw one that looked just like it and eagerly read the label.  Turns out, that scraggly bush wasn’t a weed at all…it’s actually a butterfly bush (which I still don’t remember buying).  And this whole past week it’s been busy attracting monarch butterflies.

I’m not, and never have been, what you’d call an optimistic person.  Right now I have a pain in a lower molar which I’m quite certain is going to require some kind of serious and expensive treatment, because a pain in my tooth can’t mean anything else, right?  Looking at the bright side is not my strong point and neither is expecting good things, despite the fact that I have had my share of good things in life.  It’s a negative thought pattern that I have always struggled with and truly hope to overcome some day.

Which is the point of the story of the butterfly bush.  I’m not good at gardening and most of the bushes and flowers that I plant die well before their time despite my best efforts.  But I overcame my natural pessimism and gave that weedy-looking plant a chance, and the reward was a thriving and beautiful butterfly bush that actually does attract butterflies.  And I hope that whenever I look at it, I’ll remember the lesson it taught me.  Because I really do want to become a person who is more willing to take a chance on something good.

86 thoughts on “Take A Chance

  1. I would have gladly taken your growth-happy bushes including your scraggly butterfly bush. After we had our old house torn down and set up our new modular home our yard looks empty and bare. We are planning to buy some lilac bushes next spring to some green and color to our yard. I am so glad to hear that you did not give up on what looked like the runt of your bushes, Ann!

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    • Thanks, Peter! I love lilac bushes, but sadly, my husband is allergic to them so I can’t plant them. I hope yours grow and thrive, and you find some other bushes to add. Personally, I’ve had the most luck with evergreens. Roses defeat me completely!

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  2. We have two Butterfly bushes in our front and love the visitors they get. If you are not familiar with Rose of Sharon (it’s not a rose), you should try one.They too produce gorgeous flowers… but they do need some space! 🙂

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    • Thanks, Alan! And dental care can be very expensive here, and I’ve noticed that the more pain is involved in the procedure, the more expensive it tends to be, too. There’s something wrong with that picture!

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  3. Woo Hoo – your butterfly bush was surely a gift from your Guardian Angel to help you shift your come-from. 🙂 You will also be reminded to think positively every time you see a butterfly — and, thanks to your post, so will I!
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”

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    • From my own experience, all I can say is dig a hole, stick it in, and water regularly. Of course, I try the same method with many other plants which promptly die, so I think I just got lucky with this one!

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    • Don’t even get me started on poinsettias! They are the one plant I can’t kill, even if I want to. Which explains why I have so many of them on my window seat in my family room, looking green and scraggly and several years old, which they are. I love them when they are red, but wish they would just go away when they aren’t…. Sadly, they stick around (and multiply) forever!

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  4. Hi Ann — It sounds like your plant went through a metamorphosis, turning into a “butterfly” when it was finally put where it should be. Just like some people do. As a fellow middle-ager, I truly appreciate your writing and musings. If you’re so inclined, please check out my blog at riceonyourhead.wordpress.com. I think you might enjoy it. Thanks for sharing.

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    • Seriously, I think whoever writes those labels has a twisted sense of humor. In our first house, we planted some yews that were supposed to get no more than two foot high and four foot wide. They grew to be over six foot tall! But I am glad that this particular bush turned out to be so nice!!!

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  5. There are so many layers to this post, Ann. I love your analogy between life and gardening. They really are synonymous. Isn’t it interesting how we sometimes take something from one location in our gardens, plant them somewhere else and watch them flourish. I think that says something about how our environment sometimes affects our lives and how we turn out. Sometimes the opposite is also true. Where we live is just as important as who we are. We are all worth saving, aren’t we.
    Another insightful post, Ann.

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    • Thanks, George! And I couldn’t agree more: we are ALL worth saving. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right environment that allows us to thrive. And nothing, absolutely nothing, is better than when that happens!

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  6. You made me smile! I have tried to plant many different shrubs/trees/flowers only to have them die. Then my husband planted this horrible crab apple tree that just. won’t. die. I’m happy for you that the butterfly bush decision has paid off royally. They say you should “thrive where you are planted” but it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Glad you made the right location choice!

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    • Thanks! My experience is usually the same as yours, in that what I really want to survive usually dies, and the few plants I don’t care for do just fine. I’m thinking that the phrase “thrive where you are planted” should be rewritten as “get planted where you can thrive!” That might work better. LOL!

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  7. I love this story of finding unexpected beauty and a lesson in it to boot! I tend towards being surprised when something good happens too. It’s okay, we are realists not negative (hehe). I hope the pain in your tooth gets resolved (tooth pain is the worst). I’m a new follower (actually a new blogger) and I have enjoyed reading your lovely posts!

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    • Thank you! And you’re the second person who suggested that I might be more of a realist than a pessimist. I kind of like that…although I do need to stop focusing on the possibility of bad things quite so much!

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      • Yes, true, it’s about balance. I have family and friends who always seem to look at the “sunny side of life.” I enjoy being around people with this type of disposition, but I sometimes (to be truthful) end up a little irritated at points. Finding balance in realism is good. Not expecting bad situations to happen as the norm. I do have to say that I am thankful for those friends and family who sometimes bring me back and help me look at the positive.

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  8. You post drew a chuckle from me. Years ago, having moved into a new house, we spent tons of money on landscaping and decided to save money on the installation by doing it ourselves. One by one, or sometimes in droves, the expensive plants died only to be survived by the natives which had always lived there. Remembered what my wise grand-pappy always said: “Don’t fix what ain’t broke.”

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  9. That’s pretty awesome given Monarchs are rare these days. I tried planting milkweed because that is what I read is their food of choice and it’s all getting ruined by humans, and that’s why they are slowly becoming more infrequent. Of course, milkweed is very hard to grow by seed (apparently) and I didn’t have too much luck in NH. So if you found a way to attract them, then it’s a win win!

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    • I’m pretty sure they are monarchs, but I’m judging just by the coloring and I could be wrong. I don’t really know much about butterflies! Do butterfly bushes grow well in Florida? That’s what has worked for me!

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  10. Well, Ann. I wish I could say I am one with the green thumb, but that would be a lie. I will say, I kept a bell pepper plant alive for a good three years. Psychologically I had attached an idea of personal well-being to that plant after a scrappy divorce. Somehow, in my mind, I had believed as long as I kept it healthy and bearing peppers I would be okay as well. When it died, I felt a loss. It was as if I had died. Hard to explain. After intentionally being redirected, I crawled out of that planter. It still sits there by the garage today with the old dead branches as a reminder. I haven’t yet found a way to empty it out and start a new, even though my life has. Maybe it’s time. Thanks for the jot. It rang “bells”..

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    • I can see that. It’s so easy to get attached to something that has some other emotional significance, and that represents something so important. I’m glad that your life is back on track! And thanks for your kind words.

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  11. I have a strip of garden that grows along the back of my yard, about 4 feet wide. For years & when the kids were young, I labored over melon and squash, tomato and corn, and all kinds of flowers.

    Birds and squirrels stood by, snickering, as slugs and beetles destroyed the leaves, the squirrels chewed holes in my squash, and birds dive-bombed with mystery packages of volunteer plants. I just couldn’t keep up. So I gave in.

    I limited weeding, saving the plants with pretty leaves and pulling the ones I recognized as bound to turn into thistles and burrs. Some of the pretty ones died off, and others increased and spread, and years later, I have a witch’s garden of color and textured leaves that bloom at different times over the summer, as well as a few surprises that show up in response to temp and water for that particular year.

    Right now, I have golden flowers that show up in September, some tall white woolly thing that sways in the breeze, and a red Cardinal Lobelia that I got on late-season sale and threw in to see if it liked being there. And these stand side by side in happy contrast with summer-to-autumn leaves. Lesson to me: The garden works best, when I work less, and just let it be.

    Thanks for your post! Nice to know others out there get the power of Nature. 😉

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    • I read a blog called “The Automatic Gardener” and as talented as she is in her garden, she basically said the same thing you did: let things grown naturally and enjoy the result. I think you are wise to let that strip of land become naturally beautiful! Slowly but surely, I’m learning that too.
      Thanks for the comment Liz!

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  12. How wonderful that your weed turned into something so beautiful Ann. Good on you for giving it a chance. A lovely piece of writing with a great message of hope. Good luck with that tooth as well. Take care xo

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    • Actually, I may have been a bit hasty in that identification. What I should have said is: butterflies that look like Monarchs. I have no idea how to tell the real thing from the more run-of-the-mill butterflies. I didn’t even know Monarchs are rare until a few people said how lucky I was to see them. Based on these responses, I’m guessing that the butterflies aren’t Monarchs.
      Also, I wish I could hire squirrels to actually dig holes for planting flowers. The ones in my yard wait until the flowers are in, and then promptly did them right back up!

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      • I think even in the best of times we’re on the edge of the Monarch range, so it’s not surprising I don’t see them. As for the squirrels, they seem to be better at planting trees than flowers. And for some reason they seem to think they’ve banked their seeds in the flower pots, so I feel your pain.

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  13. I only know those plants as Buddleia, Ann — seems the more common name here in Britain — and have two here in my garden, neither of which objects to hard pruning at any time. The other great source of attraction, this time for bees, is my Abelia Grandiflora which almost seems to dance under the weight of its buzzy, winged visitors. You’ll be okay at the dentist — I just had two extractions and didn’t feel a thing, pain-wise, and they were both tricky ones to get out. As always, it’s the nervous anticipation that’s far worse than the event. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Hariod, for the reassurance and the common sense. You’re right, whatever the dentist finds will be dealt with and he already knows to give me plenty of Novocaine. It’s just my nasty habit of imagining the worst-case scenario and then letting my nerves get the best of me. It helps to hear otherwise, and thank you for that.
      Thanks also for the real name of the butterfly bush. Do you prune yours back every year or just let them be? Obviously, I’ve never pruned mine, but I never realized what it was before either!

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      • Yes, you can prune a Buddleia really hard with no problems. I take both of mine down from about seven feet high to two feet each winter and they come back with another five feet of growth over the season. They can get rather straggly and woody if you don’t prune them.

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        • P.S. Pressure and movement are the only two things you should feel at the dentist, whether it’s root canal treatment or an extraction. That’s a promise! Keep your shoulders loose, and whilst in the chair remind yourself of the fact that it’s solely pressure and movement — that’s what I do. The imagination is so powerful, yet so misleading. 🙂

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          • Good point!!! Sometimes I think I’m beginning to feel pain, when all I’m really feeling is pressure or movement. And relaxing is key. I was so tense during the first root canal that my jaw really ached the next day, not from the procedure, but from me clenching it so tightly while my mouth was propped open. I was careful not to do that in the second root canal, and had no soreness in my jaw after that one.

            And thanks for the tip on the bush. I’ll prune it back late this fall, and hope it grows even bigger next year.
            Thanks again for your support…it’s very much appreciated!

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  14. Oh I feel your pain! When we moved into our house in 2001 we planted a bunch of stuff with no real understanding of what they would do or how they would look. Over the years we’ve moved things around, pulled things out, and a few things even managed to please us. I don’t have the patience apparently to do a master plan of plants so it is sort of hit and miss with us…. Probably more misses as we’ve had so many things die. I look at it this way, oh well! 😁

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    • I don’t do master plans either! Planting this particular area is the closest I have ever come, and that didn’t exactly work out. But then I just plunk in a bush/weed in the middle of summer and it thrives! I’m beginning to think that a whole lot of gardening is luck. Thanks for the comment!

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  15. We had a lot (and I do mean a lot) of Buddlea in our garden when we were in London. They are very beautiful and the butterflies love them but beware of them because while they aren’t weeds, they do eventually grow like weeds and take over and seed everywhere. You’ll find them growing in between roof tiles, in between patio stones, in between bricks – anywhere they can get a foot (or root) hold.

    Your mention of things growing bigger than they should have made me smile. Many many years ago, I bought a dwarf mimosa. I put it in a small pot and it grew, and grew… and ended up coming up to outside the windows of our second floor rooms! Some dwarf… !

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  16. That´s a beautiful lesson nature taught you here, Ann! There are sadly no Monarch butterflies in Europe (we only got the blue blooded ones that don´t look half as pretty 😉 ) but I could at least attract some Admirals with my plants this year! 😀 Always good to know the navy´s on your side 😉
    And I´m so sorry to hear that you are suffering again from pain in your teeth, hope you will get better very soon!

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