Five Photos, Five Stories: Dormant Isn’t Dead

May 20, 2015 garden 014


After our unusually long and cold winter, we’ve been concerned about which plants survived and which plants didn’t.  We’ve been making the rounds of the garden for weeks now looking for signs of life from plants which normally survive winter here just fine, but have not yet leafed out this spring.

There is an ancient Jasmine vine which has grown along the railing by our kitchen door for decades.  Much of it died back over the winter of 2014, but somehow came back with new growth by last summer.  Blooms were scarce, but it survived.  We are still watching for signs of life from that Jasmine vine this spring; watching for a single green leaf to show us it is still alive.

Our potted Hydrangeas suffered as well.  I believe they began to bud too early and were hit by a late freeze.  I check every few days for a sign of new growth from the roots.

One thing the garden teaches us is that dormant is not dead.   Many plants simply need a rest to gather their strength to grow again.


May 20, 2015 garden 013


Deciduous trees rest from autumn until earliest spring, when their buds swell and eventually open into new leaves.  We learn their rhythm early on in life, if we live in a region which has winter, and trust the process.

But what happens when things don’t go as expected?  What happens when it takes weeks longer than we think it might for those first leaves to show?

Most years our figs are quite leafed out by now.  But they have taken a hit of cold for two winters running.  Huge old trees have stood starkly naked all through spring and into this stretch of early summer heat.


May 20, 2015 garden 012~

And now one by one, we are finding signs of life.  For some, new shoots are appearing directly from the roots.  Others have budded on trunks and branches, tiny leaves finally emerging into the warmth of May.

There are two potted fig trees, one on the front patio and the other on the back deck, still giving us no sign of life.  I’m still hopeful that one day soon we’ll see those first leaves appear.

After all, dormant is not dead.

Life goes deep within the tissues of a plant sometimes, into its rhizome or seed; into its deep roots while everything green and growing withers away.  We have to know these cycles and work with them.

Cyclamen die back in spring to rest for the summer.  They will sprout again in autumn to give flowers through many more winters to come.

Begonias and Caladiums may do the same in autumn, taking a winter rest before springing back to life with a single leaf to herald their awakening.


This favorite Rex Begonia has leafed out from a bare rhizome again.  It likes its protected and shaded spot at the base of a tree.

This favorite Rex Begonia had leafed out from a bare rhizome again in this photo taken last June. It has gone dormant on me many times over the years, and I’m waiting for new leaves to appear on it now.  It died back in the house in early spring, but I trust it will spring to life again soon.


Sometimes we need to do the same thing.  Going dormant for a while can do us a lot of good.  We give ourselves a chance to rest and rejuvenate.  When we’re ready to get back in the game, we are somehow richer and stronger.  We’ve taken quiet time to brood and plan.

We need, sometimes, to think about what is most important to us, and to re-define our priorities.  We can’t just keep going on forever at full steam, like a perpetual motion machine.


Native ferns just awakening from their winter dormancy.

Native ferns just awakening from their winter dormancy.


Because we are alive, our life is governed by the rhythms of nature.  We have our own rhythms, too; of  breathing and sleep, activity and rest.

Several blogging friends have touched on this issue, lately.  They are long time writers who have expressed their need for time away… time for a rest.  I respect them so much for listening to their own hearts and taking the break they need.

Writing is a very peculiar pursuit.  Those of us who feel compelled to write each day do so because WE need to do it.  We all have a purpose and some message we need to share.

We don’t write for our audience so much as we write for ourselves, and hope someone else finds what we write useful or amusing, instructive or thought provoking.

We all know when we’ve written enough for a while, and need to take some quiet time to rejuvenate our creative spark before speaking up again.  And that is simply the nature of things.

And no, I’m not saying this to preface an announcement of my own; only to say to my blogging friends who need that break, that I understand your point of view.  And to remind you:  Dormant is not dead. 

We know you are still very much alive, and hope that one day soon you’ll feel like it is time to grow active once again.  We miss the beauty you bring to the world.


The last bloom on the clump of Iris Barbara brought me last May.  We have enjoyed them enormously this spring!

The last bloom on the clump of Iris Barbara brought me last May. We have enjoyed them enormously this spring!


Barbara, at  Silver in the Barn, invited me to join the Five Photos Five Stories challenge, and this is my second post in the series.

This is a simple challenge:  To participate, you simply post a photo each day for five consecutive days, and tell a story about each photo.  The story can be truth or fiction, poetry or prose.  Each day one must also nominate a fellow blogger to participate in the challenge.

And today, I am inviting another Virginia blogger, Dor, of Virginia Views, to join the challenge.  Dor tells wonderful stories about her life in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia on her blog, and I know she will have a few hilarious tales to tell for this challenge.  I enjoy her point of view, and hope she will play along with  Barbara and me. 

In fact I hope you will visit both Dor and Barbara, both of whom are very entertaining and generous story tellers.


These Foxgloves looked so frost-bitten in March I thought they might be dead.  Just look at them now!  And yes, the Canna Lilies survived, the winter, too!

These Foxgloves looked so frost-bitten in March I thought they might be dead. Just look at them now! And yes, the Canna Lilies survived, the winter, too!


The moral of the this story today is that we will gain a lot through patience and perseverance…. both with plants and with people.

When we keep the faith that spring will come to each of us in our own time, life rewards us with abundance.


May 20, 2015 garden 008


Woodland Gnome 2015

*   *   *

Five Photos, Five Stories: Hot

Five Photos, Five Stories: Perspective

Five Photos, Five Stories: Turtle Mama

Five Photos, Five Stories: Chocolate Cake


About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

22 responses to “Five Photos, Five Stories: Dormant Isn’t Dead

  1. I definitely feel dormant on my blogging lately, but definitely not dead! I love the way you linked the seasons outside with the seasons of our heart. Lovely!

    • Thank you, Eliza. I wanted to invite you to this challenge but realized that this is not a time to ask you for such a huge time commitment indoors at the computer! I know you’ve been busy bringing your garden into shape for the season. Then I see you were invited anyway 😉 Did you accept?

      • Yes, but have delayed my response due to illness and time of year as you said. There is so much more to do, but I’m even more paranoid about going outside now, which is sad and irrational. If anything, now that I’m on antibiotic for 30 days, they can bite all they want! After a couple of days, I’m sure I’ll be back at it.

        • Not at all irrational, Eliza. We fear them, too. Had deer in our yard again on Sat and Sun, so we’re even more watchful for the ticks they bring. My doc explained to me when I had my last visit for a tic bite, that the disease is only transmitted after they have actively fed for 24 hours. If you get them off before them, chances of Lyme transmission are slim. And, every tick isn’t a carrier. The bite is bad enough, Eliza, I’m not trying to minimize…. only to set your mind at ease a little with what we most recently learned. Take good care of yourself! I’m just in from a gardening marathon 😉 ❤ WG

          • There are many conflicting theories, that’s why more research is needed. This is a terrible disease that if not treated leads to great misery and even death. (I think my spouse has read every book and paper published about the disease!) How can you deal with an enemy that is the size of the period at the end of a sentence? I appreciate your kindness to try to set my mind at ease, you are so sweet to me! Big hugs! 🙂

            • Big hugs back, Eliza. We really weren’t aware of the dangers ticks pose until this garden, which was ridden with so many insects (from neglect) when we began. We both have had so many tick bites, and concern with Lyme disease. My partner has taken the treatments for it, and we’ve both had so many rounds of antibiotics after tick bites. There is a very interesting history to the appearance of the disease, which you probably are aware of, too, from an island off of NY. We are vigilant here, too. We always wear socks and long pants, long sleeves, high necks, and hats when working outside. We use the White Citrus on all exposed skin (bugs hate it) and tuck dryer sheets into our pockets and hats. Newest thing is to chew minty gum to keep the flies at bay. It is a huge production simply to go outside to work in the garden during most of the year. Hope you’re feeling worlds better. WG

              • Thank you again, the headache is gone, which was so tough to bear, now I’m just tired. I’m generally blessed with great health, so I guess I’m not a patient patient!
                I love all your ideas for repellents. Hearing you suit up to go out reminded me of the prep I go through in winter to get out the door – lol! I guess I’m going to have to do the same. The good news is we get a small reprieve in July & Aug. before the fall season starts Sept-Nov. I must accept ‘what is’ and let go of my resistance! 😉

                • Easier said than done, Eliza. I spotted another dratted doe when I stepped out on the deck a moment ago, and had to run out right away to deal with it. I was thinking of our conversation as I traipsed through the back garden sans socks or hat. The flies flocked around me, even flying into my ear! Deer leapt out THROUGH our deer fence into the neighbor’s yard. We can see no trace of her passing, but I watched her fly through. The roses are chewed again, and leaves missing from this or that. More nights of spraying the smelly repellant lie ahead….
                  So happy your headache is gone. The fatique will be a bit harder to move through, I know. Resistance to disease is a good thing, Taoist philosophy or not!

                  • For us, there are so many voles, mice, all sorts of mammals and birds, all carry ticks to drop off when they are sated to lay their dratted eggs, it feels impossible to keep the yard pest-free. The deer smell our dog and she barks if she sees or hears them in the forest, so hopefully, they will give our yard wide berth, but night time is their time, so who knows while we sleep? Sometimes it is tough sharing space, but I try to remember we are the newcomers here. 😉 As you said, easier said than done!

  2. Pingback: If we were having coffee: Recuperation | breezes at dawn

  3. this is truly a pow3erful post – and is dear to my heart because I often think in terms of garden analogies. seriously, I have notebooks of some that moved me while in the garden. but I have not used the “dormant is not dead” one and I really like how you word this. excellent…
    also, this was the gem take away for me

    “We don’t write for our audience so much as we write for ourselves, and hope someone else finds what we write useful or amusing, instructive or thought provoking.”

    tru dat! 🙂 ❤

  4. Another beautiful post, WG, with timely and wise reminders. 🙂

  5. suzicate

    Lovely! You have a wonderful green thumb…me, not so much even with my best efforts. Begonias and Caladiums don’t return here for me. I have had my Gardenia appear dead and then come back. I fear this year I lost the Mandarin tree my son bought me last Mother’s Day. At least, we feasted on eight wonderful madarins that fall!

    • Thank you for this, Suzi. A green thumb is earned only by watching plants closely, learning all one can, and especially learning from mistakes made. I am a compulsive, addicted gardener, as my family will happily relate. Begonias are mostly tropical plants. Only a few varieties are perennial in our climate. The rest must spend their winters indoors above 50 F. Same with Caladiums. Even the Caladiums I tried to overwinter in the basement and garage got too cold over winter, and only those kept in our living room survived. Ditto with citrus trees. I’m glad your Gardenia came back 😉 Ours looked awful after around January, and is just recovering now. Such a harsh winter! I hope you’ll get a new Mandarin tree to enjoy. Eight fruits is fantastic ❤

      • suzicate

        I did take my begonia into the garage this year and it bloomed throughout the winter months, but I’m sure it’s happy to be back outside. I have not yet purchased another Mandarin though I do plan to.

  6. The timing of this post is amazing, E. Just a couple days ago I noticed the first tenuous signs of life on my fig tree. I have planted it over by my potting shed and had such high hopes for training it into an espalier. All spring long it has been dead as a doornail….or so I thought. From the roots now are springing some leaves. I have no idea how this thing is going to look once it gets going or if any of the seemingly dead branches will revive but you are right, dormant is not dead. Thank you!

    • What wonderful news that your fig is springing back to life! Figs are peculiar, but have fierce determination to live. You will be entertained by where new leaves appear now that it is active again! The espalier is such an elegant idea, Barbara, but as you now see, it is unpredictable which stems/trunks will live season to season. My Afghan Silver Lyre figs appear to have died back to the ground again. The Plant Delights catalog left me with hope they would be well over my head by now, but instead, I have tiny little rosettes of leaves springing up around dead looking trunks… knee high….. at least they are still alive, and I’m grateful for that!

      • So funny what we learn about plants as we experiment. The fig is a bad choice for espalier. I may dig this one out in the future and relocate or put in a large pot. I am thinking now that a dwarf apple might have been a better choice. Is it raining by you? We are undergoing a deluge which is a very good thing.

        • Rainy and deliciously cool! It is about 65 here and raining hours earlier than forecast. I’m so happy! I love cool rainy morning this time of year. I am going to bake a cake for my friend’s birthday this morning ahead of dinner tomorrow. Have you ever had chocolate blackberry jam cake? I made one years ago and it was wonderful. I plan to ice it with ganache and chocolate curls. It is a good morning to run the oven for 90 minutes! An apple would do well, or a pear… you might train a muscadine grapevine there… Yes, gardening is endlessly fascinating to me because I am continually learning. There is always more to learn because plants don’t react the same way one year to the next. By the way, my friends (here) and I have been rooting hardwood cuttings of my fig over winter in pots….. Just make sure you give friend fig a REALLY big pot if he is a standard sized fig 😉

          • No, but I have a recipe for blackberry jam cake which they describe as an old English recipe. Sounds heavenly. But I can’t think about cake right now. Trying to drop a few ell-bees. As usual.

            • Same here, but this is my friend who adores chocolate. The cake will go home with her 😉 Seems there are lots of recipes out there for variations of this cake with and without chocolate, made with jam and/or fresh berries. We never had it growing up- we had applesauce cake, which was amazing!

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