Waiting, Pruning, Growing

By Kaitlin Murphy-Kundsen

What are Your Roses and Bonsai Trees?


After my brother died, my sister found his plans for a garden he was readying for the spring. She offered the idea to plant seeds in remembrance of him, so that those who love him may, in our own places and ways, collectively continue the garden he did not get to grow.

I thought it may be a good time to plant the set of bonsai tree seeds we had bought a while ago. This could go badly, as I don’t have a green thumb and am more likely to kill them before they thrive. Our roses are doing ok, but only because my husband is caring for them, pruning the leaves that die so new buds can grow.


“Rose-Buds” by Chris Sorge is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


It also may not be a good idea because my daughter is quick to value small things. Recently, we formally buried some bugs she’d adopted and cared for too rigorously. She once loved a painting I made of a heart, in which I’d used color to show it passing from wholeness, through a break, to another kind of wholeness that included the colors of the break. It was just a fun thing we did on a family painting night, so I wasn’t attached to it. But she loved it and wanted to bring it into show-and-tell at school.

On her way out of the car on show-and-tell day, she stepped on the frame and broke it. She was devastated, too upset to leave the car while the carline piled up behind us. I pulled out of the keep-it-moving-everyone! carline to hear her out, in the end reframing it (ha) as an opportunity to rebuild my freshly stomped-on heart in a way that would make it more interesting (Multimedia! 3 dimensions! Glue!). She felt better, ready to face the day. Come to think of it, we forgot about it later, so my heart is apparently still warped into splinters in a corner somewhere.

So I can take it if our bonsai trees don’t make it. But maybe I won’t pile the expectations on our fledgling plants. Maybe I’ll keep it to myself that we’re planting them in part for my brother. (This is me keeping it to myself.)

But for you of course, it is about something else, your own long-term work, care and commitments.


“04125534” by jeremy_norbury is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

What are your roses? Your bonsai trees?

Caring for a bonsai tree is supposed to foster patience. Because despite the close attention it requires, it can still take years before a tree will grow in the abundant, unruly ways that roses do.

Anyone who has worked on a long-term project knows the near endless pruning and waiting involved in bringing some work in you to light, the patient persistence and care it needs before it will really get growing. According to writer Hugh Howie,1 “The biggest barrier to releasing quality material is probably impatience.”

Since most learning ventures and big projects take way longer than we anticipate, cultivating patience without curbing your care can be tough, especially when you’re excited about your idea.

This applies to you, yes? So get your own bonsai tree! Or, if you want to be a little less literal about it, get an editor. Take care with your work. Invest in the long term.

“Japanese Black Pine, Kennett Square, PA” by Grufnik is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Our newly planted bonsai seeds sit beside our roses, sharing their patch of sun but each requiring a different light of attention to thrive.


The roses, pushing and insistent, require the pruning of what is no longer useful in order to grow new buds. Not yet for the bonsai trees, which will not be hurried into sprout or strength.

The guides say be patient, this will take years.

“Years?” my daughter asks, uncomprehending. It feels like a long time to wait on a small plant.

“But look,” I say, pointing to our row of little pots. Three have not yet made it through the soil. I don’t know if they ever will.

But one of them is sprouting. A beginning.



  1. As cited in Joanna Penn’s How to Market a Book 



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