Expect nothing

These snapdragons weren't supposed to come back, but they reappear every year. May 2013

These snapdragons weren’t supposed to come back, but they reappear every year. May 2013

“Expect nothing.  Live frugally
On surprise.”Alice Walker

It may seem contradictory for a self-proclaimed optimist to quote Walker’s counsel to expect nothing, but there is very real difference between expectation and optimism. Admittedly, optimism involves some expectation, but it is mostly of a general sort. We expect that joy lies ahead if we are willing to cooperate by actively seeking for good. We expect that our faith will eventually be proven as well-founded. Beyond that, though, it’s a bit fuzzy.

If we expect a new car, a palatial home or always a little bit more than we currently have, optimism is crowded out by a feeling of entitlement. If we give our love with expectation of commensurate return, that’s a risky proposition at best. If we serve with the expectation of gratitude, our service will be more likely to taint our relationships with selfishness.

I’ve found that the most delightful gifts are those that are wholly unexpected. The snapdragons pictured above have become one of my favorite plants, primarily because they have come back again every year without my expecting it. When I bought that particular plant years ago, I was told it was an annual. I planted one or two six packs of tiny seedlings and figured I would enjoy them for a year at most.

The next year, two of them came back, a yellow one and this pink one. The yellow plant has barely hung on, flowering sparsely in recent years, but the pink one gets bigger, blooms earlier and lasts longer each year. Every year they come back, I count it an unexpected gift. There’s no more frugal surprise than a volunteer plant that returns to decorate our lives without added expense or effort.

Living frugally is its own reward, and as Walker affirms in her lovely poem linked above, the frugal life is full of charming surprises.

This post was originally published seven years ago today. The lovely snapdragons pictured above succumbed to an early frost less than a year after this was published, and have never appeared again. I’m glad I photographed them while they were still alive.

The message of Walker’s poem, linked above at her name, is perhaps the best advice I could have given myself for the past seven years, and seems even more wise as the attitude I must adopt for the future. 

The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Good morning, Julia!
    I’m sorry to hear that the snapdragons didn’t continue on. At first I thought perhaps they were re-seeding themselves, but then you mentioned specific plants.
    Here in Minnesota, rosemary is considered an annual, but last winter was mild enough that some of that has come back, as did some oregano and thyme (I think). The winter savory and tarragon survived as well, although the tarragon may have just self-seeded. I expect that as one approaches the tropics, more species simply aren’t frozen out each winter.
    I agree that it was a delightful surprise to not have to start from scratch again this spring!
    On a deeper note, I appreciated your discussion of optimism versus expectation.
    Blessings on your day!

    • Susan, I’ve made a few feeble and unsuccessful attempts at growing herbs, but probably should try a bit harder. It seems to me such a practical, healthy and ornamental choice. Apparently fresh herbs have many nutritional benefits, and growing one’s own could ensure that they were organic and local. You can’t get much fresher than picking something right before it goes into the pot or on the plate!

      • Julia, I agree that it’s great to have fresh herbs around. I don’t use them to their full potential, certainly, and on Sunday I gave up on them and reached for the commercially dried oregano. Maybe I just needed the “little specs of oregano” look in my Italian-style soup.
        Regarding decorative, I’ve rhubarb and onions under my front lilacs, along with the hostas. I realize that this is not conventional ground cover, but so far it looks quite nice. I figured, why just grow decoration, when one can have usefulness, too? And the rhubarb-blueberry crisp I made yesterday was so yummy! (But what can possibly go wrong when one combines oats with butter, cinnamon and brown sugar??)

        • I totally agree with you on the oats, butter, cinnamon & brown sugar. I don’t even know what rhubarbs look like when they are growing, and depending on what kind of onions, maybe not them either (what do yellow onions look like as a plant?) I do know some varieties of onions (Alliums) are beautiful, with colorful flowers. But I don’t know whether these are edible varieties, or purely ornamental. At least one variety, the “Yorktown onion” dates back to the revolutionary war and still grows in the former battlefields where the war was won by American colonists. There are strict laws that prohibit people to gather or pick them, but you can buy Yorktown Onion plants once a year at the Yorktown-sanctioned plant sale which benefits the Celebrate Yorktown committee. This yearly event was NOT cancelled this year, but it did become a drive-through event and the yearly garden show was not held. Thanks to the efforts of my friend Darla and other hard-working volunteers, this year’s sale was a great success.

          • I’m so glad the sale was successful! I remember looking for Darla when we visited.
            I found onions in my garden last year, and they’re back, this year. They seem to be the green-onion variety and I’m thinking to use them as I do the rhubarb, leaving some for next year, and to continue propagating. They’re a wonderful dark green and look nice around my lilacs. I planted yellow onions this year, too.

            • Do any of them have those lovely round blooms that look like large, colorful dandelion fuzzies?

              • I will let some bloom this year, and find out!

                • Please keep me posted. My quest for the elusive hardy snapdragon continues. The ones I planted this year aren’t doing well.

                  • I planted the “Polka Dot” series and they have returned for five years now, and are looking good. Don’t get quite as tall as the old-fashioned biennials, but come in luscious colors and are very hardy here in Zone 5 (or 4b, depending upon the map!)

                    • Thank you, Carolee. I have heard of Polka Dot plants (I love them!) but never a Polka Dot snapdragon. I was unable to find anything about them online, either. Can you post a link that will tell us more about them, and where to find them? Thanks for being here!

  2. Susan

    I rarely see snapdragons so this photo is a treat! I too am glad you got the picture while you could; very pretty!

    • Thank you, Susan! I’ve planted snapdragons repeatedly since then, but have never had any to flourish the way that particular plant did. Usually I barely manage to keep them alive at all.

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