Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Beauty or Beast: My Relationship With Wisteria

I spent all day on Sunday pruning the wisteria on our property. Yes, all day. I really wish I had taken some before and after pictures because it’s pretty dramatic the difference. I prune it here and there throughout the year, but every year in September I have to do a hard pruning to keep it from taking over the front porch, shed, greenhouse, back end of the house, and trees. This involves using pruners, a handsaw, a ladder, a hat, and long pants and long sleeves. Wisteria (the Japanese variety) is incredibly invasive. I think I likened it to The Terminator in one of my blog posts. It just never stops. My whole body aches from hauling the heavy metal ladder all over the property and from climbing all over the roof, and even on top of the greenhouse — all to prune the wisteria. I did some reflecting on my relationship with wisteria while spending so much time with it on Sunday...

I first noticed wisteria when I was traveling in England. It was growing up the side of a beautiful, little, stone house in your typicial picturesque village in the Cotswolds. The cascading purple flowers with their intoxicating scent won me over. It brought to mind romantic vingettes of women in hoop skirts holding parisols yearning for a kiss from a lover under an arbor of wisteria, like a scene out of a Merchant Ivory film. After all, it was the promise of “Wisteria and Sunshine” that lured some London ladies to romantic Italy on holiday in “Enchanted April”. I thought to myself, “One day I will have a garden with wisteria”. What a young, niave gardener I was.

When we were looking for a house to buy, wisteria was the last thing on my mind. We weren’t even very seriously looking and then we saw “THE” house. So much of this house was just “right,” so perfect for us. I was practically giddy when I saw there was wisteria on the property. It just was meant to be.

Our first confrontation with the wisteria was right after we bought the house in the fall. We wanted to remove the dead leaves from the roof of the greenhouse so that the plants inside would survive the winter. This meant trying to pry up the wisteria and hose the leaves out from underneath. Brian took position on the roof with the hose and I planted myself on a ladder with a broomstick trying to lift the wisteria. With the water running, Brian slipped on our metal roof and came within inches of landing flat on his back on the greenhouse roof. We had waited too late in the year and the water had started to freeze on the roof, making it too slippery to tackle the leaves under the wisteria. That was the first and last time we tried to hose out the dead leaves. Now I just prune it as much as I can in the fall and use a broom to try to push the dead leaves out from under it.

One frigid January night we awoke to this constant popping sound. We had no idea what this could be. I put on my boots and treked out into the yard to investigate. It was the seed pods of the wisteria that were popping from the freezing temperatures. The dark seeds were popping out like little bullets raining down on the ground. In the snow and moonlight it almost seemed like it belonged in the “Twilight Zone”.

Come our first spring in this house, Brian learned why I loved wisteria. The beautiful, cascading blooms and the luring scent are irrisistable. I was determined to learn more about this vigourous plant. After some researching on pruning and learning that wisteria gorws an average of 10 feet per year, I knew I was in for a never-ending battle. Once or twice a year I was going to have to prune my wisteria – on ladder or roof with pruners and hand-saw, just me and this vine that wouldn’t give up. A neighbor had told me the whole property used to be covered in wisteria. It made me wonder how long this wisteria had been here. The greenhouse was a later addition, so surely the wisteria there had not been there more than 40 or 60 years, I figured. But the wisteria growing up all of the trees, the wisteria vines that were 6 inches in diameter that I found growing up behind the workshop, what about that? These vines tower in the treetops. Had that been there since the house was built in the 1800s? Even the wisteria I was tackling on the greenhouse was surely much older than I. Perhaps this vine deserved more respect.

A tangled mass of wisteria in the springtime.

I have learned that by pruning at the right times of the year, the wisteria will be even more beautiful the following spring. I used to be tentative about pruning too much or worried I wasn’t doing it correctly, but I’ve since learned that no matter how much you prune it and how you do it, it will always come back. Always. It’s all just a matter of timing and not pruning too late or else you won’t get the pretty blossoms in the spring. Through the years, I’ve developed a relationship with it. After all, it deserves to be there, it came first. I am merely the current visitor that tends to it to keep it beautiful and manageable.

All year the wisteria is the playground for many creatures. Birds, bugs, and squirrels... even an occasional neighborhood cat who manages to climb up the vines. I see the birds make nests in the wisteria, have families, and then their babies stick around to play in it. One winter, our old cat (Montague, may he rest in peace) discovered a very large possum on our greenhouse roof. It was the first time I had seen a possum up close. They look an awful lot like an enourmous rat with sharp claws and teeth. Not cute and cuddly at all. How did it get up there? By climbing the wisteria vine, of course.

The wisteria is a constant battle. The beautiful beast that won’t give up. I have wisteria vines popping up everywhere in my yard. In garden beds, in the middle of the lawn, growing through hydrangeas, winding up trees and over fences, always threatening to take over the back yard. It even spreads its branches under the porch, reaching the front yard and growing up the posts of our front porch. I am pulling wisteria constantly from the beds and the lawn, pulling it out of the siding of the house, and cutting it off of the telephone wires. It is determined to survive anywhere it can. You have to respect that kind of determination. I could only hope that I would have such a will to survive if ever I am diagnosed with a serious illness. In fact, it’s certain that one day I will be too old to prune my wisteria. My joints will ache, I won’t have the strength to climb the ladder or the steadiness to tackle it from the roof. The power of nature and it’s will to survive will be greater than I. The wisteria will grow and I will fade away. It will be here long after I am gone. And then there will be another home-owner to face it head-on and they will have their own stories to tell. Will they love the wisteria or hate it? They’ll love it. But they’ll also hate it. Just like me.

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