WHEN BABY was little, I’d wake her for school when the air was filled with flowers.
“It’s a honeysuckle morning,” I’d whisper in her little pink ear, and she’d kick me and
“It’s a honeysuckle morning,” I’d say again, a little louder, and she’d flail an arm to bat
Then I’d dump her on the floor.
Baby is grown now, though she occasionally still sits in my lap. She has a house and a
husband and a garden of her own. Though just in its first spring, there are roses that
climb and roses that bush, and hydrangeas. Sunflower seeds are scattered along the back
border. Because she has sun there are also two lilac trees, which I envy.
She hasn’t grown vine-mad yet, though once the yard is fenced I imagine she will.
There’s a wooded patch alongside her backyard where wisteria grows among the trees,
voluminous with flowers. I hope she’s satisfied with just having it nearby.
Wisteria is a plague, but we’ll get to that.
This morning is a honeysuckle one; the scent is intoxicating, drifting through the window
on a cool breeze.
The 30-year-old vine tosses tendrils over the eight-foot-tall fence, which is undertangled with
ivy. Next to the honeysuckle the rather meager canes and sparse blooms of a no-name
rose that My Prince rescued from the trash many years ago are making their annual
effort to reach the sun, a Sisyphean task given that it’s planted in almost complete shade. At
least it has a little scent, which has become rare for roses.
When I was little, we had a split-rail fence bordering the front lawn; along its length was
woven a particularly spicy rambling red rose. My mother would go out early, early and
snip a posy for my teacher, wrapping it in a damp paper towel and then again in tin foil. I’d
stick my face in the flowers and breathe in the heady scent. I suspect this was a plea to let
me pass arithmetic, division not being my strong suit.
That is neither here nor there, but shows how early was my nose for flowers.
Ivy also covers the wall opposite the honeysuckle and crappy rose. Because I never leave
well enough alone, this is topped with a monstrous coral-colored trumpet vine, the
inspiration for which was a pergola I saw years ago outside a restaurant in Rehoboth
Beach, Delaware. The “essence of tropics” is how I viewed it, though it’s hardy this far north.
I searched for several years for a plant—and once I had one, and planted it, I decided that
it’s hard to come by because it’s nearly the worst vine one could ever plant. It’s thundering along the 30-foot wall, jumping across to the neighbor’s porch rails—and it
is still May.
And yet! I’ve just planted a purple clematis jackmanii beside it. It’s a duel that delicate
climber is certain to lose, but it was the only spot I had left for another vine.
Lording above it all is the never-blooming wisteria, the absolutely worst plant on the face
of the planet. This has coiled itself into a mountainous pile atop the garage, branches
slithering this way and that, silently creeping along the side fences, strangling everything
in its way.
The idea behind the wisteria, which was one of the first two plants in the garden, was to
mimic the one across the alley, which sends up billows of devastatingly sweet purple
flowers each spring, a scent so pervasive, yet not oppressive, that with our front
windows open the house seems to have been tucked with wisteria-scented sachets.
My other idea was a Queen Elizabeth climbing rose, ballet-slipper pink and particularly
fine-scented. The wisteria was to grow across the garage and the rose was to grow up
from a corner to meet it. I had this fantasy that the rose could be trained to arch out over
the round wrought-iron table and chairs like a glorious umbrella. The birds would chirp,
the butterflies would flutter, and we would have brunch and dinner . . .
Do you get the picture?
Well, the rose died, and after 35 years I can still count the wisteria blossoms we’ve had
on my 10 fingers. Oh, how I hate that plant.
LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” sticks with gardening, one plant death after another.