Before I started gardening, I thought I was fulfilled.
However, my Experiments with Plants directly and indirectly filled voids that I hadn't even recognised, lifting my happiness to a higher level.
This is a blog about a garden near London, England, and how it is changing my approach to life.
Sunday, 6 February 2011
Wisteria (06 FEB 2011)
There are shrubs that just live in the garden, extracting nutrients from the soil, like the inherited camellia bushes. They stand inanimate, with their dark, glossy green leaves on show all year round then burst into flower without any attention from me. It makes no difference to them if I exist or not.
Creeping plants, however, are truly alive and responsive. I gave birth to my morning glory with some difficulty. Despite a shaky start, it developed into a fine flowering climber, more exquisite than the camellias beheld in it's parent's eye. It grew obediently, casting a new coil around the washing line post every day, just as I had hoped for, without any guidance. The canary creeper was a naughty one, diverting into the rose bushes whenever I wasn't around. I was sad when they both died in autumn.
Then there's wisteria, a member of the pea & bean family Fabaceae, which I would describe as dictatorial rather than responsive. In fact in some US states it is classed as invasive, though in Japan, where there is a specimen reported to be over 1200 years old, it is reverred for its longevity.
Wisteria stands apart from the other plants in my garden, in a class of it's own, and certainly has the upper-hand over me. It looks innocent enough, branches naked in winter and vines laying cross-ways, showing off its suppleness, contorted limbs forming a confusing optical illusion. There is some order in the chaos though, the branches always twist in an anti-clockwise direction typical of Chinese wisteria. The green, fleshy vines which sprouted in the summer in search of higher support to reach closer to the sun, have hardened to the stiffness of bamboo over winter, the leaves which fell in autumns past fertilise the roots. I'm not sure how old this plant is, but there is evidence of initial attempts to train it, several years of neglect and recent brutal amputation ....
When I first arrived in the garden, I didn't take in all of the details, I had too many other things on my mind at that time. I just saw foliage at the bottom of the garden and a lop-sided cherry blossom tree. After the cherry had shed its initial pink pompom blossoms, it flowered again more profusely but with cascades of flowers like lilac sweet pea. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen at such close proximity and I could hardly grasp that it belonged to me. Everything was blissful in the garden for a short while, until someone pointed out that the lilac flowers actually belonged to the neighbouring wisteria which had overgrown and taken hold of the cherry tree.
My reflex action was to masterfully hack down the wisteria, as soon as it had finished flowering, until it stood forlorn in submission. Some of its upwardly twisting vines still remain to tell the tale, clamped by rigor mortis around the cherry branches. I didn't stop to think that the wisteria may have been left to grow into the other tree on purpose, utilising it as a support. (This is a recognised technique, though it can result in sacrificing the health of the supporter.) Last year the foliage grew back bushy despite the culling, but the plant expressed its dismay by producing just one stem of flowers to show me what I was missing. In retrospect, I must have been in need of some sort of stress relief during that period of my life, these days I would pause for thought before executing such butchery. It is advised to prune wisteria at the beginning of the year and in the summer, but I'll be leaving it alone, as the edges of the branches cut 18months ago look rotten and the bark leading up to them is squashy, I've done enough damage. I should have paid more respect - the wisteria will be the master from now on.
The Human Flower Project is a brilliant web-site that was started in 2004, reporting on the relationship between humans and plants in the style of news bulletins.... This article highlights news stories concerning wisteria and describes how to identify if your wisteria is Chinese or Japanese.