Friday, October 3, 2008

Wisteria and Grizzly Bears

A lovely old home, one of my favorite gardens in which to work... not so when the lovely old home is due to be repainted and said garden has, come to think of it, been planted woefully close to the house.
I can handle pruning shrubs off of houses; it is cramped, intimate work but one can almost feel the home breathe its first deep breath in years when it is no longer smothered by, e.g. , several ten foot Myrica planted 1.5 feet away from its wall. I can handle covering rose bushes in tarps. I can handle shearing cozy Thuja off of house corners. What I can not handle is the ancient, beautiful Wisteria which has, true to form, enveloped the southern face of the house in a nice, gnarled bear hug.
I'm going to place the age of this specimen at about 3 years older than the house itself, possibly the result of a wayward seed dropped from the pocket of a horticulturally inclined surveyor laying the first tentative lines of the neighborhood. 3 years later when home construction began, I'm guessing the Wisteria was already of such massive, coiled stature as to dictate property lines and foundation placement. No architect, contractor, gardener or engineer could be found who was willing to pit the tools of his trade against that Gordian knot of vegetation. So they just built around it.
Decades later, some well-meaning but utterly foolish home owner naively erected a lattice, attached to the house (!), for this beast. I'll go ahead and liken this fated move to, say, laying table scraps around the perimeter of your home because you've noticed that the local grizzly bear population has rather pretty fur and so why not get a closer look?
Grizzlies and Wisteria both have a powerful sort of beauty. I'll hazard a guess and say that Wisteria even smells better than any bear, grizzly or otherwise. Both should be appreciated, but either from a distance or from behind a very sturdy cage.
In bloom and in scent, Wisteria is unparalleled. Make no mistake though, it will devour any structure (and possibly any family member) you place it near. If you are (or can hire a) very disciplined gardener who can faithfully prune the vine off of walls/fences etc. about twice a week during the growing season, then by all means do as you wish. I guess this would be like going out and tazering the grizzlies anytime they start sniffing around the front door. Do not let the plant have its way, claiming walls, drainpipes, and windows and then hire a mortal gardener to free those those walls, drainpipes and windows so that they may be repainted; I'll not strain the grizzly analogy any further, just don't do it.

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