April 8, 2010

The Wisteria That Was

I am continually accused by my wife of being too sentimental about plants. I can’t see throwing away a perfectly good clump of Hemerocallis just because it is being displaced by something more eye-catching. As a result, our ‘nursery bed’ overflows with azalea that became scraggly from too little sun, perennials that became overly aggressive and other, ragtag cultivars that outgrew their homes or failed to thrive where originally planted.

My wife has no such tolerance. “Compost it,” is her succinct, all-purpose advice for what to do with too much of anything.

And so we have tug-of-wars over plants. I’m forever pleading for another season for a given forlorn plant to finally establish itself, or to at least find another, more suitable location. Betty turns a gimlet eye to my softheartedness.

Which is why, when I came back from running an errand yesterday, I found a stump where our wisteria used to be.

Wisteria is, of course, a vine. But with proper nurturing and staking it can be turned into a tree, or at least a tree-shaped vine. We planted the wisteria circa 2003 and, for six years, it stood in a grassy area. (The photo at left shows the wisteria in its prime.)

Well, most of the time it ‘stood’.

In two memorable, back-to-back storms a few years back, the wisteria was blown over. We staked it after the first storm, a summer nor’easter. Two weeks later, a drenching monsoon from the southwest flattened it yet again in the opposite direction. Thereafter, the wisteria acquired an unflattering crutch in the form of a six-foot-high green metal stake.

Whether a function of that storm or some other malady, the wisteria failed to bloom the following spring. It put out dozens of ten-foot-long tendrils and a profusion of leaves, but nothing pretty to look at. Ditto the next year. I was, however, always of the opinion that all it needed was some tender loving care.

Last summer, the 150 square-foot section of lawn in which the wisteria stood was converted into a shrub bed. An andromeda, grown too large for its site as a foundation planting, was moved in. Weston Nurseries had a terrific sale on miniature kalmia (mountain laurel). Two low-growing ilex rescued years earlier from the town library where they had been salted to near extinction by overly-diligent town employees found a permanent home. Some nifty hostas from multiple sources rounded out the new bed.

Betty began eyeing the non-producing wisteria, noting that it ‘didn’t fit’ and that its ‘scale was all wrong’. I began my defense of the imperiled vine. “Give it another year.”

The discussion was made moot by a pruning saw.

We dug out the stump and, in its place, a third ilex, the most damaged of the three rescued shrubs but now fully healed, went into its spot.

Betty is, of course, correct. The wisteria was a failed experiment which ought to have ended years earlier. It was only my whining that kept it in place. Now, the vine and its stump lie alongside an amalanchier (shadbush) that never successfully transplanted, awaiting a dump run.

The great plantsman Allan Armitage says, “If you’re not killing plants, you’re not gardening.” Maybe there ought to be a corollary axiom: if you leave a plant in place just because it’s there, you’re also not gardening.

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