Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Containing the beast

Remember the wisteria? So beautiful for those few weeks in March, so graceful and inviting out the kitchen window. Now it's entering its second life, as a leafy green ceiling for an area of our downstairs yard. The shade is so green and pleasant in the summer that, even if the vine didn't put on such a magnificent show for those few short weeks, we'd be loath to cut it down.

But (cue theme music, something like Jaws maybe) . . . there is a downside to an aggressively established wisteria, especially one whose trunk, make that trunks, are mere feet from a house. Here's the problem:

Don't see what I mean? Check out that innocent looking tendril curling its way around the pole. Ha, I say! Innocent. Think again. Given free rein that very tendril would make its way up the pole within weeks, a month at the outside. (And notice one of the many clumps of Turk's cap that crop up everywhere in my garden; lovely in moderation, not so much in uninvited multitudes.)

Here's the pole. Our electric service comes from the alley to this pole and then down to our house. To the left of the pole you can see the upper branches of our neighbor's pecan tree. And that's the top of the wisteria on the arbor behind the bench.

Imagine, if you will, wisteria growing all the way up the pole, clawing its way up into the pecan and advancing down the electric wire at the same time. Meanwhile, the wisteria on the arbor is also reaching up to entwine itself with those tendrils advancing down the wire. Before you know it, before you've even taken a moment to pay proper attention, an entire sheet of wisteria hangs from the electric wire, solid from the wire to the top of the arbor. And — at the same time — wisteria has transformed the pole into a mass of twining, swaying greenery six feet wide.

This has actually happened. Not once but twice. Experts were consulted. Men with tools — chainsaws on the ends of long poles, wielded in close proximity to the electric service, I kid you not — worked long hours to bring the beast back within bounds.

The most recent clearing was undertaken about two months ago, before the wisteria flowered or leafed out. The pristine pole (not that it's any kind of ornament for the garden but, bristling with vines and swaying in the wind, it just looks dangerous) was an added reason to clear out that corner of the garden this spring. We took out a yucca and a hamelia that grew so large that by mid-summer I gave up on beating my way back there and trying to keep the wisteria off the pole.

This summer, I swear, will be different. That corner is now home to much smaller, more orderly plants and I shouldn't have as much trouble getting to the pole to keep the vines pulled off. The problem is — and I swear this is true — if I go out in the morning and trim back the vines that have crept out under cover of darkness and then check again in the afternoon the vines have returned. We're talking growth of several feet a day.

So, take this as a warning: All is not bright and flowery in wisteria land. The blooms may have looked beautiful in the pictures — and they were fabulous — and you may come over in July and marvel at the cool relief of that green shade — and it is marvelous — but just remember that those luscious blooms, those bouquets of purple, and especially those tendrils, those sweetly curling, ever so graceful tendrils, are the disguise of a beast.


Pam/Digging said...

Yikes, it sounds very menacing indeed. Somewhat along the lines of kudzu in South Carolina, where it overtook entire forests.

Annie in Austin said...

Susan, do you think it grows more rampantly in Austin-type weather than in other climates? Leslie in Davis California says hers is manageable, so it can't just be the short winters - maybe wisteria likes it really hot?


How weird that they cut down a BLOOMING pomegranate tree at your neighbor's. Pam & I just planted ours!

Susan said...

I don't think the wisteria would overtake a forest but I do think it might cover the roof of our house in a few years (okay, maybe not the whole roof but large sections).

And my only thought regarding its rampant growth is that its so old and established. It just shoots out new growth all year long. And, if a vine is one the ground it roots and new growth starts from there. And apparently it comes up from underground roots as well. We had wisteria blooming off our fence along the alley, which is easily 40 feet from the main plant.

Yolanda Elizabet said...

I just bought a wisteria last Saturday so your warning comes too late for me.:-) But perhaps it will not grow so rampant over here, in a much cooler climate. We'll have to wait and see. Mine is a white one BTW.

Susan said...

Yolanda Elizabet —
I'm thinking my wisteria grows so madly because it is so old and well established. We think it was probably planted when our house was built about 65 years ago or shortly thereafter. It's trunks are six or eights inches around!! Good luck with your wisteria. Just don't plant it too close to your house.

Petunia's Gardener said...

Susan, thanks for visiting Petunia's Garden on Bloom Day. That is an amazing viola you posted, along with the others. Wisteria finally helped bring down a tree at our neighbor's. It had probably been there a long time too. I won't mind a nice vine, but I'll take your warning about keeping it away from the house!

Yolanda Elizabet said...

Thanks for the advice Susan and wow, a wisteria that's about 65 years old!!!! Very special.

Susan said...

Petunia — I've never seen that particular viola before and of course I didn't keep the tag so I'd know what it is! But I'll be on the lookout for it again next year.

Yolanda Elizabet — We're lucky to have a few old plants like that in our yard (we've lived in the house for only about 13 years). We also have a huge magnolia (I think it's southern magnolive/magnolia grandiflora) in our front yard that we think is probably also 50 or 60 years old. I'll have to take a picture and post it soon, maybe when it starts blooming in aa few weeks.