Mandevilla splendens, Rosa selections, Hedera selections, Clematis selections, Ipomoea tric, Ficus pumila, Vitis specimens, Solanum lycopersicum, Pueraria lobata, Persicaria perfoliata, Celastrus orbiculatus, Hedera helix, Ipomoea batatas.
My mandevilla vine (Mandevilla splendens) is stalking my peach tree. And like most stalkers, it will not be deterred. Every morning, I tenderly unravel the vines which overnight have magically traveled the distance to the lowest hanging peach branches and begun twisting their way upward. I push them back toward the trellis I have installed for their twining pleasure, but by first light of the next morning they have once again abandoned their intended perch and in darkness crept across the distance separating them from the peach tree (directly away from the trellis), to begin their skyward twirl. That plant has a mind and purpose which seems outside of my influence. It is a peach stalker.
I don’t quite understand stalking; I have never stalked anyone. Exacted revenge? Certainly. Once. And it came to no good end. I have nothing but regrets about that action. Regarding stalking, though, I am of the opinion that no matter the depth and strength of my obsession toward a love target, if he indicates that he is done with me then I choose to believe it is over. I so much prefer to withdraw and nurse my shattered self with some vodka (a bunch) and the sympathy of good friends. I can’t see myself violently pursuing a boy who doesn’t want me. That route is just too much of an embarrassment. But that’s just me.
Vines, however, stalk at will. They are headstrong, and one can never force them to do what one wants if what one wants is against their will. I’ve never been able to get a climbing rose (Rosa selections) to clamber, or ivy (Hedera selections) to cling to the wall I envision covered in soft green, or a clematis vine (Clematis selections), or mandevilla for that matter, to gather herself on a trellis and toss her flowered mantle to the breezes. I tried. I vainly tied, staked, nailed, stapled, wired. I employed the use of ladders, hammers, clippers, staplers, and a myriad of other equipment and supplies, but all to no avail. I was always left with a mandevilla twined in the peach tree or a clematis that had to be hacked back were I to enjoy my nightly TV “stories”, as it had weighed down the wire that brought the cable to the house (looking absolutely stunning the entire time) rather than embrace the hand-made trellis.
During some of my Denver years, I was a renter in a tidy little bungalow that included on the lovely grounds the single remnant of a long-ago disabled clothes line: one crucifix-like pipe stanchion, a six foot, rusted “T” at the far, sunny end of the side yard. I could have dug it out, but the whole thing was anchored in a huge mass of concrete. Had I chosen the digging-out route, I would have been left to deal with a massive rock attached to a metal cross, with no hope of the city accepting it at the municipal disposal facility. Best to just leave it be and adorn it as I could.
For the first few years I lived there, I dangled baskets of tuberous begonias off each end off the crossbar, to good effect. They were very pretty. But like all gardeners, if it isn’t permanent I get bored and start itching to try a new scheme. One early morning as I wandered home from some illicitness, taking the back alley route which led to the gate of my little back yard, I couldn’t help but notice a multitude of stunning blue morning glories (Ipomoea tric) covering the neighbor’s chain link fence to gorgeous effect. In the early morning sun, the vibrant yet soft blue was radiant and I knew I had to have some. That is when I came up with the brilliant idea of planting those same morning glories around the base of the upright pole and allowing the vines to grow along wires I affixed to the horizontal crossbar, extended downward at intervals to the base of the upright pole in a sort of inverted triangle. I envisioned a beautiful blue inverted triangle.
That is not what I got.
Those demented vines grew contrary to all rules, lateral and along the ground toward my own chain link fence, which by summer’s end they had covered with blue-hued glee. Those morning glories ignored my triangular plea and, instead, stalked the chain link fence. And there they flourished.
I have only been stalked once that I know of, during those same Denver years, when I was still too young to know better than to get myself entangled in a stalking situation. Oh, the whole affair of my stalking is such a torrid story – as embarrassing as being a stalker myself but perhaps evens a little more pathetic in that I was the victim, not the perpetrator.
Crazy Bill and I dated for five years, which for me in those days was an eternity. However, despite the relative endurance of that relationship, we never did cohabitate. The reason? He already cohabitated with another man (had for many years!); a wealthier and more established man who offered security but who, apparently, did not offer much in the line of sex.
Oh, dear reader, that is an area in which I had goods to offer.
In retrospect, I think I have misnamed my ex-boyfriend. Crazy Bill, hell; he should be called Lucky Bill, getting his bills paid and his (bleep) (bleeped) all at the same time. That was one scenario where being the man in the middle certainly paid off!
I am not proud of that period of my life, but I also don’t apologize. In today’s vernacular, it was what it was. I got what I needed at the time, Crazy Bill got what he needed, even Bill’s partner, I suppose, got what he needed in some way (perhaps just a boyfriend who no longer clamored for sex).
Eventually, though, I realized that there was no real long-term future for me with this married man. If I stayed, I was forever relegated to be the concubine, the “other”. So I broke it off, and that’s when all hell came undone.
Post-dumping, the first time I dragged a handsome and willing young man home from the dance club, Crazy Bill lurked not far behind, hiding in the night shadows of that same back alley as the morning glory fence, perhaps even hiding behind them. In the middle of my tryst with that boy, unable to inhibit his emotions, His Craziness slashed the tires on both of our cars.
That was an expensive piece of (bleep).
Later that week, Bill filled my mailbox with condoms – a lucky happenstance, I thought in my new singlehood, until a more rational friend pointed out that each of them might contain one single pinprick of revenge.
For the remaining two years I lived in Denver, until I got the wiser and moved in secret to Seattle, I got used to seeing him loitering in the background as I walked to work, as I enjoyed coffee with friends, as I basically did anything, anywhere. He was everywhere I was in Denver, until I chose not to be there any longer.
Vines are the Crazy Bills of the plant world. They decide where they will sneak and to what they will affix themselves, without permission or authority. And don’t think for a minute that you can just chop them back at will, for they come with indecipherable pruning rules.
Clematis, for example: according to the wisest and wittiest gardening book ever, Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perényi, there are three groups of clematis. There are the Florida, blooming on old wood in the summer; the Patens, flowering on old wood in spring; and the Jackmanii, flowering on new wood in summer and autumn. And here is where we find the trouble. Have you ever seen a happy clematis vine? It is a jumble of stems, and there is nothing one would really even venture to call “wood”, a description that can be intelligently applied to trees or anything resembling them, but is unintelligible when applied to a tangle of wires twisting here and there and everywhere. Who could determine which is old and which is new? Like Eleanor, I don’t dare take my clippers to them, scraggly as they may become.
Should I cut back the peach-stalking mandevilla? How about the fig vine (Ficus pumila), bought on impulse back when I was obsessed with figs, which has attached itself to the south-facing brick wall of my balcony garden. It climbed the eight foot expanse and now threatens to crawl along the underside of the overhanging ceiling. That one affixes itself by virtue of holdfasts, one of the three methods that true vines use to climb. In this case, the fig vine uses tiny rootlets that penetrate the bricks and mortar to hoist its heart-shaped leaves skyward; other holdfast vines use adhesive discs, like some ivies. The other two methods that true vines use to affix themselves to whatever they choose as support are twining (like my mandevilla) either by main stem or leaf stems (like clematis), and tendrils, which are specialized stems that instinctively curl around whatever they contact (like grapes (Vitis specimens)). There are also plants we loosely refer to as vines that employ none of the above, rather, they lean against a support until the stem becomes sufficiently rigid to hold itself upright, such as tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) and climbing roses.
Vines do not lend themselves to pruning. They are wild creatures who roam at will. There is really no controlling them and, honestly, why would one want to? These days, I tend just to leave them alone and hope beyond hope that they will cooperate with my plans. But I don’t force them; I am afraid they will become even more headstrong in their growth pattern and seek revenge.
I am not much in favor of revenge. Except in the one previously-mentioned instance. That time, after a reasonable period had elapsed following the tire-slashing incident, say, enough time for a certain Queen Gardener to know that sufficient water had flowed under the bridge for focus and suspicion to diminish, I accidentally found myself in the darkened alley behind Crazy Bill’s house.
Why must stalking and/or revenge always involve a dark alley?
Next thing I knew all of the air had been let out of all four tires of his car. But no slashing; Queen Gardener doesn’t stalk around alleys in the dark with a knife! Oh, and there also may have also been one long, nasty retribution scratch the length of the driver’s side door.
Damn that felt good.
But therein we discover the trouble with the dish called revenge: it is prone to an irreversible backfiring, even when it is served cold as I had heard was best. By the time of my dark-alley action, Crazy Bill had indeed changed anger focus and, instead of aiming his considerable fury at the true keying and air-letting culprit, he struck back at an innocent chap who he’d been fighting with about some entirely different topic at the time. His Supreme Insanity wreaked misdirected havoc on that poor bystander. He destroyed the guy’s garden (Round-up sprayed widely), house (furniture tipped and heirloom china shattered) and car (wood varnish poured externally and internally). He even girded a century old pine in the fellow’s front yard that he, the innocent one, was especially fond of.
Lesson learned for me: revenge is a dish that should not to be served at any temperature. I never confessed to my acts (until now), but I did pinky-swear with myself never to lower to that muckity level again. I cannot be responsible for that kind of destruction.
Vines, however, have no problem with destruction. Google “vines” and you will immediately be enlightened as to their demonic power. There is a substantial amount of cyberspace occupied by vivid descriptions of the widespread damage being caused by vines. But here is the thing: the destructive ones tend to be introduced by human hands only to become invasive. Kudzo vine (Pueraria lobata) from Japan was introduced as a quick growing ground stabilizer for new highway construction sites, and is now overtaking and burying the forests in the US Southeast. Mile-a-Minute vine (Persicaria perfoliata) was accidentally introduced in this country when its seeds were included with holly seeds sent from Eastern Asia to a Christmas tree farm in York, Pennsylvania. With its perfect triangular leaves and stabbing thorns, she is at war with the Asiatic Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), also from East Asia and introduced for the lofty purpose of floral arrangements, to see who can most quickly overtake vast swaths of Massachusett’s forests. Both will eventually threaten the entire East Coast and Southern states. Why, even the beloved English Ivy (Hedera helix) is bringing stately old trees to their knees left and right across this country.
Not all destructive vines were introduced, however; some destroy in their native habitat and in the exact manner for which they evolved. Remember that fig vine presently attaching itself to my patio’s brick wall? It is also called Strangler Fig in temperate climes and is known to overtake and kill the most vibrant of rainforest trees.
The vines kill trees in various ways: they gird by compression, or they overgrow and block from the canopy the necessary sunlight. Sometimes they overpower the tree and crash it to the ground by sheer mass. Here in DC, ancient maples, oaks and elms have all met this demise. Blame the English Ivy.
Other vines stab long, nutrient-stealing roots into the very heart of the tree and slowly starve it to death. Some vines even work contrary to nature: rather than light, they seek darkness. The have evolved to send their long runners toward the heart of that darkness, like a crazy man in a back alley with a knife, for they intuitively understand that there in the darkness they will find a tree trunk which they can climb to the sun and, in a perverted case of delayed stalker gratification, overtake and kill that host.
Such is the story of stalking.
But the vine’s destructive nature is not limited to the natural world. They damage man-made structures by sheer will as well, crawling under and prying off clapboards, poking their persistent noses through tiny cracks, into windows and under foundations to see what hell they can play, deteriorating brick and mortar with their rootlets and adhesive disks.
Like all dedicated stalkers, the vines refuse to be stopped by either nature or man.
Still, I love the vines. As destructive as they can be in the wild, especially when introduced to their ideal environment with nary a natural restriction or enemy, vines in a planned garden are pure beauty (whether or not they follow my directions; although most likely they won’t).
I like wrestling with the vines. Of all the plants, they are the most visibly alive and vigorous. There is something extremely beautiful about a vine stretching into the unknown, searching for an anchor. It reminds me of my own, random life.
And those vines of the garden variety, when they prosper, are show-offs. They demand the spotlight. My variegated sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas), which got a slow start due to shade earlier in the year, now both dangles and climbs in tender green and delicate pink in a full ten-foot cascade along my balcony railing. It fairly commands that those at street level pay attention to my eighth-floor garden. “Look,” it seems to yell to those below, “Look only at me!” And we do look; we admire the vines’ acrobatic feats, their delicate arches, their wandering ways, and their independent natures.
Vines know one of the truths of life and relationships: you can’t make someone love you – you can only stalk them and hope for the best.