I love wisteria.
I’m head over heels for the purple (or is it lavender?) flowers dangling from porticos, trellises, arbors and fences right now.
It seems unfitting that such a beautiful flower grows in the wild, but it does. I began noticing wisteria on trees along Interstate 95 in Virginia several years ago during our annual trek to South Carolina. Like most things on I-95 South, it signaled hope, promise, renewal and sun-soaked days after months of New England gloom.
I’m not sure why we’re enchanted by certain flowers, but we all have our favorites. My sister Diane is wild about pink lily of the valley, while my mother loves roses. My friend Barbara has a thing about dahlias, while my older sister Joanne loves hydrangeas.
I don’t know what favorite flowers say about people, but wisteria is a pretty good match for me: a tangle of vines that grows all over the place, requiring pruning to be held in check. Wisteria has a mind of its own and has boundary issues, spreading to nearby trees and structures and engulfing houses if you’re not careful. It can be overwhelming, not that I know anything about that.
I’ve loved it since I was a kid. Growing up in Orange, CT., a suburb outside of New Haven, there was an antique farmhouse near the town’s center with a quaint front porch draped in wisteria every spring. At one point, a trail of wisteria stretched across the yard, looking like one of those garlands you buy at a crafts store.
I looked for that tree and its lush canopy every time I cruised down Orange Center Road, past the old brick schoolhouse, fire station, white steepled Congregational Church, and the library. It was about as close to a Norman Rockwell painting as I was going to get in a suburb lined mostly with expanded ranch-style homes, split-levels and Colonials that sprung up during the town’s population boom in the ’50s and ’60s.
The wisteria-draped house was a sign of simpler times when the town was a farming community, and people spent evenings on front porches. You don’t find too many front porches any more, let alone anyone sitting on them.
We’ve become a society of rear decks and patios, elaborate outdoor kitchens, gas heaters, propane-fueled fire pits, lanterns and lights. I tried to spice up my patio by stringing lights from one end to the next, but was rebuked by my son, who said it looked like amateur hour.
‘You need to be home to clean your house.’
I guess he should know. His first order of business starting his sophomore year at the College of the Holy Cross was ordering remote-control string lights from Amazon and installing them around the perimeter of his room. Half of his dirty laundry is still in bags after three weeks, but he got the lights up in his room on his first day home for the summer.
I threw up the outside lights hours before seven of my daughter’s closest friends arrived for an impromptu Memorial Day party. I was trying to illuminate the area over a wrought iron dining set that I bought at a tag sale last summer, and I haven’t used once.
We’re not an outdoor family. We’re outdoorsy, but once we’ve run, hiked or played tennis or golf, we head inside. I’m not sure why, because I feel instantly better about almost anything once I step outside. But we’re inside folks, which drives me a little crazy.
When I complained, the Curmudgeon announced that he does not like eating outside because of bugs. When I reminded him that you don’t have to eat outside to use a patio, he stared blankly at me. He reminded me that we never ate outside at his parents’ house. I guess an aversion to eating outside can be inherited too.
We spend so little time on the patio that I didn’t even bother taking up two lounge chairs from the basement last year. It didn’t make sense because we don’t lounge at home.
Once you plop yourself in a lounge chair, the phone rings, your dog pesters you for a walk, you’re hounded by a bee, or someone comes out to discuss the meaning of life. Sitting in a lounge chair announces: “I’m not busy and I have all the time in the world to listen to you. In fact, I got into this lounge chair hoping that you would see me and know that I’m doing nothing. What can I do for you?”
In truth, it’s hard to lounge at home, which I guess is why people take vacations and don’t move from their lounge chairs for a week. Being home means tending to tasks, doing the work of running a household. One of the greatest pieces of wisdom my mother ever gave me is: “You need to be home to clean your house.”
Given the little time we spend in our outdoor living space, it doesn’t make sense to plant wisteria. We’ve got enough trouble with chipmunks in the beach roses and a climbing hydrangea that’s consuming an oak. But I decided to take the plunge, spiriting away to a distant nursery to buy a few specimens.
There were dire warnings from a nursery worker. Wisteria is terribly invasive, and she’s spent countless hours removing it from yards where it has overtaken houses. But she noted, “Most of those people were elderly or dead, so you’ll probably be OK.”
Though it’s not on the state of Connecticut’s invasive plant list – yet neither is bamboo, so go figure – most varieties come from China and Japan, placing it on the dreaded non-native species list. Conscientious gardeners avoid planting non-native plants, trees and shrubs because they crowd out native species, harming insects, birds and animals.
I bought two wisteria plants cultivated in the southeast United States. Now, I am faced with the dilemma of where to plant them: in the front yard, where they will delight passersby, or in the backyard, where I can gaze at them from the kitchen window. Given my history, they’ll probably sit there for at least two weeks while I ponder my next move. I only hope they don’t wither and die during the deliberation process.
The Orange specimen is sadly sparse with blooms this year. I drove to the house to take a few photos, and was crushed to see only a few flowers dangling over the front yard. I got close to the tree for the first time, noticing its twisted trunk and how its branches spread to a neighboring tree. The owners erected a sturdy wooden support system for it.
As I moved closer (actually trespassed), I noticed a row of rocks tucked in a nook in a branch as it curled near the front porch. It reminded me of those trinkets tucked into the tree in To Kill A Mockingbird. It was so cool and unexpected, poetic in a way. Only the person who put the rocks there knows why they’re there, but it’s clear this tree is special. I always knew it was.
Only time will tell if my wisteria will flourish and bloom, becoming a symbol of spring on my woefully wooded lot. But I’m willing to give it a shot. It seems like it might be worth it, for me and maybe someone else.
For more on wisteria’s meanings, visit https://www.whats-your-sign.com/wisteria-meaning.html.