Wisteria in the City.

April 1, 2011

Wisteria in the backyard part 1

We recently moved to the big city. Well, big for Arkansas anyway.

When we first discussed the possibility of moving I had this sick feeling in my stomach over the thought of giving up my garden. I’d worked so hard on it, and every flower had a story, and a connection to people I love.  I knew I could still go home and visit my garden, and I knew that we had never intended to make that house our final home in the first place. But I’d grown so close to those dogwoods and daisies and yarrow. I’d get up every morning to check on them, and back when the boys could be placed on a pallet in the front yard and would actually stay there, I’d go tend the seedlings and blooms, feeling a kind of peace that initially took my typically overly-anxious self off-guard.

Mostly though my garden was the place where I felt closest to my mother.  I’d dug in that dirt angrily when she was dying and I couldn’t save her; I’d cried into it when I missed her and felt so lost. I’d dug until my big, pregnant, twin belly got so large I couldn’t bend down. And then once the boys were born I’d put them in the baby carrier, working with them on my back or on a blanket in the sun. I could not imagine walking away from that small patch of upturned land.

One day I had an epiphany though. I could grow new gardens and Mom would be there too. One nice thing about the dead is how easily they travel.

So, I’ve begun a small herb garden at our new place. Of course we still keep one foot in our Yell County home, and some day we’ll return and turn our whole front yard into a flower garden. Someday. There’s not really much to say about this new Little Rock garden yet, but when there is I’ll let you know.

The most exciting thing for me right now is the wisteria.

It’s everywhere in this part of town. It lines the fences, houses, and neighborhoods surrounding our  home. And it’s growing in our backyard too, hanging off the trees, and looping around the power lines like a snake. I especially love how the purple clings to the sagging backyard fences and  flaking paint of the old houses,  a perfect mixture of growth and decay. These blooms are the first sign of spring, and it helps me feel close to my mother and my grandmother, even if I haven’t a clue who actually planted it.

But I think about these mystery people a lot.  Did they buy the original vine at a plant store? Was it given to them by a relative? Did neighbors share cuttings and maybe that’s how it came to dominate the landscape? Was the person who planted it a mother? A sister? A daughter? Maybe a son? What was their life like? Who did they love? Who had they lost? Did they ever cut the vines back to tame its growth or make wreaths out of the surplus? Did they ever put it in glass jars and place it on the kitchen table to bring color into the room? Did they ever cut some to take to a loved one’s or pet’s grave? And did they ever contemplate how all that the wisteria would outlive them and eventually go on to make a newcomer to the city feel so at home?

Our house is situated between several old neighborhoods, and chances are those flowers go back decades, maybe even centuries.  Who knows how many generations have waited for those vines to bloom each year.  For someone who is grieving the transition from winter to spring is like magic, and just looking at all that wisteria I would say that it is a plant highly aware of its own power. Maybe that’s why it’s so aggressive and largely impossible to tame. It will grow anywhere, even the places gardeners can’t typically reach. Like, you know, the power lines or forgotten houses.

I like to imagine that at least some of those vines were planted by a woman, or man, whose heart was filled with so much loss and joy that the only way they could find to express those feelings was to put something in the ground and watch it grow. Decades later it’s taken over the city, and coaxed subsequent generations of grieving out of hibernation.

Purple in the trees. Wisteria in the backyard part 2.

Here’s a few other things I’ve written about gardens if you are interested in reading those:

Garden Practice: Food, Flowers, Research, People.

The Communication of Flowers and Carotenoids (the Stuff That Turns the Leaves Orange).

3 Responses to “Wisteria in the City.”

  1. Jo Ann said

    This is so wonderful, Meredith, and I am thankful for the wisteria in your yard, to welcome you to Spring in Little Rock and your new home! Daffodils in the Spring bring many of the same thoughts and feelings to me. I see them in empty lots, by old stone steps or crumblings chimneys, and wonder: “Who planted those?” “How long ago?” “What were their lives like?” I hope you have many lovely hours with your family and your Mom and Grandmother – cherishing your memories and your life!

  2. samantha said

    How divine and synchronistic that my father passed so that when I took my grief walk into the woods I would pass by the first blooming daffodils of the year. He had taken me on countless walks to see as many daffodils as possible, and he planted them everywhere. He loved them in physically and spiritually.

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