Laying of the trans-Atlantic cable

The work at Howlets is moving forward, alternating between lightning speed and a snail’s pace. The carpenters have re-worked the master bedroom entry and closets, creating a much better flow and more closet space, and the upstairs bathroom is outfitted with a perfect new double-sink vanity and new softly veined grey Carrera marble tile. However, the digging up of the front yard — to install a new septic system and bring new electric service to the house — is proving epic. The ledge upon which the house sits is unforgiving and requires drilling and even blasting to make headway. In order to blast, surveys of the houses within 250 feet must be conducted, to ensure that no harm is done. All are feeling like we are midway through the 12 labors of Hercules, complete with the odors of the Augean stables.

"Come closer my dear, the better to see you"

As a diversion from that drama, and to borrow again from Greek mythology, I thought I’d recount my own personal version of Sisyphus’s task. Rather than roll a rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down, I clip wisteria vine with almost the same effect. When my partner and I first considered purchasing our home Grey Gardens, as we call it, the wisteria vine on the pergola had already firmly wrapped itself around the electric meter and pulled it completely off the building.  The vine was initiating an assault on the gutters and downspouts. Buying the house anyway (why not take on a gargantuan renovation to spice life up a bit?), we knew our first and greatest task would be taming the wisteria beast.

Woody vices

Appropriately called “the destroyer of castles,” wisteria will dig its tender tendrils into any crevice, eventually become a woody vice and pull down anything in its path. Aggressive seems a quaint term when used to describe this invader. When researching the care of wisteria, the experts recommend trimming it twice a year, once severely in the winter (cutting each branch back to just three buds from the main trunk) and then again in the summer to remove the long “whippy things” that seem to appear overnight. We have found this prune-twice-a-year advice wildly tame. If you sit still, this vine will wrap itself around your throat in the time it takes to have a glass of wine at sunset or read the morning paper. I just finished clipping the seemingly benign soft curling tendrils from the downspouts. I am sure they would have pulled them off the house by bedtime if I had not been vigilant.

Tendril awaits an unsuspecting victim

All that being said, this wisteria graces the porch beautifully. Our stone porch with pergola faces the south; the shade the vine provides in summer is a welcome relief from the hot sun. In the winter, with all the foliage fallen, the sun beams in the dining room and kitchen windows. The sculptural nature of the vines in contrast with the stone pillars on the pergola never ceases to catch the eye. Wisteria has its brief but oh so glorious bloom in May, when festoons of flowers cascade down. There are two varieties of Wisteria here, a purple version and a pink one. They intertwine unsegregated for a “I feel like I am in Tuscany” experience.

The advice literature also describes cutting the roots back in order to encourage blooming. We have not had to do this yet, but in a sadistic way we are looking forward to the task. This is a plant that thrives on abuse. Do you fight the urge to kick the cat or yell at loved ones after a bad day? Simply grab the garden tools and cut, hack, slash, sever, trim, dig, snip, clip, prune. The wisteria vine loves your heaped on abuse. It even thanks you for it and gives you flowers. Dr. Phil could not come up with a better remedy for anger management.

Purple and pink festoons