120317 Human Condition (do not intellitune)

When I moved to Louisiana 17 years ago from Colorado, I was surprised to see Chinese wisteria in a local gardening store. “Can I grow wisteria here?”

“Yes, but it’s an aggressive plant,” said the clerk, touching the small trellis in my shopping cart. “You might want something a bit sturdier and pruners to keep it under control.”

I’d gardened for more than 30 years and considered myself an expert. I ignored her trellis advice. “I want a plant that grows quickly to hide my neighbor’s garbage can.”

“Well, wisteria will do the trick, that’s for sure. Anything else I can help you with, baby? Sure you don’t want those pruners?”

I shook my head. I was far too old to be anyone’s baby, but I had quickly learned that the youngest person in any conversation in Louisiana was called baby.

“My name’s Bonnie,” she said. “Been gardening in Louisiana for 56 years. Ain’t nothing I don’t know about plants. Come back and talk to me if you got any questions.”

Weeks later I paced outside Miss Bonnie’s gardening center waiting for it to open. I’d long since learned to respect my southern elders by calling them Miss or Mr. along with their first name.

“Calm yourself, baby,” Miss Bonnie said.

“You know that wisteria I bought a few months ago, it’s already taller than I am. My husband’s afraid it will be on the roof before long. I need an 8-foot ladder and pruners.”

“If it’s ready to climb on the roof, you might want to remove it while you still can,” Miss Bonnie advised. “Plant a nice jasmine. They’re not as aggressive.”

“No, I like it, besides I’ve already had my husband remove a couple of plants that grew bigger than I expected. He’ll have a fit it I suggest he dig out another one. He popped a blood vessel in his eye removing the sago palm.”

At home I lugged the ladder to the side of the house and pruned the wisteria down to 6 feet. The following week I did the same, and the week after that, too. Then the weather turned so hot I begged for a wisp of dry, cool mountain air. None came. I stayed holed up in the house for several weeks, leaving only to buy groceries.

In September we had a freak cool evening. My husband and I sat on our porch sipping sweet tea. As I lit a citronella candle, we heard an ominous crack.

“What’s that?” he said.

“Sounds like it’s coming from the side of the house by the kitchen window,” I said.

During the past weeks, the unpruned wisteria’s slim tendrils had transformed into wooden talons. That night they had reduced the trellis to splinters. The new tendrils were burrowing under our shingles and creeping inside the house vents.

“It’s like Audrey from 'Little Shop of Horrors,'” I said.

“Get rid of it before it destroys the house,” my husband said.

“I’ll get the shovel so you can dig it out."

“Not this time," he answered. "You should have listened to Miss Bonnie.”

Despite the brutal heat, I spent the next two days removing the wisteria. Then I bought a gardenia from Miss Bonnie.

— Gernon lives in Covington


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