Wisteria Hysteria


A friend of mine recently coined the phrase Wisteria Hysteria. I loved it. We have a love/hate relationship with these southern vines, don’t we? On one hand, wisteria is one of the first markers of spring (the other two being jasmine and honeysuckle). I've always loved the smell of it, and am dumbfounded when asked, "Does it smell good?" (Honeysuckle, the same thing. You have never experienced anything until you walk down a country road at dusk, after the heat of the day has vaporized the droplets of the tubular honeysuckle and a soft breeze wafts the heady aroma into your path. Pure bliss. I imagine that it was this aromatic euphoria, aided by inebriation, that caused Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle to drift into a 20-year sleep in the woods.)


Several years ago, I visited a plant store in the spring. I purchased this unassuming sprig, Wisteria Sinensis, winding up a 12-inch stick. At home, I wound the little sprig through the post of the first stairway. It climbed like Jack's beanstalk. Second year, it topped the stairwell at 14 feet, and threaded back down. Third year, the steps were encased with heady purple blossoms. Then the honeybees came. Don is allergic to bees, so year three, wisteria was gone.


About a month later, we planted an arbor on the other side of house and Don landscaped a dogleg-shaped garden. With all the tilling done and soil prepared, we headed to the plant store. Don walked by a potted flowering vine that smelled delicious, he puts it into the buggy.The tag says Wisteria Sinensis. Hmmm... We planted it at the base of the arbor and it took off. By the end of the summer it covered the top. By the next spring, it bent the arbor and is shot 20 feet into the air in search of another structure to climb on. We couldn't even drive the lawnmower through the arbor anymore. Then I came home one afternoon to find the Ford F-150 full of tangled arbor. A chainsaw, pruners, and a chain that looks like it should have a cargo ship anchor attached layed on the ground. Minutes later, the chain was attached to the truck, the tires spun out, and Don jerks the truck forward to try to yank the wisteria root from the ground. We never got the bottom of it. So Don poured root killer onto its nubby stump and hauled off the arbor and vine to the dump. It was the best-smelling load of garbage in the landfill that day. Before we moved back to SC from NC two years ago, we were still cutting tendrils from the Wisteria stump in search of new footing. 


I don't cut the grass anymore, smiling as the landscapers crank up their mowers, hedge trimmers, and blowers. I don't plant large gardens anymore, but enjoy fresh local veggies from local vendors at the farmer's markets. On a quiet evening not long ago I walked the woods' edged, grass path around the pond at the condominiums. A breeze sways the moss, tiny tendrils of purple are on the sandy pathway. There it is, Wisteria. Pines and oaks are wrapped with gnarly thick vines, deep purple flowers sprout from the maze in the dark swampy terrain. I stand for a few minutes with eyes closed and may have accidentally snorted a petal as I inhaled. I clip several of the clusters and bring them home to put them in vials of water and place by my bed for "sweet dreams." While reading in bed, Don comes in the room, sniffing the air. "What's that smell?" he asked. I point to the Wisteria. He lifts the vases and smells the petals. "You need to cut a lot more of those" he says. I smile.... I spy with my eye...Jasmine and Honeysuckle on the Vine...Next week's bedside vase.