Commentary

Don’t you know the rule? Leap!

My halthy-looking vines suddenly gave up and died on me.

At the end of May 2005, the two elms that had provided cooling shade for my summertime backyard had to be removed after succumbing to Dutch elm disease. My backyard was immediately transformed into one in which the unremitting sun blazed, on a clear day, from dawn until midafternoon. By that time the sun had traveled far enough across the sky to allow shade provided by my neighbor’s house and mine to offer some relief. I became especially grateful that, in 2004, I fortuitously had planted two Sweet Autumn clematis vines and one Porcelain Berry vine at the base of the posts supporting the pergola in my backyard. Some-day, when those vines covered the pergola, the patio would be shielded from the sun and become an oasis.

By the end of the vines’ first two growing seasons, they had as-cended the pergola’s posts and begun a slow crawl across its horizontal boards, each of the three vines covering an area about two feet by two feet. In the autumn, true to their name, fragrant, small, white flowers bloomed profusely on the two Sweet Autumn vines. With anticipation, I looked forward to the progress the three vines would make this summer, aware of the adage regarding perennials:

The first year they sleep;
The second year they creep;
The third year they leap.

This was to be year number three and I was expecting great things.

As in the rest of life, a gardener is wise to embrace expectations loosely. Knowing that the Sweet Autumn vine blooms later in the growing season than do many flowers, I tried not to be too concerned when the vines showed no sign of life by mid-May. After the temperature climbed into the 90s on Memorial Day weekend and the vines still slept, I started to get concerned. Every day I would bend over and peer at where the vines emerged from the soil, hoping for a glimpse of green leaves. I would cajole and plead with the vines: “Wake up!” It was to no avail.

Now, as summer deepens, my initial eager anticipation of the potential growth of the Sweet Autumn vines this summer has turned to resigned disappointment. I know that not even “digging about and putting on more manure,” as did the vinedresser of the fig tree in Matthew 13, is likely to do these vines any good. Barring a miracle, their bedraggled old wood will soon be removed from the pergola.

But the Porcelain Berry vine is vigorously sending out leaves and branches. By the beginning of June it had covered a horizontal area of the pergola equivalent to two feet wide by ten feet long. It was a foreshadowing of more growth to come.

The creation of shade for my patio now rests in the success of this lone vine. I’ll be cheering it along this summer, thankful for the carpet of leaves that is providing cool, protective shade. And, in their absence, I’ll remember the all-too-fleeting scent of small, white blossoms.