Vines give me the creeps. I don't trust them. Vines grow too fast and they always want to grab onto things. Mostly they stick to walls and trees, but who knows? I couldn't sleep if I thought vines were scrambling up the side of my house.
My mother shares my concern. A 40-year veteran of the `f honeysuckle wars, her goal is to drive the stubborn vines from her yard. But the honeysuckle won't die. Two new plants appear for every one she digs up.
To Mom, vines are the boogeymen of the botanical world. "Vines will get you," she says. "They'll come after you and swallow you while you're asleep in bed."
Well, not really. But I've heard tales of vines clambering up walls and slithering into homes through unlatched windows. What they do next is anyone's guess.
To me, vines are less of a nightmare than a nuisance. Vines belong in Tarzan movies, not my back yard. The young plants look harmless enough, but wait until they settle in. Some, like the Silver Lace or Mile-A-Minute vine, grow 30 feet a year. Turn your back on a vine and you may find yourself living in a topiary house, with a topiary cat and dog.
I trust vines about as much as I trust politicians. Both will lay hold of anything in order to reach the top. Given a choice, I'd rather see a Bush in the White House than a vine in the garden. That's how much I dislike vines.
Imagine my chagrin when one appeared on our doorstep.
"Look what I got at the garden center," my wife Meg said, cradling a tiny potted plant with six green leaves.
She bought a clematis.
She brought home a vine.
I tried to warn Meg. I explained how climbing vines can suffocate shrubs, tear mortar off brick walls and damage the siding on houses. Unchecked, they can loosen rain spouts and pry off shingles. I begged her to return the plant before it overruns the yard, or worse. Remember the movie, "Little Shop Of Horrors"?
Alas, my cries were for naught. Meg kept the clematis. She says it's pretty. She wants it to blanket a fence in the back yard.
I sure hope the vine stops there.
I have nothing against clematis, only the aggressive behavior of the loosely defined family of vines to which it belongs. The collection includes spectacular specimens such as wisteria, .
climbing hydrangeas and Dutchman's-pipe.
Also here are poison ivy, the malevolent kudzu and the dodder vine, a fiendish "botanical Dracula" which latches onto a host plant and sucks out its lifeblood.
Happily, the good vines outnumber the bad ones. Consider the morning glory, whose 5-inch flowers smother unsightly rock piles and tree stumps; the moonflower, whose ghostly white blossoms open at dusk; and the black-eyed Susan vine, which ought to be a hit here in Maryland.
Vines provide shade, shelter and sustenance for man and beast alike. Is there a better place to spend a hot summer day than eating your way out of a grape arbor?
But homeowners are too busy to deal with the rambling nature of most vines, whose upkeep can be a real chore. Unlike their European counterparts, Americans just aren't smitten with vertical gardening.
Some vines, like honeysuckle, grow clockwise around supports. Others, like bittersweet, twine counterclockwise. Either way, the sky is the limit.
In "Vines," Karan Cutler calls them "frustrated trees . . . thwarted by their weak stems from becoming towering oaks."
Call them wannabe trees.
For ages, says Cutler, man has used vines to "cover a multitude of sins: The uninspired designs of buildings, rusting gutters and downspouts, ugly antenna cables and wires, the chipped woodwork of a sunny window."
The window! It's coming in the window. . . .
I planted my wife's clematis at the foot of the fence. Next year, I'm told, it will have pretty purple flowers. I hope I'm here to enjoy them. See, I don't trust that vine. It's bound to come after me someday, probably while I'm writing this column. I'll be working at the picnic table as the clematis sneaks up behind me and wraps its hairy tendrils around my throat, right in the middle of an AAACK.