The Art Of Compromise
by Erika Byrne-Ludwig
I’d like to have it out once and for all with my wisteria. I’m simply tired of having to constantly prune her. She doesn’t give me any sign of gratitude, not even a little wave or some rustling of leaves. I was going to have this serious conversation with her in spring when she was wearing her mauve ornaments. Glorious colour and fruity fragrance! To talk to my wisteria, you have to pick a moment when she is in a jolly mood as my issue with pruning could very well be heading for a dispute. And spring was the best time for her.
On my way there I met a chorus of bees collecting the flowers’ nectar. As soon as I uttered a word, as harmless as it was, they turned their abdomens on me, concentrating on their task with even more determination. “It’s our livelihood,” they hummed. “Any interruption affects our wings.” I knew they were deeply worried about the pesticides farmers and gardeners use. “They’re toxic and kill us young. Before we can gather even one small gram of gold.” Yes, they called it gold.
I could understand their dilemma. And I would really miss my gold-spread. I told them so while also praising them for their resilience. To show my solidarity, I tapped the flowers hummingly.
I then began to explain, very cautiously, that the wisteria was slowly choking the camellia. And that his blooms also contained precious gold. Still busy gathering pollen, the bees agreed to discuss the issue at the end of spring. Listening to their humming I thought of their strange music which together with the flowers’ scent gave me both a feeling of belonging to this garden and a responsibility towards it. To make it amenable to everyone.
Here is the major problem I’m facing. I have a bamboo arch leading onto a smaller garden with various shrubs growing in that alcove. The wisteria had probably been planted long ago at the foot of the arch in order to climb over it. To give the entrance an ornate look. Thriving, as these vines do, she quickly intertwined around each bamboo stick, gradually filling all the arch’s lattice with her big hungry body. The result was that of a woody vine with here and there yellowish streaks of bamboo. Quite an attractive woven pattern.
Given her age and her strength, she could really stand on her own one trunk so to say without the support of the frame. The hard task was to prevent her profusion of branches from twining round any other available support.
It was after long pondering this that I decided to cut her back quite drastically. This is when I heard her angry voice:
“Mrs Prunyplumplum, you’re hurting me with your weapon. It will take me weeks now to recover. These are my limbs. I can see part of me on that heap over there.”
“Mrs Hysteria … sorry, Mrs Wisteria, it had to be done. A garden is supposed to be shared. You were planted here by mistake. A respectable plant like you should really be where it’s wanted and fully accepted.”
“I thought you liked me, Mrs Prunyplumplum, well, maybe just my blooms.”
“I do like you and your blooms. But it’s a case of fairness. See that camellia next to you, you’ve climbed on him and you’ve almost smothered him. That tree is an individual too. He deserves his own square of freedom. You’re robbing him of a third of it.”
“I thought the camellia liked my tendrils around him. I’ll try not to be too effusive in future.”
Mrs Wisteria might have tried, but it wasn’t exactly obvious to me. By nature she wasn’t made for restraint. Her tentacles liked to strangle others’ limbs and bodies. The camellia was her main victim and didn’t seem to be able to defend himself against this formidable invader. Not content with one tree, Mrs Wisteria was shooting out runners metres away from her trunk. Even stretching herself on the grass where she lounged idly. Blades’ delights.
A decision had to be taken. I came with what I thought was a flexible idea. “This is my plan, Mrs Wisteria, see what you think. I get a gardener in to dig a big hole over there in that corner on that green patch. Can you see it? You’ve got to bend your branches a bit. Here … that’s it, over there. Then I’ll get him to uproot you carefully. We need a very big root ball to give you the maximum chance of survival. Trim you first as it will help you tolerate the transplant. Then put your roots into the new hole carefully with a strong stake to give you support on windy days. What d’you say?”
“Will the sun be with me?”
“It will be and I will water you. And retrain your branches so they can grow smoothly and docilely. No more entanglements.”
“You must admit, Mrs Wisteria, that your training has been rather neglected from your early days. You were treated like a wild weed. It’s a pity because it was the right time then to be stern with you. With pruners. To style you. To highlight you.”
“The transplant will hurt me, Mrs Prunyplumplum, and I might wither away.”
“Not if the gardener does it. Just keep your happy thoughts, Mrs Wisteria.” I gave her a soothing stroke on her trunk. “He’ll be careful and I’ll be holding one of your branches if you want me to. Here is a rough photo of what you could look like later on.”
“Yes, I do look smart,” she replied after a long stare at a possible future image of herself, “and I’m on my own with the sun. Mrs Prunyplumplum, I might have to trust you.”
“You’ll be on your own there, sharing the soil with no one else. And I’ll be pruning you as I watch you grow.”
I tried once more to speak to the bees. Probably a new generation of bees. Discussed with them my concern. They were buzzing over daisies when I approached them.
“Ladybees, sorry to disturb you. I was talking to your sisters some time ago, telling them that I would have to cut back the wisteria.” I gave them my reasons which were quite practical — a tree with a leaner look, a climber that doesn’t strangle the camellia.
“Mrs Prunyplumplum, you’re rationing our food.”
“Ladybees, I hope not. I’ve come with some sort of solution that will suit everyone. Although you and Mrs Wisteria will have to compromise somewhat. Here is a photo of my plan. As you can see, it’s a wisteria standing on her own. What do you think?”
“A bit lean that tree. I can’t see how we’ll stock much gold. I think we’re going to starve next spring.”
“No, you won’t. I’m also thinking of adding a flowering shrub in that alcove. Not too far from the camellia. See … over there. To fill that gap. So, more flowers. More choice. More gold for you.”
“Bzzz …” said the chorus of bees humming between them. “Oh, Mrs Prunyplumplum … more gold you said!”
Overall I thought the bees were very reasonable and quite compliant considering they constantly have to adapt to humans’ whims and harsh decisions. Some might find them a little gullible. And they probably are. I watched their busy wings and legs a short while then thanked them warmly before letting them get on with their work as dusk could fall quickly.
Mrs Wisteria is now in her new site, proudly standing on her own with the dignity of a proper tree. She’s been assiduously trained and watered. Her flowers are slanting nimbly, looking like mauve crochet work. I could make a garland and wear it around my neck. Or maybe a scarf. No, I will leave them to the bees. They’re swarming all over feverishly in a rush to fill their honeycombs.
“Here, Mrs Wisteria, I’ll take a photo and will show it to you and the bees. Click! Here we go. See? Ladybees, aren’t Mrs Wisteria’s flowers over-spilling with pollen?”
“Mrs Prunyplumplum,” sang the chorus of bees, barely containing their excitement, “don’t forget to taste our new season’s gold.”
Mrs Wisteria had been very quiet. “Mrs Prunyplumplum,” she said somewhat sheepishly. “I’ve got the soil and the sun to myself, but my tendrils miss someone.”
“You don’t mean another tree? Mrs Wisteria.” Mrs Wisteria swayed lightly.
“Look … maybe … just maybe … as a favour … I could plant a flower bed. You know … with pansies or daisies. Just next to you … You’d be the giant looking down on the lilliputians. Would that suit you?”
Mrs Wisteria replied by shaking her grape flowers. One brushed my cheek lightly before falling in the hollow of my hand.
Erika Byrne-Ludwig is a graduate from Sydney University (BA (Hon.) Dip.Ed., a former High School teacher. Lives in Australia. She has been writing for many years. Her collection of Stories can be found on her website at: www.gigistales.com. More information about her personal likes can also be seen on her website. Generally, she’s interested in the world, nature, underprivileged groups. She has recently published in SCARS and SYNAPSE magazines.