Love, Loss and New Life in the Garden
Twenty-odd years ago I took my six year-old daughter to a local nursery specializing in rare and exotic fruits where she charmed me into buying a pair of young kiwi plants, a male and a female, she named Vince and Julie. (I’m sure she had a reason for those names, but I didn’t ask why.)
I thought they’d look good growing over the new gate I built to keep the chickens and livestock out of the front yard, so we planted a kiwi on either side of the gate and let them grow.
Julie and Vince grew and a few years later Julie flowered, then Vince flowered, and after that we had lots of fresh kiwis every summer.
Over the years they grew big and bridged the space over the gate; their branches so entwined you couldn’t tell where Julie ended and Vince began.
The winter of 2013 was a rough one. Heavy rain, multiple freezes followed by heat waves, a ground squirrel invasion of biblical proportions. It was bad. But kiwis are dormant in the winter, so it wasn’t until weeks later we realized Julie wasn’t going to wake up for spring. She was dead.
Vince limped along, stringy and listless for the next couple of years. He didn’t flower even once.
In 2017 my daughter, now in her early 20’s and home from college for spring break, decided enough was enough.
“Vince is lonely,” she said. Then she went back to the same nursery where we’d bought Vince and Julie all those years ago and bought another young female kiwi.
“This is Sharon,” she said, introducing me and Vince to the new kiwi.
Sharon was only a few months old at the time, so she spent her first year in a 5 gallon pot near Vince, but protected from gophers and squirrels. The next spring we planted her next to the West gate a few feet from where Julie had been along the North gate. She was still small and had only a couple of thin vines which I trellised to keep the dogs from stomping on them.
Vince seemed to appreciate the company. For the first time in years, he grew big and bushy and his vines reached all the way across the gate again to the place where Julie used to be. But still no flowers.
In 2019 Sharon had a serious growth spurt and reached the top of the gate post with her vines for the first time. By the autumn, she had half a dozen wrapped around the trellis and gatepost.
Sharon on the Left, Vince on the Right
That same autumn, Vince who had regained his old vigor (but still hadn’t flowered), snapped the gatepost on which he’d grown most his life. The broken post twisted the gate upward and left the Vince leaning precariously at a 30 degree angle and threatening to uproot him entirely.
With only a few weeks before he would go dormant, I decided to prop the broken post with a steel pole and wait for Winter to try and save him while he was asleep.
Winter came and I pruned Vince back to get to the broken post and remove it. But he hadn’t just wrapped the post in his vines, he’d grown into it in places. I wasn’t going to be able to just slide the post out, set a new one and tether him to it. Needing a new plan, I reset the support pole and left it for a few months while I considered.
Spring arrived in early March this year and Sharon wasted no time reaching for the gate post with new vines. Vince woke as well a short time later. Knowing that it was going to be a lot more trouble to replace the gatepost if Vince was in full growth, I decided to take a fresh look and see if I could somehow engineer a way to support Vince, remove the old post from his bark embrace, and set a new one for him to lean on.
I figured I could use a rope and pulley to pull Vince upright then wedge in a couple additional poles to help support him while I worked on getting the broken gatepost loose.
It was after I dragged the two new poles up to where I had set the first support pole last fall that I noticed the first pole had somehow been pushed off to the side of the kiwi and was actually resting against a portion of the twisted gate. Moreover, the broken gatepost was no longer attached to the ground. The post wasn’t holding Vince up, Vince was holding it up.
As I stood there looking up into the big kiwi, I saw something yellow and feathery that I hadn’t seen in years — flowers. Vince was flowering again.
I scuttled my gatepost repair plans.
A few weeks have gone by since then and Vince is flowering up a storm.
Vince putting on a show of flowers for Sharon
He’s also growing fast in Sharon’s direction.
Sharon hasn’t flowered yet, but she’s growing by leaps and bounds as well, including a number of vines reaching north toward Vince instead of south and west toward the sun.
I thought I might be making too much of all this because plants don’t have feelings and they certainly don’t “reach out” for eachother. But then my daughter — coincidentally home again from college, but this time on an extended Coronavirus break — snapped this picture the other morning:
Yep, that’s the two of them reaching across the space between them and touching vines.
Maybe they do have feelings and maybe it really is a kiwi love story. I can’t be sure. I just hope our summers are filled with those fuzzy brown fruits once again.
I’ll let you know how Vince and Sharon do.