When we moved into what we now call the Zoo, there were two large, well-established, and obviously aging landscaping-type bushes installed along the driveway. Some part of our arrival made them completely despondent, because bits of each began pointedly dying, shriveling, and collapsing in pathetic little brown heaps all over the place for months.  Every morning was a new “J’accuse!” of curled, leafless branches. Yes, we watered, fertilized, organically pest-controlled, provided verbal encouragement, hummed classical music, did little amusing dances,  the whole nine yards of Attachment Gardening.  Yet still they withered.

So I dug them up and sent them to the composters, because I am a heartless and merciless virago.  But while committing this crime, I noticed that there was a little vine that was growing right next to one of the I Am A Helpless Victim of Society bushes.  It was small, about as long as my forearm, wiry, and completely unimpressive in every way.  It had no redeeming color, structure, flowering, or rarity qualities whatsoever. Hell, it barely had any leaves.  It was simply a nondescript weed, clinging with absolute determination to its shaded, starved spot there along the driveway.

Something told me to leave it where it was, even as I did the stewardess “Bye-bye” wave at the “Where’s My Guvmint Paycheck” bushes.  But then I had two big open holes in the ground and a single, scrawny, might-as-well-be-a-dog-chewed-electrical-wire of a plant left behind.  My gardener guy at the time poked it quizzically and said, “I’m pretty sure it’s a grapevine. But I dunno, could be poison oak.”  He was kidding, I think.  But I knew he was right in his first call, because I also knew that the Zoo’s builder made his own wine in a shed in the side yard. I knew this because his recipes are written on the walls in that shed in a delicate, graceful, now-fading pencil.

So what do you do when you have what you’re pretty sure is a grapevine that seemingly came out of nowhere, resisting with its whole heart any plans to “landscape” a property, simply to survive?  The answer was pretty clear to me.  You build this tough little thug a house.

Now for a grapevine, a “house” is an arbor, and I had two open spots from our recently vacated tenants in which to frame an arbor. The guy on the left is my “volunteer” — the chewed, wretched, starved shoestring that grew on its own, without anyone wanting it there, and refused to give up.  I had to balance it out, so I bought a Thompson seedless grape plant from a nursery (kind of like the private-school kid, if you think about it) and put it on the right side.

We discovered a year after planting the Thompson that there was yet another volunteer. There’s another wine grapevine (we think) that emerged at the base of the right-hand arbor posts.  The picture above is what’s going on right now with everyone, about two years into the process. The tree in the center is a dwarf nectarine; the bigger guy right next to it is a Mission fig.  And this year, for the first time, we have these:

The Tough Kid’s grapes.


We don’t know if these are red or white wine grapes, and can’t wait to find out.  But the Thompson, not to be outdone, is also popping out bunches as fast as it can.

Oh yeah? Bring it.

But you see, the grapevine isn’t the only volunteer here at the Zoo.  At the base of the Mission fig, every year, something spectacular happens.  It’s a giant snapdragon, I think, and it requires nothing but admiration.

I have a new, deep, and abiding respect for “volunteers” around my house now.  As I think I quoted in another post, gardens teach you patience more than anything else (well, on some days I’d argue “frustration” is more accurate, but then again I’m neither pundit nor priest.)  “Hold on a bit, let’s see what happens” is, however, now one of my New Age Affirmations.  Now if only I could apply it to something aside of plants — then we’d really be getting somewhere.


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