Thursday, November 17, 2011

Either Fruit or Die, Please?

This weekend I was starting to read Peter Schneider's excellent 2009 book, Right Rose, Right Place, when a great line jumped right out of the text and tweaked my nose. 

Peter had been introducing the main themes of the book (the gist of which is that all roses are not created equally and that we should spend time choosing the roses that will thrive best wherever we want to grow them), when he wrote the striking sentence: "There are two kinds of rose failures; plants that die and plants that won't."  Now, Peter was writing primarily about roses, but for sheer calling a spade "a spade", the concept he expressed can't be beat.

I've got a number of plants that I wish would die, and my usual modus operandi in such cases is to neglect the plant until it succumbs to disease and pestilence.  Sometimes, though, I've chosen the plant so well for Kansas that I simply can't neglect it enough to kill it, no matter how dry the summer or cold the winter.

The particular plant on my mind this morning is my ugly and hopeless bittersweet plant, pictured from this morning at the upper right and to the left.  This is one of those dual sex plantings (bittersweet is a diecious plant) that I purchased with both a male (Celastrus scandens 'Hercules') and female (Celastrus scandens 'Diana') vine potted together by the nursery.  I planted them next to each other on a large wire cylinder so they could climb high and provide me with the females beautiful orange and red fruits as Fall came.

But this pair has been nothing but trouble since it was planted seven years past.  They are healthy to a fault, and they survive sub-zero winters, triple-digit summers, flood and drought with impunity.  They quickly overwhelmed the trellis, which I've had to strengthen twice previously as it was bent down by strong winds. Again, now, it is bowed to the East at about the 5 foot level from a storm that occurred in August.  Even worse, even though both vines have survived and had a typical flowering period each of the past five Springs, the plants have never set fruit.  Not a single orange kernel.  Perhaps they don't like each other and have chosen to be celibate, or perhaps the nursery sold me two male plants instead of a mixed-sex pair.  I'm discounting the possibility that they could both be female plants because wild bittersweet occurs in the woods nearby and even if these are refined and gracious cultivars, they surely would be desperate enough by now to dally with the local peasants.  In any circumstance, there's no debauchery happening in my garden and I'm tired of it.  In my view, a garden should be all about sex and procreation and 'Hercules' and 'Diana' aren't contributing to the party.

I'm done waiting on them. Since they won't either fruit or die, I'm spade-pruning them.  Well, in truth, I think I'll move them down onto the barbed wire fence in the pasture, where they can challenge the prairie for dominance or let the grasses beat them.  Maybe a little adversity will scare them into trying to reproduce themselves in a Darwinian last-ditch effort.  I don't care.  I guess you could say that I'm bitter about the failure, but anticipating the sweetness that a nice Clematis will add to that site.


  1. Maybe you need to beat them with the sunday newspaper. I had a professor tell me once that if you beat a peach tree with a newspaper on the trunk it'll cause it to set more fruit. he he...

  2. Sad that it came from some who should probably know better....I'll run a research search before I try it....

  3. Seven years is a long time. I think you're being very reasonable about their exile. Maybe this will do the trick.


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