“You’ll only wish it would grow faster,” the young man behind the table at the plant sale said, the coils of his hair and pointy beard vibrating with ardor. The object of his enchantment was a plant in a one-gallon container laxly draped over bamboo stakes. “Especially when you see the flowers.” He riffled through a nearby book, opening it to a lurid, purple-pink photograph. “This is not a good image. You’ll want to get on your knees and adore.”
I’ve had religious experiences galore with vines, but they have almost all been of the penitential, beaten and bedraggled, kind. We were discussing a species of passiflora, of which the majority are marauders. Passiflora x exoniensis. X ex… there was something seductive in the name, but that was no reason to buy it. The tri-lobed leaves were a subtle green. Nondescript, in other words, but I needed a good vine for one of my gardens. I could take a chance. What was another rogue vine? Maybe this time I’d be lucky.
What was in play was plant lust, and lust trumps sense like spades trump hearts. I bought Double-X. There was a second one on the table, and I bought it too. If there had been a third, I might have snatched it.
I had not walked away fifty feet before remorse set in, and I made a u-turn. What was I thinking? The image of the passiflora at the end of my block draped over a huge Hollywood juniper like a python ingesting a hedgehog flashed in my mind. Yet he seemed so certain. Then again, why should I trust a twenty-some gardener when I considered my enthusiasms at that age? Who planted the white wisteria at Jamie and Howard’s? And another at Megan’s?
“Are you sure this won’t take over the world?” I demanded, startling the young man, shaking one of the plants in front of his face.
“You’ll love it. Wait and see.”
Wait and see is no doubt the most universally applied horticultural practice. I planted the passifloras in two different gardens, one on Bernal Heights, one in the Richmond, the former in amended clay, the latter in amended sand. Both get regular water, and both are happy as loons. So far I don’t regret either since neither is in a spot where it can climb out of reach, or slip through a fence and escape the iron hand. Which it will, if it can. The reputedly slow pace of growth turns out to be about two feet every three weeks, which is about how often I visit these gardens, and behold the little dear trying to gag its neighbors.
As for the flower, its fluorescent magenta dangling down is both provocative and demure, a sorority girl in a skin flick, peeking from behind a green curtain. Given the number of buds forming at any given time, the promise of orgiastic excess is always tendered, and always unfulfilled. If it happens, I will fall to my knees in adoration, as foretold.