Guest post by Jane Eaton Hamilton
“Doesn’t anyone just take it easy anywhere at any time anymore? Pass me a beer. I never studied Latin. I just want to grow plants.”
I’m that frustrated, really. I’m climbing a braid of tangled clematis like it’s Rapunzel’s hair. This one’s a Clematis montana (what’s the story with all this C montana this and P orientale that and all those unnameable names and this part gets italicized and this part doesn’t and this part needs a capital and this doesn’t? Doesn’t anyone just take it easy anywhere at any time anymore? Pass me a beer. I never studied Latin. I just want to grow plants.) A C. montana growing all the way to the attic window, and I’m scaling it to escape the clematis police. Look at them down there, ten prissy UK gardeners with permed hair, pursed lips and clipboards. The first time I went to make a pruning cut, their whistles shrilled and they forced me to hand over my secateurs, and then the bunch of them did a football huddle around them making clucking noises. Rust, I heard, and dull cutting blade, and Doesn’t she ever oil her implements? and Probably carrying bacteria. I heard a righteous sniff. They’re just cheap clippers anyhow. They’re hardly Felcos. All this down their substantial noses. Well, darn the clematis police to heck anyway. I leaned over one woman’s shoulder chip and snatched my clippers back. They may not be the best maintained clippers in the world, but on the other hand, I find time to watch ER. So sue me.
“…I was so bloody busy working and cooking and vaccuming and yelling at the kids and finding time for Sex and the City that it was all I could do just to shove the damn thing in the ground…”
I got the idea the clematis police, at least, would like to sue me. I was standing back from the first clematis I saw whose colour I just couldn’t remember — uh, purple, maybe? Many of them are purple of some shade with even the whites a bit purple-tinged, so it was a safe guess, probably, and if I hadn’t been so busy going to work and raising kids and making dinner and drinking martinis under the garden heater and laughing with my friends last summer I might have bothered to actually notice, and I might have written it down, a notation, and while I was at it I might even have written down what group (A, B or C) the wretched plant was in to begin with, but of course that should have happened when I planted it, only when I planted it (and the 30 or so others) I was so bloody busy working and cooking and vaccuming and yelling at the kids and finding time for Sex and the City that it was all I could do just to shove the damn thing in the ground in a more or less prepared hole (a dug hole, that is) and I probably didn’t even plant it at the right depth which is six inches of stem in the ground because, go figure, the stem will grow roots, and then naturally I left the tag on it but the tag was just plastic the width of a dime and very crackable, and of course it cracked, and the part that didn’t break off bleached in the sun (though how is that possible since the roots of the clematis are supposed to be in the shade, so how could a tag be sunbleached, huh, huh, if it was a properly planted clematis? Huh? Huh? With a tag near the bottom of the stem where no sun is supposed to shine sort of like certain areas of one’s bathing suit? And anyway, if roots are underground aren’t they by definition shaded? I mean, no one ever said my ancestors were pushing up daisies six feet under basking in sunshine, did they?) And anyway, the tag did crack and the tag did bleach and with it went all the info I had on the clematis so why couldn’t I just hack at it? Huh? “Would that be all right with you guys?“
“Humph, they said as one. You are speaking, we believe, of the genus CLEMatis. Kindly refer to said plant as CLEMatis in all future speech.”
The UK gardeners weren’t looking. They were busily conferring and scratching on their clipboards. Was that a paddy wagon siren I heard coming to take me to jail for breaking clematis laws?
I had no idea what they’d do to me if I guessed wrong, so I shouted, “Would it be all right with you guys if I just cut this clematis any which place on its stem?”
The clematis police turned as one monolithic creature and laid half-lidded eyes upon me. Their pens poised above their clipboards. ì“xcuse us. Did we just hear you just say—”
And here they couldn’t bring themselves to actually repeat it. They stalled, this one-voiced creature, speechless. But then they went on. “Did we just hear you just say — clemAtis?”
Darn, darn, darn. I did. I said it just like that. I suppose I should have been gnashing my teeth and renting my raiments.
“Humph,” they said as one. “You are speaking, we believe, of the genus CLEMatis. Kindly refer to said plant as CLEMatis in all future speech.”
“Nuts to you,” I said.
And they just stood there, open-mouthed. Many of them had amalgam fillings which I hoped were leaking mercury.
“You know the secret with clemAtis?” I shouted. “You know what it is? If you don’t prune ëem right, they still grow. If you don’t prune ëem at all, they still grow. Nothing bad happens. World War III doesn’t break out. They just bloom up higher, is all.”
“They might wilt,” said the officious poops.
“Dudes,” I said, “pruning doesn’t stop wilt. Clematis get a fungus. If I see drooping leaves, and I happen to have time, I cut the stem a couple inches down past it and hope the thing survives. Or if I’m busy, I let it go and hope that next year it doesn’t wilt again. But sometimes it does.”
Their Stepford mouths open in unison. “Prune your CLEMatis in its proper groups. Don’t prune group A. Prune group B lightly for shape. Prune group C a foot from the ground.” And then suddenly they’re chanting. “Prune your CLEMatis prune your CLEMatis prune your CLEMatis prune your CLEMatis prune your CLEMatis.”
That’s when I hightailed it up the C. montana towards the attic, an overstuffed chair, my TV clicker and a beer.
Jane Eaton Hamilton is the award-winning author of four books. She grew up in Ontario, lived in St. Louis, Phoenix, NYC, Alberta, the Kootenays and on Salt Spring Island before settling in Vancouver. You can find out more about her at www.janeeatonhamilton.com.