In Which The Head Gardener Attempts to Untangle the Twisted Web Woven by Ike

OK, maybe that's not strictly accurate, since the vines have been growing on the old trellis for 7 or 8 years now. However, thanks to all Ike's huffing and puffing and blowing the vines' house down, the Angel Wing Jasmine is a tangled mess. There are three separate plants, two of which I think reseeded from the mother plant. The picture below shows Big Mama resting against and thus obscuring the air conditioning unit.

I'd insisted that EM remove the old trellis because there was no way to cut the vines free without decimating the plants. What I didn't reckon with is the incredible weight of that much vine! There's no way I can lift the mass by myself. Shoot, the vine on the far left side was hard enough to manage: even with careful handling, I ended up with several broken branches and was forced to do some serious pruning. I was able to get some of it lifted and tossed over the new trellis, then threaded other branches through the openings. The middle vine was easy, since it has only a single trunk and had to be severely pruned due to breakage. But as you can see from another view of Big Mama, she's anything but easy.

Yesterday I went at her from a couple of different angles to prune broken and dead branches. Because the vine's been in that spot for so many years, there's a lot of dead wood, older growth that was shaded out by the top growth. I'd pruned some of the dead wood out this summer but with the undergrowth exposed, I can see how much more of it there was than I realized. Unfortunately for me, the dead wood isn't really the problem: it's easy enough to prune or break off and it's lightweight. It's the live vines that pose a dilemma: I've come to the reluctant conclusion that I'm not going to be able to do this all by myself if I want to keep the bulk of the vine. Finding helpers is easier said than done: landscape crews are hard to come by right now. Even assuming I can find some helpers to lift the vine onto the trellis, I'm going to have to work slowly and carefully to arrange the vines. Breakage is inevitable and I have to wonder if all that hard work might not bring me to the same result as a less painstaking approach. Is it worth spending all that time and effort to keep Big Mama's tresses long and luxuriant when I may end up giving her a buzz cut anyway?

My dilemma is further complicated by the fact that this
trellis has historically served as a privacy screen for my breakfast room. There are three large windows that face the street, a fairly busy one. I removed the miniblinds from the windows several years back and the old trellis served as a more than adequate privacy screen all this time, thanks to both the latticework and the vines. However, in constructing the new trellis, I decided to use cattle panel wire fencing rather than sheets of lattice for a cleaner, more contemporary look and sturdier construction and I'm very happy with the results as far as looks go. Here's a view of the completed trellis with the smaller, more manageable vines in place, although the arrangement may be temporary. The vines at the bottom of the middle and right sections of trellis are Big Mama's tangled tresses.

So here I sit, still trying to decide what to do. Yes, I could whack Big Mama back to a faretheewell and wait for her to grow back. I thought about doing just that several times yesterday, growing ever more frustrated as I worked and pondered and fretted. Did I mention that if I start at a trunk and attempt to untangle it from the heap of vine on the ground, it gets me nowhere? Whacking it back would certainly be the easiest way to deal with the problem. What it comes down to is that I'd be sacrificing not only privacy but some really beautiful and healthy top growth and lovely fragrant blooms. It's the latter sacrifice that I'm reluctant to make. The privacy issue can be managed from inside with window coverings, if needs must, much as I dislike them in this house (they take away from its open and airy feel.) I know she's going to lose more branches, however I go about this, but it's deciding how to minimize the damage that's got my knickers in a twist. Maybe I'm overthinking things, but I tell y'all what: come on over here to my corner of Katy and look at Big Mama, I think you'll find yourselves doing the same thing!

So I'm back to the idea of having helpers lift her onto and over the trellis. IF I can find helpers willing to do that, because dang, Big Mama is HEAVY. Once we get her up there, then I have the pleasure of pruning and placing, all the while thinking of the numerous other post-Ike cleanup chores still to be done. And the plethora of fall gardening chores. And the planting of the
umpteen containers that I am determined to get into the ground so I don't have to water them in the dead of summer, as well as the planting of recent purchases from Nelson Water Gardens, Buchanan's, Another Place In Time and Joshua's. AND I must remember to water those already planted!

Although I may sound overwhelmed (I AM!) and less than upbeat, I should note that things are slowly getting back to what passes for normal here on my corner of Katy. My trusted and
talented arborist, Shawn Geiman of Shawnee Trees, came by on Tuesday to remove the large oak limbs that had broken in the wind. There's still a lot of smaller limbs and dead branches, etc. that need removal but I agreed that those could wait until the pace slows down a bit for these guys. Driving around Houston, it's easy to see why they're so much in demand. Houston's trees were by far the biggest casualty of the storm. Many of them will not recover from the damage; mine will recover but I doubt they'll ever be as pretty as they were.

A fine crew of workers from Harris County spent a lot of time removing the piles of debris from my yard with only minor damage to the grass (dang it, I was hoping the pile on the south side had killed the already stressed patch of St. Augustine). By the time the remains of the oak limbs were added to that pile, it was almost as tall as the Head Gardener! I spent most of my time in the garden last week clearing leaves, twigs and small branches on the south side of the house and cutting back plants in those beds. My shrub rake saw a lot of action, as did my pruners. This is how it looks at the moment. It's pretty empty compared to pre-Ike and immediately post-Ike! On the far left, you'll see the upended remains of the largest lost branch. I asked the crew not to take it. It's destined to be yard art of some kind.

That's the patch of grass I'd hoped would die. It may yet give up the ghost with a little assistance from The Head Gardener, who wants to make that whole side of the yard a planting area. What will she put there? Decisions are not her strong suit, so she will doubtless agonize about this for days on end.

Another sign of progress: the front gate has been repaired and the courtyard is private once more. You can't even tell that the brick wall was damaged. Brickmason Greg Oertli and his son did a very nice job and I'm so thankful to them for their hard work.

Today, however, there will be no agonizing while pacing to and fro, muttering curses and imprecations: the Head Gardener is taking a break from the gardens. Perhaps I should emulate the laissez faire attitude of the sparrows, who are quite comfortable with Big Mama's downed vines, as seen in a picture shot through my kitchen window.


EAL said…
The new trellis is great! Things don't look too bad! In fact they look pretty good. How long would it take Big Mama to grow back? Because whacking it back probably would have been my instinct.
Annie in Austin said…
Hi Cindy - you've sure made progress!

I've seen many close-ups of Angel-wing jasmine flowers on Houston area garden blogs, but never realized that the vine they bloomed on could be such a monster. It would be heartbreaking to have to chop it back, but are you sure the vines can survive the bending back and forth that will take place as you redrape them? Will there be internal trauma that will make them die slowly instead of quickly, so that you'd have been better off with new shoots growing in the right direction?

Good luck, kiddo!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose
Carol Michel said…
I'm kind of with EAL on Big Mama. I assume that if you whack her back, she'll grow out from the base, with softwood branches that are more easily trained on the new trellis. And because the new trellis is stronger, she might stay put if there was ever another "Ike" sized hurricane blow through your garden.

But we'll support you whatever you decide to do. Just wish we could all help you because either way, it will be some work.

You are doing the right thing today! Taking a break from all your hard work sounds like a good idea. It will all be there tomorrow, as they say.

Carol, May Dreams Gardens
Kathy said…
Puts fretting about my own garden to-do list in perspective. Vines with that much woody top growth usually spring back pretty quickly from a hatchet job, so I vote with the whackers, even though I know nothing about this particular vine.
Wow--you have done lots of work! I'm not sure what I would do--probably be very tempted to whack away. Keep us posted..and glad you are taking a well deserved break!
Anonymous said…
I'm with the whackers too, Cindy. I bet you'll have privacy again by mid-May. Good luck with your lawn redesign. I'm sure you'll think of something lovely or fun to do there.
Gail said…

I can offer no advice or opinion on this particular vine, but if you need hand holding I am an expert.

The trellis looks great...nice clean lines. I would love to have it here!

Anonymous said…
I can see a big difference. I know you are exhausted. I hope it all bounces back nicely.
Cindy, MCOK said…
Thanks, y'all, for the input. I'll show the results of my subsequent efforts in my next post. Suffice it to say that Big Mama is now Little Mama. I had no idea how much shade that vine was providing so some plants will have to be moved. Meanwhile, that bare trellis means very little privacy inside! I'm going to do some shopping today for window coverings. I think I'm going to plant sweet peas on the trellis for a temporary fix, too.