Henry Lane Hull

by Henry Lane Hull

As my family and most of my friends know, as well as readers of this column over the past three decades, I am something of a plant nut. I find great pleasure in growing trees, flowers, shrubs and vegetables.

Each winter I fill the kitchen with houseplants that have spent their summer outside. Several years ago the Elder B.E. was speaking on the telephone in face-time with a friend who asked him if the call was coming from a jungle, given the background.

I took the remark as a compliment.

This year my gardening experience has taken a new and unexpected twist. I am always interested in saving seeds, asking others for seeds from their plants that impressed me and buying rare seeds. Each winter most of my reading time goes into perusing plant and seed catalogs.

In the late spring I found a small plastic container with what appeared to be pumpkin or gourd seeds. It had been in hiding for such a long time that I could not remember where I had gotten it or, more importantly, what type of plant it would produce. The vial had lost its handwritten label long ago. I decided to plant the few seeds it contained to see what they were.

Only one of the seeds germinated and that was not until over a month later. It grew the first couple of feet and then stopped. In late July it must have received an injection of some sort of plant adrenalin. Runners started going in every direction. Very soon it blocked one entrance to the barnyard, then it found the fencing and finally it began mounting pear and apple trees, reaching up over 15 feet, all in less than a month.

In August the vine began blooming, producing enormous yellow flowers over six inches in diameter. They were sufficiently large for half a dozen bumblebees to enter comfortably without being crowded. The bees emerged coated with vast quantities of pollen, but no fruit set. The blooms “did their own thing” and then dropped off, leaving the spike on which they had appeared barren. I could not count the number of blossoms, but as a random guess I should say over 500, all from one vine no less. By late August I began seeing honeybees on the scene; shortly thereafter, small fruit started appearing after the blooms fell away.

By that time the entire back yard was enveloped in the vine. Butterfly bushes were bending over from its weight and we came to consider ourselves to be living in a rainforest. The fruit emerged and has remained dark green. Halloween has come and gone and we have not a smidgen of orange on any of the fruit. My Good Wife thinks the vine is a gourd, but, if it is, it resembles none that I have seen.

Each tendril of the monster grasps whatever it can find and some become roots going into the soil. At one point from walking to the barnyard we nearly severed a shoot from the mother plant, but still it continues to grow and grow. On a more positive note, grass mowing has been eliminated wherever the vine has spread.

Our family has concocted a scheme whereby if we can discern what the plant is, we could propagate it in a two-acre plot that is not being farmed, thereby terminating the need for mowing. This plant can take on any weed or grass and win hands down any day of the season. As we have not had any significant frost, the vine has not started to wither with the onset of winter. Instead, it is sending out more tendrils and producing more blooms, as well as remaining a haven for the bees.

Domestically, this season has been the Year of the Gourd, or at least until we learn that it is another form of melon, or perhaps even a rare pumpkin. If the latter, Halloween is less than a year away.