Attack of the purple ‘bean trees’

We’d had wisteria for years before we were struck by this odd attribute. 

Toby Melville/Reuters/FILE
A man works on a wisteria-draped home in London.

You think life has no surprises left for you, and then something zings by your ear and smacks you right in the Toyota.

One of the things we liked the best when we bought our house 40 years ago was the big wisteria vine clambering all over the front porch, the very promise of romance. It was past its bloom when we moved in, but we looked forward, the next spring, to having Louis Tiffany-worthy pendulous flower clusters bursting across what would then, surely, be termed a veranda.

We would sit in a wicker swing and sip sarsaparillas and call everybody “darlin’.” My sister celebrated our new house with a needlepoint rendition of it and threw in a profusion of purple blossoms free of charge.

The next spring the vine leafed out solidly and there, somewhere in the foliage, hung one thin straggle of purple flowers. The next year the plucky purple clump returned. It perished of loneliness. A decade went by without another flower. We repainted the house. My sister soldiered forth with another needlepoint, in the new colors, with a bushy yet barren wisteria in the front.

What the vine lacked in beauty it made up for in sheer malicious vigor. My little snips at it were insufficient. Turn your back on it for a couple weeks, and it’s up under the roof shingles, twining around the neighbor’s cat, and sizing up the meter reader. My husband, Dave, declared me unworthy of the task and tackled it himself. He called it a “good pruning,” but it was closer to murder.

The next spring we had dozens of blooms. The next, dozens more yet. Before long, we had a perfectly creditable spring display – not really prizeworthy since it wasn’t a stellar variety of wisteria, but fragrant and uplifting nonetheless. We sat on the porch steps and called each other “darlin’.”

When the wisteria finishes blooming, it produces long fuzzy beans that are decorative in themselves, and they remain until the next spring. These are the “bean trees” of Barbara King-
solver’s imagination. 

One afternoon in March a few years back, I sat out on the front steps to enjoy an unusually warm day. Zzzing! BAM! It sounded like a gunshot. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from, but it nailed my car. Zzzing! WHACK! I took cover behind the garbage can.

Birds buttoned up mid-chirp. War veterans reflexively hit the dirt. The bean tree was exploding. A few seeds made it all the way across the street and hammered on the neighbor’s truck. The next peppered a passing Pomeranian at 30 paces. By evening, an empty half-helix was all that remained of every bean on the vine. And we’d never noticed it before because they all went off at once. If you aren’t there that day, you miss the whole show. It’s a lot safer that way.

Next unusually warm day in March, bring your hard hat and come on over. I recommend parking around the corner.

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