A tale of two vines – how hardship led to better growth

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

Ignoring the fact that my name isn’t Mary, nor do I consider myself contrary (well – at least, not most of the time), my garden may have looked better in prior years, but at least it is back in bloom. Thanks for asking!

A few weeks ago, I wasn’t sure that would be the case.

February and March were rather dramatic months around here weather-wise with temperature fluctuations that were extreme even for North Carolinian standards. One day would be warm enough to turn on the air conditioning and let the kids run outside in their swimsuits – the next day cold enough to pull out the parkas. Is it any wonder then that I fell ill?

“Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative” – Oscar Wilde

I don’t remember asking you Oscar, and really, what part of I was sick last week did you miss? Now, back to my story. Our news reported that much of the commercial plant life was equally confused and budded too early, causing several crops to be considered a total loss after the frost returned, which is a bummer as I always look forward to picking strawberries with my kids in May. Therefore I was delighted to notice green leaves and white flowers on the vines that grow in my backyard (kids there’s hope for us yet).

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need – Marcus Tullius Cicero

I’m not sure I completely agree with the statement above, but I appreciate where the thought is coming from. For years now I’ve been growing grapes as well as blackberries, among a few other foodstuffs, but though they grow side by side, the vines are as different as people.

blackberry blooms

thornless blackberry blooms

My blackberries, for example, barely needed to be covered in earth before they took off on their own, with several shoots of new vines popping up in other beds independent of my plantings. My grapes, on the other hand, required a little more attention.

The first year we were together, the vines grew, but never produced. The second was more of the same. I considered letting the blackberries take over, but decided to give them one more chance while doing a bit more homework.

“The more help a person has in his garden, the less it belongs to him.” – W. H. Davies

That may be true, but I think, in this case, my plants appreciated the phone-a-friend. I learned that grapevines produce best when pruned while dormant and the weather is still cold. In my area, that means late February.

I remember the first time I clipped away at the vines (which look more branch-like than vine-like at that time of year). I thought to myself how the practice must seem to the plant. Here they were, having barely survived the harshness of winter, they then forced to suffer further as their limbs were hacked away.

During such times, I imagine that if my grapes were people, they might cry at how unfair their life was compared to that of the blackberry. If they were religious fruit, they might also wonder if they were being tested and rage against their gardener. I understand what it must seem like for them, but still, I continue snipping away in the cold of winter year after year, not because of some cruel game, but because I care. I do this so that when summer finally arrives, they will be the best they can be.

“In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends.” –  John Churton Collins

grapevine

in between the heart-shaped leaves, tiny buds that will one day transform into the most delicious jam are already appearing

And when summer does arrive, the situation in my garden is quite different. My blackberries, having produced small clusters of berries in the spring are only shadows of their former glory. Several of the vines, hunched over, touching the ground under the weight their leaves, as small as they are, are more brown than green and most vines will be forced to give away to the next generation of shoots now breaking through the dirt’s surface on either side.

“When you’re green, you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you rot.” – Ray Kroc

My grapevines, however, will remain strong even under the weight of heavy bunches of fruit. The fruit itself will be protected from the cruel sun by gorgeous full leaves wider than a handspan or two, but not so protected they cannot ripen fully thanks to their vine’s earlier sacrifice. Meanwhile, tendrils of new vines, still growing, will stretch and twist around nearby surfaces, as much the bully in their newfound success as the blackberry once was.

The point is my grapevine should not envy my blackberry for its easy start (as tempting as that might be at the time). The grapevine that experienced and overcame hardship will bear fruit much longer. It will be made stronger in a way the blackberry, by its very nature, will never appreciate nor understand. That grapevine will become capable of withstanding the next extreme with a confidence felt to its roots, returning year after year in steady growth while others might rise quickly only to fall. It’s a lesson, and eventual outcome, I try to keep in mind when dealing with my own hardship or two.

While both plants produce their own delicious fruit in their own season, in terms of success per individual vine, there really is no comparison.

quotes courtesy of http://www.brainyquote.com

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28 thoughts on “A tale of two vines – how hardship led to better growth

  1. You tell that Oscar – what does he know about weather, anyway?
    Interesting thoughts on vines. Another bit of trivia about grape vines: grapes that are growing in rich soil and get lots of water produce a ton of leaves, but possibly not much fruit, and/or the fruit is large and watery. The best wine grapes (so I’m told) grow in crappy soil with not much water – they’ll be small and have not as many fruit clusters per vine, but the flavour will be really intense.
    You could probably spin more metaphor out of that… Or not, and just enjoy the grapes. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mine are the concord variety and so aren’t the best for wine making, but the jelly we make from them is absolutely amazing. I also harvest the leaves and give them to a neighbor who uses them in a yummy middle eastern dish as a wrap which she then shares.

      I’ll keep the idea in mind! I do so love a good metaphor.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, yes, concords are amazing for jelly!! I’ve even managed to make jelly without boughten pectin from those, just grape juice and sugar. And the smell is just astonishing – sometimes when they’re ripe, just walking past the vine gets you a nose full of that stereotypical “grape” scent; you’d almost think it was fake. 🙂
        I’ve tried making wine from concords when a neighbour had a bumper crop. It was terrible – paint stripper comes to mind. And it doesn’t even make decent wine vinegar! 😛
        Oh, and I use the leaves in making dill pickles – one leaf per jar; supposedly it helps keep the pickles crisp.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I am going to need to check back with you at the end of this summer, we’ve only used pectin. I love the smell too.

        That sounds like one of my friend’s (another grape grower) earliest attempts at wine making. We still shudder at the memory of those early batches.

        I’m not a pickle fan, but my husband is. He’ll have to try it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I too love growing stuff in our back yard, especially fruit. For us the problem was drought and water restrictions. We got 0 grapes last year, and I can’t remember if any strawberries. Maybe two? Equally low on the black and raspberries. Now that the drought has ended, I’m hopeful for a good crop! (Anything will be better than last year.) Best of luck to you! Looking fwd to pics of full bushes! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • We would have starved last year had we been forced to rely entirely on our garden. The deer demolished our bean crop and I might have harvested a whopping two blueberries in between the apparently all-you-can-eat bird buffet. But the grapes make a fantastic jelly.

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      • bummer about the animals. And you made jelly! Wow! Impressive. We just eat ours, or try to before the Japanese beetles get them. Right now something is eating our radishes and spinach. (I don’t mind if they eat the radishes, personally.) I’m hoping they’ll leave the lettuce alone.

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      • Yes, the deer. We don’t have them here, but I can only imagine. We have twice caught sight of a raccoon sauntering through our yard, though. Not sure what the cheeky fellow was up to. Also a skunk a few times, which we left well enough alone. It might be the culprit. Although the gophers will simply make our plants disappear through a hole in the ground. That’s the oddest thing. They’ll be a plant there one day. Next all that’s left is a hole. It’s like Twilight Zone. The little buggers! They’re almost as bad as the actually little buggers! 🙂

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  3. I’ve never tried to grow fruit, although if I did I’d start with blackberries because I’ve heard that they’re easy to grow. Grape vines are beautiful to look at. Of course I may be fantasizing about the grapes turning into wine more than seeing the actual vines in front of me. Love the Ray Kroc quote. So true.

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  4. Blackberries are definitely agnostic. They are wild and ramble everywhere, sending up shoots all over the place. But they are delicious, so they can be forgiven. I have wild, thorny one growing along my creek bank, I can only pick a few because they ramble down the steep bank, where the snakes hide, so the birds enjoy the fruit feast mostly.

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    • Ha! I’m glad you view them the same as I do. Mine are thornless which is nice for picking, but to be honest, I prefer my in-laws wild and thorny variety for flavor. I guess that extra defiance makes them taste sweeter.

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  5. Blackberries out here are so abundant, nobody grows them – they grow wild everywhere, even where they are not wanted. In fact, they’re considered an invasive species. Granted, a delicious invasive species, but still. I have memories of chopping down the plants and hacking them up, only to find runners popping through the middle of my lawn afterwards. Having said that, I do love berries – especially blueberries and strawberries, both of which are probably two months away yet for us.

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    • I can see how they would be considered that. My in-laws place is covered in the wild brambles, but to your point, they are oh so delicious.

      I grow blueberries and strawberries too, but neither of those plants speak to me quite so clearly as the sibling rivalry that is my vines.

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