- Algerian Ivy:
The back of the house and half the front were covered with ivy in about a three foot thickness. It grew at about an inch a day. Dark chambers inside the ivy contained black widow spiders, rats, ants, grass fleas, worms, and probably gigantic poisonous snakes. The ivy secreted ichor that melted paint and stuck to everything. Stuff rolled into the ivy caves and didn’t come back, especially toys. Anything that spent time in the ivy turned into a damp, foul-smelling version of itself. My earliest garden chore was trimming back the ivy and prying the more tenacious bits off the stucco and concrete with a dull table knife. When my father finally decided that the ivy had to go, an army of landscaping guys with power tools, chemicals, and fire spent a week fighting it. To this day the smell of Algerian ivy makes me slightly ill. I noticed last week that our neighbor’s ivy is crawling over our garden shed towards the house. It’s time for chemicals, fire, and power tools.
At one side of the house, looming over the carport driveway, was a gigantic bottlebrush plant. Beautiful red cone-shaped flowers made of a million little hairs stretched out. And oozed some kind of sticky goo that instantly stained any object. When skating into the carport, if I cut it just a little too close I’d sideswipe a bit of bottlebrush and suddenly be coated with Nature’s Pigmented Airplane Glue. It was my job to cut this thing back, and when I did I always got a nice raised rash on my skin everywhere it touched.
- Bird of Paradise:
At the corner of the house seven or eight of these tropical jungle plants lived. Their “flowers” looked like the Toucan Sam of the vegetable kingdom, or like an early prototype for the banana: long pelican beak-like boats of leaves with colorful petals protruding. They slowly produced a stinking greasy liquid which dripped down the plant. As the goo dripped, the “flower” rotted from the inside. Flies and ants gathered, and a miasma of South Sea decay rose into the air. I was assigned to hack off these diseased protuberances and heave them into the trash, in the process covering myself with insects and plant spooge.
This is an awfully pretty bush, with shiny spiky leaves. We had several in the back yard and one in front next to the bottlebrush. Bougainvillea has very long, sharp thorns. As the plant grows older, the thorns get longer, and wider, and stronger. Its blooms and leaves obscure the thorns pretty well, so that when you’re in the process of wiping out on a skateboard you can easily forget, in the heat of the moment, which plant you’re about to belly-flop into. It hurts so, so very much to slam into a bougainvillea, or to be heaved into one by another kid. Hey, guess what one of my other tasks was? I learned very early on to borrow Dad’s gloves when I was told to clip this one.
I liked the cherry tomatoes and the basil and mint I grew. I liked the calla lilies and the tangerine trees and the big pine, and the palm that was a bitch to cut back but big and beautiful. And I even liked the cactus, which was spiky and dangerous but honest about it; you couldn’t fault a cactus for stabbing you, it was your own damned fault. But I still hold grudges about those others.