I knew I was in trouble the night my guests arrived wearing pith helmets. It's fine to have fronds in high places, if you don't let them get in your hair.
It all started when I acquired a large dog with a deceptively gentle air and jaws that could demolish anything at ground level, including the birdbath and a stone turtle. I decided a little high living was the answer--hanging containers.
I looked about at the low-hanging tree branches, the sturdy posts and crossbars of the metal awning, the latticed end of the terrace, all waiting to be hung from, hooked onto and draped over. In the next few months the crowded skies took on new meaning in my garden.
As the days grew longer, so did the hanging plants. I couldn't bear to trim them back, and Sam the gardener said Nature knew what she was about; hanging plants were meant to hang. There were a few minor inconveniences. The donkey tail could deliver a smart slap to my head when the wind was from the east; and there was the night when a guest experienced a temporary loss of hair after his toupee encountered a cascading geranium.
The gardener, who is of the Mow, Blow and Go school, went into acute melancholia when he learned he was expected to hand-water all things overhead. He assigned the chore to his helper, who disappeared into the jungle of spider plants (2 feet long), Boston ferns (3 feet), rosary vines (2 1/2 feet) and donkey tail (18 inches) and was never seen again.
So I bought a ladder. Nightly, with watering pot and spray bottle and with snippers hung on twine around my neck, I moved through the dense growth, watering the plants that must be kept moist at all times, spraying the humidity lovers, feeling the soil of those that must dry out between waterings and snipping off dead fronds and withered blossoms.
As time passed, space became less spacious. I was fast approaching gridlock in the garden. The friends who had loved to see my garden seemed to have lost interest in horticulture.
I realized the time had come to trim my overhead and color-code the inventory. I made a list of all the hanging plants. That took a while. Then I noted their watering and feeding preferences. Next I worked out a color code. For that, I bought a supply of the little round colored stickers sold at stationery stores. I tacked up the color code on the terrace:
Red--Let dry out between waterings
Purple--Spray to increase humidity
On the side of each plant container I pressed the applicable color stickers that corresponded to the code. This system is effective with any container plants, of course--indoors or out, suspended or on a surface. And it is invaluable when you go away and must leave the care of plants to non-gardening house sitters.
Now there remained only the drastic step I had come to think of as "the cut direct." Clippers in hand, I moved purposefully toward the mass of swinging, swaying, twisting vines, tendrils and fronds. But first, I paused and glanced over my shoulder to be sure I was unobserved. Then I did what I had resisted for so long, through a sense of dignity and propriety:
"Simba!" I yelled, and plunged into the jungle.
It was a nostalgic moment that almost changed my mind. But not quite. Hanging out with fronds will never replace human companionship.