The Long Growth: There to Here; Green to Gold

“I looked it up–we need to get a male and a female,” Richard said as we stood over the muscadine vines at Cofer’s. I picked up a gallon size bucket with a thin green vine growing inside. I held it up above my head and looked at the bottom. “This one must be female.” I picked up another container. “Shoot, this one must be too…nothing dangling under here!”

He shook his head and smiled at my silliness. “Seriously, how do you tell the difference?”

He stretched out the narrow white label that was tied around the base of the vine. “Here we go–this one has an M. Look for an F.”

We paid a lot of money for those straggling vines. That afternoon, we planted them on either side of the small archway in the backyard that had been built by a previous owner. I remember wondering if the plants would be close enough for the male and the female to matter or if the vines needed to intertwine. Once the roots were buried in the clay, the vines barely reached to the bottom of the trellis. We tied them up with some twine and left nature to do its thing.

Muscadine vine, 13 years later.

Muscadine vine, 13 years later.


Its slow, slow thing. Nature’s veeeeery slow thing.

Richard died before ever getting to taste a muscadine from those vines. We stood under that bare archway after our wedding, with vines that still hadn’t reached waist high. I neglected the yard that summer, and the next. But the vines kept growing.

It took years for them to creep up and cover the top of the archway, their male and female tendrils twining together at last. After about five years, I spotted tiny fruit, but the birds got every grape.

I’ve never pruned it, fertilized it, watered it, nothing. Just let it be. One autumn, when the leaves changed color, I noticed that the muscadine vines had grown all up in the redbud tree next to the arch. All that growing, at long last.

But last weekend, while cleaning the pool, the light hit the vines just so and revealed heavy bunches of golden grapes. I couldn’t stop smiling. I stood under the dark shade of the covered arch and ate those sweet muscadines right off the vine. I made a basket with the tail of my t-shirt and picked all I could reach.

Muscadines are wild grapes; scuppernongs are the golden variety.

Muscadines are wild grapes; scuppernongs are the golden variety.

That thick pop of the skin and the sudden sweetness. When I was a kid, I used to buy a pint of scuppernongs every year at the Cotton Pickin’ Fair from Owens Vineyard. Back then, I’d enjoy the juice then spit out the pulp to avoid the seeds. I’m older and wiser now, and as I stood there in the shade of those vines we planted thirteen years ago, I enjoyed every bit of the grape.

It takes a while.

Back then I was young and willing to trust that this would lead to that. You look things up, you read the label, you plant things on the sunny side and you wait. And wait and wait and wait. I got swamped by life for all those years and I lost sight of the idea of grapes that we had entertained over a decade ago. During the growth years and the bird years and the years I was too busy with babies to worry about what was going on in my own backyard.

Then one Saturday I taste the sweetness that we had planted so long ago. From there to here. From green to gold. From all of that…to sweetness.

You just have to hold on and keep growing. It takes longer than I ever imagined.

Scuppernong tendrils

Scuppernong tendrils

2 thoughts on “The Long Growth: There to Here; Green to Gold

  1. Chris

    Oh, Ashley, such a lovely tale, happy and heart-breaking all at once. I’m hoping to see you Wednesday at the Center for a hug.

    Just considering the bare bones of the story, waiting for something wonderful for a long time, I have another story about plants.

    Where I grew up, lilac flowers in the spring were so fragrant and so plentiful that I truly missed them when we moved to the South. There was a lilac bush in the side yard where pictures were taken every Easter, and there was another lilac bush that grew closer to my second floor window every year. As an adult, I moved away, but lived in Illinois for about eight more years and I never thought about missing the lilacs.

    In Athens, when we finally had a house with a yard, I checked. Lilacs need about three weeks of below zero weather to thrive according to a search or two and my Southern Living guide.

    When I saw my first wisteria, I willed it to be just a different way that lilacs decided to grow. (Every spring I make my dogwood and wisteria trips around town.) I bought one and planted it about twenty feet from the porch, and next to a fence. It grew and grew. It came up everywhere. Where I had flowers planted, the wisteria would send up shoots to flourish among them. It popped up through the ivy and just stood there. It grew on the fence and up a tree, but the roots it spread had become a nuisance. They came up everywhere. I was beginning to think of it as a weed. No flowers, so maybe I had a one-sex vine! Years went by, kids grew up and left, we retired and decided to build a house. The spring before we moved, the wisteria vine had six flowers on it, so high I couldn’t even pick them. But they were there! I got a ladder.

    The people who bought our house cut down everything– trees, vines, fences, grass, bushes — everything. The yard looks nice. They planted a different kind of grass and small artfully placed flower beds, new bushes. It looks lovely, but I wonder if that wisteria is still there under everything waiting to push through all that landscaping. I hope so.


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