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    Long live Grandma's hoya

    hoya plant

    I've never been very good at growing houseplants. Because of that, I felt quite nervous and unduly obligated when the care of an elderly houseplant was informally included in the deal when we bought our current house nearly five years ago.

    The sellers told us upon our agreement to buy the house that they were leaving the plant they had inherited when they bought the house, a plant started by the original homeowners when the house was built in 1975. Story was, according to the sellers — who had no information on what the plant was, only a stern warning to not let it die — that the plant bloomed only once a year and "thrived on neglect." I'm pretty good at neglecting plants, yet I still worried about my ability to make it thrive.

    Soon after we moved into this house, Jim and I hosted an open house for our previous neighbors so they could see why we left them and the street where we thought we'd live forever. While explaining the plant story to one of the former neighbors, an older German woman who always had interesting stories to tell, informed us the plant was a hoya. She seemed rather excited about it, but not being much of a houseplant person — and definitely not knowing a darn thing about hoyas — I smiled, just happy that we finally knew what the plant was.

    Our first couple years living here, the hoya never bloomed. It did stay alive, though, growing like mad. (I apparently neglected it correctly.) The darn thing stretched across our dining room window with tendrils offering nothing more than creepy fingers that reached farther and farther toward the far wall. I eventually had to cut back those wild fingers that had overtaken window and wall. I was fairly certain I had done the poor plant in.

    Soon after my over-zealous trimming, the elderly wife of the now-deceased builder and original owner of our home arranged a visit with us. She, sensing her mortality, hoped to see one last time the one-of-a-kind home she (a concentration camp survivor) and her former husband had built after immigrating to the U.S. from Poland. When she visited us, she was escorted by a couple of her adult children and her 20-something granddaughter, all of whom had lived in our house for many years, all of whom had cherished memories of the home their family patriarch had built.

    Two of the daughters, both older than I am, exclaimed upon seeing the flower-less but still very much loved (by them, not me) hoya in the dining room. They asked to please take clippings of it, and I, of course, encouraged them to. The granddaughter excitedly clipped a bit of her grandmother's hoya for herself, too.

    Then, not long after they visited, the hoya bloomed for us for the very first time. It was just one lone bloom that I noticed one day while sitting in the dining room talking to Jim. We couldn't believe it. The flower was lovely, the scent intoxicating. Within a week, the bloom died.

    A year later, the plant bloomed again, this time with a few flowers. Again, they soon died.

    This year? Well, that photo above is our hoya right now. This year it has bloomed better than ever, bursting forth with not only incredible flowers, but literally dripping with a luscious scent that fills nearly all three levels of our house, especially come evening. (Look closely at the photo in the lower left of the collage and you'll see the sticky liquid scent oozing from the blooms.)

    This plant is amazing. I'm now in love with it. I love its story, its blooms, its scent. I love that the previous owners took clippings of it for their homes, for their granddaughter's home, that it's tendrils have stretched far beyond this house.

    On Sunday, when Brianna and Andrea will be here for Mother's Day, I plan to give them cuttings of the happy hoya for their home. Eventually Megan will get a piece of it, too.

    The abundant blooms this year lead me to believe the hoya will continue to thrive, that one day I'll be able to share cuttings from it with my grandsons, just as the granddaughter of the original plant owner carefully clipped from Grandma's hoya to cherish in her own home.

    I hope that granddaughter's hoya clipping has thrived, that it has bloomed and made her smile as she remembered her grandma, who had passed away less than a year after the visit to our house. Perhaps the cuttings I share with my grandsons from Grandma's hoya will one day do the same.

    Long live Grandma's hoya!

    Today's question:

    What memories do you have of your grandmother(s) and plants?

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    Reader Comments (14)

    What a great story and what a wonderful plant! I don't have any memories of my Grandmother and plants but I do remember Daddy telling stories of her plowing fields -- she had a very green thumb but more for feeding the family.

    I think maybe you need to take Megan her cutting -- good excuse to go visit!

    May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGrandma Kc

    Fantastic! I've always admired the abundant vine in your dining room but have never known it would bloom...and with such lovely flowers. Congratulations! You have obviously ignored it properly.

    My memories of my Granny are filled with her flowers--her wisteria, gladiolas, roses,blooming trees and, truly, a whole field of phlox that had gone wild, filling a whole side lot! We always told her that she'd be unhappy if she ever heard of a flower that she didn't have. North Carolina will grow almost any flower known and Granny had them all. She'd want a hoya!

    May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

    Oh, your question is perfectly timed; my blog post scheduled for tomorrow is all about my grandma and African violets!

    May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKristi

    I believe another name for it is wax plant since the blooms look like they are made of wax. I have a hoya I inherited from my mom. :)

    May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJane

    Love this story! However, I'm beginning to think I've lived a sheltered life. I've never heard of a hoya.

    I used to help my Grandmother water her plants..inside and out. As I recall, the most exotic plant on premises was an African violet. I should probably check out Kristi's post :)

    May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNonnieKelly

    Beautiful plant but had to look it up because I'd never heard of it so I learned something new today which is a good thing. I'm an avid outside gardener but not big on house plants, but I do have one that is 35 years old and feel the pressure to not kill it. My grandmother had beautiful perennial flower beds and enjoyed entering some of them in the local Grange Old Home Days. I guess that is why I feel at peace working in my own perennial beds. And, yes, I think Grandma Kc has the right idea.

    I love the story of this plant! My favorite grandma had a few African violets and I think I remember her blowing cigarette smoke on them to discourage some kind of mites. I also was told that one year she "planted" artificial tulips in her yard among the real ones and then calmly accepted all the compliments she received.

    May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBLissed-Out Grandma

    Like all of your beautifully written essays, this one held me at the edge of my seat, wondering what would happen next. I think you are right, that fearless little plant will live on and on, bringing joy to one generation after the next. I think it needed a visit from the ones who truly loved it to get the courage to bloom again. And now YOU are the one who truly loves it and it blooms for you!
    I shouldn't really call the plant an "it." I think she is a girl and would like to have a name - the 4th sister in the family!

    May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

    Obviously a magical plant! Now I want one too but mine wouldn't have such a great story.

    May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarb

    Lisa I remember my mother having the very same plant. If my memory services me correctly it produces droplets of honey. Thanks for the wonderful memory of my Mum Lisa :)

    May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSally Kabak

    What a beautiful story! All plants should have stories. They are living, breathing things and have a beautiful and life of their own that only enhances mine.

    My dad was a great gardener. Growing up, he transformed our dirt backyard (my parents bought a new house with no plantings) and transformed it, by himself, into a thing of beauty.

    When we built our house, he envisioned plantings all about us. He, himself (with some help from my hubby and son) planted many beautiful "specimens" all over our property, and the master of the plan were 16 extraordinary peony trees that line our driveway. People drive by just to see them.

    The peonies are getting ready for their yearly show. Dad is dealing with an illness right now. I want to show him their beauty as soon as they burst. I know it will put a smile on his face.

    Lovely post, Lisa. I really enjoyed this one.

    May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCathy

    What a sweet, sweet story. I only wish we had smell-a-vision!! I have great memories of my Grandma's garden and her peonies. Always lovely.

    Wishing you a wonderful Mother's Day.

    May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRenee Spindle

    Ah such a sweet story! :) My grandmother had flowers and veggies everywhere...Happy Mothers Day ! :)

    May 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdebra @ homespun

    I've never seen this plant before, but it's gorgeous and I want one.

    My grandmother's little country home was surrounded by beautiful plants. In fact, when I think of my granny I see her with her bonnet on in her yard with a hoe. In the spring, the front of her yard would burst with daffodils, jonquils, and lilies. In the summer there were fruit trees and cockscomb and many others.

    May 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVicki Valenta
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