Throwback Thursday: Long live Grandma's hoya

This #TBT piece by Lisa Carpenter originally published May 9, 2013 on Grandma's Briefs.


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!

Update January 2018: My happy hoya is still going strong, and we look forward to the sweet scent sure to drip and delight this spring.