We were given a Hoya plant as a wedding gift several decades ago. The Hawaiian friend who introduced us brought us a cutting of her prized Hoya, promising that it would yield exquisite, aromatic yellow flowers “when the time is right.” She told us to be patient—it was a rare cultivar—and like marriage, it would improve with age.
I set it in a recommended sunny spot, and for a few months it showed promise. But quickly, leaves started turning brown, so I moved it to shade. There it sat for several years, unchanged, without a hint of bloom. I decided to train it up the deck posts, (it is a vine after all) outside the bedroom window. I imagined being surprised by its professed fragrance some wonderful morning. By all accounts, it was a bloom worth waiting for.
Our fifth anniversary came and went, then the seventh, tenth, eighteenth. Over the years, the Hoya had grown thick and heavy, unable to wrap or cling like vines are supposed to. I tried stapling the branches up along the wood posts, hoping to guide it toward the light. But instead of climbing, it stooped. By now, my pride was involved, along with a superstitious concern for the symbolism of a wedding gift that refused to bloom.
I googled ‘Hoya.’ Not surprisingly, there are Hoya websites, Hoya clubs, and Hoya chat rooms. Like orchids, the plant has an impressive following, due to its supposedly intoxicating aromas and spectacular colors. From Minneapolis to Tehachepi, people spend hours online gloating about how they got their precious wax flower, aka asclepiadaceae, to perform.
I took notes, tried changing soil, fertilizing, watering more, watering less, but nothing changed. Except that it developed a nasty infestation of yellow bugs that enjoyed feasting on the fresh new tips. I sprayed it with an organic mixture of olive oil, castile soap and water, tried removing the crawling yellow dots with a soft cloth, and even hit it with some toxic stuff out of sheer desperation. Still, the yellow bugs survived.
The time finally came to give up on it. We were about to celebrate our twentieth and I felt like I had been more than patient. All of our inevitable marriage kinks had long been smoothed out and still this sucker refused to bloom. Since I couldn’t bring myself to toss it into the compost, I opted for a more passive aggressive approach. I carefully removed the staples that held its massive bug-infested limbs to the deck posts, cut it back considerably, and set it way out in the corner, where only the jade tree and cactus grow.
It took les than a week to die. Symbol or no symbol, I’ve got better things to do.
In its place, I planted the most mundane and predictable of vines—solanum jasminoides—and in a few weeks, it has already shot up to the top of the wall, wrapping itself like a dancer around the deck posts, offering a delicate bow of gentle white flowers at each bend.
It’s a hard lesson in gardening, but sometimes you just have to know when to nurture, and when to let go.