What happens when you plant a bunch of grapevines on a steep, fertile, well-drained slope and then ignore them for a few years?
They grow. Along with other things.
I can't even remember exactly when we planted the grapevines, but I know we had the best intentions: we would let the wee slips establish themselves for a while and then pound in some metal fence-posts and tie up some baling twine and train the vines to grow along this homemade arbor. Our little vineyard would eventually cover the steep unmowable slope stretching between the berry patch and the driveway.
But somehow we got distracted. One summer someone (possibly me) weed-whacked that whole slope, including the grapevines. The next summer someone (definitely me) weed-whacked the slope while someone else located the grapevines and held them up out of harm's way.
One summer we had a wedding and surgery, and the next summer we were recovering from cancer treatment. Occasionally I would glance at that overgrown hillside and wonder whether any grapevines could survive the onslaught of weeds, but mostly I didn't think about them at all.
But that didn't stop them from growing. I knew we needed to address the grapevine issue when the vines starting snaking their way across the driveway. From above, the whole patch looked like a riot of tall weedy green with the occasional grape leaf lifting its head above the fray; we had no idea what we might find until we hacked our way into the jungle.
And it felt like a jungle out there: with the temperature in the 90s and high humidity, wading into that sea of weeds put me in mind of the boat-hauling scene in The African Queen, except with horseflies instead of leeches. Weeds make miserable flyswatters, as the welts on my legs would attest.
We found ironweed up to our eyeballs, multiflora roses reaching out to scratch our legs, a few small poison ivy plants hiding amidst the weeds--and grapevines, many of them, climbing among the weeds to form a huge matted mess of foliage. We pulled weeds and followed vines until we'd isolated the source, and we worked on pounding in posts and tying up twine until stormclouds rolled in. The last place anyone wants to be in a lightning storm is out on a hillside pounding on metal fenceposts.
So we left the job half done, but we'll get to the rest of it soon. With a little pruning and some TLC, those grapevines ought to eventually recover from the years of neglect. I look forward to the day when we'll pick our first grapes, but meanwhile, you'd better be careful. It's a jungle out there.