“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
C.S. Lewis

There is an old fashioned vine that goes by the name of “love in a puff” or “balloon vine.” Its Latin name Cardiospermum means heart-seed and for good reason. Hidden within its small greenish balloons are three black seeds, each emblazoned with a white heart. This scrambling vine is native to Tropical America and isn’t showy at all. As a matter a fact, it’s considered invasive in the United States. However, throughout history, particularly during the Victorian “language of flowers” days, it was grown for its hidden love.

As a garden writer and public speaker, folks know many things about my life. So my followers are aware that I deeply loved a number of people and animals in the past including my grandparents, Marie Daly, Flora Ann Bynum, my sweet rat terrier Rosie, and my incorrigible Jack Russell, Lily.

Loving has taught me two important things in life. First, as written in the bible: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” Those that truly loved me, loved me unconditionally, and vice versa. They didn’t care who I was or what I did and no matter what, I still loved them. Of course nobody is perfect, heck far from it. There are arguments, disappointments, failed expectations, snarling and biting, etc. Thankfully, true love heals them all. It literally smothers them to death until they disappear into a distant puff.

As anybody who has ever loved has learned, the more you love something, the more pain you experience when it’s gone. To this day I can barely mention a lost loved one in a talk without choking up. This naturally makes one question whether to ever love again. Lesson number two in life: Although who (or what) you love may die, the love itself never does. It can be locked away, but true love is permanent.

This all brings us back to our lowly little love in a puff vine. As Aristotle once said, “In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” I have grown to know that if one is only patient and observant, nature can teach much about life and death, love and loss.

First, like our weedy little vine, love can be a tangled mess. It’s also not very showy. If one doesn’t seek its inner beauty, there would be no love at all for this botanical oddity. If you listen to the counsel of others, you’ll likely hear advice like, “Don’t plant it because it’s uncontrollable.” “It’s not pretty.” “It’s just going to die when it freezes.” But we are all going to die, right? So why live at all?

We live because our hearts want to live. Love in a puff is a weed because more than anything in life, it loves to live. Our little heart vine spreads it’s love exponentially, one balloon at a time with its three hidden hearts. Though most wouldn’t even recognize it, love in a puff scrambles for attention desperately wishing that somebody would see deep into its heart. Most will never see it and if they did, most would never appreciate it. But it doesn’t matter, because like love itself, the little vine-that-could will live on, spreading its seed three at a time.

Most gardeners are very guilty of demanding too much from their plants. We want them pretty all the time, we want them permanent, and we want them pest and maintenance free. We don’t want them to die but at the same time we don’t want them too vigorous. In other words, we want them to be perfect. You can wish, hope, and demand all you want, but just as there is no perfect person, there’s no perfect plant either. And for heaven’s sake, don’t listen to anybody else about who or what to love. I was brought up with a disdain for East Texas pine trees, for their troublesome sap, needles, cones, broken limbs and because they are omnipresent. But heck, they are a part of me and I love them dearly. What would the Pineywoods and my existence be without them?

Throughout my gardening life I’ve learned to love plants as a whole, not as individual parts. Some people get so carried away picking and choosing individual characteristics like they were ordering from a menu. I’ve heard it all: “I don’t want live oaks because the leaves all fall off in the spring.” “I hate crapemyrtles because they drop petals all summer.” “I don’t grow crinums because their foliage touches the ground.” Good heavens. Just shut up and love something! I love some of my plants only because of who gave them to me or where I got them. And let’s face it: just like people some plants are loud and obnoxious while others are wallflowers. Some are timid while others are rambunctious. And of course, they come in all colors. None of these traits make them bad plants. To be quite honest, all plants are good plants. You should love them all. They cool the planet, they cleanse water and prevent erosion, they give us food and energy, and they provide us life giving oxygen. So, give them all a break, appreciate them, and share the love. Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours. -Greg