Touring a lake home back in May, I walked around the side, through large flower beds filled with shrubs and bushes that passed me in height. The most heavenly scent filled the air. I stopped and asked the realtor, 'what is that wonderful smell?' A tall 'bush' next to me was covered with small flowers and I leaned in, determining that the scent did indeed come from this plant, but having no idea what it was. It's surprising how big a difference there is in what will grow from point A to point B when you have over a thousand miles in between. I knew we didn't grow these back East.
The realtor , who toook great pride in his tomatoes, and had actually driven me over to his own house to check them out, didn't know much about flowers but told me he'd ask the home owner. 'Oleander' was my answer. I'd heard of it before. Even the sound of it conjures up southern thoughts, older ladies in flowerdy dresses, stockings and prim hats perched atop their heads, having lunch together, which would include sipping tea on sun porches. In spite of the lovely mental picture I conjured up, the realtor told me the plant is very poisonous, the leaves, the flowers, all of it. A few leaves ingested will kill a small pet.
Soon after that I was back at home, on the phone with a Texas resident. She told me she'd brought home a load of plants from the nursery and one of them was oleander. Oleander to plant outside her children's bedroom windows, because it smells heavenly, and apparently it grows quickly to a height that produces shade or privacy. I asked her about the poisonous issue and she told me if the dog was dumb enough to chew on it then she would be minus a dog or two, and that wasn't necessarily a bad thing in her book. She assured me her children know better than to chew on yard plants and, just in case, she feeds them regularly enough that they won't be getting that desperately hungry.
It ends up our newly purchased, one acre plus homestead has four huge oleander bushes. Standing like sentinel soldiers, they line the sidewalk next to the sea wall. Taller than me, they somewhat block the view of the lake. Having cried 'Uncle' to the August heat, they didn't sport blooms. Much like those ladies I'd envisioned sipping tea, it was just too hot to strut their stuff. Any sassy shows had been on display back in May when the heat was less intense. I'm sure I would have recognized that aroma the second time around.
The dilemma. Do I keep the plants and enjoy the delicious smell of their blossoms coming up across the yard on a summer day? Should I chop them down, ensure the safety of our grandkids and all the four-leggeds who own us, while opening up the view, but miss the party a few of our five senses would be enjoying if we leave them there? I have to imagine the previous lady of the house would be horrified to think we'd chop down the oleanders she lovingly planted there, and as I'll be leaving behind bed upon bed of beautiful perennials, praying the next owner will love them for me, there's a sense of respect and responsibility to treasure what she trusted to my care.
Surely I can teach the grandchildren that the tall, wonderful smelling plants are off-limits. Maybe they make Officer Ug Poison labels in extra large, ones that will stick to tree bark? And how many pets do we have? How many leaves would a ninety pound beast have to eat to bite the dust, literally? One of them once consumed half a chocolate cake, supposedly deadly, and nary a burp passed his lips, so maybe he'd have a tolerance for oleander foliage?