Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a nice, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Aunt Lillibet put on her gardening gloves and collected her pruning saw and her snippers. “Come on, Benson, we’ve got some pruning to do,” she said. “The wisteria needs cutting back.”
“Can I have a go this time?” Benson said, hoping he could talk Aunt Lillibet into letting him have a go of the snippers.
“You can collect up all the pieces I prune off,” said Aunt Lillibet. This wasn’t Benson’s plan, but he was prepared to be patient.
The wisteria was growing all over the side fence. In spring time it had bunches and bunches of purple flowers, but right now all the leaves had fallen off and the branches were bare. It had wound itself all over the fence in big tangles. It had even climbed up one of the trees near the fence and wound itself so tightly around the branches that it was pulling the tree down.
Aunt Lillibet went straight to the middle of the vine and started cutting. “Here,” she said to Benson, “grab this and pull!” Benson took hold of the end of the vine she had cut and pulled and pulled. A long viney strand came twisting and curling out of the tree and tangled itself around Benson.
“Don’t play with it,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Coil it up tidily.”
Benson did the best he could to roll the long strand up while it tried to poke him in the eye and tickle him under the arms. After a struggle he managed to wind it up like an untidy hose. It was like fighting a giant wiry worm.
He heard voices behind him and he turned around. His cousin Elmer and his uncle Elton were standing by the gate, chanting, “Two-four-six-eight, chopping trees is what we hate!” Elmer was holding a sign that said, “Green is Great” and Uncle Elton had a sign that said, “Don’t Chop – Stop! Stop! Stop!”
Uncle Elton waved his sign and shouted, “Stop cutting down our native forest! You’re damaging the environment!”
“What are you talking about?” Aunt Lillibet said. “Wisteria isn’t a native species!”
“It’s green, but,” said Elmer. “You can’t just chop up plants because they’re in the way. Plants have rights too, you know.”
Benson could see Aunt Lillibet turning red, and he was afraid something extremely rude was going to come out of her mouth. He said quickly, “We’re not chopping it down, we’re pruning it.”
“It’s the same thing!” yelled Uncle Elton.
“It’s nothing like the same thing,” Aunt Lillibet yelled back, “which you would know, if you knew anything at all about the environment.”
“Yeah!” shouted Benson. Then he said, “Isn’t it?” to Aunt Lillibet.
“Of course not,” said Aunt Lillibet. “Plants like wisteria die back in the winter. They need pruning to get rid of all the old wood and make room for the new growth.”
Uncle Elton said, “I saw you pulling branches off that poor little tea-tree there.”
“That was a length of wisteria that had climbed into the tea-tree and was pulling it down and strangling it,” Lillibet said “Show them, Benson.”
Benson showed them the coil of wisteria vine that they had pulled down. The little tea-tree was standing up straight again, waving its branches happily.
“Oh,” said Uncle Elton. He put his sign down. Elmer put his sign down too.
Aunt Lillibet said, “Are you just going to stand there or are you going to help?”
Elton and Elmer looked at each other and decided to help.
Aunt Lillibet cut heaps off the old vine and tidied it up, so it had plenty of light and air and room to grow back. The boys collected all the bits she pruned off and rolled them up and tied each other up with them and played sword fights with the straight bits.
Elton said, “Are you sure that cutting all this off won’t kill it?”
“No, it will grow back stronger and healthier in the spring,” said Lillibet.
Elton said, “We’ll drag all this over to the compost heap for you.”
Lillibet said, “Hold on.”
She went to the door and called, and Aunt Moss came out. She clapped her hands. “Wisteria vine! Wonderful!” she said,
Aunt Lillibet said, “Why don’t you show them what you do with the old vines, Moss?”
Aunt Moss sat on the grass with some of the shorter, stronger pieces of vine. She crossed them over each other like a star, and then she asked Benson to bring her a long winding strand of vine. She wove the longer piece over and under the star pieces, round and round in a circle.
“What are you doing?” asked Uncle Elton.
“I’m making a basket,” said Aunt moss. “Wisteria is very good for basket-weaving. Would you like to try?”
Elmer and Uncle Elton both sat down and had a go. Uncle Elton enjoyed it very much, although his basket had big holes in one side and was wonky on the other side. Elmer got a bit tired of it and he and Benson pretended they were fishing instead, and then they made a giant birds’ nest and pretended one of them was a baby chick and one of them was an eagle and then they were a snake trying to eat the baby chick and the mother eagle chasing it away.
Uncle Elton asked if he could take some wisteria home with him to do some more basket-weaving. Aunt Lillibet gave him heaps and heaps to take home.
“Maybe I could try growing my own,” Uncle Elton said.
Aunt Lillibet said, “You could do that. So long as you remember to prune it every year.”