The phone call was from Maureen, my cousin who shares he home with a menagerie of pets and plants. Maureen sounded happy, also relieved.
"I found a home for my schefflera!" she exclaimed.
Great, I said, but will it have room to run?
I thought schefflera was a breed of dog. Silly me, it's an indoor tree. However, this particular specimen is larger than a Great Dane.
The schefflera, or umbrella tree, had grown so big that Maureen could no longer care for it. Not that she hadn't tried. When it outgrew the house, she moved it onto the porch. When it outgrew the porch, she dragged it to the office.
When the tree outgrew the office, she put it up for adoption. Wanted: Home for 6-foot "houseplant."
Parting with the schefflera would be hard for Maureen, who raised it from a seedling. But what are gardeners to do when houseplants take over the house? Raise the roof?
The tree has thrived since Maureen rescued it from a discount store 10 years ago. She took it home, cradling the tiny thing in her arms.
"It was 6 inches tall and kind of cute," she said.
She fed, watered and bathed the tree. She talked to it. She changed its pot.
Pampered so, the schefflera began to grow . . . and grow . . . and grow. Not as fast as Jack's beanstalk, but a giant still.
Maureen tried to cope with the tree's rampant growth. She raced around town, buying larger and larger containers for its massive root ball. She spent as much time cleaning the tree's handsome foliage as she did her windows.
Each summer, she tugged the tree onto the porch to give it some fresh air and her family, a break. The living room seemed spacious with the schefflera outside. The tree's pot was huge; squirrels buried acorns in the soil. Several oaks were found growing there.
At 5 1/2 feet, the schefflera was evicted from the living room. Maureen had no choice. "There was no room for our new furniture," she said. "It came down to a chair or the tree, and you can't sit on a tree."
Maureen shoved the tree into the bedroom, amid howls of protest. "The dogs lost one of their prime sleeping spots," she said. Another problem: The tree's girth made it difficult to reach the dresser without climbing over the bed.
Clearly, the tree was on shaky ground.
Next stop: the office.
"My boss mentioned that she wanted a tree to place near the front door," Maureen said. "It was perfect. It was Kismet."
Taking the tree to work wasn't easy. The schefflera, robust as ever, was in a pot filled with 50 pounds of soil. But Maureen managed with the help of her firm's mini-van.
Once again, the tree landed on its feet, in a sunny locale near Maureen's own desk.
"I was happy because, in effect, I had kept my tree," she said. "I talked to it while cleaning the leaves with a dry cloth. And every week I filled the office coffee pot with water and gave it a drink."
The schefflera kept growing and topped 6 feet this summer, around the time Maureen's company decided to move to another building. With lower ceilings.
Alas, the tree would have to pick up roots again.
Maureen was on the phone immediately, lining up prospects. She called hotels, schools and libraries; colleges, malls and hospitals. She made lists of buildings with high ceilings that might take her tree.
She chose a retirement community in Catonsville, partly because it has a plant-maintenance crew. The schefflera is reportedly thriving in a bright, glassy dining area with ceilings any tree would envy. Maureen is happy for it.
At least one of them misses the other.
"The day they took the tree, I was really depressed," Maureen said. "I went back to my desk and looked at that big bare spot. But then I thought, at least my tree has a good home. And they said I could visit it any time."
Meanwhile, there's another schefflera in her life, a 2-foot specimen that is already causing havoc in the house.
"Come spring, this tree is going to need a much bigger pot," Maureen said, smiling.
"The saga continues."