The beautiful pendant-like blooms of Wisteria climbers make them a must for your spring garden.
Wisteria are vigorous climbers, which can reach great heights by twining their way up a support. With regular pruning, it’s possible to grow them in suburban gardens where they’re a breathtaking sight when in flower in late spring to early summer.
WHY WE’RE WILD ABOUT WISTERIA
Wisteria are climbers for all seasons. In spring or early summer, their bare stems are festooned with masses of pendant-like flower spikes, called racemes, in shades of lavender, bluish-purple, mauve and white. As the flowers fade, new greeny-bronze leaves emerge, which turn a soft fresh green colour as they mature. In autumn, before the leaves fall, Wisterias turn a wonderful golden yellow especially in colder regions. The velvet seed pods are another attractive feature.
Wisterias are very versatile. Allow them to drape themselves over a fence or guide them upwards to cover a garden arbour or arch. You can also train Wisterias as a standard tree or as an espalier on a stone or brick wall. As Wisterias are deciduous and lose their leaves, they let the winter sun shine onto patios, terraces and into the house. They’re long lived and many reach a great age.
TYPES TO TRY
The best known varieties are Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis), which produces shortish racemes tightly packed with sweetly-scented flowers, and the Japanese wisteria (W. floribunda), which has longer, looser racemes and smaller flowers. However there are also some excellent named cultivars, in deeper colours, shades of pink and even with a double flower, which are worth asking your nursery to order for you.
WHERE TO PLANT
Wisteria need well-drained, fertile soil; plant them in deep, well-prepared holes to which compost, superphosphate and bone meal have been added.
Although they prefer full sun, they will tolerate some shade but may not flower as abundantly.
In windy areas, they require some protection from the winds that prevail at flowering time to prevent too many blossoms from being blown off.
In areas where severe, late frosts occur, plant them where they’ll be protected from the early morning sun; this will help to prevent the flowers from being damaged by the frost.
Water regularly until well established, especially during the flowering period.
In summer rainfall areas wisteria are relatively drought tolerant, but they need to be watered in summer in winter rainfall areas.
Feed lightly after flowering in early spring and again in winter. Use a phosphorus-rich fertiliser to encourage the formation of flowers, rather than too much foliage.
Wisteria can be grown from seed and cuttings. However, those propagated by layering plants which have been grafted will flower much sooner; you’re also more assured of the flower colour.
Take care when digging near wisterias as they resent their roots being cut.
DID YOU KNOW?
- One of the most famous displays of wisteria in the world is at the artist Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny near Paris, where W. floribunda ‘Shiro Noda’ has been trained on the railings of the Japanese bridge.
- The largest flowering plant is a wisteria planted in 1894 at Sierra Madre, California. It’s been named one of the seven wonders of the horticultural world and covers an acre.
- Prince William’s in-laws, Michael and Carole Middelton, have a wisteria growing on their veranda.
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CREDITS: Text: Marianne Alexander, some photographs: Marianne Alexander and Nigel Mudge