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Wonderful Wisteria

As spring approaches, I am starting to really look forward to my journey back from work, which takes in several magnificent Wisterias, one of which covers a huge Georgian house and is truly amazing.

I remember as a young child, I loved staying with my aunt in Sussex. The house was covered with a vast Wisteria, which I could climb into as the trunk and branches was so huge. Now, whenever I catch a whiff of the beautiful perfume I am transported back to my younger days.

The most important thing to remember about Wisteria is to always stay one step ahead of it, in other words, do not let it get out of control or it will wind its way up drainpipes, and into roofs and anywhere it can reach. I have spent too many hours up very tall ladders retrieving wayward wisterias from the upper reaches of various houses in Bath! If possible keep them where you can at least reasonably reach them safely from a short ladder – or get someone in to prune who is unafraid of heights!

Wisteria is a genus of woody vines that originate from Japan, China and Korea as well as the eastern USA. The most commonly found varieties include Wisteria sinensis, Chinese Wisteria and Wisteria floribunda, Japanese Wisteria. They are generally fully hardy but you might find that early flower buds can be damaged by frosts.

They do need something strong and secure to grow on. Over time the stems and branches get very thick and will crush trellis or thinner timber structures. They benefit from having a strong pergola structure or metal framework. It is worth thinking ahead when you plan a Wisteria and imagining how it will look in several years time, therefore do give it plenty of space as well as support.

They like to be planted with their roots in the cool and preferably on a sunny wall where they will reach the warmth, make sure to include plenty of rotted manure or compost and add an annual mulch as they like their food, and will benefit from feeding with liquid feed in the spring. Prune Wisteria first in January or February, cutting back the long whippy growth to two buds and take out any dead bits. It can sometimes be quite hard to determine what is dead and what is not dead at this time of year, but anything without any dark buds on is normally dead. You can also assess whether the wire or framework is holding up and re-tie in anything. I prefer to use tarred string for this job, as it is soft and yet strong and is not damaging to the stems, it also lasts a few seasons before needing to be replaced. Using wire to tie in often results in the wisteria growing around the wire and this can damage the plant. Tie the stems to the framework and keep standing back to get an overview to make sure the whole plant is not too congested with growth from the previous year.

Once your wisteria has finished flowering, around July or August give the long stems another trim back to five buds and tie in if necessary.

Wisteria can look stunning grown into a tree, but make sure to plant it a few feet away from the base of the trunk and on the south side of the tree. As standards they grow well in either the ground or a container. Start by putting a strong support next to the plant to train it over and prune back side-shoots eventually creating a lollipop effect. Remember that if you are using a container to start off with a cheap plastic one and move the wisteria into a bigger pot as it grows larger.

Iford Manor has some particularly fantastic wisteria planted as standards and it’s well worth visiting there in May or June to see them. They line the entranceway into the main house and lead the visitor up a path to the loggia.

Wisteria have the reputation of being tricky to grow and maintain but with a bit of know-how they certainly give back what you put in.

A short back and sides

The pruning and shaping of shrubs and trees is an art that stretches back to ancient times. There are Roman texts which mention the use of precision clipped box hedges as well as amazing sculptures, described by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia, showing such wonders as ships in sail or entire hunting scenes…