Much of my love of gardening revolves around the anticipation of a single ephemeral event: jasmine's sensual arrival to shout spring; hillsides fleetingly fringed with jacaranda; and wisteria’s short-lived lilac lace.
To sit or stand underneath a flowering wisteria vine in full bloom, gazing through the mauve veil of flowers, inhaling the scent, and listening to the bees is bliss. A wisteria in full beautiful bloom escaping up a random tree will stop traffic, but as we mention here you don't need a garden to grow one.
Wisterias are vigorous, quick-growing vines and Olympic-level training is sometimes required to contain their over-exuberant growth, encourage a good shape and show off the long curtain of flowers. Wisterias can be trained into any shape or style — as waterfall-shaped shrubs, lollipop standards, over sturdy pergolas and archways, along verandas or fences, framing windows, and as bonsai. The key is to grow them tall enough to allow their long flower sprays to hang freely without becoming entangled.
Limited space? Wisteria is a happy camper in a pot on a sunny balcony. We’ve had great success with wisteria trained to grow as a lollipop in a large container – the size of half a wine barrel seems perfect. Select a firm stake or wheel as support. Secure the stem with ties and remove all side shoots until the main stem reaches 1.5-3m (depending on the look you want), then allow the crown to develop. Once the plant starts flowering (after two or three years) it should be pruned immediately after flowering to keep the growth in check.
Softens windows too. Photo - g215/Shutterstock.com
Make a choice
There are Chinese, Japanese and silky wisteria to choose from. There are at least four varieties of the Chinese wisteria, Wisteria sinensis, available in Australia: the common mauve; a darker, reddish purple called 'Amethyst'; a white called 'Alba'; and another white, 'Jako', which is more strongly scented.
There are dozens of varieties of the Japanese wisteria, but most of them differ little from one another. By far the most famous is 'Macrobotrys' (also known as W. floribunda longissima), a name which means 'big cluster'. This name is appropriate as this climber produces pale mauve flowers in clusters often a metre or more long. For this reason it is best grown on a high pergola so that the mass of flowers can be admired from below. Other varieties that are well worth growing are: 'Violacea Plena', a double mauve; 'Kuchibeni', palest lilac pink; 'Honbeni', a stronger pink; 'Royal Purple', a deep mauve; 'Lawrence', which is sky blue rather than mauve; and 'Shiro Noda', a truly magnificent pure white with long clusters. Look out for the deep indigo flowers of 'Black Dragon' (also known as Wisteria floribunda ‘Royal Purple’), whose long scented racemes grow to around 40 cm. This variety will bloom in its third or fifth year.
The silky wisteria, Wisteria venusta, is less familiar but just as stunning. The white variety, 'Shiro Kapitan', has large, heavy-textured flowers that have a much sweeter scent than those of the Japanese and Chinese wisterias. There is also a mauve form, 'Murasaki Kapitan'; a really beautiful pink, 'Showa Beni'; and 'Okayama', which is a deeper mauve than 'Murasaki Kapitan' and is more strongly scented.
Hardy, fast-growing, spring-flowering deciduous climbers need sturdy support. Vines can take five years to flower so buy in flower to guarantee bloom and colour choice.
White and Purple really make this entrance sing. Photo - Michael Warwick/Shutterstock.com
Wisteria need a little winter chill to flower well and gardeners have succeeded in flowering them in coastal areas as far north as Brisbane. In very cold areas, the Japanese and Silky wisterias are the best choice as they can stand lower temperatures than the Chinese kinds.
Wisterias aren't fussy about soil. Keep them well watered after planting until they become established. Apply fertiliser in spring and midsummer until the vine is the size you want. After that it is rarely necessary to do anything other than prune them, as they are free from diseases and pests. The exceptions are those grown under harsh conditions, or in containers. These will need regular applications of water and fertiliser: the plant leaves will let you know what is required.
Caution: overfeeding will produce leaves instead of flowers; pruning later than January will remove flowering shoots.
If I ever wanted to wear a bridal veil, I would want white wisteria. Photo - Fotografiche/Shutterstock.com
After planting, tie the new season's long shoots to the required positions and remove unwanted shoots as they appear. Removing the tips of the long shoots
once they have reached the required length will encourage the development of side shoots. Trim them to size as well. Once the plant has reached the
preferred size and shape, all new shoots should be cut back to two or three leaves. This encourages the development of the short spurs on which many
of the flower buds appear. Suckers and unwanted shoots are best removed when they appear and are young and soft.
The general maintenance of a wisteria usually involves a major prune in late spring or early summer after the first new growth has appeared. This is the time to take any drastic pruning action, if required. Follow up with a less arduous trim about six weeks later, followed by a tidying up of the long shoots produced subsequently. You might also wish to remove the seedpods in winter. This schedule will leave plants in excellent shape to display their blooms in the spring.
Sissinghurst’s wisterias cascade over rosy brick walls, clamber over the pergola and drape themselves over the Priest’s House. Visit in May-early June.
Bud burst. Photo - Sandra Ross
This tunnel made of 150 pink, lilac and purple wisterias is in the Kawachi Fuji or Wisteria Garden in Kitakyushu, six hours from Tokyo. Visit in late-April to mid-May.
If there was heaven on earth it would surely be right here. Photo - SoulAD/Shutterstock.com
Nooroo, in the mountain village of Mount Wilson, is the former home of renowned wisteria-phile Peter Valder (who wrote the book on the subject). The tennis court filled with majestic potted specimens is a must-see event in October.
The beautiful wisterias at Nooroo demonstrate the importance of god pruning. Once the vine has reached the size you need, keep trimming back the whippy new growth to three leaves to encourage the development of flowering spurs. Photo - Lorna Rose
Text: Linda Ross