Wisteria: Fragrant Garden Star

Wisteria covers garden arbour. © Karen Netto (Andrews)

Wisteria is back. It’s time to enthuse uncontrollably about this seasonal showstopper. Wisteria’s fragrant cascades of floral clusters are a star performer.

Wisteria is the garden equivalent of a heavyweight, opera star. She’s a diva. She commands an entrance. She demands solid support. Her florid curtain stretches across the whole frontage of many English stone cottages.

We stand in awe at the exquisite detail of her artistry and showmanship. Even her leaves seem to wait for a dramatic moment to unfurl.

Strong Support

After 15 years, my mother’s wooden arbour is feeling the strain and has adopted a more reclining position. Wisteria needs hefty stone or strong steel support. It demolishes wooden lattice work. An alternative option is to buy Wisteria as a standard and treat it like a tree with regular pruning in a small garden. Pruning twice a year in July after flowering and in winter will keep your vigorous Wisteria manageable.

Complementary Planting

When you have a sensational star in the garden, you need to look for ways to complement without competing for attention. You would probably never consider stepping outside clothed in a combination of purple and yellow. It works in the garden because because they are on opposite sides of the colour spectrum. The yellow Rose subtly sets off the yellow already present in the pea flower. The Rose is like an understudy. She takes over the starring role after the Wisteria finishes flowering and summer progresses.

Note the different colours and tones in the pea-shaped flowers. © Karen Netto (Andrews)

Local Inspiration

Unfortunately, this year we cannot look to the major garden shows for planting inspiration. The Coronavirus shutdown makes us more aware of the planting choices in neighbours’ gardens. The advantage of following local examples is that you can see them work in the same climate and soil. You gain a realistic appreciation of the necessary aspect, support and space required.

Contrary?

Wisteria’s various fragrances seem to draw judgements as conflicting as theatre critics’ reviews. Opinions are as contrary as the growth direction between Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) and Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda). Chinese Wisteria grows anti-clockwise and Japanese Wisteria clockwise.

Fragrance

Scents awaken strong emotions and associations with childhood memories. Which Wisteria is best? It depends on your personal sense of smell and emotional connections. Some prefer musk scents; others sweet perfumes. One person’s fragrant delight is another’s foul, nauseating stink.

Garden Planning and Options

A Wisteria is a long-term garden investment. It is worth taking the time to smell out the best option for your nose and garden. Plan the location and support carefully as you will not want to move it later. You can also consider different colour and tone options: purple, lilac, mauve, white, pink, deep pink, lilac-blue and violet-blue.

It is always best to buy a grafted climber. Your patience may wear out waiting up to 20 years for your Wisteria diva to make her flowering entrance otherwise.

© Karen Netto (Andrews)

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