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Whither My Wisteria

My wisteria 2006

My wisteria 2006

My wisteria has gone wild. Tendrils are twisting everywhere. New shoots are coming up everywhere. The wisteria’s genetic vitality has never been so vigorous. I am blaming it all on the cool and rainy summer.

            My history with this wisteria is long and varied. 

            During our first year in China we saw many beautiful wisterias with their graceful pendant flowers blooming everywhere from the long gorgeous pergola in Purple Bamboo Park, to humble trellises in dusty alleys, to delicate watercolor scrolls. When we got home I insisted that we plant a wisteria.

            I ordered a wisteria sinensis in the spring of 1990. The particular variety name is long gone. We did not plant it immediately because although we had built a piazza or patio right in front of the house, the planned arbor was not yet in place.

            I planted the wisteria in a large flower pot and tended it lovingly but the arbor was not completed until August which meant the proper planting was long delayed..          

         Unfortunately I had gotten it into my head that wisteria did not need good rich soil, so I did nothing to improve the soil.  Over the years the wisteria survived, but it did not thrive. Finally my husband gave it an ultimatum. It had to reach the top of the arbor by 2000 – or it was going to be ripped out.  We not only wanted the romance of the flowers and a souvenir our Chinese sojourn, we wanted shade over the piazza and we were not getting it.

            So it was that I learned I should always check any ideas ‘that had gotten into my head.’  In fact wisteria likes good well drained soil.  I also learned that it is a heavy drinker.  Like roses, wisteria welcomes lots of water, especially in the spring.  I started adding heaps of compost every spring, and watering heavily.  By the year 2000 it just started spreading over the top of the arbor.

            Though it finally thrived and covered the arbor beautifully giving us cooling shade outside – and inside – the house, it did not bloom. This was a disappointment, but I had been questioned by so many people about their non-blooming wisterias, and had seen the non-blooming wisteria on the Bridge of Flowers that I had pretty much resigned myself to having a non-bloomer.

            I did what I could, root pruning, fertilizing and watering, but to no avail until 2006.

             It bloomed and bloomed and filled the air with subtle fragrance. I felt as though I were living in a Chinese watercolor. I’d wander outside several times a day just to sit under it, or walk away to admire at it.  I was in heaven.

            That winter was a killer, almost literally.

            When spring came a huge percentage of the wisteria was dead. We pruned out what we could but the recovery has been slow.  Even in 2008 there was little foliage over the top of the arbor. Our lovely shade was gone. I had enjoyed it outside, and even inside where the quality of light was softened.

            This year we have had odd sporadic bloom, but I am happy to report that more half the arbor is covered and the vigorous growth continues.

            Because I was not aware of many wisterias growing in our area, and so many people complained about it not blooming, I assumed it was almost too tender for our harsh climate. I was wrong.  Wisterias are strong growers.  In the south they can be dangerously vigorous.  Even in Heath I am constantly cutting back runners that are sent out from the roots. 

            Because our arbor is so high it is difficult to prune properly, but we do make an annual climb up to keep shoots from slipping underneath our metal roof. A proper annual pruning will encourage good bloom.

            Wisterias can also be trained as standards by supporting a main vine to the desired height and then pruning it to keep that height.  Side shoots also need to be pruned away.  The vine will eventually be self-supporting and should bloom heavily.

            Specialty nurseries like Bloom River  (www.bloomriver.com), Greer Gardens (www.greergardens.com) , and Rare Find Nursery  (www.rarefindnursery.com), offer a wide range of wisteria varieties, all of which need full sun and fertile, well drained soil.

            Wisteria macrostachya ‘Blue Moon’ is very hardy (to –40 degrees) and is said to bloom two or even three times a year. It is a vigorous grower.

            For those who might prefer something less vigorous there is W. frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’ which grows much more slowly than Chinese and Japanese wisterias. It will bloom on new wood which means it will also bloom sporadically throughout the summer as well as in April and May. The controlled vigor makes it a good choice for smaller spaces.

            While my wisteria has occasionally fulfilled my fantasies, I am very aware that for some people a full belly is a fantasy.  I can help, and so can you. The Belly Bus food drive, sponsored by the Franklin County Hunger Task Force, through the joint efforts of the Franklin Area Survival Center, the Greenfield Salvation Army Chapel, the Franklin County Community Meals Program and Community Action’s Center for Self Reliance Food Pantry, will be collecting non-perishable food at the Greenfield town Common on Friday, August 14 from 3-5 pm.  The goal is to collect 6,000 pounds of food – and some cash too.  Bring your food contribution or a check ( or both) to the Common and help our neighbors who are struggling in these hard times.

 

August 8, 2009   Between the Rows