A contemplation on Wisteria

This time of year, as I drive around Kent and Sussex offering landscape architecture and garden design advice, I am wowed by the wonderful sights of the wisteria in bloom, and as such constantly try to talk my clients into finding a suitable, sunny spot for one.

Wisteria sinensis (Chinese) produces flowers before leaves which looks stunning whereas Wisteria floribunda (Japanese) produces flowers and leaves together.

When choosing one to buy you should opt for a grafted wisteria as this will have been grafted onto tried and tested root stock, as opposed to waiting for an untrustworthy seed to flower which may take 10+ years. Named cultivars are nearly always grafted, and this is easy to spot by the bulge on the base of the stem. The obvious solution is to buy one in the springtime which is actually in bud, so you can see what the future may hold.

Wisteria needs well-drained, fertile soil in a sunny position, although it will tolerate some shade. Aswell as being trained up walls and pergolas they can also be taken up into trees.

Ensure to water in dry periods as this can later affect their ability to flower. Add sulphate of potash in spring to promote flower development.Poor flowering can be due to excessive nitrogen in the soil. As part of the pea family, the wisteria has natural nitrogen fixing properties.

  • Prune twice yearly in July / Aug &  Jan/Feb.
  • Summer pruning – cut back green shoots to 5 or 6 leaflets after flowering (if you were lucky enough to get a second show).
  • Winter pruning – cut back the same buds to 2 or 3 nodes before breaking.

The following are all good examples: Wisteria floribunda ‘Multijuga’ which has  long racemes, Wisteria floribunda ‘Yae-kokuryu’, Wisteria sinensis ‘Prolific’ and Wisteria sinensis. For more information visit the RHS website.

The weeping wisteria symbolises sorrow – as seen in the 1820s Japanese kabuki drama Fuji Musume (Wisteria Maiden) in which a woman steps out of a painting to embrace the man she has fallen for only to be rejected. She retreats back to the image holding her wisteria.

This was developed further in the Victorian language of flowers that sees it as symbolic of clinging love, probably due to its entwining properties.

However, Japanese Feng Shui & Buddhism have similar interpretations of this majestic plant as one of honor or respect derived from the bowing or kneeling down of the long drooping blooms. As such it is planted in places to stimulate quiet contemplation.