Welcome to our first musing from down the garden path. Each month I, Leigh Abbosh, Founder of Leaf & Dig (leafanddig.com) will bring you a timely horticultural topic with gardening tips, interesting facts, and inspiring gardens to visit.
So pour yourself a warm drink. Head to a comfy chair. And dig this.
This month, we dig wisteria.
History of Wisteria
Wisteria are native to China, Japan and the eastern United States. The three most commonly grown in the UK are Wisteria floribunda (Japanese wisteria), Wisteria sinensis (Chinese wisteria) and Wisteria brachybotrys (Silky wisteria, also from Japan).
Wisteria was first introduced to Britain in 1816 by John Reeves, Chief Inspector of Tea at Canton Tea. Two cuttings from a Wisteria sinensis growing in a Chinese merchants garden in Canton were taken. John gave one of the cuttings to Kew Gardens, at the time still a royal pleasure ground, and the other to Fullers Brewery in Chiswick, West London. Can you guess which one survived? It seems Brewers make the best gardeners as the Kew sapling didn’t root and unfortunately died soon after. The Fullers sapling is still going strong today, making it Britain’s oldest wisteria at 206 years old! Take a brewery tour and you can pay homage to this horticultural elder.
Wisteria growing on the former Head Brewers Cottage at Fullers Brewery. © Fullers Brewery.
A mature wisteria can grow up to 10m tall and 20m wide. Be warned, if you fail to prune them they can soon take over, covering windows, pulling drainpipes from the walls, and getting under the roof tiles! But with a little care and attention they are, without doubt, one of the most spectacular plants to train up a wall or even as a free standing standard (albeit often with some supports).
An overgrown Wisteria ready for a prune. We needed a bigger ladder! © Leaf & Dig.
Growing & Pruning Wisteria
Wisteria needs full sun to produce the best flowers, so a south or west facing spot is best. They can take 3 to 4 years to produce flowers, so you’ll need to be patient. February is the time to do the winter prune, cutting down to two buds. This helps thin out the growth, allowing light and air around the buds to improve flowering. In late July, it’s time for the summer prune. Trim down to five/six leaves per stem which helps control the overall size of the wisteria. This is also the time of year to keep an eye on any whippy stems that are winding around cables/ railings or behind drain pipes. Simply snip them off and you and your wisteria will be very happy together. More detailed pruning advice can be found on the RHS website. And before I get into trouble with Tom...yes you can grow Wisteria in a container although you will need to keep them well fed and watered. Wisteria fructens ‘Amethyst Falls’ (American Wisteria) are the most suited to a large container, at least 18in wide and filled with loam-based potting compost. I’m sure Tom will tell you it’s even better in a Cretan Terracotta pot!
Where to see Wisteria
The month of May and into early June is the time to see Wisteria at its best. More mature specimens will often flower again in late July, or early August, although often they are not as impressive as the flowering you see earlier in the year.
Here’s a few suggestions of Wisteria to visit in a reasonable proximity to Tom’s Yard in Herefordshire.
Iford Manor, near Bath, boast one of the oldest Wisteria in the country, with a huge scented specimen growing on the front of the manor thought to be pre 1835. The gardens feature many different Wisteria specimens, both against walls, standard in the borders and even surrounding the lily pool. Steve Lannin has recently arrived as Head Gardener, from Mapperton House, so it’s an exciting time to see the gardens as he puts his stamp on them. As you enter, look out for the port hole that Harold Peto included in the garden wall to allow the Wisteria to grow through.
Iford Manor Wisteria. © Leaf & Dig.
The ten acre Aberglasney Gardens, in Carmarthenshire, are
regarded as some of the finest in Wales. A feast for the senses, with over 20 different garden styles from formal to informal, woodland to exotic. In the Sunken Garden, you will find a thirty meter long wisteria arbour inspired by Japan’s famous Karachi Fuji Garden. The long blue racemes really are a sight to behold.
Aberglasney Gardens Wisteria. ©Aberglasney.
And finally a more unusual destination to get your Wisteria fix...Flipside Burgers, Broadway. Yes that’s right. A burger joint that occupies a cottage previously (and appropriately!) called Wisteria Cottage in the beautiful Cotswold village of Broadway. The Wisteria is so huge, it has romped away on the buildings either side of Flipside Burgers. Oh and I hear they do a cracking burger too!
Broadway High Street Wisteria. © Robert Convery/Alamy Stock Photo