Wisteria Hysteria: How to Cultivate a Wisteria
The Wisteria gracing the Bridgerton residence, in the Netflix series of the same name, is a glorious spectacle.
This fine display clads an elegant Georgian villa originally designed by Andrew Snape for Admiral Francis Hosier, sitting on the borders of Greenwich Park.
The Ranger’s House – as it is now known – is an English Heritage property but sadly those consumed with “wisteria hysteria” will discover the pendulous blue-purple blooms are brought to us by the magic of television.
Wisteria Hysteria (hɪˈstɪərɪə/) noun – uncontrollable emotion or excitement relating to a climbing shrub of the pea family with hanging clusters of fragrant flowers.
We have it on good authority that this particular climber was a mixture of scaffolding, real branches, real leaves and silk flowers. The show was shot over a 9-month period, so the real thing wasn’t an option.
That said, no amount of TV trickery can dampen our enthusiasm for this fragrant flowering vine and we are not alone. eBay reported a 300% increase in sales of wisteria after the show’s debut.
Origins of Wisteria
Wisteria is native to China, Korea and Japan. The first Wisteria was brought to Europe in 1816 by an Englishman. He brought some seedlings of the “blue vine” or “Ti Zen” back to England after seeing a pergola covered with flowering Wisteria in the garden of a rich Chinese dealer.
The botanist Thomas Nuttall named the genus Wisteria in memory of Dr Caspar Wistar who was an American physician and an early promoter of vaccinations.
What Does Wisteria Symbolise?
Wisteria is a symbol of wisdom, longevity and endurance.
The Wisteria plant can live for more than 100 years and with its ever-growing, climbing vines is associated with the search for new knowledge.
Species of Wisteria
For many years the common Chinese Wisteria (W. sinensis) was the only kind that existed in our gardens. Today there are more than 20 species of this stunning flower, mainly Japanese in origin, with different colours and kinds of blooms.
Here are some of them:
- Wisteria sinensis: It has shiny, green leaves with white, violet or blue flowers.
- Wisteria floribunda: It has shiny dark-green leaves with a trail of clustered white, pink, violet, or blue flowers.
- Wisteria frutescens: This variety is found in the Southern United States. It has shiny, dark-green leaves with a dense cluster of blue-purple flowers.
- Wisteria macrostachya: This is similar to the Wisteria frutescens but has a different fragrance and grows differently.
- Wisteria brachybotrys
- Wisteria brevidentata
- Wisteria venustra
- Wisteria villosa
When is Wisteria in Bloom?
Wisteria comes into flower in the Spring, usually between April and June depending on the weather. Some varieties have a second less spectacular bloom in summer.
It can take 5 – 15 years for a Wisteria to start flowering once planted. If you don’t have the patience to wait this long, make sure to buy a grafted plant which will flower more reliably at a much younger age.
Colours of Wisteria
Wisterias range in colour from white, lavender-blue, lilac, pink, mauve, purple, lilac to rich pink. However, other Wisteria cultivars are available in pale pink, pale blue, deep violet, double deep violet and pale violet.
How to Grow a Wisteria
There’s no denying a Wisteria makes a fabulous statement on a wall, fence or floral arch. A Wisteria will fare better in a sunny spot with moist, well-drained soil where the wood will ripen. They require significant support and are not easily moved so choose the location carefully. The buds can also be damaged by spring frosts, so a sheltered spot is ideal.
If you’re growing your Wisteria against a wall, train them as an espalier with horizontal support wires (3mm galvanised steel) set 45cm (18”) apart. It’s much easier to put the support in place before planting than trying to install after your Wisteria has been planted.
Plant your Wisteria in spring or autumn. For the best start, add plenty of well-rotted manure or garden compost to the soil to improve its fertility and drainage. In the first year, water regularly to help the roots establish. Thereafter, Wisterias often thrive on neglect, but they do appreciate some extra water between July and September. This is when the buds are formed for next year’s flowers.
Wisterias are greedy plants so feed with a generous amount of rose fertiliser every March. This will encourage growth and flowers. Don’t overfeed or you could end up with more foliage than flowers. Wisterias don’t tend to grow well in pots or containers.
Unlike many plants, Wisteria needs to be pruned twice a year – once in late winter (February) to prepare the flowering spurs for the coming season, and again in mid-summer (July to August). Summer pruning controls those long, snaking shoots and encourages them to become flowering spurs instead.
Where Else to Find Wisteria
The most spectacular display of Wisteria in the world must be the Wisteria flower tunnel in the Kawachi Fuji Garden in the city of Kitakyushu, Japan. Made up of over 150 different species of flowering wisteria, this attraction comes into bloom every April and is a sight to behold.
Closer to home experience the wisteria tunnel in the formal gardens at Waterperry Gardens in Oxfordshire. Other Wisteria hot spots are Fulham Palace, Hampton Court Palace, Grey’s Court, and Wrest Park in Bedfordshire.
Look how stunning this white Wisteria looks trailing around the gables of Tom Gyr’s artisan studio at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2018. It was the work of talented floral desiger, Sarah Diligent of Floribunda Rose. Sarah skilfully created the illusion using a real plant and fresh cut blooms in test tubes that were refreshed every day.
Tom recollects the scent was amazing. Just as swoon-worthy are Tom’s hand-crafted calligraphy pens if you’re considering penning more letters inspired by Bridgerton.
Other Flowering Vines
If the thought of training and pruning wisteria is daunting there are other flowering vines you could try like Vine Lilac, Buddleja and Laburnum.