Newest Review: ... don't last for more than a few short weeks but it's really worth it. When buying a Wisteria, you are well advised to consider what you wan... more
Camouflage unsightly garden features with climbing plants! (#2)
Member Name: worst_trip
Advantages: Gorgeous flowers in spring and attractive woody stems and foliage too!
Disadvantages: Long lived but take a while to get established properly; need regular pruning when mature
Wisterias are beautiful climbing plants from the pea family, a relationship revealed most obviously in spring, when they produce abundant, falling clusters of distinctive sweet-pea-flower shaped blossoms, usually in some shade of lilac or purple. The pea-green leaves grow as a series of paired, rounded leaflets coming off a central leaf-rib. In spring the folded leaves as they emerge are delicately edged with silvery-grey down, and in autumn they turn bright yellow before being shed.
There are two main varieties of wisteria, known as the Chinese and the Japanese wisteria respectively. They look very similar - I think the flower clusters in the Japanese variety are a bit more elongate and less flower-packed - but apparently the woody stems of the two varieties twine in different directions: clockwise for the Japanese wisteria and anti-clockwise for the Chinese type. There are also slight differences in growth tolerances between the two varieties. In general, t o grow well, these plants need good light levels and deep, fertile soil - they're forest plants, so are adapted to grow in rich soils with a lot of organic material from leaf-litter, etc.
The plants have slender, twining stems that will wind round any nearby support, pulling the wisteria upright. You can also grow them 'through' large trees - as this mimics their natural growth habitat - as the stems will climb up the tree towards the light. Wisterias are most frequently trained up to grow against the outside wall of a house - giving spectacular results from the abundant foliage and flowers when the plants mature as they can easily 'cloak' the whole frontage of a building in leafy growth - and although the woody stems can get quite bulky and 'tree-trunk-like' as the wisteria ages - they initially need some kind of support, usually provided by a securely-fastened, robust trellis. Any trellis for a wisteria needs to be heavy-duty and well-secured as the plants grow large and can be very heavy. This said, wisterias can also be trained into self-supporting 'standard' shapes: this involves pruning most of a young plant's stems out to leave only one main 'branch' which is given support till it's thick enough to stand alone. There are any number of websites that will give detailed instructions for doing this yourself, as standard-trained wisterias, when available in garden centres tend to cost a packet.
Once established, wisterias can grow large surprisingly quickly, and pruning back (usually this is done in autumn) is essential if the plants are to be kept in shape and more importantly, in check. Grown against a wall, for example, the new shoots can cause real problems if the grow up into the household guttering, etc.
We have two wisterias, one of which has been the direct cause of a rift with one next-door neighbour, who objects to having a climbing plant grown against the wall of their house. This blank expanse of wall, however, is all you can see from the front window of our living room and I felt it really needed something to help camouflage it.
The wisteria I got to enliven our view is a Japanese 'black dragon' variety, which we bought as a six-foot young plant for about £25. This is not cheap, but seems to be about the going rate for this type of climber, as they are very long-lived (and seem quite sought-after). This variety has - or will have, if and when it finally begins flowering - purple flowers growing in 'double' rosettes in spring, but it's only been in place two years and has to produce any blossoms. The leafy / stem part however is growing reasonably well trained over a garden seat / trellis arrangement - which is not secured to the wall due to the neighbour's objection to climbing plants. It can take wisterias some time to begin flowering as young plants, and apparently some people have trouble getting their recently-planted wisterias to flower at all, as some plants just seem to be 'reluctant' to produce blossoms. One solution to this is to look for a plant with flower buds already on when selecting your wisteria from the shop - but this isn't always possible, as of course often the young plants don't flower at all for the first few years anyway.
Our second wisteria is a non-specified variety growing in a large pot - wisterias can be grown in containers as long as you prune them to keep them small - and was purchased as a foot-high specimen from 'Morrison's supermarket for £3 - so there's quite a bit of variation in price of these plants, depending on how big you want them, whether you want a 'fancy' type in particular, and whether you shop around or not. The Morrison's wisteria went into its pot the summer before last and has only grown about two feet high now, but seems to be quite healthy.
Summary: Classic climbers for you house front
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