Wisteria sinensis

This glorious giant of the garden has come to us through a charming act of Chinese generosity. In 1816 two small plants from the garden of a Chinese merchant in Canton, named Consequa, were presented to British friends who sent them home, and it is probable that nearly every wisteria grown in our gar-dens is descended from these two pa-rents. Consequa was so well liked in the British community that when he died he earned an obituary in The Times.

Given its head, a wisteria will climb to 80 feet (15 m) or more and spread even further on each side of the stem. It is a confirmed climber, growing in an anti-clockwise direction, and will twist its way round pergolas, balustrades, tree trunks, or (be wary) drainpipes, even round its own stem. In late spring the plant becom-es a waterfall of drooping racemes of mauve pea-flowers which blend ex-quisitely with the long pinnate leaves of fresh, bright green. There is often a smaller crop of flowers in late summer.

Wisteria needs sunshine and a good, but not excessively rich soil. It needs strong support and pruning twice a year -a hard pruning back to two or three buds on each shoot in winter, and a lighter summer pruning. In chilly countries it does best on a south wall or sheltered terrace, but in Italy is often grown up forest trees.

In view of its size and vigour, is it worth attempting a wisteria on a small house? Yes, certainly, if you are a handyman or handywoman who is not afraid of ladders (there is a splendid specimen on out-village shop), but wisteria cannot be neglected, and must be properly trained from the start. It can even be pruned hard to make a small standard, but I consider this a brutality.

The familiar mauve species is perhaps the best against stone or mellow brick, but there is a lovely white form, ‘Alba’, for walls of newer, brighter brick, and also a double form, ‘Plena’.

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