YARD SMART

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - HOMES/JOBS/CLASSIFIEDS - By Mau­reen Gilmer

How to choose the right wis­te­ria for your gar­den.

When the East gave the West her first wis­te­ria vines, they tricked us out of our flow­ers. Plant hunters were given seeds of Wis­te­ria sinen­sis, not plants, to take back to France and Eng­land. The shar­ers failed to ex­plain these in­cred­i­ble vines share a wide vari­a­tion in flow­er­ing age. Most flower from 8 to 12 years af­ter ger­mi­na­tion. Oth­ers, how­ever, can take up to 20 years to make their first flow­ers. This is why there is such dis­ap­point­ment with these vines when their ori­gin is ques­tion­able. You may not be will­ing to wait two decades for flow­ers.

This is clearly a ge­netic prob­lem caused by the serendip­i­tous process of sex­ual re­pro­duc­tion by seed. There can be a wide range of bloom age, color in­ten­sity, over­all raceme size and cold har­di­ness.

Later on the plant hunters fi­nally en­tered Japan in the early 18th cen­tury and ob­tained lay­ered cut­tings of Wis­te­ria flori­bunda. It’s in­ter­est­ing to note this species twines from right to left, while W. sinen­sis twines left to right.

Ja­panese wis­te­ria is less rangy, bear­ing fewer but some­times much larger racemes with ex­quis­ite blos­soms. This species was heav­ily se­lected long ago in Japan for the most pro­duc­tive seedlings. The re­sult is white flow­ers and some with in­cred­i­ble racemes up to seven feet long! These are na­tional trea­sures in an­cient tra­di­tional gar­dens. In 1920, one writer de­scribed a Ja­panese wis­te­ria said to be a thou­sand years old was doc­u­mented with a trunk of 32 feet around. This demon­strates how early some of the Ja­panese plants were se­lected and prop­a­gated and ven­er­ated in their gar­dens.

All over Amer­ica though, seedling wis­te­rias con­tin­ued to refuse to bloom. It led to an amaz­ing ar­ray of tor­tures to make re­luc­tant wis­te­rias bloom. They were de­signed to stress the plants, which forces them to bloom to re­pro­duce be­fore they die. Ac­cord­ing to one Eng­lish au­thor, rec­om­mended treat­ments in­clude “se­vere root prun­ing, girdling the trunk, with­hold­ing fer­til­izer, se­vere prun­ing and other man­ner of in­tim­i­dat­ing the plant.” Clearly these can also kill the wis­te­ria, which may have been de­sir­able out­come for a plant that re­fuses to pro­duce its most de­sir­able char­ac­ter­is­tic.

When you pur­chase a wis­te­ria, be sure to con­sult an ex­pert if you’re not plant-savvy. Look for plants that are a named va­ri­ety, such as Wis­te­ria sinen­sis ‘Texas Pur­ple’. This old fa­vorite is well proven for ru­ral home sites, par­tic­u­larly in the arid West and South. Wis­te­ria is hardy to Zone 5 with some ex­cep­tions.

Wis­te­ria can en­gulf a house if not prop­erly cared for. In open ru­ral home sites, that vast scale is a de­sir­able char­ac­ter­is­tic. It was pop­u­lar for cloak­ing a dead tree in Eng­lish gar­dens. This is also a stun­ning choice for cov­er­ing Amer­i­can shade ar­bors so the racemes hang in an in­cred­i­ble dis­play un­der­neath be­fore leaf­ing out in spring.

In the city, a vine like wis­te­ria can be struc­turally dev­as­tat­ing. Very fine ten­drils hunt slots in the ar­chi­tec­ture to en­ter and an­chor as the vine reaches up to the sun. These pen­e­tra­tions grow larger in di­am­e­ter each year un­til they be­come wood and are im­pos­si­ble to re­move. They have rou­tinely in­vaded at­tics to lift roofs off old struc­tures. Once es­tab­lished they can be dif­fi­cult to re­move from tight spa­ces and wild lands if they es­cape when con­di­tions are just right.

Wis­te­ria re­mains the most pho­tographed plant in the world when it blooms. Noth­ing is so dra­matic for bring­ing fo­liage and flow­ers far from the stem. In the 19th cen­tury, out­door spa­ces could be shaded with these beau­ti­ful vines so corseted women could go out­doors in the sum­mer time. To­day their vig­or­ous growth causes much trep­i­da­tion while the de­cid­edly amaz­ing bloom re­mains un­sur­passed. Thus gar­den­ers con­tinue to plant seedlings that cause the very same prob­lems with­out the pay­off of flow­ers. Like all things great and pow­er­ful, ed­u­ca­tion is es­sen­tial for choos­ing the right in­di­vid­ual that’s guar­an­teed en­sure max­i­mum ben­e­fit within your life­time with­out risk.

PHO­TOS COUR­TESY TRI­BUNE NEWS SER­VICE

Noth­ing beats a big wis­te­ria in full bloom to catch the eye in a large ru­ral gar­den.

The long laven­der racemes made up of hun­dreds of flow­ers bloom on bare branches prior to leaf­ing out.

An arch planted with two wis­te­ria vines that vary in their bloom time.

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