Wisteria sinensis – for the senses


I’ve never had a garden with a Wisteria before, I’ve never even been a great lover of them – they are not one of my ‘doer’ plants, in that they blossom and are over and done with very quickly; they don’t have berries, aren’t evergreen and they need pruning twice a year. So why am I so in love with my Wisteria? Well, it is totally ‘in my face’, curled around the kitchen door. I see it and smell it all of the time. Its gorgeous perfume wafts in through every open window and its stunning clusters of pendant blossoms tumbling down the walls make you just stop and stare. It is absolutely beautiful. It started flowering during the first week in April, it is very early but it is in a very warm spot. May to June would be the usual blossoming time.

I have concluded that it is a Wisteria sinensis, native of China; it is a member of the pea family although it is not edible and the seed pods are actually poisonous. When it has finished flowering I should expect to see decorative, velvety bean pods.

The stems of the Wisteria twine in an anti-clockwise direction and when the flowers have finished they have fresh green fern-like leaves. This Wisteria will withstand the toughest of winters and it is also resistant to most pests and diseases. Plant it in good, well drained soil by a sunny wall, and prune in July – August and again in December. Sometimes plants will have a second, but less prolific season of flowering in August.  Plants are very tolerant of even the most drastic pruning and will re-grow even if cut right back to the base, but this is best carried out in the spring, immediately after flowering.

It can take plants several years before they start to flower but if your Wisteria has lots of foliage and few flowers it could be that the soil is too rich or that it has too much shade.

There are many claims for the oldest Wisteria in the UK; one of the contenders was planted in 1816 at the Fullers brewery in Chiswick. Several National Trust properties have magnificent specimens; one that I would recommend is at Greys Court in Oxfordshire. Go and see it this Easter if you get the chance.

Wisterias are available in many colours and shades from white through mauves and deep purples to pinks. There are Chinese, Japanese and American varieties and some have blossoms up to 60cm in length which sound lovely but are a nightmare if you are trying to walk underneath them. Therefore, if you plan to buy one make sure that you read the label and get one that is right for your location. 

Interesting information: I read on another website, but have not been able to verify; in China the flowers are washed and then boiled or made into fritters. They are also cured in sugar then mixed with flour and made into a famous delicacy called “Teng Lo”. The leaves are sometimes used as a tea substitute. A fibre from the stems can be used to make paper; the fibre is about 1.3 – 3.7mm long. The leaves are removed and the stems steamed until the fibre can be stripped. The fibres are cooked for 2 hours with lye and then put in a ball mill for 3 hours. The paper is a buff colour.

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