Wisteria sinensis

Wisteria sinensis (340)

Common names:

  • Chinese Wisteria

Location in the Gardens:

Season of interest:

  • In spring and early summer fragrant mauve or lilac-coloured pea-like flowers on stems up to 30cm length, which open before the leaves.

Description of plant:

Wisteria are vigorous deciduous woody climbers with twining stems, dark green pinnate leaves and long pendulous racemes of flowers. It can grow to a height exceeding 12 metres and width exceeding 8 metres over a period of 10-20 years. It may live for 100 years, indeed in Japan one Wisteria tree is claimed to be 1,200 years old.

Propagation is best by layering, cuttings or grafting, as seeds can take 20 years to flower.

All parts may cause severe discomfort if eaten.

Wisteria may be affected by the diseases leaf spot and powdery mildews, and scale insects.

Ideal growing conditions and habitat:

Full sun or slight shade, ideally growing against a sheltered south or west-facing wall, or can be grown informally through a large tree or trained as a free-standing half standard in a container.

Tolerates chalk, sand, clay and loam soils that are moist but well-drained, including acid, neutral and alkaline pH. Potassium Sulphate supplementation in the spring may help flowering on poor soils.

Twice yearly pruning can also improve flowering.

Frost-hardy to -15°C.

Country of origin:

  • China

Highdown history:

The Wisteria sinensis arch was planted as a result of donations to the Millenium Garden project, some 30 years after the death of the Sterns.

However, in his book 'A Chalk Garden' first published in 1960, Sir Frederick Stern mentioned Wisteria growing on the wall near the house, but that it never did as well or flowers as freely as it should, and did not seem to like the lime soil. He contrasted this with Wisteria Floribunda Alba, a white flowered Japanese variety, which had grown into a thriving bush and a wonderful sight in full bloom in a north-facing border. He wondered if this was due to the moister soil in this border.

Other interesting information:

The long lifespan of Wisteria associates it with immortality and longevity. The drooping stems of flowers are symbols of sorrow, but also the ability of the heart to endure in spite of rejection. In Victorian times the symbolism of Wisteria dealt a warning against clinging love.

In Japan the Wisteria Maiden tells a sad story of a girl who stepped out of a painting to try to find love in our world, but her love was unrequited and she had to step back alone into her painting, holding her weeping Wisteria stem, at the end of the tale.

Wisteria blossoms are a symbol of honour and respect in Feng Shui.

Millennium Garden wisteria arch (744)

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