Plants I love

Wisteria lane

If I could bottle the scent of my driveway I could– a sprinkling of jasmine over wisteria, with a top note of lemon blossom underscored with just a touch of freesia. I don’t think I could call it Driveway though: doesn’t suggest quite the right images for the ad campaign.

Wisteria sinensis

The wisteria is in stereo. On the fence we share with our neighbours is the traditional mauve Chinese wisteria, Wisteria sinensis. It has been here longer than either of us and was never trained on the fence so much as allowed to engulf it. For years it was the only thing holding the fence up and when it no longer could we chainsawed it to the ground and replaced the fence.

Wisteria sinensis

My intention with this tabula rasa was to train the wisteria so that it made an appealing line on the fence rather than a tangled scribble. I had in mind a wall I’d seen in the Botanic Gardens in Brussels with gnarly swoops of wisteria stem like fat brush calligraphy. Fat chance! The wisteria took off like a dropped bag of marbles. In weeks it had clothed the fence in brilliant lime green leaf and had never looked better.

It didn’t flower that year, which some might consider a downside, but I loved the green floaty growth covering the whole surface of fence with riffling movement. Now we are back to a tangle of bare sticks against the fence with a ruff of flowers on top. Can I convince the neighbours to let me at it again with the chainsaw?

Wisteria floribunda

The other wisteria is a Japanese form, Wisteria floribunda ‘Macrobotrys’. In this wisteria the space between each flower in the panicle is bigger, giving the cones an elegant, elongated look. They are wispier and more inclined to shiver in the slightest breeze. It grows in a pot at the side of the house. The pot restrains its growth so I don’t have to worry about it lifting off the roof, though it does need to be watered every day in the summer. From indoors the long flowers are framed through French windows and from one particular chair, with my head turned just so, the view is of drooping wisteria and blue sky and nothing else.

There are many more wisteria to choose from – some with chunky dense panicles, some with double flowers, and in colours from burgundy through pale pink to white. It’s always best to buy them in bloom so you can see exactly what you’re getting, unless of course you’re just after that gorgeous fresh floaty leaf. They’ll all grow in big pots or in the ground.


The best place to see wisteria in pots is at Nooroo, the Mount Wilson garden owned by Anthony and Lorraine Barrett. The garden is famous for its wisteria collection, established by botanist, plant collector and inimitable garden story teller, Peter Valder, whose family owned the property from 1917 until 1992. The wisteria court, formerly the tennis court, features 28 standard wisterias ranging in colour from white to deep purple. It’s at its frothy floral peak in late October.

Peter Valder, whose fabulous monograph on wisteria you can get from Floreligium for just $30, advises pruning wisteria in late spring, taking back all the new shoots to two or three leaves. Six weeks later, he says, go over the plant again and continue tidying up those long shoots that get in the way through summer. The main thing to remember is not to prune in winter as you’re likely to cut off the flowering stubs.

The only bit of that advice of that I got around to following last year was snipping off the long summer shoots that whipped me in the face when I walked in the  gate. And yet, here it is, like a Japanese dream outside my window, and smelling good enough to bottle all up the driveway.


It’s time to

Bring in the bees
Urban beekeeper Doug Purdie’s new book, The Bee Friendly Garden, Murdoch $45, tells why and how to transform our outdoor spaces from insect deserts to stops on a nationwide bee highway.

See waratahs
The Wild About Waratahs Festival at Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah offers the usual opportunities to admire waratahs, as well as a chance to buy cut flowers and plants, including a new variety, ‘Corroboree’, launched as part of the RBG’s 200th birthday celebrations. The festival runs September 24 until October 3.

Make a plan
Thirteen cool climate gardens are on show for the Leura Gardens Festival this year, from October 1-9, all with different approaches to mountains gardening.

Feed the garden with an organically-based fertiliser as it bursts into growth. Bush Tucker is developed for natives and can be used on phosphorus-sensitive banksias and grevilleas.




4 thoughts on “Wisteria lane

  1. Lovely article Robin, you’ve got me reaching for my (sadly, mostly un-read) Valder book on Wisterias, and wistful about the charms of Nooroo in full bloom – what a sight – best-looking tennis court I’ve ever seen, and that’s before you clap eyes on the paeony border! Good too to see some stern instruction re pruning and keeping dominance over what are vigorous vines looking for a tree to capitalise on. Canberra’s Deakin had a renowned white one up a Mediterranean cypress – particularly dramatic contrast in full bloom. Slower-grower that ‘Alba’. Keep up the good work! Stuart

    • Robin Powell says:

      Thanks Stuart. I’ve just been in Canberra over the weekend and though I had my eyes out for a white wisteria up a cypress in Deakin, I failed to spot it. Bit early for wisteria in Canberra, though the blossom was sensational.

  2. Norma Humphrey says:

    At my high school in Hedge End (England) we always stood in rows awaiting the headmaster – a foreboding man being a retired army captain from the war.
    He brought us to attention , made us turn and then march away into our classrooms.
    This day was different.
    ” School – ABOUT TURN ”
    He then marched (huge strides) past our rows of classes.
    The stairs at the end of the quadrangle led to the classrooms above the lab.
    We were all trying to imagine what we had done or what the punishment would be.
    Mr Simmonds positioned himself in the centre of the walkway above us, – leant on both hands ,with a fixed gaze at us all below.
    “I am asking you all – at this time of the year to appreciate the beauty of the wisteria.
    The wall below had the most beautiful wisteria in full bloom , reaching from one end to the other.
    I wonder if any of the other students have that day impressed in their mind as I still have.
    I can never look at wisteria in any other way – that was in 1955.

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