Wisteria at Nymans

Late May and early June when the sun is out, you can often smell the sweet perfume of the various wisterias we have growing here at Nymans.

Wisteria tumbling over the pergola in the Wall Garden
Wisteria tumbling over the pergola in the Wall Garden
Wisteria tumbling over the pergola in the Wall Garden

You can find these majestic specimens, with their densely twisted stems and long cascading blooms, all around the garden at Nymans - head for the Prospect, Knot Garden, Wall Garden, Bookshop and Potting Shed, House Terrace and Pergola.

Wisteria growing over the house and ruins
Wisteria growing over the house and ruins
Wisteria growing over the house and ruins

Origins

Wisterias originate from China, Japan and the eastern United States. Depending on the species, they twine either clockwise or anti-clockwise and have flower heads of varying length, some up to 1m long. They prefer a sunny position, loamy soil and protection from cold winds and severe frosts, but are hardy to -15°C. The seeds, which are unreliable and may not flower for many years, are harmful if eaten.

Wisteria blooming in the Wall Garden
Wisteria blooming in the Wall Garden
Wisteria blooming in the Wall Garden

History

Wisterias have always played an important part in the history of Nymans. Following the Japanese Exhibition in London in 1903, it became fashionable to introduce some of the features on display into homes and gardens. Nymans was no exception, and Ludwig Messel installed the stone lanterns he had seen at the Exhibition, and built a pergola beside the croquet lawn. Wisteria sinensis and Wisteria multijuga were planted so they could climb over the top of the structure, and some of the original plants may still exist at Nymans, though records were lost in the fire in 1947. The wisterias also suffered in the storm of 1987, when the original pergola had to be demolished.

Wisteria in bloom on the edge of the house at Nymans
Purple wisteria flowers in bloom on a sunny day
Wisteria in bloom on the edge of the house at Nymans

Wisteria facts and tips from our Head Gardener

Facts about Wisteria

  • Easy to grow and quite a vigorous climber
  • Best time to plant is Autumn or Spring – new plants should flower within five years
  • Grows best in full sun
  • Native to China, Korea, Japan and Eastern US
  • Named in memory of the American physician and anatomist Caspar
  • W. floribunda (Japanese wisteria) twines clockwise when viewed from above, while W. sinensis twines counterclockwise

Pruning and training tips

These striking plants need regular pruning to keep them under control and ensure good flowering. Ideally, routine pruning should be done twice a year

Around July or August, shorten whippy growth to about six leaves. This will allow the wood to ripen and improves the chances of flowering buds forming.

In February, further shorten these shoots to two or three buds. This will tidy the plant to allow the new flowers to be more visible. For more mature specimens, don’t be afraid to prune older sections or remove altogether, Wisterias are tough and can take a hard prune.

If you want to train your Wisteria against a wall or on a pergola, it’s best to leave it unpruned until it grows to the size and shape you desire.