A fast growing, long-lived, deciduous climber that quickly fills a large space. Producing cascades of long pendulous, richly scented, flowers in spring. A traditional cottage garden favourite that is usually grown up a sunny wall, across an arch or over a sturdy pergola.
Family: Fabaceae (Legume)
Botanical Name: Wisteria
Common Names: Chinese kidney bean, bean flower
Foliage: Deciduous, dark to mid green leaves; composed of a number of small leaflets attached to a central stem.
Flowers: Long hanging racemes of fragrant pea-like flowers, which usually appear before the leaves. Mainly in shades of bluish-violet, mauve or lilac, though white (alba) and pink (rosea) forms are available.
Flowering Period: Late spring to early summer.
Soil: Moist but well-drained (chalk, clay, sand or loam). Any pH.
Conditions: Full sun or partial shade. Best grown in a south or west facing aspect, in a sheltered location.
Habit: Vigorous woody climber with twining stems.
Origin: United States, China and Japan.
Toxicity: All parts of this plant can cause severe discomfort if ingested.
Hardiness: Fully hardy in the UK and Northern Europe.
Not an easy plant to grow and needs to be pruned correctly to look its best. It takes time and a lot of patience to develop a large specimen, although they can be very rewarding once established. As they age the plant's trunk and stems become old and gnarled, which adds to its character.
Wisterias are vigorous and very long lived so if you are considering growing one up a wall, choose a variety that is appropriate for the situation.
They will need a sunny position to flower well. Older varieties and species don't usually flower until well established (usually 5 to 10 years), though modern hybrids often flower much earlier.
Wisterias thrive in any ordinary, moderately fertile soil, which is well drained but not too dry. Plant in a sunny sheltered spot from October to March and provide a secure sturdy support for it to climb up, such as a wall, pergola or tree. Shelter from cold winds.
The plants can become very heavy once they reach maturity so check supports regularly each year. Do not over-feed as this will encourage more leaves and less flowers.
Prune twice yearly by reducing sides shoots in August to five or six buds, then prune back further in late winter (around February) to two or three buds.
Susceptible to attack by scale insects, aphids and thrips. Can be affected by leaf spot and powdery mildews.
Wisteria can be increased by taking heel cuttings in late summer, hard-wood cuttings in the autumn or by layering in the summer.
Seeds can be sown under glass in spring but flowering can be unreliable. Seeds from cultivars rarely come true to type.
Wisteria Alba is a rare variety with typical wisteria flowers that are white in colour. For sale at Gardening Express.
Wisteria Amethyst Falls is a new ultra-compact variety from America that is perfectly suited to UK gardens. It can flower in its first year after planting. Ideal as a large patio plant to cover pergolas with cascades of long lilac blooms. Height to 15ft (4m), spread to 6ft (2m) in 10 years. For sale at You Garden.
Wisteria brachybotrys (silky wisteria) is an anticlockwise twining form found in Japan with long scented hanging flower sprays in pale lilac. The pinnate foliage has a slightly downy texture - hence its common name Silky Wisteria. Cultivar 'Okayama' bears extremely large dark violet scented flowers in clustered bunches. For sale at Gardening Express. 'Kapiteyn Fuji' is an attractive white form with bright green foliage. For sale at Thompson & Morgan. 'Showa-beni' bears lilac-pink, fragrant flowers that appear in late spring and early summer. For sale at Thompson & Morgan.
Wisteria formosa 'Caroline' is a new early blooming variety (mid-spring onwards) that bears abundant fragrant lilac-blue flowers up until mid summer. For sale at Crocus.
Wisteria chinensis Blue bears lovely blue pendulous flowers with a sweet heady perfume from April to June. Supported height to 32ft (10m), if allowed but can be pruned to restrict growth. For sale at You Garden.
Wisteria floribunda (Japanese wisteria) is a less vigorous grower with mid-green leaves. Fragrant, violet-blue flowers hang in clusters up to 12in (30cm) long in May-June. Supported height and spread to 30ft (9m). Good cultivars include 'Alba' (white) and 'Macrobotrys' (lilac-blue). For sale at Thompson & Morgan. Also 'Rosea' (rose-pink, tipped purple). For sale at Gardening Express. 'Domino' has flowers similar to the typical wisteria species but fuller and more abundant. They are lightly fragrant two-tone lilac-blue with distinctive lemon blotches. For sale at Gardening Express. 'Lawrence' is a bicolour form with long trusses of fragrant bicolour flowers in a soft shade of cream-white combined with a darker lilac-violet. For sale at Gardening Express.
Wisteria frutescens 'Longwood Purple' is a less vigorous dwarf species with rich purple racemes of pea-like flowers. Height to 20ft (6m). For sale at Thompson & Morgan.
Wisteria macrostachya (Kentucky wisteria) is a hardy American form with woody twining stems. Less vigorous than some of the Asian Wisterias. Cultivar 'Aunt Dee' flowers prolifically (and from an early age), throughout May and June. For sale at Thompson & Morgan. Variety 'Clara Mack' is an exquisite form bearing abundant racemes of white, pea-like flowers, with a heavenly fragrance. For sale at Thompson & Morgan.
Wisteria sinensis (Chinese wisteria) is a popular vigorous grower with long trailing flower clusters. Fragrant, mauve flowers hang in clusters 8-12in (20-30cm) long, in May-June. Supported height and spread up to 82ft (25m). Not suitable for a house wall as it can grow very large. For sale at Thompson & Morgan. Good forms include 'Alba' with white blooms (available at Gardening Express) and 'Black Dragon' with deep purple, double flowers (available at Gardening Express). The popular cultivar 'Prolific' produces cascading plumes of highly fragrant mauve flowers from May to June. Supported height to 9m and spread to 5m. RHS Award of Garden Merit. For sale at Van Meuwen.
Wisteria venusta has attractive clusters of fragrant white flowers with a yellow mark. Supported height to 30ft (9m).