A Rare Victory Over Nature

I have a client who cuts off all her wisteria flowers.  She loves its ability to follow a wire and create a precisely controlled woody structure, but hates the simpering mauve of the flowers.

I have a simpering mauve wisteria that I don’t even have to think of de-budding.  Frost does it for me.  Just when the long flower-heads start to extend, we’ll have a cracker of a frost – one of those really crunchy ones – followed by brilliant sunshine, and within days, all the buds will have dropped off.

This would worry me more if I happened to have a decent form of Wisteria.  But I inherited this one, grown as a shrub in a lawn, that happened to be well-placed when most of that lawn was swallowed up in verandah.  It threw up some long shoots which gave the new verandah a bit of instant-aging, and I couldn’t bring myself to dig it out.

This year I decided, just ‘cos I was up for the fight, to try and save it from frosting.  I dragged out long sheets of polypropylene that I’d bought for some other purpose and folded it over long poles cut from the local pine forest.

Then I listened out for frost. You can hear it coming.  It changes the atmospheric conditions (or at least accompanies the change) that totally alters the intensity of the night-time noises coming though our open window – particularly the sound of traffic from a distant freeway. If I heard that, I’d dash out (at whatever time of night) and chuck the long poles into the guttering, creating a curtain of ‘fleece’ (as they know it in the UK).

It worked.  It helped that we had very little in the way of frost.  The insipid colouring annoys me. but I absolutely love the smell, reminding me of May nights in the UK, when the smell would slide through an open window like oozing olfactory fondant, and put a smile on my jet-lagged face.  But undoubtedly the best part of it is that I took on nature and for once – possibly just this once – I won.


  1. There’s another benefit to the flowers: the glorious, dangling, sinuous pods that follow them!

    1. Interesting to see if I get any of those. In my experience, some crop heavily and others never.

  2. Well done you for your assiduous anti frost regime..I’m completely in agreement with your client, a simpering mauve it surely is, the flowers best appreciated by nose with eyes closed.. I’ve tried tempering mine with an underplanting of deep purple and yellow flag iris, but can’t say it’s a triumph..

    1. Good try, though. I’ve occasionally (wish I could say often) found that a wimpy colour can be fortified by the addition of something similar, but more strongly coloured, nearby. All this wisteria would need is for it to be intertwined with something that spangles a darker purple through. Nothing comes to mind, and anyway, given the unequivocal dominance of wisteria, it’s be way too tricky to achieve. Maybe something deep purple on the other side of the path…. I’d be quite happy for it to fall short of triumphant as long as it was an improvement

  3. My gardening world has just shifted on its axis…wisteria…simpering….I cannot begin to find the words to register my surprise(perhaps sadness). What a glorious spring gift it is for me, soft and subtle, stiff and formal arching branches bunched with flowers grown in a messy mass over an old wooden ladder. I have heard it mentioned that society is becoming increasingly extroverted perhaps we are extending this to the garden? Perhaps the lovely old wisteria is being harshly judged as an introvert due to its quiet (rather than simpering) colour? It is very welcome in my garden.

    1. Restore the axis! I’d hate to think I challenged or threatened to reduce anyone’s pleasure in anything to do with gardening. I did specify that I’d happened to inherit the single-most pathetic coloured of all wisterias. I’m crazy about the white and some of the stronger mauve/purples, but mine is neither. But what I do get – and fully love – is the scent, and that tapering flower-head thing which is at its perfect place this morning – fully open flowers to about 1/4 of its length, then tapering down to the tiniest, laciest buds at the bottom. Fabulous

    2. Give me purple wisteria any day…….. Beautiful. Delicate. Never white which usually looks insipid or dare I say , grubby.

    3. Good on you Lyndel. I’m all for diversity of opinion.
      But the white….grubby?

    4. Oh how I long for wisteria. Over the years I’ve planted many gardens, large and small, but have always let the wandering feet take me away before the gardens mature into themselves. I always long for wisteria, jacaranda, and agapanthus, for that sweet brief glorious blossom that takes me right back to gardening with my grandmothers as a small child. It’s the emotional attachment to the memories, as much as the plants themselves. I did have a home for a short while with a sensational wisteria along the eastern verandah. Broke my heart to see the next owners had ripped it right out. At this home, I’m up to the 3rd try and might have success I think.

    5. Isn’t it incredible, that attachment to stuff in your granny’s garden. I have a similar feeling about the various stripy and purple forms of Tradescantia (T. zebrina and T. pallida), growing as they did in unimproved garden dirt in pots in my Nana’s fernery.

  4. I have a wisteria which is constantly denuded by possums. No matter as have had a few glory years.
    What I wld like to do is lop it (next winter) 2.2m from the ground and create some sort of standard that I cld protect. It has two twining trunks measuring approx 40cm circ.
    Would it kill it do you reckon?
    At the moment it is naked and of no shade value either.

    1. Not a chance that it would kill it. And the weird thing about wisteria is that if its climbing habit is consistently curbed by cutting off all wandering shoots, it eventually virtually gives up, and can becomes quite a stable shrub or standard

  5. It’s all subjective, mauve isn’t my favourite colour but when worn briefly by wisteria I find the effect supremely elegant, refined and dreamy. Similarly I love the brief over-the-top display of the fluffy pink Malus floribunda

    1. And one of the take-home messages out of this discussion of the subjective responses to mauve is that it’s always worth chasing the best form of any plant, or the form that most ‘does it for you’. If, back in the day when I decided to train those wandering shoots along the veranda, I instead planted a white wisteria, or a decent, rich mauve/purple one, I could have since removed my inferior form. On the opposite side, I’m a bit attached to the few worthwhile things that were here when we arrived. I really like the fact that not every decision has been mine – that there’s other voices here.

  6. It would take an olfactory fondant to disturb you from your recumbent solidity on those crisp crystal clear frosty morns …

    1. I appreciate the viscous stream of McCoyisms Dave, but I so, so wish my sleep was as you describe. As it is, I sleep like a baby ie I wake about every two hours.

  7. Hey! I like mauve! Your wisteria looks beautiful Michael.

    How different are my problems here in Brisbane. The back garden looks like a junkyard in an effort to keep a very wily and persistent turkey from building a mound. How I long for his breeding season to be over and my garden restored to plants only.

    1. Thanks Erica. You quite rightly – if inadvertently – highlight a degree of disingenuousness in this post, in that while I whinge about my whimpy, washed-out wisteria, I also go to the trouble of taking the most flattering photos I can – carefully backlit by morning sun, following the temporary removal of wheelie bins and trashy bits of timber that lurk with aesthetically evil intent in that part of the garden. I am, if truth be entirely told, very grateful for the fact that this senselessly placed standardised wisteria happened to be perfectly placed to become a climber when the veranda was added. But I’d be gratefuller had it been a more definite colour..
      And I’m VERY grateful for the entire absence of brush-turkeys in Woodend, Victoria

  8. I thought I was the only person in the world who hates that washed out wisteria colour! Dreadful, isn’t it? Not really a plant to inherit. Worth getting rid of it for a white one???

  9. Dear Michael, now you need to do a post on how to get that glorious multi-plant pot (or copper) going on in the foreground .. what’s in it (wintersweet?) and do you rotate the plants according to season?

    1. There’s a bit more about that pot on my facebook page – check it out there (it’s a few posts back now, but not far..)

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