The Priory Wisteria …

… hasn’t flowered in my five years as gardener.  Well, not properly.  It does give a stutter of blue throughout the summer but the big spring show just hasn’t happened; the flower buds have always been killed by the late, sharp frosts we have down in the valley.

DSM_2420It is an impressive plant and big; here’s the trunk.  Short of sawing through it and counting the rings, I can’t tell you how old it is.


March 2009 – I had just cleared nettle, buttercup and bramble from what will eventually be the tropical border

The wisteria stretches for about twenty yards along an outbuilding


October 2009

before reaching an arbour (not a word I like but what else to call it?) where, during the-years-of-neglect, it grew into a big clump; a big clump which I have gradually untangled, reduced and extended to the end of the wooden supports.

DSM_2772Each year, I have carefully pruned it* and coaxed it into providing more shade for the seating area beneath.  But it has never put on a good show

DSM_2628which made early June 2013  DSM_2627quite special for me.  The absence of any late frosts enabled it to do its spring business.  Smells divine too – why, it was almost worth the wait.  I wonder whether it’ll be another five years before it does it again.

There is another wisteria – though I thought it most definitely dead when I arrived.

DSC_0023It had done this you see.


And this.  Left untended, it had run amok into the clapboarding and roof of another outbuilding.  Its reward?  Pruned right down to the base by my predecessor.  With a chainsaw.  Didn’t die though.  I noticed new shoots appearing from below ground and so over the years, I have trained it along wire supports to cover a rather unsightly block wall.

DSC_0022And it flowers too.  Every year.  I suppose the warmth of the west-facing wall protects the flower buds.


Here’s another I’ve trained at The Old Forge.  Personally, I would have planted a darker flowered variety; I think the white is a little lost against those flint walls.  Still pretty though.  Some blithering idiot of a gardener (me!) lost concentration last year and snipped through a main branch whilst pruning.  (There should be an upper, parallel branch to the lower one on the left – you can see the wire).  Sheesh –  I’m now growing its replacement.

* Pruning wisteria

It can be a little intimidating to tackle a large rambling wisteria but it isn’t very difficult.  Gardening books will tell you to prune twice: once during the summer, cutting any long, whippy side shoots or unwanted stems to six leaves; and again in winter, reducing those same shoots from six leaves (buds in winter, of course) down to two.  And that’s it … except … I find that big wisterias are far too vigorous to prune just once in summer.  There are so many new shoots and they grow so fast that they twine together and become impossibly entangled.  Also with wisterias growing near roofs (as both the Priory plants do), I need to check regularly that they aren’t up to mischief.  Even young, new shoots are difficult to pull out from under old tiles – tiles that I really don’t want to be tugging on.  Therefore once a month or so, I’ll just check them and either cut stems and shoots back to those six leaves, tie in any I wish to keep or remove them altogether.

41 thoughts on “The Priory Wisteria …

  1. I wish plant breeders would come up with a wisteria that wasn’t quite so vigorous. They will pull down buildings if left to it. I used to work for a lady who had one growing on her house and every two weeks I had to go upstairs with a pole pruner and hang out of a 2nd floor window to prune away anything that threatened the roof. Still though, they are a very beautiful plant, as your photos show.


    • The wisteria that was chainsawed to ground level had filled the building with a mass of branches – like some vast birds nest. There was more growth on the inside than out. Dave


  2. I love Wisteria too and I’m glad you’ve had a good season of it this year. It does need severe pruning and it takes us a lot of time to stop it from overgrowing. Last year I planted two cuttings that I am training into trees. I’ve seen nice examples of them as upright trees.


  3. Love this! Have you ever tried pleached trees? I really want to do it, but I am having a hard time deciding on the type of tree to use. Our house is Tudor and has lots of old plants. I think I might try using bare root trees this winter but I am worried that if they are young, not all of the trunks will be straight (as opposed to planting trees that have already been started.). I’m in South GA USA. Love your blog! 🙂


    • Hi Sophie, I dearly want to plant a line or two of pleached trees but sadly the owner isn’t keen. Because the soil at the Priory is so wet in winter, I would plant hornbeam myself – but lime (Tilia) is traditional here. If you’re buying bare-root you should be able to select those with the straightest trunks. Or, if you’ve got the space (and patience) train your own. Plant out more than you need in a holding bed and after a couple of years or so transplant the best to their final position. Obviously well trained, big specimens are expensive – but instant effect. Dave


      • Hi David-
        Thanks for your tips. My friend that has an olive grove about an hour east of us can bring a bunch of baby olive trees tomorrow. She says that the top them off in the fields (a type of production or something). Do you think I can pleach them? What is the closest that I can plant them in the row? How many extras should I have in th holding bed that you said to have ready incase they need to be replaced?
        I am so ready to get started. I want to put a pasture type fence on the other side of them so I can stand on it to trim them once they are big. I want to do pleached trees on the ends of the tennis court too. I asked a nursery here about Tilla and they don’t know it. Does it produce real limes?


  4. All your dedicated hard work paid off. Looking at the trunk and size of rhe vine makes me think its 100 yrs old. I’m basing that on the one I had at my old 1898 Victorian house in Massachusetts. I found the old building plans in our attic and the landscaping was included on them. They were dated 1899 and showed the wisteria as well as some poppies and lilac bushes. My old wisteria looked exactly like yours…what a gorgeous act of God that plant is!!


    • How interesting – thank you. I guessed it might be that old but it is nice to have a second opinion. How special to find the original planting plans. Sadly, I have nothing for the Priory. Not even any photos from before my time. Somewhere there are probably albums and shoe-boxes stuffed with photos from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s – I would dearly love to get my hands on them. Dave


      • Yes that would be such a treasure trove!
        When the realtor first showed us the Queen Anne Victorian we ended up buying, there was an old duotoned photo of the house–taken in 1910– with a horse tied to the hitching post that to this day still stands there. When we put an offer on the house, I begged the owner to include that pic, (even offered to pay extra) but he wouldn’t budge.
        There’s nothing quite like the original plans/pics to show provenance! I always keep my eye out for old postcards just in case I should run across anything old from that neighborhood. it’s on the historic property register so you never know!


  5. Ah Wisteria…..I have just returned from a battle with a neglected wisteria….left to rampage over a garage roof & inappropriately shaped gate. Nowhere for flowers to ‘dangle’ and liable to strangle any passers by. The beast has been contained and I too am now in ‘monitoring mode’. I’m hoping for a dazzling display next year…shame the owner has no interest…oh well…keep up the good work ol’ chap!


  6. pruning advice for wisteria always makes me anxious – I like your keep it in check approach but wonder why neglected wisterias can and do flower profusely


    • Ha! Just to make us gardeners feel useless and that we’re wasting our time? It is similar to all that rose pruning advice. The RHS did a trial where roses were pruned ‘correctly’ and others were cut with a hedge trimmer. There was no difference in flowering! D


  7. I love wisteria too and I’ve just planted one at the base of my iron and timber pergola (I agree, arbour sounds quite old-fashioned and far less italian). It’s growing pretty well already, no doubt about it and it flowered too. Here their peak time is april, by the way. Love the way you are training both of yours, the one at priory is very subtle and I love that wall.
    Here people prune wisterias very hardly, they cut everything but the old trunk, which puts flowers and explode with new life every year. I’m not used to prune plants so hardly but eventually it works pretty well. They actually treat wisteria like a grapevine and it seems to like it. Don’t know if the same apply to your climate though.


  8. They make such stunning displays, no wonder they are much beloved and old specimens are a feature of a many large houses and stately gardens. Superb work there David, you’re a talented gardener.


  9. Hurrah – hope it’s back in its stride now and doesn’t wait another 5 years for a good show.
    They are all, in fact, looking rather fine. Your extra snip too many is every gardener’s worst fear! 😦 Another year or two and you’ll never know, though. S


  10. There is noting as beautiful as a wisteria, I’m surprised you’ve lost the initial flowers every year when it is such an established plant. It is the very best plant for shading a sitting area, especially if in winter you want the light. BTW I’d call the structure a pergola, do you like that better? C


    • Pergola is a good Italian word, Christina but like I’ve said below it is just a little fancy (but then I’m spending too much time thinking about it). Normally the big fat flower buds become brittle and dry thanks to the cold snaps we have. It took me a year or two to realize why though. Dave


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