Wistful for Wisteria

A showstopper in the right garden spot and a boon to bees

A plant that is native to China, Korea, Japan, and southern Canada blossoms late each spring on the North Shore of Nova Scotia, thanks to the attention given to it by New Glasgow homeowners Coreen and Fred Popowich. When the couple purchased the Japanese wisteria from the former Pleasant Valley Nursery near Antigonish 11 years ago, it still had a lot of growing to do.
Today, their vine variety “Royal Purple” is the talk of their neighbourhood when in bloom—it’s not something a passerby can easily miss. Wisterias are known to climb vigorously and can deform fences and other structures with their strength, so the Popowichs knew to plant theirs where it could climb safely. The couple chose to plant this near their pergola to keep it from taking over their house.
“It has a pleasant but not overpowering scent; lighter than the lilacs, and it is full of bumblebees all day long,” says Coreen. “A somewhat comforting sound.”
While the flowers do not blossom every year, it was a showstopper in 2021. The amount of colour and beauty that viewers can enjoy depends on how hard the preceding winter has been, with the buds going straight to leaves instead of flowers.

Angela vanKessel from Cultivated Eco, a start-up in Pictou County, says the question about the seasonal effect of winter on wisteria is a complicated question.
“It’s only recently that wisteria can survive our winters here in N.S. (not including South Shore/Annapolis Valley areas). This winter is that freeze and thaw style we are starting to get used to here in N.S. and it can be stressful to any plant,” she says. “Snow is an important insulator to protect the main roots of the plant. Because wisteria bloom on new wood (meaning the branches that grow in the same season as the flower blooms), the winter conditions shouldn’t affect bloom as long as the plant survives. The best way to get your wisteria to bloom is to avoid high nitrogen fertilizer and to do some root pruning (an axe works great).”
Wisteria does have a couple of caveats for those considering planting in their yard and garden. They are toxic to animals (and humans) and their vining trunks and branches can often reach 30 or more feet long, and those limbs are heavy. You need a sturdy trellis or arbour to train a plant on, or else keep it strongly pruned.
“Wisteria needs to be pruned back a couple of times a summer after it blooms, and to keep it from climbing on the roof. Other than that there isn’t much else to do but enjoy it,” Coreen says.

There are 10 species of wisteria, although only a few are available in Nova Scotia, from reputable local nurseries and garden centres. When looking at a Japanese wisteria from above, it is interesting to note that the vines grow clockwise while Chinese wisteria twines counterclockwise, but this isn’t the only difference. Japanese wisteria also tend to be more fragrant and their flowers more prominent than the Chinese species.
The plant requires full sun, good drainage, and consistent moisture to thrive during the initial growth period and while flowering to be at its best.
In the spring, the plant produces flower clusters which resemble bunches of grapes and, with proper care, increase in size and beauty each year. Japanese wisteria flowers come in pink, white, blue and violet and tend to grow in 12 to 18-inch clusters of flowers, blooming while the leaves continue to develop.
While growing the gorgeous wisteria plant certainly isn’t ideal for everyone’s garden, once a neighbour decides to grow one, the whole community will reap its benefits!