Archive for April 2012

Wisteria – Wild or Wonderful?

April 21, 2012

If I had to name the plant I am most often asked to include in a garden design by a potential client, it would have to be wisteria (Wisteria floribunda, or Japanese wisteria). Sometimes, they don’t even know its name, but describe it in longing terms as “that wonderful plant that has long purple-y flowers that hang down.” I’m sure what they envision is something like this.

Wisteria floribunda, wisteria blooms, Brookside Gardens

Wisteria floribunda in bloom, draped over a lengthy wooden arbor at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton MD

Or this.

Wisteria floribunda, wisteria blooms

Wisteria trained on an ornamental iron fence in northwest Washington DC.

Now don’t get me wrong – I think this is an extraordinarily beautiful plant in bloom. But I also believe that it only belongs in a garden IF (and this is a big “if”) the garden owner is prepared to support it properly, be prepared for a serious amount of maintenance work to keep it in check, and is OK with the fact that is potentially invasive – I saw it in masses when I visited Charleston in the spring in 2009, half-smothering live oaks, and even around here I see it weaving its way up tall trees on the edges of roadways.

Wisteria was introduced to the United States in 1830.  It prefers full sun but established stands of it will live and even flower in partial shade. Here in DC, the most well-known stand of it in a public garden is probably at Dumbarton Oaks, where you can see it throughout the garden, although always carefully sited on structures that can support its weight.

Wisteria floribunda, Dumbarton Oaks, Fountain Terrace

Wisteria supported by an arbor at Dumbarton Oaks' Arbor Terrace (with the Fountain Terrace in the foreground).

Dumbarton Oaks, Wisteria floribunda, Pebble Terrace

More blooming wisteria in the Pebble Terrace at Dumbarton Oaks.

So, take a close look at this photo from the Orangerie at Dumbarton, one of the first buildings you see on entering the grounds there.

Wisteria floribunda, Dumbarton Oaks, L'Orangerie

The trunks of these wisteria vines are attached to the brick front of the Orangerie with wires and strong rubber ring supports.

Here’s the size the trunks can become over time. No wonder the gardeners here prune the wisteria three or four times during the growing season.

Wisteria floribunda, Dumbarton oaks

Wisteria trunks at Dumbarton.

In the wild, wisteria trunks like this can attach to and ultimately strangle other trees. And if I find it wild in a garden I’m designing, I confess that I will do everything in my power to eliminate it (with the owner’s permission, of course). Still, its allure is strong enough that I have one client with a very shady garden who installed a wooden arbor just to support a volunteer, and this year (perhaps our mild winter helped), it has bloomed unusually well.

Wisteria floribunda

Wisteria blooming on an arbor in a small suburban garden in a shady back yard.

I have warned her that ultimately it may become too large and heavy for this support. But for now, she is happy. And this success inspired me to write this post. (For one last look at wisteria truly “gone wild,” although in a controlled environment, click here to see wisteria “tunnels” in Japan.)

What do you think? Do you love or hate this vine?

Goodwin’s Montrose Garden

April 6, 2012

One of the first famous gardens I visited after becoming a gardener myself was Montrose Garden, in Hillsborough, North Carolina. It was part of a weekend trip that included a visit to the J.C. Raulston Arboretum, Edith Eddleman’s own garden, and tantalizing stops at places like Tony Avent’s famed retail mail-order nursey, Plant Delights.

Montrose is a 61-acre property that was purchased in 1977 by Nancy and Craufurd Goodwin, who immediately began to expand the gardens substantially.  Neophyte that I was, I had no idea of how well-known or superb Montrose was when I first stepped off the bus that morning. Nancy Goodwin herself, along with an intern who was working at the garden for the summer, greeted us and showed us around. I saw Dianthus planted in gravel for the first time, was awed by a mature baldcypress tree that had been grown from seed (planted by the previous owner), and ended up at some long tables back behind the house that represented the winding-down of Goodwin’s own mail-order nursery efforts, where we bought some small plants to bring home. Goodwin spoke about how there is always something blooming, the thousands of snowdrops that have naturalized from the hundreds she planted, and then turned us loose for a little while to wander on our own.

I wasn’t really a photographer at the time, but I did have a camera along, and captured a couple of shots of the Lathe House, which I’m sharing today. I was inspired to write this post because of an article in the New York Times I came across in digital form the other day, testifying that the garden is still going and open to the public by appointment. Goodwin and her husband have made provision for it to become a preservation project of  The Garden Conservancy.

Montrose Garden, Nancy Goodwin, Lathe House

The interior of the Lathe House at Montrose Garden, c. 1992 (maybe)

Montrose Garden, Nancy Goodwin, Lathe House

Seeing through the Lathe House

If you have a chance to visit, don’t pass it up. If you want to learn more about Goodwin and the creation of the garden, she has written two books, both of which I can recommend: Montrose: Life in a Garden, and A Year in Our Gardens: Letters By Nancy Goodwin and Allen Lacy.

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