A Gardening Journal

Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: Colorful Cool-season Canopies of the Trumpet Vine & Wisteria Pollards

No tree in my garden that grows quickly escapes my "What happens if I prune the hell out of it?" attention. Beech, hornbeamcatalpa, gleditsia, paulownia, parrotia, magnolia, poplar, linden, willow, maple, holly, mulberry, seven sons, and elm are just a few that, when pruned radically as well as regularly, thrive with style and at a fraction of their free-range size.

 

Vines grow quickly almost by definition: They don't have to waste energy forming growth with enough structure to be self-supporting and, so, can focus on producing stems that extend all the more rapidly. The more woody of them—trumpet vine, climbing hydrangea, and wisteria in particular—can be grown up a stake to adopt a tree-like habit.

 

All but the hydrangea flower best with pruning that is ruthless, yearly, and well-timed—but only trumpet vine also puts on a cool-season show of the resultant young twigs that rivals that of any of my well-pruned willows, maples, poplars, or lindens. It seems fitting to refer to it not just as a trumpet vine tree, but a trumpet vine pollard.

 

I have four such Campsis pollards already, two of Campsis grandiflora 'Morning Calm' and two of Campsis radicans. Below is one of the latter, at the center of one of the pergolas in the Red Garden. At the left is one of a pair of tightly-pruned Wisteria floribunda 'Macrobotrys' that bookend the Campsis.

 

Campsis radicans canopy trunks overall 010316 640

 

Fourteen years ago, young Campsis stems were quickly trained up a vertical galvanized pipe for permanent support. They soon adopted the fissured, flaking bark typical of mature growth.

 

Campsis radicans trunks 010316 640

 

The top of each stem gets pruned back without fail before growth resumes in the Spring. Young stems emerge with nearly relentless vigor.

 

Campsis radicans trunks and canopy 010316 trunk to first year stems 640

 

Those stems' bark is strikingly different from that of the trunks: It is smooth, not fissured and flaking. It is also a bright color similar to that of whole-wheat flour in the strong lighting needed for a commercial, not just a generic tan.

 

In addition to emerging from the top of the Campsis trunks, twigs also emerge from the top of major branches that have been trained out along the horizontal cross-bars of the top of the pergola. The picture below shows how vigorously they have emerged from limbs trained along the front bar.

 

Campsis radicans first year stems cropped 010316 640

 

Campsis that is cut back just for size control also displays these colorful twigs, but if the vine has been allowed to form irregular trunks and limbs, the twigs are more likely to look like random tufts. They also might remind you of how scarily energetic the vine is: Yes, you hacked it back brutally, but look at how quickly it grew as a result. By training the vine overall to concentrate the display of new twigs where their presence will be understood as intentionally showy, not frustratingly irrepressible, the show is transformed from negative to positive.

 

These first-year stems will still be removed before new growth begins: Flowers are borne only at the tips of current-season growth and, by Spring, these stems will have become last year's news. But there's no need to rush the pruning; unlike pollards of mulberry or poplar, say, stems of Campsis radicans won't drip sap even if pruned after new growth has already begun to form. A Campsis pollard, then, is a show from mid-Fall right through to early Spring. Here in southern New England, that's November through April: six months!

 

I used to cut off all the first-year stems in late Fall. I had it in my mind that the young twigs were graceless and over-eager, and that the real Winter show for trumpet vine was of the permanent scaffold of trunks and horizontal limbs from which these flower-bearing new stems were allowed to arise each Spring. This year—perhaps with the exciting cool-season shows of rarely-pollarded forms of mulberry and poplar so recently on my mind—my eyes and mind were both open wide enough to notice that first-year stems of Campsis radicans are defiantly, boisterously attractive in Winter.

 

The trunks and limbs of the Campsis pollard do exude strength and dignity. It's as if they were male dancers who lift delicate flower-laden ballerinas high overhead. By pruning off the first-year stems, the male dancers were left all flexed and supportive but with nothing to hold aloft. I've since discovered that partners and pairings are often better than solos. The snaking cinnamon-and-green striations on the trunk of the mulberry pollard make the smooth green bark of its first-year stems all the more interesting. And so with the Campsis: The straight, smooth wands of the first-year growth are in striking contrast to the thick, textured, irregular show of the trunks.

 

Besides, this particular Campsis pollard is flanked by the pair of well-pruned 'Macrobotrys' wisterias, whose limbs have been trained out along the horizontal beams of the pergola. The left one is in the top picture; below is the right:

 

Wisteria floribunda Macrobotrys canopy 010316 640

 

Young stems of wisteria are no different in color or texture than the oldest trunks. With all the fast-growing young "whip" stems cut off, the remaining densely-branched stubby growth creates an orderly, horizontal canopy. Impressive and dignified both—but also, so controlled. (And controlled out of necessity as well as taste: An unpruned wisteria can take over the neighborhood, and often doesn't flower nearly as well.)

 

To have already-pruned horizontal limbs of the Campsis pollard between a monochromatic pair of diligently trained wisterias now seems nearly French in its stiffness. Besides, no woody vine "does" pruned-and-subdued-for-the-Winter better then wisteria. Pruned Campsis would only look picked-clean by comparison. Unpruned—or, rather, theatrically pruned—Campsis looks all the more lively when bookended by the wisteria's muscular gray restraint. 

 

Below, snow flurries announce that true Winter has finally arrived. Magnolia grandiflora espaliered against the west wall of the house backdrops the front edge of the pergola. The high-energy stems of Campsis contrast with the flatter, lower stretches of just-pruned wisteria on either side.

 

Campsis radicans Wisteria floribunda Magnolia grandiflora 010416 640

 

Better to leave these young Campsis stems in place until Spring: Winter needs every jot of defiance and boisterousness the garden can provide.

 

 

Here's the fuller story on how to grow Campsis radicans.

 

Here's how to grow Wisteria floribunda 'Macrobotrys'.

 
 
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