A Gardening Journal

Amethyst Falls wisteria

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American wisteria: the flowering vine for any compact sunny space, and almost any gardener.  I was so lucky to have an un-used well—with this huge well-stone no less.  I covered the well with a slab of bluestone, and mounted the well-stone vertically, with its dramatic central hole, on a heavy-beamed wood stand.  And then I unleashed 'Amethyst Falls' wisteria.  The stone didn't quivver or shy away, which even stones this big (three feet by five feet) would if you planted an Asian wisteria near them.  Those glorious monsters could, in time, pick the stone right up, or even grow so thick through the hole that they'd split the stone entirely.

 

American wisteria's the delicate family member.  The stems don't seem likely to get thicker than my fingers, let alone ever get as thick as my thighs.  And the short racemes of flowers aren't big enough to obscure the stone during their Spring flowering either.

 

Notice how the stems grow fairly straight and untwined when they don't sense something to wrap around.  The wisteria is, in fact, tied around the entire stone, looping through the central hole and then over the top.  Imagine: A wisteria that actually needs a little help to take hold.  What a relief.

 

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The wood structure holds the stone vertically, with its bottom edge about two feet above ground.  That's a gold-leaved hydrangea at the base, whose glowing leaves could hardly be a better partner to the purple flowers.  I'll write about the hydrangea next week.

 

 

Here's how to grow this restrained and unusual wisteria:

 

Latin Name

Wisteria frutescens 'Amethyst Falls'

Common Name

American wisteria

Family

Fabaceae, the Pea family.

What kind of plant is it?

Deciduous woody vine.

Hardiness

Zones 5 - 9

Habit

Twining but not alarming.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

Fifteen feet long, but the size depends on whether the vine has a large enough structure to twine on.  Can be held to a much more compact size indefinitely.

Texture

In leaf, eventually dense with typical (but smaller than usual) pinnate wisteria foliage.  In the cold months, when it's deciduous, the woody twining stems are a fraction the thickness of the Asian wisterias that are "the" picture of wisteria to the man on the street.  On the other hand, they therefore don't have the striking thick-limbed drama of Asian wisterias, either.

Grown for

the amethyst-hued flowers, densely packed in the shortest racemes of any wisteria: six inches or less.  They're so tightly grouped along the stem of the raceme that it can't hang down like the vertically-hanging racemes of Asian wisteria.  Instead, 'Amethyst Falls' racemes are held outward at the angle that their stem prongs off the wisteria.  Pudgy is an affectionate descriptor.  

 

the pine-cone appearance of the young racemes:  The individual flower buds are packed cheek-by-jowl along the short raceme's stem.

 

the modest (for a wisteria) mature size overall, and thickness of the "trunks."  W. frutescens is the wisteria that you can actually let twine through a structure; it won't strangle and destroy it the way the massive Asian wisterias can. 

Flowering season

Late Spring: late May/early June here in Rhode Island.  The flowering is a week or two after the Asian wisterias have faded.  In my experience, plants are very precocious to bloom, without the years of "Will it or won't it?" that can frustrate gardeners with Asian wisterias.  If you buy 'Amethyst Falls' during its flowering season, it's often in bloom right in the nursery pot.

 

There can be a bit of repeat blooming, but nothing like that first great show in Spring.

Culture

Easy!  Full sun and any well-draining soil. 

How to handle it

This is the wisteria even for casual gardeners: It's eager to bloom and you have peace of mind that an untended vine won't start dismantling your house.  That said, you still need to provide something for it to twine on, but you don't need to be as concerned, as with Asian wisterias, that it be strong enough to hold a woody vine that will someday weigh hundreds of pounds, or that it can withstand the crushing embrace of foot-thick trunks. 

 

Go ahead: train 'Amethyst Falls' through wrought-iron fences.  They won't get mangled.  I also enjoy letting it race up a metal reinforcing rod—"rebar"—pounded deep into the ground.  In no time it forms a nice standard, a "tree" wisteria. 

 

This is still a wisteria to "de-whip" whenever you get the urge and have a few minutes.  By July and certainly August, your plant will have put out many thin green tendrils, waving about in space in hopes of finding a new structure to latch onto.  If you need the plant to cover more area, by all means gently (they can snap) tie them back to the structure, and let the twining tip "feel" what it's now supposed to twine on.  Otherwise, cut them all off.  As with the Asian wisterias, you'll find that this encourages the plant to develop the short (in this case, really short) multi-fingered woody projections called "spurs," which are what put out the flowers. 

 

Because the entire vine is so small-scale and slender, you can adjust the position of even major stems (as long as they haven't been twining around a structure, that is), or even unwind the entire vine from that one vertical rebar stake to wind it back up higher or more tightly. 

 

As always, never hesitate to cut off new stems that spring right from the base.  Wisteria always gives you more potential growth than you'll ever actually need.  Go ahead and be the editor.

Downsides

Compared to those of the Asian wisterias?  None.  Yes, it can still send out a couple of straight-arrow ground-level stems that, from Asian plants at least, can stealth along ten or even twenty feet before you realize it.  But they are thin and easy to clip off.

Variants

'Nivea' is a white-flowered form.  The flower clusters are the same size but are considerably less showy from a distance.  Plant this one only if you'll be able to view it at close quarters.

Availability

On-line, as well as at retailers.

Propagation

Cuttings.

Native habitat

Southeastern United States.

 
 
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