By Stephanie Cavanaugh
THERE’S A MIRAGE around the corner.
Two white wisteria trees have suddenly emerged at either end of a pie-shaped street garden, one of those spaces that appear to be the responsibility of no one, scattered around the neighborhood, detached from any property. Neighbors usually take them in hand, planting roses or grasses or other pleasurables.
In this case, someone planted these trees. Each is about 12 feet tall and at least as wide, dripping with blossoms so sweetly scented they enthralled my nose from a block away, hauling me along on perfumed tentacles to find the source.
Standing beneath a branch of heavenly scented blossoms, I muttered, Impossible. Impossible. Wisteria trees. Nah . . . there’s no such thing. And yet, I was staring at one (and then the other).
Where did they come from? I swear to you they were not here last spring. I swear there were big patches of datura, angel’s trumpet, in one of the spots. I don’t recall anything in the other.
Is this like . . . Brigadoon? Magical apparitions that appear once in 100 years and then return to the ether never to be seen again in this lifetime?
In a frantic Internet search I find wisteria trees actually don’t exist, at least in this form.
If you want a wisteria tree of any color you have to create one yourself.* Like rose bushes that are pruned to the shape of a tree—standards, they’re called—these were your garden-variety wisteria vine, forced to form a stalk and a crown of flowers.
Per White Flower Farm, you take a bareroot wisteria, jam a stake into the ground about 12 inches deep and lightly lash the trunk to the stake. You’ll have to replace the stake with a steel rod at some point, they say. I say, might a well start with one. These beauties grow big and fast, up to 15 feet in one season.
Aha! So that’s where the trees came from. They probably looked pretty no-account the first year or so, since a good bit of pruning was needed to get the shape and flowering head going, which is probably why I didn’t notice them in my near-daily walks right past their tidy beds.
On the other hand, the trunks are thicker than my arm (which really could be thinner, but that’s neither here nor there). They had to have taken years to achieve that girth.
Oh, bother. These suckers have me really rattled.
You want to give it a try? Wisteria is invasive, which is nothing to sneeze at, so be warned. There’s an enormous amount of labor involved in keeping their limbs from running amok. Training a tree might well be worse than dealing with a vine. Growing that tall that fast means you should probably stand by your burgeoning tree, secateurs in hand, from beginning to end of each growing season, clipping those wily little branches as they emerge. No summer vacation for you!
On the other hand, the tree might be easier. Confine it to a clear spot on your patch, where you can easily see which way it’s sprouting and twining, and deal with it promptly. Clearly, I know nothing.
Quite a show for a week or so, and now I see the blossoms have faded to brown and dangle forlornly from the branches. As ephemeral as any spring bloom, there’s an explosion of flowers and then . . . pfft.
Have I mentioned I want one?
*I have seen wisteria trees for sale online, but they appear to be trees in name only. They’re the same wisteria you can grow up a wall or over a trellis. You still have to do the training.