“You can’t see the forest for the trees” is another of those trite but true expressions.
For example, reader Joyce Redden called recently about an old home site covered with wisteria in bloom on Arkansas 10 that would make a great photograph for the Times Record.
Since then, I began to notice wisteria growing up tree trunks along Interstate 540 and climbing light poles, and in many yards, especially in the older neighborhoods. This blooming climber tops pergolas, grows over arches and on the frames of outdoor swings and porches and trails along fences and terraced walls.
Most of the year, it is a gnarled, twining plant with an interesting woody trunk. However, in spring it produces a breathtaking display of long, pendant, fragrant flowers.
In China, the vine we call wisteria is labeled chiao teng (beautiful vine), and in Japan it is Fuji. It was a favorite — and long-lived — vine in Victorian gardens throughout the South.
There are several species: American wisteria (wisteria frutescens) that produces pale lilac flowers after leaves appear, and its Asian cousins (wisteria sinensis) with their long clusters of deep purple, pink or white flowers that appear before the leaves and are extremely invasive.
Most horticulturists in this region recommend the native American wisteria that is somewhat less invasive although it can grow to 30 feet or more. It also blooms a little later so flowering is seldom affected by late freezes. It is also considered more suitable for containers.
However, wisteria requires strong support. In a University of Arkansas fact sheet, retired Professor Gerald Klingaman suggests that “support be a strong trellis, ideally isolated from nearby trees or structures on which it might escape.”
His advice on the correct way to prune depends on how wisterias are being grown:
• "If the vine is planted on a chain link fence, prune it in the winter each year to remove excessively long shoots and limit its spread. If side shoots are removed, leave a couple of buds at the base of each branch for flowering.
• "If the vine tops a pergola or other structure, prune the vine back hard every year after flowering to keep it under control. In either case, set limits in advance on how large the vine will be allowed to get and then stick to them. Some pruning will be needed each year to maintain size.”
Other than pruning, wisteria is easy to grow here, especially in the sun. It is also deer resistant and drought tolerant.
About a week after Joyce’s call, my sister, Rosemary, and I drove down to Arkansas 10 in search of the picturesque setting. However, Mother Nature had already intervened with some 30ish temps and rain, knocking the blooms from the branches.
But gardeners are never daunted. We visited Joyce and husband George and discovered the largest pair of Lady Banks roses we had ever seen — one was white and the other yellow. Each was the size of a small barn. Each was a giant mass of buds and miniature blooms dripping from soft, graceful green branches.
About 20 years ago, Joyce wanted a Lady Banks. Unable to find one locally, she ordered both a yellow and white species. She recalls a fellow rosarian warning, “I hope you have a large space.” And she did. They are growing at the edge of the backyard overlooking a valley.
For those of us who have never grown Lady Banks, it is a thornless climber that explodes in clusters of subtly fragrant miniature blossoms. And it has a fascinating story: In 1885, a young Scottish bride who had moved with her husband to Tombstone, Ariz., was homesick and her family in Scotland sent her some tiny cuttings of a white “Lady Banksia Rose” that she had planted as a child. She planted them, and they thrived in the Arizona dessert. Today — 133 years later — this Lady Banks covers more than 8,000 square feet and is a tourist attraction with its own museum. It is the largest rose in the world, according to “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” and “Guinness Book of World Records.”
Lady Banks has been a favorite among gardeners for generations and is more drought tolerant and disease resistant than most rose species.
After a tour of the Reddens’ picturesque hilltop country garden, we left with a Ball fruit jar filled with Lady Banks cuttings. If we are lucky, they will root; then, we will need to find homes for them since neither of our gardens can accommodate a rose the size of a small barn.
And, for those who have room in their garden for another rose or two, the Fort Smith Rose Society will host its annual plant sale this Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the home of Bud and Joyce Cooksey, 11 Riverlyn Drive. There will be plenty of roses and a good selection of plants, according to Society president David Nichols. Not only will roses be available, but members will be on hand to answer questions about care of roses here. Proceeds will go to the Rose Society — the oldest society in Arkansas.
Next week, the topic will be: patriotic roses are not always red, white or blue!
Lucy Fry of Fort Smith is a level 4 Master Gardener and writes the area Master Gardener newsletter. Her column, Gardening for the Record, runs weekly in the Times Record. Send questions to email@example.com.