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Wisteria Frenzy

By Rick Gush, Urban Farm Contributor

Friday, April 15, 2011

Wisteria

Photo by Rick Gush

The cascading purple wisteria reigns here in Italy.

It’s full-blown spring now in Italy, and things are blooming like crazy. I helped my friend use a weed eater on his olive groves this week, and though I cut down a lot of grass, I mostly mowed down fields of full blooming ajuga and dandelions. 

Back when I was a wholesale nursery salesman, I sold hundreds of flats of ajuga some weeks because it’s a great low groundcover for semi-shady areas. Here in Liguria, ajuga grows wild and very well. The blue flower stalks are almost a foot tall and thrive among the nooks of the orchards.

In the sunnier locations several different types of dandelions mass themselves and produce so many flowers that in some spots, only yellow is visible. Now that I’m a dandelion eater (my wife uses it in delicious vegetable pies), I couldn’t help thinking about the food value of all that I was mowing down. But we’ve already got enough tender young dandelion leaves in our own garden, so I just kept cutting.

Among all the riot of blooms, there’s one queen that dominates this season—the wisteria vine. The purple wisteria variety is really popular here, and the landscape is dotted with hundreds of lushly blooming vines these days. 

Wisterias are pretty hardy and don’t usually get killed by the frosts every decade, so there are a lot of really old wisteria vines. One big vine at a local ex-monastery is known to have been planted before Napoleon came to rule Italy in the early 19th century. On the road to my friend’s house yesterday, I saw a very tall pine tree that was almost engulfed by a wisteria vine, making, in effect, a 60-foot-tall wisteria tree with a huge head full of hanging purple blooms. Some of my favorite wisterias are on the roadway fences of some of the big estates. Wisteria blooms cover 10 vertical feet for a distance of several hundred yards.

I’ve got another friend who has a large, second-story terrace entirely covered by wisteria vines. The effect of standing on the terrace while all the purple flowers hang down causes me disbelief at how wonderful it all looks, sort of like a fairytale land. That I don’t really have a spot or the space for a wisteria in our garden is one of my continuing problems. The place would look great with a bunch of wisteria rambling across and hanging down from all the little terraces, but then we wouldn’t have much space left for growing vegetables.

The dark-purple wisteria variety represents probably 99 percent of the plantings. There’s also a nice pale-lavender variety, a pink variety, and a few plants in white. I’m usually highly in favor of lavender, pink and white flowers, but in wisteria’s case, I’ll go along with the majority and agree that the dark purple wisterias are clearly the most interesting color.

Read more of Digging Italy »

Give us your opinion on Wisteria Frenzy.
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Hi David,

I really like Redbud too. I have a small one planted almost down at street level. I hope you've got pictures of old Rose. I'll bet she was magnificent.

Hi Bruce,

When I lived in Las Vegas I had a good friend named Bruce, so when I see your name I think, Oh, that has to be my old friend. My wife made a vegetable pie a while back with all dandelion greens. Every bit as yummy as any spinach.
rick, Rapallo, YT
Posted: 4/23/2011 12:50:06 AM
Absolutely beautiful! Thanks for brightening up my day with such an amazing photo.

I agree with you about the dandelions. I spent way too many years struggling to get rid of them when all I had to do was eat them.
Bruce, Las Vegas, NV
Posted: 4/20/2011 8:50:13 AM
Rick, I have agree with you that the Wisteria in bloom is a gorgeous sight. Another purple (which is my favorite color) sight is the Redbud tree in bloom. Neither are in bloom here yet and I always anticipate their blooming stage. I just can't get enough of the two. I had a huge Redbud tree in my back yard but the carpenter ants ate out the center and I had to take her down. I called her old Rose. She was about 45 years old which I understand that's quite old for a Redbud. The Tulip trees and the Crab apple trees are in full bloom which looks wonderful but the petals that fall off on the ground are quite messy to clean up. I'm glad that I don't have any of those trees to care for. Lilacs are another of my favorite purple blooming bushes. They have a wonderful aroma that wafts through the air when they are in bloom. I which I had room for more Lilacs.

Have a wonderful Wisteria in bloom day
David, Omaha, NE
Posted: 4/16/2011 7:46:28 PM

About the Blogger

Rick Gush

Rick Gush
Rick Gush has long been a staunch organic gardener. While a student at the University of California at Davis he worked at local tomato and sugar beet farms and continued in the agricultural and horticultural industries for many years. A career move in the 1990s led him to design computer games, but no matter how much of a techie he’s become, gardening and farming remain his principal passions.

In 2000, Rick moved to Italy, where he writes to you about his cliff garden and other experiences in Italian urban agriculture.

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