End of an era


Two springs ago, a pruning mishap (not mine) caused our huge wisteria to come crashing down from its garage-roof empire. We cut it back to a six-foot-high stump, cleaned up what looked like a tree’s-worth of debris, and waited, in hopes that we could train it back into viability. It had bloomed a few times,  and those of you with wisteria know how thrilling it is to finally have flowers. Kind of makes the whole, ungainly maintenance hassle of this plant worthwhile.

No luck. The stump leafed out profusely, its tendrils reaching out wherever they could be most unattractively in the way. And anyway, even before (when it was big), the Plant Doctors had diagnosed it with “creeping white death,” which is a fungus that attacks the heartwood.

Maybe that’s why it wasn’t that hard to get the thing out. It just took some sawing of the branches and trunk (many of which easily snapped away), some root sawing, and goodbye to a plant I’ve had for at least ten years.

Wisteria has always been a must-have plant for me. I’ve seen it climbing and blooming on old brick walls in my neighborhood, hanging over restaurant patios in Amalfi, and forming a beautiful tunnel on various estate gardens I’ve visited. On our property, it never achieved such splendor, but it did bloom, and provided a canopy backdrop for the pond. Now, a climbing hydrangea, trumpet vine, and a few clematis are all vying—more or less successfully—to take its place. And I know a source for the native American wisteria, which is supposed to be better-behaved (not an attribute that I terribly value).

I’ve always been willing to rip out huge swaths of perennials, I discard bulbs every year, and I watch the demise of annuals without a qualm. This is different. The removal of such a longtime piece of the garden architecture makes everything look different. Which might be good thing.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. That’s a shame, Elizabeth! Have you considered buying a wisteria standard and having it as a tree instead? Just a thought….

  2. I’ve got to agree, I’d be devasted if my Wisteria died. I’ve been through the “I’d rather grow than bloom” stage of Wisteria, and I’ve suffered a new-everblooming-but-still-not-exciting Wisteria variety, but there is nothing like a 10 or 15 year old established common Wisteria for a nice Spring perfume and visual focal point.

  3. My condolences on the demise of your wisteria. I also feel that wisteria is a must have plant…mine is the oldest plant in my garden. I hope you find a way to start again!

  4. I sympathize with the loss of your wisteria, and am with you in your affection for it in one’s yard and in large-scale landscaping. I found a photo of a wisteria tunnel in a Japanese park, and fell into lust.

    I offered some friends some wisteria, and I might as well have offered a deer with bubonic plaque. How could anyone in their right mind like wisteria, was the gist of their reaction. Too invasive!

    Not in my experience, but I have chosen particular wisterias which are on the less invasive side. In the house we are having to sell, I leave behind many recently purchased/planted wisterias I shall never see in bloom, and hope the new owners appreciate them. In the front is a wisteria standard, which never seemed to sprawl, and in one of the smaller planters, I had two or three younger ones being trained up in a braid of trunks.

    I decided there were certain fruit trees, roses, a wisteria and a japanese maple I was NOT giving up. In particular, the roses that came with, in planters until we can buy again, were Peace variations. Going into the contract will be a statement of granting right of first refusal, should they wish to rid themselves of roses or fruit trees I had planted.

    Speaking of that, I drove by our first bought home, only to find it was on sale for a price midway between what we’d paid, and what we sold it for–and they had taken the roses out of the front yard, every one! They’d been carefully arranged, planted, irrigated, covered by weed cloth and “gorilla hair”, so that water needs were less, and confined to the roots.

    The disconnect for me is that the roses had allegedly been a draw for the woman who wrote the contract (a realtor in the same office as our seller’s agent). Hmpf. Looked up the listing, and they seem to have kept the Back 49 intact.

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