Wisteria Potential & Primrose Jasmine

Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) and primrose jasmine (Jasminum mesneyi)In all the world, there is no vine like wisteria. From Sierra Madre to Jerusalem, I have seen nothing that can match its seemingly limitless potential for growth.
How appropriate that wisteria should cover a massive wall in the southeastern corner of Jerusalem’s Old City, not far from the ancient Temple Mount, site of the illustrious sanctuary built by King Solomon 3,000 years ago.
According to one tradition, this is where it all began. The dust from which Adam was fashioned came from the same ground upon which Solomon’s sanctuary would be built and, throughout history, this place, and the city that surrounds it, has been a magnet for those seeking God and the limitless spiritual growth that accompanies that quest.
Not far from modern, downtown Jerusalem, in Liberty Bell Park, there is another outstanding example of wisteria growth. An enormous arbor, thousands of feet long, completed in 1976 and commemorating America’s bicentennial, is covered with wisteria. I remember when tiny wisteria vines were planted at the base of the arbor’s arches. For years, it seemed that they would never amount to much. Then, suddenly, they grew with a sense of unfathomable urgency. I could never imagine that those tiny vines would eventually grow into today’s brilliant arbor, heavy with pendant chains of lavender flower clusters.
If you live in the Valley, you do not have to travel far to feast your eyes on an amazing wisteria, a specimen considered by the Guinness Book of World Records to be the largest blooming plant in the world.
In 1894, a certain 1-gallon Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) was purchased for 75 cents and planted next to a front porch in Sierra Madre in the San Gabriel Valley. In the course of time, it would grow to cover more than 1 acre, engulfing and collapsing the original house that stood on the property.
Today, an annual wisteria festival (locally called wistaria festival because the plant was named in honor of American physician Caspar Wistar, but mistakenly entered into botanical nomenclature as wisteria) is held in Sierra Madre, attracting thousands of visitors who wait in line for hours to see the famous vine, which displays 1.5 million lavender flowers when in bloom.
You would think that a vine as robust as wisteria would flower under any circumstances. Not so. Every so often, I receive a question from a reader who is puzzled over the lack of flowers on a wisteria.
Wisteria will not flower as long as most of its growth is in a vertical direction. Only after top growth flattens out will flowers be seen, so you may need to wait several years after planting before flowers are seen on your young wisteria. You can hasten flowering by pruning back vertical growth.
When a wisteria still refuses to bloom, it is recommended that you take a spade and plunge it, here and there, through the root zone to stimulate root growth.
Since wisterias are in the legume family and manufacture their own nitrate minerals, fertilizer application will also inhibit flowering since excess nitrate will push all growth into new leaves at the expense of flower production.
Finally, wisteria are not recommended for container planting since their roots need lots of room to expand.
Under optimal conditions, wisteria vines can live for 250 years. Give your vine well-drained soil and lots of sun.
In Jerusalem in April, another widely seen flowering vine, also utilized as a billowy shrub, is primrose jasmine, a plant Valley gardeners may wish to consider for its fragrance and drought tolerance.
Primrose jasmine (Jasminum mesneyi) has semi-double yellow flowers that fade to white. The flowers emerge in puffy clusters, so some gardeners have bestowed the appellation “popcorn jasmine” upon this plant. One of the best places to view it is when you drive north on the San Diego (405) Freeway near the exit to the Ronald Reagan (118) Freeway.
If you want primrose jasmine to grow as a vine and to make its way up a wall, fence or trellis, it will do so but only with the encouragement of plant ties. Left to its own devices, it will spread happily over the ground, whether flat or sloping in terrain.
It can also be trained into a shrub with waterfalling shoots.
The most widely planted flowering ornamental tree in Jerusalem is a California native, the western redbud (Cercis occidentalis). Currently in bloom, this is the ideal street tree since it does not exceed 20 feet in height and does not require pruning. Occasional removal of dead interior stems is optional. The canopy is a naturally symmetrical dome.
Bloom period is brief, around two weeks, but its magenta flowers are memorable. Flowers are followed by lime green, heart-shaped leaves that turn to bluish green as the season progresses. Flowers and young seed pods are edible and stems may be woven into baskets.
For an unusual look, you can turn your redbud tree into a shrub by coppicing it every few years. Coppicing, or stooling, is the term for cutting a tree back to its stump, also referred to as a stool. Stems that grow up from the stool will flower after three years.
Redbud trees in Jerusalem flower more abundantly than they do in the Valley. The reason for this is easily explained:
Jerusalem’s winter is colder than our own and the redbud needs a good chill to bloom its best. Western redbuds in our area bloom more heavily the farther north you live. They bloom heaviest in the Antelope Valley, still quite well in the Santa Clarita Valley, but somewhat less in the San Fernando Valley. When we have a warm winter, as we had this year, the differences in redbud bloom among our various valleys is especially pronounced.
Bougainvillea success
Reader Mark Landstrom of Northridge sent a photo of a bougainvillea creation.
“About 15 years ago, I planted a bougainvillea hoping it would grow up and along the ridge of our patio,” he explained. “It did and it changed the entire look.”
Tip of the week
With the approach of summer, consider drip irrigation. The easiest way to go is to lay down drip tubing with predrilled holes, either 12 or 18 inches apart.
All gardens in Jerusalem are watered by drip irrigation, the scarcity of water prohibiting the use of the conventional spray sprinklers that deliver water to most Valley gardens.
It is important to remember that, whereas our common spray sprinklers deliver water at the rate of 1 to 4 gallons per minute, drip tubing holes, emitters and mini-sprinklers deliver water at the rate of 1 to 4 gallons per hour.
In other words, whether you water for a minute or an hour, 60 drip tubing holes or emitters will deliver the same amount of water as one sprinkler.

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