Wonderful wisterias

A shopper's guide to this clan of showy spring-flowering vines

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Wonderful wisterias

Chinese wisteria 'Cooke's Special' mingles with 'Rêve d'Or' roses in designer Michael Bates's Sonoma County, California, garden.

Saxon Holt

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In the western China province of Hubei, the much-loved vine that westerners know simply by the scientific name Wisteria is called chiao teng (beautiful vine).

In Japan, it's called Fuji. By any name, this rambunctious climber with lacy green foliage is an exceptional beauty in bloom. Dramatic clusters of flowers in blue, pink, purple, and white can dangle from 1 to 3 feet in length.

You can train these twining woody vines as climbers, ground covers, or trees (tree wisterias are often sold already trained). Plants will thrive in any soil that drains well and in every climate zone in the West. Make sure, though, that you have room to grow them: Wisterias are vigorous, even rampant growers.

Chinese and Japanese wisterias are the most widely sold types. Silky wisterias, also from Japan, deserve equal attention.

These three types have surpassed the southeastern American species (W. frutescens and W. machrostachya), introduced in the 18th century but now seldom planted here.

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