Tuesday, 1 August 2017

of witch hazel and wisteria

This will be a late and probably short blog post, since I was late in from the monthly meeting of the garden club, and never got round to posting anything before I went out because I was gardening.  I had reminded the Systems Administrator in advance that I would not be around for supper today because it was the first Tuesday of the month, and this morning asked the SA to give me a nudge if I looked as though I might have forgotten that I was supposed to be going out.  At this time of the year I'm usually out in the garden until half past six, if not seven, and it is very easy to get engrossed in what you are doing and forget to come inside in time to get cleaned up and have something to eat.  Sure enough, when the SA came over at quarter to six to check I'd remembered I was going out I was still busily planting up the newly cleared end of the dahlia bed and only vaguely starting to think about packing up.

Tonight's lecturer was a highly knowledgeable and experienced nurseryman, Chris Lane, who holds a National Collection of Hamamelis and another of Wisteria.  I have heard him speak a couple of times before, but am always happy to hear a shrub expert who really knows their stuff holding forth.  I have his book on witch hazels, purchased second hand from a US based seller after it had gone out of print and hit astronomical prices in the UK.  My nice and very clean copy was remaindered from the Orange County library service.  He is working on another book on wisteria which I shall certainly buy, if and when it comes out, since he was working on it the last time I heard him talk and that must have been a year ago.

I picked up some new strange and interesting snippets.  I knew that Hamamelis were traditionally propagated by grafting, and it turns out that they still are.  I wondered if nowadays they might be micropropagated, but it turns out that the numbers involved are too small to be commercially attractive, and that in any event it doesn't work with witch hazel.  Plant science has got so sophisticated, it wouldn't have occurred to me that you couldn't micropropagate pretty much any woody species if you wanted to, but apparently not.  The tubes fill with strange brown gunk and it just doesn't work.  For home gardeners who haven't mastered the art of grafting you can layer them, giving the branches a couple of years to root, or even air layer them, but in commercial nurseries they are still grafted, as plants have been for hundreds of years.

Young wisteria need generous watering to get them going.  Once established they are fine with normal watering, and water logging is fatal, but until then they need lots of water.  That will be why my plant that's supposed to be growing up the scaffolding pole is not doing anything.  I watered it in dry spells early on to keep it from dying, but I have not regularly lavished water upon it.  I had better give it more.

He elaborated on his statement in a previous talk that wisteria tends not to flower until it has reached the limits of whatever it is growing on, be that a six foot pole or a large tree.  The mechanism is that the new, whippy young growths will not extend more than a yard or so beyond their support.  If at that point they sense they are still flailing around with nothing to cling on to, they stop growing.  So if a wisteria has a whole tree to explore it will keep growing until is has poked its way out of the tree by the requisite yard, while if it only has a pergola, or a pole, it will reach the point of no support rather sooner.  Once it has discovered it has nowhere else to go it will start putting more of its energies into flowering.

Chris Lane sells strictly by wholesale, except on his nursery open days.  The dates of those tend to be advertised on his website only a few weeks in advance, because the timing of flowering is so dependent on the weather.  The sight of his stock beds of witch hazels must be a sight to behold.  I need to convince the SA of this, since I don't think I should have the energy to drive all the way to Faversham in my Skoda in February.  I was thinking how good a garden club coach trip would be, until the winner of the potato competition who was sitting next to me pointed out that you couldn't book a coach when you didn't know in advance when the witch hazels were going to be out.

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