Trailing clouds of glory

Wordsworth wasn’t thinking of wisteria when he wrote the words I’ve used for the title, but they are equally apt for this beautiful spring bloomer.

What do plant nursery owners do when they retire? In the case of Christine and John Nicholls, the answer was simple – grow their beloved climbers but this time for pleasure alone.

The Nicholls have some 500 plants growing on posts – including honeysuckles, native jasmine and clematis – and planted in sight of the house is a collection of about 20 wisterias.

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Wisteria sinensis. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The couple opened Tendrils Nursery at Pyes Pa, on the outskirts of Tauranga, in 1978, specialising in climbing plants and later including the mail-order company, Courier Climbers, and co-authored the book Climbing Plants, published in 1995.

“We specialised in climbers because no one else was,” John says, “but Christine had one stipulation – that we didn’t grow anything with thorns so we had only banksia roses and no bougainvilleas.”

John, who has been involved with horticulture all his working life, is an avid collector of plants and knew the late Trevor Davies, the son of one of the founders of Duncan and Davies, who tried to sort out the mess of wisteria naming, work that has since been carried on by Australian plantsman Peter Valder.

“So many names have been attached willy-nilly to wisteria plants that it’s almost impossible to know what’s what,” John says.

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Wisteria floribunda Rosea. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Christine adds the problem is compounded by many wisteria being grafted. “Sometimes the graft dies and the understock comes away so the name is perpetuated on the wrong plant.”

And growing from seed is no help. “They’re fairly promiscuous plants,” Christine says. “You can get a vast range of colours from just one cross and can’t be sure of what’s what.”

There are two main types of wisteria – floribunda (Japanese, longer racemes of flowers, but often unscented; flowers and leaves at the same time), sinensis (Chinese, shorter flowers but well scented; flowers come before the leaves) and frutescens (native to the United States, slightly scented).

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Wisteria Caroline. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“The only problem they seem to suffer from is the weather,” John says. “Just as they come in to flower we get the equinox winds and spring rain. But part of their beauty is that they are transitory.”

This article was first published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission.

2 thoughts on “Trailing clouds of glory

  1. I am working on a 20 acre garden in the Tuki Tuki Valley of Hawke’s Bay. I have “Climbing Plants” and would like to source some of the climbers in the book. Given Mr & Mrs Nicholls have retired, would they be good enough to direct me to a source for the climbers they used to offer. Campsis – the grandiflora, Podreana and others are hard to find. I do not want to have mini plants – large and rampant is great in my book with the area that I am developing.
    Kind regards
    Diana Bell

  2. Pingback: Social climbers | Sandra's Garden

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