Gardening: Help is here to calm wisteria hysteria


Wisteria - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Last summer, seeing Marina Bassano’s beautiful wisteria in Quadrant Grove Kentish Town put me in a quandary.

Hers is expertly trained across the front of about six houses, while mine was a mess. Should I try to take it in hand myself, or could I ask the professional who does hers, Tomasz Roolzewicz, to do it for me? This question touched upon old-fashioned gardening principles, absorbed during childhood.

The frugal gardening aunts among whom I grew up were so self-reliant that the possibility of employing help never seemed to arise.

To do so would be seen as extravagant, unnecessary, or soft. Likewise they raised new plants from seeds or cuttings -– only for a really special plant did the purse come out.

It is years since those old aunts hung up their boots, but they still hover around my gardening decisions. I like to think that I could have done the pruning myself. On the other hand, going up ladders is less fun than it was, and you hear dire stories of people falling off them, not just in The Archers.

But why did my wisteria need taking in hand in the first place, when surely I should be on top of this sort of thing? I will tell you. I bought the plant, in flower but unlabelled, at Columbia Road. It went in, about fifteen years ago, accompanied by wires up which to grow and excellent pruning intentions. For years, all went fine. Its flowers, of a good, clear mid mauve, framed the first floor windows and smelt wonderful. My neighbour trained some shoots over his window, and we seemed set to let it spread as far along the terrace as anyone wanted. But then, inexplicably, it started to fail. Fewer flowers, dimishing vigour. It looked miserable. But it never did quite die.

After some years, a new, more promising shoot started from the bottom. So thrilled was I and so unwilling to discourage it, that I let it grow as it chose for several seasons, intending to prune again once its renewed health seemed assured. Meanwhile, shoots found their way behind downpipes. It was at this stage that I saw Marina’s wisteria in full fig, and asked who pruned it. The answer: “Tomek”.

Most Read

Tomek, I learned, is Tomasz Roolzewicz, and works for Malcolm South, of Rakes Progress Gardens. Malcolm came and looked, then Tomek and Daniel Solik arrived early one morning. I had already cleared a passageway through the over-ebullient acanthus leaves, so the ladder was soon up, the secateurs in energetic use and, when Tomek judged that neighbours should already be awake, the drill, for fixing a new frame of wire. All this took about two-and-a-half hours. When I next saw it, the tangle that had been my wisteria had become thin, elongated and spare looking, a sort of Giacometti among wisterias. It looked so spindly that I couldn’t help wondering if it was going to be all right. Sure, says Tomek, 99.5 per cent, it’ll be fine. 99.5 per cent?

You’d have to be a glass-half-empty type not to be encouraged by that.

Our conversation soon turned from wisteria to cucumbers – small cucumbers, delicious cucumbers, the sort you cannot buy in England, but that Tomek will grow on an allotment in Southgate, as soon as his name reaches the top of the waiting list.

So, I dream of wisteria enhancing half the terrace, Tomek dreams of an allotment not yet his – isn’t it great, being a gardener?