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Wisterias – a Comprehensive GuideBOOK REVIEWS

A Comprehensive Guide

By Peter Valder
Published by Florilegium Press, Australia, 1995

Reviewed by Gordon Collier, Titoki Point, Taihape

Anyone who likes a beautiful book as a companion will be well-satisfied with Peter Valder's complete guide to the genus Wisteria. Everything about this book appeals; from the design, the illustrations to the exquisite photographs. But this slim volume will be far more to those readers who wish to learn about this aristocratic climber or to those who wish to make a serious study of the genus.

Wisteria is a northern hemisphere family but paradoxically this, the first and only authoritative publication on it was written and published in Australia. It would be presumptuous to find fault. Peter Valder is to be congratulated on a superlative work. Trained as a pathologist and mycologist, the author has also lectured in botany and horticulture. It is his interest in the latter that has brought him to public notice in his own country and in New Zealand where his lectures have been delivered with scholarly attention to detail. Peter Valder has applied this same approach to his book.

Identification is always one of the most puzzling aspects of the gardeners craft. In the opening chapters a key is provided to the identification of that most confusing plant, the wisteria. The technically minded will seize on a new identification technique described.

On the pronunciation of botanical plant names there is some timely advice:

"No one ... really knows how the Romans pronounced Latin ... as long as whoever you are talking to knows what you mean, then all is well".

The reader is introduced to species scarcely known in this country. Wisteria frutescens and W. macrostachya a late bloomer from the southern USA, and to the so-called summer flowering wisterias, the related milletia family three of which are native to Australia. But it is the chapters on the Chinese and Japanese wisteria, the species most familiar to the gardener that will captivate. The historical information is fascinating. There are notes on cultivation and a comprehensive and helpful description of the many cultivars.

Stunning photographs illustrate the text throughout. Particularly evocative are the pictures of the many ways in which the Chinese and Japanese grow this versatile vine; over structures in the garden, as a standard, or as a dwarf - called penjing in China and bonsai in Japan.

Peter Valder considers the Japanese wisteria requires more care in training but to be the most beautiful. On the basis of earlier Japanese botanical usage, Dr Valder abandons the species W. venusta (named by Rheder and Wilson at the Arnold Arboretum in 1916) for the earlier used W. brachybotrys (Seibold 1835). This decision is taxonomically correct and Trevor Davies, New Zealand's specialist, is of the same mind. This species holds out the promise of violet, pink, and mauve-pink cultivars waiting to be introduced. W. brachybotrys 'Showa Beni' illustrated on page 118 is said to be the most dramatic and a good clear pink.

There is a further chapter on training and pruning which is most useful. Diseases and pests, propagation, and breeding are also detailed.

Peter Valder writes from a deep love and exhaustive knowledge of his subject. A glance through the preface reveals just how extensive his research has been. I was recently privileged to visit the former garden of his family at Mount Wilson, NSW, when the wisteria were in full bloom. I cannot recall seeing anything more magical.

Buy this book. It is a classic.

New Zealand Garden Journal: Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture 1997 2(1): 28

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