Vines, Viburnums and "Wild" Plants

 Wild twisting wisteria vines around the arbor (Photo: Aurora Santiago)

Wild twisting wisteria vines around the arbor (Photo: Aurora Santiago)

By Pete Putnicki

The Seattle Japanese Garden is well known sculpted pines and sheared azaleas, our graceful maples and the other fine pruning that emphasizes shapes, textures forms and composition. 

We also utilize vines and twiggy, arching shrubs and perennials like the bush clover (lespedeza), winter hazel (corylopsis) and some of the viburnums. While the primary use of most of the plant material in the Garden is structural, these plants provide contrast in form as well as seasonal flower or foliage display. 

Wisteria is one of the stars of this category, a few weeks ago, purple flowers cascaded and dripped from the lush green foliage, with shaggy, shaded vines twisting and twining around the sturdy arbor. As the summer progresses, the dense canopy will provide shade and a dark green bulk to the north end of the pond and will continue to be one of the most popular features of the Garden. Now that the flowers have faded, we will be pruning soon, thinning and shortening the shoots and managing the chaotic sprawl, emphasizing the wild nature of the plant.

The general plan for pruning these “wild” fast growing specimen involves shortening of long, straight branches, cutting back to shorter, more desirable side shoots. Branches will be thinned to reduce congestion and to simplify and define the overall structure. A general profile can be maintained, and a form can be carved out from the shaggy spring growth, but it is vital to be aware when working on these plants, (in contrast to the pines, azaleas and other compositional plants) we are not trying to shape them. We are allowing them to grow “where they will” and simply making adjustments and clarifications.

It is also interesting to note that many of these plants are very vigorous growers, and even seeking “wild” results, we will often remove quite a bit of material. It’s exactly this vigor that makes these plants difficult to shape and requires a balance of skilled “nuanced aggression” in the pruning.

When visiting the Garden, take some time to find these “wild” plants and enjoy the contrast and freedom they contribute to the garden.

Pete Putnicki is the Senior Gardener for Seattle Japanese Garden and a contributor to the garden’s blog.