Wistful for Wisteria

Tiffany & Co. is famous for delightful objects and jewelry delivered in their famous blue box. But did you know that although the brand is associated with big-city elegance, the creator of the brand, Louis Comfort Tiffany, felt a deeper connection to Mother Nature than to urban life? His fabled home on Long Island, named Laurelton Hall, was an altar to his love for the inspiration he gained from the outdoors and nature’s bounty. Scenes of landscapes were painted in stained glass. Areas of the home were open to courtyards that embraced the sky and fresh air. Fabrics, ceramics, and furnishings showed they were clearly inspired by fruits, foliage, and flowers. And all ensconced in an Art Nouveau style home.

Sadly, little remains of this 84-room home except for photos and salvaged pieces. Tragically, two decades after his death, the house fell into disrepair and burned to the ground in 1957. The volume of art that was lost is unimaginable. But shortly thereafter the rubble was sifted through in order to preserve whatever was possible. Remarkably, what remained gives us a rare glimpse into this sanctuary. The pieces were stored and then mounted at the Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, Florida, just outside of Orlando, where they permanently reside. I didn’t know of them until 2006 when they were installed in a wonderful temporary display at the Met Museum in New York. It was here that one of these relics became forever stuck in my mind.

It was clear to any visitor that Louis Comfort Tiffany was in love with wisteria. The vines and flowers show up on pottery. It forever blooms on painted backdrops behind latticework in a pergola. And it was the subject of many pieces of stained glass lampshades and windows that adorned his home – including a remarkable 6-ft, 3-panel frieze of wisteria in full bloom. This was a section of a group originally added in 1915 as transoms that topped clear glass windows in the dining room overlooking the gardens. Because they were installed along the length of the room, he and his guests could enjoy the effect of dining in Springtime all year long. Breakfast (and lunch and dinner!) at Tiffany’s sounds even more magical now, doesn’t it?

Why all this wisteria talk? Because my own wisteria is at an all-time abundance of blooms this year. Every morning I hop out of bed excited to see what has evolved overnight. They travel over the top of my pergola and trail downwards, where they waft on the breeze. When I see them I feel like they are decorations put up to announce a party is coming – so I look for any excuse on a sunny day to sit under them while I dine.

Wisteria has many symbolic meanings – it’s hardiness and long life is the inspiration for how it’s interpreted – which change slightly depending on the era and region of the world. My favorite meaning is one that’s been around the longest: the combination of longevity, immortality, and love.

But their fleeting nature makes their beauty bittersweet. Wisteria doesn’t bloom for the first three to five years after planting, and to get an abundance of flowers you have to be ready to prune often – and sometimes aggressively. The blooms flower for only about three to four weeks, and then they’re gone. My wisteria is 15 years old, and this year I am over the moon as I’m enjoying the most crowded, dense, abundant group of flowers I’ve ever had. And I am so happy to be able to share the views.

I may never be able to visit the real Laurelton Hall – perhaps time travel will be a reality one day? – but it is wonderful to sit under my pergola and feel connected to such a wonderful place, inspired by such a creative artist. Although I may not be able to preserve my wisteria in such a magnificent way as Louis Comfort Tiffany, by sharing them with you I feel like I’m helping this fleeting view live on a little longer.


For tips on caring for your own wisteria, click here.