Reviving the ‘Niagara:’ A Grapevine Story

“Big Daddy:” For almost 50 years, this
Niagara grapevine held up the arbor.

Armistead Peter 3rd was a faithful steward of his family’s house and gardens at Tudor Place, but that doesn’t mean he never made changes. In the early 1960s, he built an arbor in which to sit and enjoy the North Garden. To its northeast corner, he added a ‘New Dawn’ climbing rose (roses being a specialty). In spring, he knew, the front would be covered in blush colored blossoms. For summer interest, he planted two grape vines to cover the back.

Mr. Peter chose his vines carefully. One of his father’s favorites had been a red variety, Vitis ‘Delaware’, so he added that to the southwest corner of the arbor and planted the northwest corner with a green variety, Vitis ‘Niagara.’ Both were and are popular table grapes also used in wine making. The vines stayed put for 50 years on what came to be called the Grape Arbor.

While the plants thrived, though, the arbor itself suffered from insect damage, rot, and the passage of time. Starting last fall and over the winter, we restored it to its original condition in Mr. Peter’s day. That required removing all the climbing plants in November, in order to dismantle the structure and pour new concrete footers. The climbing rose, unfortunately, had to be discarded after removal, as an infection of rose mosaic virus was causing it to lose canes without producing new strong ones. (We replaced it this spring.)

Next, the grape vines. After cutting them back and excavating the rooting areas, we found that the Delaware grape had just one large and viable root. So, rather than remove it, we gently propped it on a nearby viburnum for the duration of the project. The Niagara, by contrast, we discovered was actually holding up the arbor’s entire northwest corner, where the wooden base had rotted. It was carefully removed to a protected location and heeled in. Beforehand, though, we took cuttings – four stems, each 12-15 inches long with at least 2 sets of buds each — and refrigerated them, just in case.

Out of the fridge: heirloom Niagara cuttings repotted.
The next generation.
Well, “just in case” came to pass: The Niagara didn’t survive its replanting, so two months ago, the cuttings came out of the refrigerator and were repotted. We placed the pots in a sunny location and watered them faithfully. All four rooted within the month! Today, we are happy to say that the healthiest was installed in the northwest corner of the Grape Arbor, replacing the parent vine.

Just as Tudor Place passed from generation to generation, now this arbor has passed to a descendant, too. It will take some time before it grows to cover the northwest corner, but we can now take confidence that a Niagara grape vine will always be at Tudor Place.