First introduced into New Orleans around 1875, Chinese and Japanese wisterias quickly found their way into local gardens. By McIlhenny's day, Oriental wisterias had made a big impact on southern gardens. His original vision for this Wisteria Arch was to use the many shades of wisteria bloom cultivars – from white to lavender to deep purple – to create a gradual shift in color from one end of the arch to the other.
At one time the arch was about 100 yards longer than it is today. Remains of the old pipes can be seen along the road after the holly arch.