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Clematis: the good, the worthy and the downright ugly

No one can call themselves a gardener if they don’t have at least a couple of clematis, and because you can have one in flower in any given month of the year, this could easily creep to 12. But they don’t succeed with everyone and a certain oneupmanship creeps in with us 3 Growbags, as photos of wall-to-wall flowering start to circulate in early summer from a certain rather annoying member of the family…….


Elaine

My sisters have rightly decided that I should go first on this topic – basically because I appear to be the only Growbag who can grow them properly – AND I LOVE ‘EM!….I grow them on posts, wigwams, with roses, up trees; winter ones, spring ones, summer-to-autumn ones – anywhere I can and any kind. I expect Laura and Caroline will come up with all sorts of excuses for why mine seem to thrive and theirs do not. I am definitely no expert, but there are two things that I have learnt that clematis love above all else:

  1. Being planted deeply, positioning the top of the rootball at least 6 cm (2.5 inches) below the soil level
  2. Gallons of water, especially when they are young.
Clematis ‘Mme. Julia Correvon’ with her strangely beguiling twisted blooms

Due to a certain world health crisis, my summer-flowering clematis didn’t get their usual annual short-back-and-sides in February/March, and as a result, their rambling stems had to be hauled back from largely recumbent attitudes among the weeds, when I was finally able to tend them. Ironically, that means that most are now flowering HIGHER than they usually do, but only at the top rather than all the way down. Rather like me on an evening Zoom call (and possibly many of you too) – all eyelashes, jewellery and fancy blouse above the waist, my old jim-jams and flappy slippers below!

Clematis ‘Prince Charles’ cheerily waving his blue flowers as you pass by

Never mind, they’re all still just gorgeous and will thrill me from now till September. Clematis ‘Etoile Violette’ (profiled by Louise Sims, I’ve included a link at the end) has the most incredible and long-lasting ‘floraison’ – thousands of blooms in sumptuous purple, ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ enchants with her twisted starry blooms in plummy maroon, while ‘Prince Charles’ waves his clear blue flowers at her across the borders. I grow a Chelsea sell-off acquisition from Thorncroft called ‘Sea Breeze’ in the part-shade of a vigorous crab-apple. It has fewer flowers there, but their palest violet hue glows in the relative gloom and is practically luminous in the evening.

The pale lavender blooms of Clematis ‘Sea Breeze’ almost glow in low evening light

And I MUST put in a mention for the beautiful small-flowered Group Three-ers, like ‘Etoile Rose’, ‘Princess Diana’, ‘Rooguchi’, ‘Venosa Violacea’, etc. Surely you must agree with me on those, Caroline? Now which of your favourite clematis have you got going at the moment, dear sister?

An opening bud of Clematis ‘Princess Diana’ – how about that for ‘exquisite’!

Caroline

I’m not sure if Elaine has asked this because she actually knows my recent foray into clematis has been an unmitigated disaster, or whether it’s just an accident for which she’s genuinely sorry.

I’ll set the scene, I’m a nervous beginner with clematis. My recent debut involved uncharacteristically thorough desktop research and the purchase of C. ‘Niobe’ from Ashridge Nursery and C. ‘Warwickshire Rose’ – both picked for their ability to withstand minus-a-zillion and bitter winds. It was a predictable cue for the skies to clear and for the Scottish Highlands to enjoy a blisteringly gorgeous June that’s seen ‘Warwickshire Rose’ dessicate before my eyes and ‘Niobe’ to effectively putrify on the point of blooming. Yes exactly, already exasperating without Elaine asking if I planted them ‘nice and deep‘ like she’d told me. Of course I didn’t, or put a stone on top to keep the roots cool. 

Maybe it should have stayed in Warwickshire? My Clematis ‘Warwickshire Rose’ very publicly voting on my clematis-growing skills.

Elaine wailed when I admitted my clematis crimes, and pointed out how often she’d given advice on clematis care in her ‘Grow-How columns’ but worse was to come. She once mentioned a clematis that had ‘a firmer jaw than most’. I immediately went to order it but got the wrong one. Instead of her recommendation ‘Frances Rivis’, I got muddled and ordered ‘Perle D’Azur’ which has done no more than produce two beleaguered leaves annually as it winces through life in my garden. And let’s not even talk about the C. Montana that was brutally sheered off when the hedge was clipped.

At least Clematis ‘Niobe’ produced a bud but it’s obviously feeling the effects of my inability to read Elaine’s gardening advice…doesn’t look too good does it?

Elaine’s now put me on ‘special measures’ as far as clematis go, just to achieve entry level skills, but stand-by for the scientific sister’s masterclass……


Laura

Yes it’s infuriating that Elaine can grow the summer flowering clematis better than us (or although clearly more understandable where Caroline is concerned). I put this down entirely to her having more alkaline soil, and absolutely nothing to do with being a better gardener …..

I have a couple of tactics to compensate for this. The first is to sanctimoniously grow those that give the best wildlife value as I feel this still allows me to occupy the higher moral ground.

Clematis cirrhosa var. balearica– fern-leaved clematis from Minorca – evergreen leaves for shelter and flowers for months at bleakest time of the year, humming with bees on mild days in late winter and early spring.

Clematis cirrhosa var. balearica
The sophisticated red stems and filigree leaves of the young foliage are yet another worthy attribute of the fern-leaved clematis.

Clematis rehderiana, same idea (but not evergreen) but at the other end of the year in autumn. For extra environmental brownie points I grew both of these sprawling nectar fests from seed.

Clematis rehderiana
Clematis rehderiana creates a vertical carpet of nectar rich flowers right into autumn to give our pollinators a timely boost before winter sets in.

My second tactic to outwit Elaine’s clematis supremacy is to acquire new cultivars that she hasn’t latched onto yet.

‘Rosalyn’ – a gorgeous, fruity crimson viticella clematis rather like a climbing version of my favourite aquilegia ‘Ruby Port’. This clematis was bought for me by Caroline in the Chelsea sell- off from the wonderful Thorncroft Nurseries, after a hard fought battle with other die-hards (eg Elaine) determined to get their hands on it.

Clematis viticella ‘Rosalyn’
A lovely new viticella clematis ‘Rosalyn’ that Elaine hasn’t yet appropriated…..
Aquilegia vulgaris var. stellata ‘Ruby Port’
Clematis ‘Rosalyn’s mini-me – Aquilegia ‘Ruby Port’

‘Nubia’, a small patio clematis ‘repeat flowering with sumptuous maroon tepals and purple stamens’ was another new introduction at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2018 (see our feature picture this week) and nabbed by me in the Chelsea sell-off and appears to be doing exactly what it says on the tin. I even detected a frisson of clematis envy from Elaine when I WhatsApped my latest photo of it.

Clematis ‘Nubia’
Luckily one of the Evison’s Clematis Nubias found it’s way into my garden … (and not Elaine’s!)

NB Here’s that link to Louise’s profile of the glorious Clematis ‘Etoile Violette’

More NB If you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

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