Of all climbers one can choose from I think Clematis are the most rewarding. They come in such a variety of colour , shape and size and can be trained up trellis, wall or just left to ramble over and through flower beds and shrubs. In addition they may have most attractive seed heads. From early Spring to Autumn there is a Clematis for all Seasons.
Sometimes a potential Clematis buyer may have second thoughts when they read about the various methods of pruning this plant; I will try to dispel the notion that this is a complicated process and tell you about some of the varieties I grow in my garden. Now in this small area I have about sixteen different varieties( April 2000 and I have just discovered that now I have 28 !) and I promise that if they were really difficult to look after it would be a clematis free zone.
To chat about them it is best to divide them into three groups which I will colour code as an added reminder.
Group 1; early flowering varieties.
Group 2;large flowering varieties.
Group 3;late flowering varieties.
Group 1:Early flowering
These can be seen in early Spring and bear flowers on the previous year's shoots.The group includes a very familiar clematis which ,in either pink or white form, grows vigorously on many a wall. This is C.montana. Other early flowering ones are called the C.macropetala and C.alpina. These have dainty bell like flowers and are not as vigorous as the montana. Other important members of the group include the evergreen varieties C.armandii and C.cirrhosa "Freckles". The former is a large leaved clematis with scented white flowers: it is an extremely strong plant and can quickly cover high walls ,trees and buildings. Perhaps not the best choice for a small garden. The latter"Freckles" is much more refined with fern-like foliage and pink flowers which bear dark marking.
This group is pruned after flowering,usually in May. In the first year it is a good idea to prune back to about 12 inches above ground thus encouraging new growth. In following years they may be left alone to ramble at will but pruning every few years will encourage new growth from the base of the plant. If the plant becomes too heavy you can prune out weak or dead growth.
From left to right;
C.montana, C.armandii, C.macropetala.
Other clematis in this group include; C.montana "Marjorie"
C.montana " Tetrarose"
C.alpina "Francis Rivis"
C.alpina "Pamela Jackman"
C.macropetala "Blue Bird"
C.macropetala "Rosie O'Grady"
Group 2; Large flowering varieties.
Some very popular clematis are found in this group of large flowered , sometimes, flamboyant plants. C."The President" is a favoured one with its large purple flowers; C."Vyvyan Pennell" has double lilac hued flowers in mid summer and then gives added value by producing single flowers towards the summer's end. Distinctive too is C."Nelly Moser" whose pink petals have a dramatic dark streak. This group should be lightly pruned to a strong pair of buds in early spring.
Other varieties in this group include;
"Beauty of Worcester"
Group 3: Late-flowering species and varieties.
Here we have a group that start to flower in mid to late summer and continue until autumn. Pruning should be done in winter when the plants are cut back to around 12 inches above soil level. I have previously ( see section "Garden Gems") raved about "Tanguitica" ,my favourite clematis in this group, but there are many more about which to enthuse. "Comtesse de Bouchaud " is wonderful, strong growing, lovely pink flower and happy to grow up a wall/trellis or just meander through a flower bed. "Hagley hybrid" is another pink one very pretty yet a vigorous grower.
A lovely blue is the colour of "Prince Charles", having seen this in a friend's garden I was unable to resist it.
C."Comtesse de Bouchaud"
Further examples of this group are;
C."Star of India"
C."Ville de Lyon"
Feet in shade and head in sun is a good general rule for clematis. The base of the plant does not like to be exposed to direct sunlight; this can be overcome by putting a large piece of broken terracotta over the root area or much better by planting low growing plants around the plant base. Remember too not to plant too close to a wall as the plant may suffer from drought and/or come into contact with the foundation of the wall. Clematis like a moist soil and should be fed in the spring.
Clematis wilt occasionally affects the plants . This is thought to be of fungal origin and results in the plant having the appearance of water deficiency. The first sign is the wilting / drooping of the growing tips and gradually the entire plant dies. This has happened to me twice and very sad it is to see what was an apparently healthy plant one day look in such a sad condition the next. Wilt is particularly associated with the large flowered clematis . However all is not lost! The manner in which you have planted the clematis can save the day. Clematis should be planted with the stem 2 to 3 inches below the soil. Then if wilt should strike there is a good chance that new growth will come the following year.
Further information on clematis can be found in the links section.