Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Clematis in my Garden

I never wanted any kind of clematis in my garden. They seemed too fussy, not my style. Too flowery. Too big.

They seemed difficult, what with the pruning categories and the wilt problems. And so many cultivars -- who could pick a few to grow? So I sniffed and said "nope".

Right. Despite my original huffiness, seven different clematis types have somehow been planted in my garden. Here they are:

C. viticella 'Alba Luxurians'
C. 'Jackmanii Superba'
C. 'Henryi'
C. 'Niobe'
C. 'Samaritan Jo'
C. 'Bee's Jubilee' (but I took this one out)

And C. terniflora, sweet autumn clematis. That was a vine I resolutely stayed away from, convinced it would get too big. (It's not invasive here, but it is elsewhere.) It too was planted.

Surprisingly, I like clematis. Mostly.

Except for 'Bee's Jubilee' which was a sweet candy lavender pink that got washed out in bright sun and didn't do much for me. It was supposed to grow to 6 feet tall, and it was a group 2 pruning category, but it never got much height or needed any pruning before I took it out. This one did not make me a fan of big flowered clematis at first.

But the small flowered viticella clematis that I planted did please me. I got a white flowered one with green streaks called 'Alba Luxurians'. It has been nothing but luxurious, every year. Big, prolific and flowery, it is quite delicate and refined up close by the patio wall.

It is a group 3 pruning category, which means I cut it to the ground and it regrows. In fact I cut it to the ground in summer after blooming, and by September I get fantastic rebloom on a fully regrown vine that stays fresh into late October. Then I cut it down again in winter.

'Alba Luxurians' just keeps going. Trouble free, pretty and a performer. The green streaks would be more pronounced if it was in more shade, but the delicate colors I get in full sun are nice. The flowers at first open downward, giving it a dangling handkerchief effect.

I tried some more of the large flowered varieties after 'Bee's Jubilee', but went for more intense colors. One was the rich red clematis 'Niobe', which I planted under a pine tree to scramble up through the pine boughs.

'Niobe' is still little -- I only planted it two years ago. It is supposed to be one of the truest red clematis you can get, but it's not red at all in my eyes. It's magenta. It needs some time to show me what it will do.

'Niobe' blooms in summer and is pruning group 3 so when it gets bigger, I'll cut it to the ground in winter.

If you don't cut down a group 3 clematis, the vine gets leggy. It will have bare areas below and blooms only toward the top -- that might actually be a plus for 'Niobe' here, since I want it to disappear below and then appear well up into the branches of the pine. I'll need to experiment.

The velvety purple 'Jackmanii Superba' has been much quicker to bulk up and show me why I should have clematis in my garden. I have it on a metal tower at the end of a bed in full sun.

The purple of the big flashy blooms doesn't go with the wine red foliage of the nearby 'Forest Pansy' redbud, but the clematis is a stunner.

It looks a little stranded at the far end of the bed, but I have since expanded that area late last year, and there is a tiny twig of a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) growing right next to it that will (gracefully I hope, with pruning) create some height at that end.

Maybe some day 'Jackmanii's' purple flowers will scramble over and up into the branches of the dogwood and mingle with the dogwood's white flowers. This clematis gets 10 or 12 feet long, so let's plan on that.

In various lights the purple hue changes.

'Jackmanii' is a summer bloomer and it's group 3 for pruning, so I cut it back to the ground in late winter. Easy care.

I planted 'Henryi' in the front to climb a trellis between the two garage windows. It's another large flowered clematis, and its pure white is dramatic against the brick. Even in its first year, with very little foliage yet, it bloomed, first in early summer, and then again in fall. It will grow 6 to 7 feet tall, not too big for this slender trellis.

But in its second year, just as the flowers were at their biggest and best, it got clematis wilt. It was very sudden and very obvious. I cut it to the ground. Only after I had bought and planted this, did I learn that 'Henryi' is a cultivar that is susceptible to wilt.

It did send up a long skinny tendril in October. Clematis wilt is rarely fatal, and plants that have been in the ground for five years with a good root system seem to fend it off. So, patience.

'Henryi' is in one of those tricky groups for pruning -- group 2, where you have to untangle the stems and selectively prune somewhat after spring flowering but before it blooms again in fall.

In the early years it doesn't matter what pruning group clematis you have. All new clematis plants need to be cut back to 18 inches, regardless. Young clematis plants have to get their roots going before they can support all the long vining growth, and a good root system helps ward off wilt apparently. You sacrifice flowers for a couple years but you get a better plant.

By pruning them all to a low point for the first two or three years, it encourages more branching at the bottom and a nicer, fuller look.  If my white large flowered group 2 'Henryi' gets wilt each year and needs to be cut back, I apparently will be right on track with the recommended pruning approach.

In 2014 I got another clematis, 'Samaritan Jo', which will climb to only about 4 or 5 feet.

I'm not sure why I ordered it. I think I was considering it to replace the 'Henryi' that I thought I'd need to take out, but it wants some shade to keep its purple tinged silvery color.

So it will go on the blue obelisk in Meadow's Edge in the shade of the maple instead.

But because it will never succeed in competition with the maple's roots, I'll put it in a pot inside the obelisk.

It is pruning group 3, needing only to be cut back each year. Here's hoping you can grow smaller clematis varieties in a container.

Finally, there is the big rambunctious sweet autumn clematis growing up the railing of the deck. What a heady scent in September just as I step outside the back door and onto the deck.

I cut this back to the ground each winter, but I don't know how long I'll be able to do that if it gets as big as I fear it might. But right now it is tidy and shapely and I can't imagine not having it.

In Connecticut this Asian sweet autumn clematis is not invasive -- but it is an invasive plant that has escaped cultivation in other parts of the country.*

For someone who sniffed at growing clematis, I have been been humbled.

The pruning isn't so bad, although it takes some work each year to trim everything as it should be. And yes, I have had to experiment with controlling wilt. And the colors aren't always exactly what I thought they'd be. I'm still working on siting and how to get them to climb trees or hang on to the right structure.

But surprisingly, I am enjoying them in my garden. I might even get more. I have my eye on a texensis clematis called 'Gravetye Beauty' that is supposed to be red (not you, Niobe), and there are so many many more . . .
                               . . . Brushwood Nursery - Vines and Climbers

*  Is Sweet Autumn Clematis Invasive Here?
The Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group, says Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora or Clematis paniculata) is not on Connecticut's list of invasive plants.  
To be listed as either potentially invasive or invasive in Connecticut, a non-native plant must meet a set of scientific criteria (see 

1 comment:

  1. Nice read, thanks for the post and your thoughts on clematis.