Although the stars of June are certainly the roses, quietly creeping their way up among the trees and shrubs are the mid-summer flowering clematis. Here are six that are currently flowering around the garden, some large and some small but all add something quite special.
One: Perle d’azur
This pale blue, vigorous clematis has been slowly climbing up a large holly tree in recent years. Last autumn we did some major pruning on the holly to try and get it back into shape and we wondered whether the clematis would be as good this year. In the last few weeks it has begun to flower and clearly we have not done it any lasting damage.
Two: Clematis viticella ‘Minuet’
A much smaller and less vigorous clematis than the Perle d’azur, ‘Minuet’ is climbing amongst a honeysuckle and rose in the old rose garden. It has delightful two-tone flowers.
Three: Clematis texensis ‘Etoile rose’
We are not entirely sure about the name of this clematis but we think it might be ‘Etoile rose’. Each year we think it might be something different. Its small bell shaped, nodding flowers emerge from an ivy trellis close to the house and brighten an otherwise green backdrop.
Four: Blue large flowered clematis (variety unknown)
I have included this because it has such a beautiful flower. Not hugely vigorous it has survived in a quite inhospitable spot in dry shade for a number of years now. In the last few years we have begun to clear the over bearing shrubs and it has responded well. Any idea on the variety? The flowers are relatively large (c. 6 inches across) and it has very delicate markings on the sepals.
Five: Clematis ‘Voluceau’
Another clematis the we planted some years ago but has really come to life in recently years. The reddish purple flowers are very striking against the dark leaves of the ivy.
Six: Clematis ‘Etoile violette’
My final choice is to show just how well clematis can be used to complement other plants flowering at this time of year. Here Clematis ‘Etoile violette’ is growing amongst the rose ‘American Pillar’. It is a striking combination that we enjoy every year. Both are very vigorous and sit together well.
There is no doubt that the richness and diversity of clematis can add value to the garden throughout the year (if you love them too you might enjoy this article as well).
The late spring Clematis are beginning to flower beautifully. Some scramble with enormous vigour whilst others are more moderate in their growth. All are lovely however and exploit the vertical dimension of the garden to great effect. Striking combinations of these delicate flowers with complementary foliage and flowers makes them really shine. Here are my six for this week.
One: Clematis montana ‘Odorata’
This delightful pink clematis has a a strong vanilla scent that fills the air in the garden behind the house. Located close to one of our garden seats it is a lovely place to drink our morning coffee in the sun.
Two: Clematis montana ‘Tetrarose’
This clematis grows close to the house on a trellis in the patio garden. It produces masses of simple pink flowers in late spring.
Three: Clematis montana
This plant is extremely vigorous and needs a lot of maintenance to stop it overwhelming other trees. It grows amongst a white lilac and a red leaved Prunus and it is this combination with the mass of pink flowers of the Clematis montana that creates a wonderful show at this time of year.
Four: Clematis ‘Daniel Daronda’
One of the first blue clematis of the year. We have two of these plants and they do not seem to grow with any great vigour. However, they are very reliable returning without fail each year.
Five: Clematis ‘Nelly Moser’
‘Nelly Moser’ seems to be very happy growing on a north facing wall with very little direct sun. Its large flowers, some 6-8 inches across, brighten up the shaded patio area behind the kitchen. It also has attractive seed heads in the autumn that have a golden sheen.
Six: Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’
This large flowered early clematis grows in part-shade and is really striking against the dark ivy leaves that cover the trellis. It seems to be very reliable returning without fail each year.
Rather like old friends our clematis return each year and delight us. They have increased in number and size over the years and these long-lived plants quietly creep around the trees and shrubs and emerge reliably each year. We love collecting new varieties and luckily many have enjoyed the conditions in our garden.
It is a pure joy to suddenly come across that first bloom of the year from a clematis that has been quietly surviving over the winter. The large buds develop and then, there it is, the first perfect flower.
For other smaller flower varieties like C. montana it is the spectacular show provided by a large cloak of thousands of flowers in delicate pink that sit wonderfully amongst the white lilac tree and our purple leaved Prunus padus. You don’t seem to notice how far it has spread until it blooms. There is a danger that a strong clematis might well overwhelm a smaller tree but there is no doubt the effect is dramatic.
Distribution in nature
Britain has only one native species of clematis (C. vitalba (Old Man’s Beard)) but there are over 250 species¹ distributed mainly in tropical or temperate regions. Most are natives of the northern hemisphere with several native to Europe. As well as the very familiar large flowered hybrids that grace the garden centres there are a number of smaller flowered species that make highly desirable garden plants.
A member of the Ranunculaceae (the buttercup family), clematis come in a wide range of blue mauves to purples but also white through pink to shades of red, burgundy and also yellow. The petals of Clematis have been replaced by colourful sepals. Typically these are in fours or eight but some (eg. Clematis ‘Niobe’) have six. Through a careful choice of cultivars and species you can have clematis flowering in your garden from spring through to autumn.
Clematis are not commonly grown for their scent but we would not be without our C. x aromatica which climbs over our rope rose arches and provides a lovely waft of ‘vanilla’ scent across the garden in the evening. A strategically placed seat and a glass of wine are all you need to enjoy the experience to the full.
Clematis in the garden
One of the essential benefits of clematis is that they exploit the vertical dimension of the garden. They climb over their hosts by using their leaf stems. Given an appropriate support, they can rapidly cover a trellis or other structural feature. Variety ‘Nelly Moser’ with its large pink flowers is also very comfortable growing against a north facing wall.
Most of the clematis we have growing here at Waverley are deciduous however there is one, C. armandii, which is evergreen. This is a tough old plant and wants to survive. Its supporting tree was felled over ten years ago but even after a ruthless prune it still flowers every year and clambers through the remaining lower shrubs.
The most successful of our clematis are growing amongst other mature trees or shrubs and they climb their way up to the light. They don’t seem to mind the competition and many books indicate that the roots need to be kept shaded and cool. Where we have clematis growing up supports in more formal flower beds we make sure they are planted amongst herbaceous perennials to ensure that the root area and base of the plant is kept in the shade during the summer months.
The general advice is to plant pot grown clematis deep² so that if the plant is damaged or contracts wilt it will regrow new shoots again from under the surface. When preparing the planting hole for a new clematis you should include plenty of organic matter.
There is a lot written about pruning clematis. For us the simple and easy to remember phrase “if it flowers before June do not prune” works well for us.
Cutting and conditioning
Clematis can make a wonderful addition to any floral design. Its trailing habit adds something not offered by many flowering plants suitable for cutting. Growing a stem that trails effectively does require some forward thinking otherwise you end up with a tangled mess to unravel. Some of our clematis grow across a rope arch and individual strands are allowed (encouraged) to hang down naturally in preparation for cutting.
As with most flowers they are best cut in the cool of the early morning and placed into cool water to condition for at least 24 hours. To get the best vase life cut into older wood.
The stems last well and can be effectively added to long table arrangements to trail down the front of a top table. We probably use the smaller C. montana more often for this kind of arrangement.
There is no doubt that Clematis add something very special and different to the garden. Many look delicate but they are really very tough and resilient plants if you give them conditions that they can thrive in. Choosing your varieties carefully can provide on-going interest throughout late spring and summer and into autumn.
¹ “A comprehensive guide to Clematis” by Barry Fretwell (ISBN 0 00 414017 6)
² “Growing Clematis” by Nicholas Hall, Jane Newdick and Neil Sutherland (ISBN 1-85833-163-3)