Days of clematis and roses
IMAGINE the excitement recently when, walking through hills in Slovenia’s beautiful lake district, a friend spotted a mass of electric blue bell-like flowers standing erect above a ground cover of mid-green foliage. It was Clematis integrifolia. Such exhilaration. Finding species growing in their native environment provides an extraordinary thrill: there is something of the treasure hunter in each of us, perhaps. You can empathise with those 19th-century plant hunters who courted great danger as they trekked through Tibet, China and the Himalayas in their quest for rare and exotic species that whispered of mysteries behind closed borders.
There was Robert Fortune, Ernest ‘‘Chinese’’ Wilson, William Kerr and George Forrest, who based himself at the Catholic mission at Tzekou, 3000m up in Yunnan province, where China, India and Tibet converge. Forrest noted the mountains were covered in clematis, primula, iris, gentians, rhododendron and lilies, ‘‘a veritable botanists’ paradise’’. Such passion may also explain why many of us hanker after plants native to locations where soil, rainfall and temperature are completely different from the conditions in which we garden.
This is as true for the large clematis genus as it is for the coveted Himalayan blue poppy, the regal peony and those tiny alpine treasures that demand a specific set of environmental factors.
You’ll need to garden in a temperate to cool climate if you want to grow most clematis well, for many dislike humidity. If you are a typical gardener, however, you will persevere with what you shouldn’t, perhaps also because clematis promise to be so useful. Clematis and roses seem made to bloom together: hours of winter fun can be had planning combinations to add fragrance and colour to spring and summer. Select clematis of different cultivars and species that tone or contrast with roses, to extend the flowering season.
The climbing Rosa ‘Gold Bunny’ might be planted to contrast with the purple Clematis ‘Ville de Lyon’, for instance. The hot pink trusses of R. ‘Dorothy Perkins’ tone with the purple C. ‘Gypsy Queen’, from the Jackmanii group, while the deep pink, scented rose ‘Etoile de Holland’ looks superb climbing through the softer Rosa ‘Pink Cloud’. Add the C. ‘Vino’ that you see in the picture above to introduce a burgundy splash to this early summer arrangement. Try the blue C. ‘William Kennett’ with blue-flowering wisterias: add a border of lavender, or contrasting iris, perhaps. Engage a forest-green hedge of conifer or camellia as a coathanger for the double white flowers of C. ‘Duchess of Edinburgh’, along with the rich creams of ‘Marie van Houtte’, ‘Iceberg’ or ‘Lamarque’ roses.
Located in the large Ranunculaceae family, there are over 200 species of clematis (most native to the northern hemisphere) and many more cultivated varieties. To grow any successfully, gardeners need to understand that the genus is divided into groups, each of which has its own cultural requirements.
The Viticella group, native to southern Europe and Turkey, is suited to gardens in humid regions, and is easier to grow; the choice, perhaps for new gardeners. Late flowering, these clematis can be pruned hard in mid-winter. The Evergreen group, including Clematis cirrhosa, from southern Europe, blooms in autumn and winter with masses of nodding, bell like flowers.
They require a sunny, free draining position and are dormant in summer, often losing their leaves.
The non-climbing clematis in the Integrifolia group make perfect partners in herbaceous borders: team them with other members of the Ranunculaceae family, including aquilegias, delphiniums and the feathery thalictrums. Or, use them as ground covers.
The most exciting clematis, perhaps, are the large flowered hybrids, some of which bloom to dinner-plate size. Many are bred from C. patens, which hails from China and the Korean Peninsula. But, as with any plant, success will come to those who study the conditions in which your chosen clematis grows naturally. PLANT clematis in a large hole, to which you have added well-rotted manure. Bury three sets of nodes under the ground so that the plant will shoot strongly. They like fertile, well-drained soil; they like to reach for the sun but demand cool roots. Place a square of shade cloth, with a hole cut into the centre and an opening along one side, over the root area. Or mulch with stones.
Put simply, clematis that flower in spring bloom on last season’s wood, so should be pruned straight after flowering. Those that bloom late in the season flower on new wood, so prune in late autumn or winter. Follow daily garden tips and tricks on twitter.com/hollykerforsyth. Holly Kerr Forsyth’s new book, Seasons in My House and Garden, is out now.
You’ll need a temperate to cool climate if you want to grow most clematis well