Days of clema­tis and roses

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Leisure - HOLLY KERR FORSYTH

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.

HOLLY KERR FORSYTH

You’ll need a tem­per­ate to cool cli­mate if you want to grow most clema­tis well

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