In The Gar­den

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Steven Des­mond

Steven Des­mond climbs with clema­tis

‘Don’t plant it near the door if you wish to get in and out

THERE are more than 300 species of Clema­tis and rather a lot of them make good gar­den plants. The colour range of the flow­ers isn’t great—chiefly whites, reds, blues and com­bi­na­tions thereof—but na­ture and breed­ers be­tween them have been able to gen­er­ate all sorts of de­light­ful com­bi­na­tions of form, size, tex­ture and habit, so that the main prob­lem with the genus is the sheer num­ber of cul­ti­vars in any cat­a­logue. Then there’s the fa­mous mine­field of prun­ing regimes. Per­haps some sim­pli­fi­ca­tion would help.

Let’s start with the plea­sures of spring. It hap­pens that a rel­a­tively small range of Clema­tis species flow­ers in a Bri­tish spring and that all of them are easy to grow. The most fa­mil­iar of these is surely C. mon­tana. I read one de­scrip­tion re­cently that sug­gested it has a del­i­cate con­sti­tu­tion. I could hardly be­lieve my eyes.

C. mon­tana is vig­or­ous, hardy, adapt­able, pretty and won­der­fully scented. It’s the ideal cover for an un­sightly shed and should be planted nowhere near the door if you wish to get in and out.

Its four tepals, as if made of stiff pa­per, come in a nar­row range of shades from off-white (in El­iz­a­beth) to pale pink (in Rubens). Its cheer­ful dis­po­si­tion has al­ways ap­pealed to me, as has its great will­ing­ness to grow on a shady wall.

Another favourite of mine is C. macropetala. De­spite the name, the petals are small: none of these spring forms has the gi­ant stars of the sum­mer pa­rade. The flow­ers of C. macropetala hang grace­fully like lit­tle hand­ker­chiefs and are a lovely pow­derblue against the fresh green of the new leaves. All this gives the whole plant a fresh­ness and del­i­cacy en­tirely in tune with the spring flora around it. The dis­play only lasts a week or so, but it makes me happy when I walk by.

It ought to be im­pos­si­ble to im­prove on such di­vine beauty, but there are other colour selections that make me won­der. The flow­ers of C. macropetala Markham’s Pink, named af­ter Wil­liam Robin­son’s head gar­dener, make a fine al­ter­na­tive, although I wouldn’t like to see the two side by side. White Columbine is a good white form with longer, el­e­gantly fin­gery tepals. All these colour forms look win­ningly pretty hov­er­ing over a ground cover of vi­o­lets and prim­roses.

This lat­ter is some­times listed un­der cul­ti­vars of C. alpina and we need not doubt the hy­brid na­ture of such cre­ations. That species is another source of early charm­ers. Frances Rivis, another long-stand­ing favourite, is an ex­cel­lent form, with richly vi­o­let hang­ing tepals. Tage Lun­dell is a more re­cent al­ter­na­tive, its pen­dent flow­ers open­ing lilac and dark­en­ing to plum-red as they age. All the above are eas­ily grown in spa­ces of modest size, as they are not vig­or­ous.

For my money, how­ever, the prince of spring flow­er­ers is C. ar­mandii, in­tro­duced to Ed­war­dian so­ci­ety by ‘Chi­nese’ Wil­son and named af­ter Ar­mand David, the Catholic mis­sion­ary who pointed the way to so many choice finds. C. ar­mandii is a rapid grower and will quite hap­pily climb to the top of any tree you show it to. This is not a good move, how­ever, as you’ll need binoc­u­lars to see the flow­ers. It’s bet­ter to think of all Clema­tis as hedgerow scram­blers.

The flow­ers of C. ar­mandii are off-white and there are good pink-tinged forms, such as the pre­dictably named Ap­ple Blos­som. It’s the fo­liage, how­ever, that makes this plant such good value: thick, dark, hand­some ev­er­green leaves in el­e­gant groups of three. They re­mind me of another fo­liage sta­ple in the gar­den, Vibur­num da­vidii, named af­ter the same ex­cel­lent fel­low.

I’ve left the del­i­cate sub­ject of prun­ing un­til last. This is a ques­tion that sits like a dark cloud on the coun­te­nance of ev­ery clema­tis fancier, as it ap­pears such an ar­cane sub­ject. Be of good cheer, there­fore, with the spring flow­er­ers, as they need no prun­ing at all, be­yond a bit of tidy­ing up, best done straight af­ter flow­er­ing. You’ll need to pre­vent C. mon­tana climb­ing into your loft and cut­ting out lengths of C. macropetala in­volves fol­low­ing er­rant shoots to their base to avoid re­mov­ing the wrong bit, but there’s no mys­tery to solve here. En­joy!

Steven Des­mond is a land­scape con­sul­tant, spe­cial­is­ing in his­toric gar­dens Next week: Peaches and nec­tarines

C. Mon­tana Rubens is pretty, hardy and won­der­fully scented

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