Sunday, June 21, 2009

Clematis and Cats

Images: Clematis magenta "Ernest Markham", purple "Jackmanii", pale lavender double "Belle of Woking" and lavender/blue "H.F. Young"

Clematis have the disposition of a cat. They demand to be treated like a queen, take a long time to warm up to you, and reward you with their beautiful presence.

I was afraid to grow Clematis - so many rules, so fragile, so complicated. They often take several years to do much and that reaffirms all my insecurities.

My first Clematis is the Jackmanii or Jackman's purple. I planted it on the back side of my clothesline support with a bittersweet on the other side. For several years it did very little. Then BAM, the last three years the vine has been huge and stunning. Today, there are hundreds of blooms.

Clematis take a deep mulch because they won't live if their roots are not insulated both from winter cold and summer heat. The mulch should be organic not stones or rocks. It helps to have their feet in the shade in the afternoon.

Clematis have pruning requirements. They don't die if they are not pruned at the right time but they might not bloom. At the opposite end of the pruning rule, I didn't prune anything this year and it's the best my Clematis has ever looked. Like a cat, about the time you think you have them figured out, they fool you. The label should have the Pruning Group. Here is a brief summary:

Group 1: Flowers in spring on last year's growth. No pruning required.
Group 2: Flowers early summer on last year's growth & later on new shorter canes. Prune in spring before growth begins - just above the healthiest buds.
Group 3: Flowers late summer into fall on new growth each year. Prune back to two feet each spring.
Herbaceous Clematis: They die back to the ground each winter and should be treated like your other perennials.

This is only a brief explanation of pruning Clematis - get the full scoop before pruning.

Clematis need support. It's usually a vine that twines around other things. They do not destroy the thing they vine over so it is safe to plant with roses and any other sturdy bush. They also will twine on trellises. Depending on the design, you may have to coax it into shape. The new stems are fragile and it helps to have the support in place before it starts to grow. A few Clematis are almost shrub-like and some people choose to let their climbers wander on the ground among perennials.

Clematis are different heights and shapes. Ranging from 3 to 30 feet in height, there is one for most every garden situation. The flowers are flat, doubles, tulip and bell shaped. Colors are mostly in the pink/red, purple, and white range but I do have a beautiful yellow and I've seen some reds. Some have leaves that turn bronze or red in the fall. Some are fragrant.

On the fun side, think about the color and size of your Clematis and the support. Here are some good combinations:

Purple Jackmanii Clematis and orange or yellow Honeysuckle.
White Alba Rugosa Rose Bush and the magenta Ernest Markham Clematis.
Yellow L. tangutica Clematis and a purple smoke bush.
The combinations are endless. Many local nurseries carry healthy Clematis. I've never had one survive the winter from a box store. I've also had success from Brushwood Nursery at They carry some of the older and more unusual varieties.

If no one could put up with all the quirky personality traits of a house cat, we would miss so much. Same with Clematis. Adopt a Clematis and you will be rewarded with at least fifty years of beauty in your garden. It just takes a little patience and understanding.

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