Clematis are a superb addition to a cottage garden because they extend the amount and range of colour throughout the year and provide height in borders by being grown on obelisks and through shrubs, trees, and roses.
Many people think of clematis as those large dazzling flowers that appear in June and possibly have a reputation for being difficult to grow. Garden centres stock many of these summer varieties when they are in flower but not everyone knows that there are also clematis for other times of the year.
Clematis belong to the Ranunculaceae (Buttercup) family and there are over 300 different species growing in the wild. Most come from the Northern Hemisphere, grow in various conditions and flower at different times of the year. They have been classified, by botanists, into family groups which reflect their differing characteristics and growing habits. By seeking out plants from more than one group it is possible to have clematis flowering at different times of year in your garden.
My gardening year starts in November when the first of the winter flowering clematis come into bloom. Most belong to a group called cirrhosa which produce white or creamy flowers, some with speckles. Named varieties include ‘Lansdowne Gem’, ‘Wisley Cream’, ‘Freckles’ (left) and ‘Jingle Bells. None of these clematis require pruning and, depending on the variety and what part of the UK you live, will begin flowering in the darkening months and continue until February. Quite a bonus for the winter garden.
March is the month when our spring bulbs really take off, creating a wonderful array of low growing colour. This is also the month when the atragene group of clematis burst into life with their blue, white, purple, pink or red hanging bells, some of which appear to be double flowers. They can grow to a height of 3 metres so are ideal for growing on fences and obelisks where their colour will complement the traditional spring pallet. In my view, varieties such as ‘Blue Dancer’ (above), ‘Pamela Jackman’, ‘Willy’, ‘Broughton Bride’ and ‘Markhams Pink’ are an essential part of the spring garden and are easy to grow. They require good drainage, must not be planted deeply, and require no pruning.
Next come the montanas with their hundreds of small flowers in May, some of them perfumed. My favourites are ‘Broughton Star’, ‘Elizabeth’, ‘Mayleen’(left), Marjorie’, ‘Warwickshire Rose’, and ‘Grandiflora’. Montanas have a reputation for growing more than 7 meters in height or length depending in the structure they are placed against. It is true that some are very vigorous but there are now many compact ones that are suited to a small garden. However, they all require good drainage, must not be planted deeply, and require no pruning.
As summer starts to beckon the early large flowered hybrids come into their own and are followed by the late large flowered hybrids, which have slightly smaller flowers but can often be even more floriferous. I grow many from these two groups in pots because I can place them on display for best effect but move them after they have flowered. The list of suitable varieties is almost endless but amongst the more well-known ones are ‘Nelly Moser’, ‘Niobe’ (right), ‘Hagley Hybrid’, ‘Tie Dye’ and ‘Jackmanii Superba’. These hybrids can be planted 6 to 8 inches below the surface and can be pruned in spring.
There are clematis from several other groups which begin to flower in summer with some continuing right into autumn.
Again, by choosing varieties whose flowering periods overlap it is possible to extend height and colour which compliment herbaceous borders with subtle tones and then the fiery colours of late summer and early autumn.
I grow many clematis through shrub roses so that as the roses come to the end of their flowering periods the clematis flowers take over.
One of the main groups of later flowering clematis are the viticellas, most of which are ‘bomb proof’ and require little attention apart for being hard pruned and fed in spring. Some have flowers which are small and hang down, like ‘Betty Corning’ (top left) and some are slightly larger, and star shaped, like ‘Etoile Violette’ (bottom left).
Another valuable clematis group for this time of year is the texensis with its tulip shaped flowers. As the name suggests texensis is a native of Texas but prefers damp conditions rather than hot, dry sites, because it grows near streams. Varieties bred from this group included ‘Princes Diana’, which is probably the most well-known, but in my view ‘Princess Kate’ is just as good
If you want yellow in your garden, to blend with autumn colours, there are many varieties from the tangutica group which work well. ‘Bill MacKenzie’ is quite vigorous, but ‘Daihelios’ (right) is more well behaved. Both often self-seed.
Clematis serratifolia (left) flowers from August through to October and has an intense smell of lemon to match its colour which is wonderful on a warm evening. Clematis terniflora ‘Early Snow’ (right) will flower from early Autumn into November and, as the name suggests, with its small white flowers creates a hint of early snow in the garden. And so back to where our journey through the year began.
Although some of the clematis I have mentioned may not be easily found in local garden centres, if you would like to know more about how you can use clematis to enhance and extend the period of colour in your garden there is more information about planting and growing on my web site. Kenblackclematis.com. There is also a list of mail order nurseries in the UK where less well-known clematis can be purchased.