Sky's the limit for romantic clematis
Use your imagination and a clematis can add romance and beauty to your garden, says Marie Staunton
Clematis is the sort of plant that adds that bit of romance into a garden. They can also add height, coverage and an injection of colour into any space, no matter how small. The only limitation is your imagination.
I have seen them used to great effect in a large pot and instead of being trained upwards as you would imagine they are allowed to tumble over the edge of the pot providing a softness to the planting.
Good plants people and designers tend to ditch the rule book to achieve interesting plant combinations and they use plants in a way those new to gardening just wouldn't try. Gardening isn't really about rules; it is a feeling, a love of plants and an appreciation of what works well together.
Clematis are a fantastic choice for climbing up trellis, over an arch or as a companion for the odd climbing rose or two. They aren't a difficult plant to grow but have one basic requirement – a nice cool root run and their flowers in the sun. The other little rule to be broken when planting a clematis is to plant them much deeper than the original soil mark on the stems. In fact, bury the first two to three sets of leaves when transferring them from pot to the great outdoors. The reason for doing this is to prevent 'Clematis wilt', which can cause a seemingly perfectly healthy looking clematis to die back literally overnight.
If this happens, just prune back the plant and it should recover and start growing again from the base.
A good organic mulch every spring, around the base of the plant, is a good idea to keep the roots cool and to give the plant a bit of a boost also. Feed your plants, especially ones that flower so prolifically and you will be well rewarded.
I have a few favourites when it comes to clematis. The lovely C. montana 'Alba' variety might be a bit ordinary for some but you cannot argue with its flowering ability. It is covered in a confetti of creamy white flowers during April and early May. A little one that flowers much earlier, from late winter into spring, is the tiny flowered, but equally beautiful, Clematis 'Early Sensation,' or indeed the one which can be used in a pot to soften the edges is called Clematis 'Avalanche'.
Both are cream flowered and easy on the eye, so look out for them in the garden centres.
Once we head into summer, we are looking for a more vibrantly coloured clematis and those that offer a longer flowering season. 'The President' has a rich purple flower, or one that I team with climbing 'Iceberg' roses is the Clematis 'Perle d'Azur', which has a lovely pale blue flower complementing the creamy colour of the roses beautifully.
I also use clematis in the middle of herbaceous borders to add height and as long as you tie them in to their supports they will be perfectly fine.
When it comes to pruning clematis there are a few rules, but even if you prune at the wrong time it isn't a big deal. Early flowered varieties, such as Montana, Avalanche and Early Sensation, require a prune back after flowering. Montana can get tangled so be heavy handed with the shears or secateurs or you will end up with a tangled mess after a few years of growth.
Then you have the later summer flowering varieties, such as Perle d'Azur, which should be cut back in February. Just prune back all the old stems to around 30cm from the ground and it will produce flowers on the new growth made from that time.
The President is one that should be pruned back in winter and no later than February. You are looking for some good healthy stems coming from the base, any weak ones should be cut out. Heavy pruning of this type of group two clematis can result in fewer flowers, so go lightly. After flowering, you can then prune some stems back to encourage a second flush of flowers later on. I tend to prune this type of clematis very hard every third year to keep it in check, right back to 30cm from the base.
Once you have chosen your plant make sure you give it the best start by planting it at least 30cm away from the wall you intend to grow it up, otherwise you run the risk of it not receiving enough water. Remember to use lots of nice compost in the planting hole and to plant deeply.
Get your hands on 'An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Clematis' by Mary Toomey & Everett Leeds for advice on growing these plants
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Q Can you recommend dark pink flowering clematis for spring flowers?
A I like the one called Clematis montana 'Freda' which flowers in May. The foliage is a bronze colour and the flowers are a nice deep pink. It will tolerate some shade and should be pruned back after flowering to keep it in check. The flowers are small, but they are many and the colour is wonderful.