Spring flowering Clematis is so subtle
When most people think of Clematis they usually envisage those lovely large flowered summer varieties that scramble over arbours and intersperse themselves through climbing roses.
Often overlooked are the spring flowering species that may not have the huge blooms of their summer counterparts but in my opinion are even more worthy of garden space. They vary from the monstrous beautiful brute Clematis montana to tiny forms like Clematis x cartmanii 'Pixie' which can be grown in a large pot and left to trail.
These species type of Clematis are much easier to establish than the large flowered types and require pruning only to control their size. They flower on last year's wood so any pruning should be done immediately after flowering to give new wood time to ripen flower buds for the following year.
One thing they all have in common is that they are altogether more subtle than the summer flowering types but certainly no less attractive. They do share the need for conditions similar to the large flowered varieties and are gross feeders. So cool roots, head in the sun, plenty of water while growing and an annual mulch of manure.
The previously mentioned C.montana is probably the best known of the species Clematis and is one that may well need regular pruning to keep it under control. They are frequently seen swamping sheds, garages and escaping over garden walls. I have seen it growing in trees up to nine or ten metres high with viney stems trailing down that might tempt a Rice Burroughs apeman.
I find the cultivars are quite indistinguishable from one another, but the most common pinks are 'Tetrarose' and 'Rubens' while the white is just plain 'Alba'. With judicious pruning they can be kept to three metres high realistically and while they are absolutely smoothered with flower in full sun they are also sucessful in quite a lot of shade.
While Clematis montana might not exactly fall into the subtle category, C. macropetala and C. alpina do. Both have attractive ferny deciduous foliage which is the perfect contrast to flowers that hang downwards and are spidery in appearance. These are followed by fluffy seed heads that last into the autumn.
C. macro. 'Markham's Pink', C. macro. 'Blue Bird' and C. macro. 'White swan' are unsurprisingly pink, blue and white and worth looking out for. Clematis alpina 'Frances Rivis' is an excellent blue and C. alpina 'White Moth' speaks for its self. All make around 2.5 metres in height.
Both species have a toughness that belies their delicate appearance and take a considerable amount of shade while still flowering well. They are great along fences and on pergolas, where their hanging flowers can be seen from below. They are suitable as companion plants through small trees and large shrubs.
If planting to climb through a host plant give them a little space away from the existing plant and insert a bamboo cane to act as a connecting support.
There are also evergreen spring flowered Clematis such as the New Zealander C. x cartmanii. This species has given rise to many fantastic cultivars in recent times. All flower prolifically in full sun, so much so that the foliage may be hard to see . C. 'Avalanche' and C. 'Early Sensation have creamy white flowers about 50mm across from April to May and attractive deeply serrated glossy foliage that is pleasant all year round.
They make around 3 metres high so are suitable for pergolas, walls or through trees. The dwarf types like Clematis 'Pixe' and C. 'Joe' only grow to 1.5 metres and are very useful as container plants particularly in tall pots where they can trail down. Pixie has fragrant lime green flowers no more than 20mm across while C. 'Joe' is similar but in creamy white. Both flower in abundance. The species C. x cartmanii is not a self clinging plant so will need some tying in as it grows but don't let that put you off.
Other evergreen Clematis, but larger growers, are C. armandii [ 6 metres]and C. cirrhosa [ 5 metres]. Both again flower best on a sunny sheltered wall but will grow reasonably well in some shade, particularly C. cirrhosa. Clematis armandii has large long leathery leaves that make this plant worth growing for its foliage alone but combine that with its slightly fragrant creamy flowers and you're on to a winner.
Clematis armandii 'Apple Blossom' has flushed pink flowers and bronze new leaves and C. 'Snowdrift' is pure white. Clematis cirrhosa 'Freckles' has ferny evergreen foliage, which again makes it worthy of a foliage plant, complemented with 50mm pale yellow speckled maroon flowers. These are borne from February to April intermittently.
While we love the summer Clematis spare a thought at this time of year for their less celebrated relations.