Clematis Arrangements

Clematis are invaluable for decoration on account of the long lasting qualities of certain varieties, the beauty of the individual flowers, the shape and arrangement of the leaves, and the curving stems and tendrils.

There was a time, only a few years ago, when many gardens boasted one clematis—a deep purple one—but usually only one. In these days many more clematis are being grown in gardens and so the nurseries are putting more on the market, more is being written about clematis, and therefore knowledge of how to grow this plant successfully is probably more general than it has ever been before.

It is now well known that clematis can be grown in many countries. They will also flower almost throughout the year—beginning with C. calycina in early spring (with fern like evergreen leaves and small cream flowers) and rounding off in the late autumn with the lovely soft lilac coloured Comtesse de Bouchard. In between these two there are many varieties, some, small-flowered like most of the montanas which come out in the early summer months, others with large single flowers in white, red, mauve with a pink stripe, or deep purple.

Three examples which do not quite fit into either of the above categories are the medium-sized Etoile Violette, with a small deep purple flower and a wonderfully rampageous growth; C. chrysocoma, with soft pink flowers and rather hairy wine coloured leaves (there is one growing to an immense size and height in the Savill Gardens, Windsor Great Park); and C. flammula with small, star like, creamy white, scented flowers.Clematis Arrangements

There are also yellow clematis, e.g. C. tangutica. And a deep red Ernest Markham. Once they are established and have grown past the dreaded ‘wilt’ stage one can be sure of a regular and varied supply for arrangement.

The charm of the curving sprays may best be seen, either when they are arranged in a tall narrow necked container, such as a wine bottle, decanter, or an old glass scent bottle (when the shape gives ample support to the stems), or else on a flat dish or plate.

In the former case care must be taken to keep the neck of the container well filled up to the brim, as clematis are thirsty plants, and in the case of the latter the water supply must also be watched and carefully checked.

Clematis make particularly attractive dining table arrangements, when arranged so that one is able to look down into their flowers and to trace cleasly the curves of their stems and tendrils. One method of holding them in position that I have found suitable for dinner or lunch party arrangements (they only had to last in that particular arrangement for a few hours)—was to have two or three stems held together in a thimble. The clematis was Comtesse de Bouchard whose soft lilac and pink colouring I have already mentioned. The flowers were arranged on a long, flat pale purple dish so that the curving stems lay across it. The thimble fixed in position at one side in lilac coloured Plasticine held enough water for the three thin stems.

Some people feel that clematis may be difficult to deal with in the garden because of the different times for the pruning of some varieties. But this is not as complicated as it sounds, and there are, in fact, certain clematis which need very little pruning apart from the usual tidying up and training of the new shoots.

I have found that most clematis will climb up a framework of string or strong netting between posts but that, on the whole, they are not usually happy on wire netting. (There may well be cases where this is not so, and I only make this comment in a general sense and write of my own experience.) And then there is the question of situation—clematis will grow facing most aspects, often doing reasonably well on a north or north east wall, but they do resent, more than anything, even in the most promising situations, a draught. Like most plants clematis will stand up to winds of gale force. Strengthas long as it only blows against them and not through them.

Once clematis have their backs safely supported by a solid wall, or are trained between tall posts and form a solid pillar of growth, all will be well, but they should not be far enough away from their support so that the draughts can blow up between the gaps.

It is not necessary to have a large amount of garden space to grow a clematis. One of my most successful results was with an old favourite, the Comtesse de Bouchard, which I had to grow in a very small London garden, so small that to find room for it we had to take up a slab of concrete against a wall close to the gate. Here my clematis flourished year after year, giving me valuable flowers from late June until early November.

For those with no garden space at all, or for those requiring an upright growth of clematis, it is possible to buy special oak tubs with an upright framework attached to them through which the plant can climb.

There is also another point worth mentioning, and that is clematis sometimes disappear for a year or two and then, when one has nearly given up hope of seeing them, come to life again. They may put out fresh leaves and shoots and behave altogether as though there had been no interim period in their development. I have myself ‘lost’ one clematis for five years in this way, but it eventually put in an appearance again.

I should like here to include a plea for the wild clematis, known as old man’s beard. Anyone who has used it in decorations will know its possibilities, but to those who are still to be converted I should like to stress its enchanting qualities and to suggest they try it when they have a chance. (Old man’s beard likes a chalky soil and grows on the chalk ridges wherever they come in the countryside.)

Its greatest charm, I think, lies in the seedheads and tendrils remaining when it has finished flowering before these have reached the completely furry stage, although I have seen them used to good effect for Christmas decorations with silver honesty.

The seedheads of many garden clematis are often attractive, soft grey-green whorls of methodical tangle, and when this is so they can either provide an unusual addition to an arrangement, or can be the focal point of interest from which the arrangement develops. Seedheads are surprisingly beautiful earlier on while still silky in texture, although the later, fluffy stage also has its attractions—contrary to expectation, the fluffy stage lasts well when cut for decoration and does not, as one might think, fall quickly or blow about the room—it is, in fact, remarkably tough.

How pleasant it is to sit by a warm fire on a cold winter evening poring over catalogues illustrated with tempting photographs or to read again favourite gardening books full of fascinating descriptions and pictures of plants and flowers. Ideas come and go as one turns the pages and even if only a few of these materialise there is the pleasure of planning and making selections. Amongst the most exciting catalogues to include in such a collection is, I think, one on clematis. Only recently have the opportunities for using clematis in flower arrangements been thoroughly explored and, even now, there are still gardening enthusiasts who have not explored beyond two or three clematis plants.

Varied in colouring, size of bloom and time of flowering, some of these clematis are long lasting for cutting. I have known some of the deep purple jackmanii clematis last for over a fortnight in water. Since they are difficult to have on sale in a florist’s shop, owing to their manner of growth, it is essential to put some into the garden.

And so, get out the catalogues and make a selection at once with cutting for the house in mind.

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