HOW TO TRAIN CLEMATIS

Clematis climb by twining their leaf stalks round anything within their reach, even their own stems. Constant supervision will prevent this happening, of course, but clematis grow so quickly that it is often impossible to keep pace with them, but if we provide the necessary means for the plant to cling to, then we should be able at least once a week to guide them where they should go. In April and May, when growth is rapid, a plant can get into a horrible tangle if left unattended for a few days. On warm growing days a clematis will grow 3 or 4 inches, and if these conditions continue for several days the plant will have grown almost 2 feet in a week! So at this time of the year, especially with thejackmanii varieties, make sure that all shoots are tied in and trained so that each stem is shown off to advantage and all the flowers able to display their beauty and not be lost in a bird’s-nest of tangled growth that one so often sees. Although clematis will grip tightly anything their leafstalks can find, their grip is not a stranglehold, although one will sometimes find a flower on the clematis that has been unable to open owing to a leaf stalk having wrapped itself round the bud before it had a chance to burst open.

They must, therefore, have something to cling to by their leafstalks, this means they do not cling to a wall as the ivy does and so they do no damage to walls. The cheapest method for walls is to wire your walls. One can obtain reels of plastic-covered wire, which is better than bare wire that can get hot on a sunny wall and burn the leaves. This can be attached to nails spaced about 9 inches apart along the top and bottom and the sides of the wall, so that we have the wall covered in 9-inch squares. Nails can be spaced at intervals in the centre to give rigidity and support for the plant. Make sure, however, that the wire is at least ‘/£ inch away from the wall, so that the leaves have a chance to get behind the wire and twist themselves round it. This is an ideal cheap method when large areas of wall have to be covered. For the odd spot on the wall there are several makes of wooden, wire and iron trellis frames that can be fitted to the wall and these are obtainable at most Garden Shops and Centres.

The natural way to train a clematis is through a bush or tree, one look at the native clematis will confirm this, festooning as it does many of our hedges and trees with its feathery seedheads in the autumn, especially on chalky soils which has suggested in the past that clematis are lime-loving plants. Clematis are often said to require hot heads and cold feet and this can be seen to perfection with the wild clematis, all the flowers and seedhcads are at the top of the hedge and if we follow the stems down to the roots we will find that they go down to the dampest and coolest part of the hedge at the bottom. This gives the clue when planting on a tree or shrub, plant on the north side, so that the tree will give shade to the roots. Plant as far away from the tree as possible and lead the clematis into the tree by means of a pole or wire. Alternatively one could plant the roots well away from the trunk and lay the stem just under the ground for it to come up the trunk of the tree, but to plant next to the trunk itself would be fatal as the roots of the clematis would have no chance with the roots of the tree. Many a tree or bush could play host to a clematis and thus play a dual role in the garden.

Most shrubs flower in the spring and if we plant with a Jackmanii variety which is pruned hard in the winter we shall have the shrub in flower during May and June while the clematis is finding its way up through the branches. As soon as the shrub or tree has finished flowering the clematis will take over and for the rest of the summer the host plant will be displaying a second crop of flower, a beautiful and natural way to use clematis in the garden.

A third and very unusual way to grow clematis is on the ground as a bedding plant! The idea is to peg down the shoots so that we get a carpet of flowers all looking upwards, quite an unusual sight. Jackmanii or Viticella varieties are the best for this method as they flower for a very long period and can be pruned hard every winter to give one a chance to clean the bed and work in some fresh manure or fertiliser. Several plants should be used on a fairly large or long bed so that one can train the shoots over blind spots, such as the lower parts of the clematis. Instead of pegging the shoots down, wirenetting could be stretched over the bed or pea-sticks laid on the ground to give the plants something to scramble over. One-year-old plants will take a year or two to establish themselves in such a position and so it is worth while finding out if one can obtain two- or three-year-old plants.

The pergola (a walk covered with arches) is another method of training clematis and one can easily be erected in the garden with a few poles, making an attractive addition to the garden. A more permanent and handsome pergola can be made with brick pillars and this can be wired. Poles will also need something attached to them for the plant to climb on, such as wirenetting wrapped round. Three or four single wires stretched between nails at the top and bottom of the pole is a simple and effective method to help the plants to climb.

Clematis can also be trained on tripods of poles at the back of the herbaceous border, or on frames as a feature in the centre of a bed, but whatever method is used for training do make sure that the leaves have suitable wires, irons or trellis work of small enough size for the leaf stalk to twist round and that there is space behind these supports for the leaf to curl around two or three times to enable them to get a good firm grip to support the weight of the plant.

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