ORGANISING A CLEMATIS GARDEN

In suggesting a clematis garden I realise that one of the main uses of the clematis is to grow and mingle with other plants, they seem to prefer their company and many a rose, honeysuckle or shrub acts as host to a clematis, thus giving a double ration of flower with the shrub flowering in May and June and the clematis following on during the summer. The host plants in their turn helping to hide the bare legs of some varieties of clematis.

The idea of a garden of nothing but one particular type of plant is not new and the rose garden has been popular for many years and there are other types of plants that lend themselves to the creation of a special garden such as heather and the alpines, but very few people seem to have planted and maintained a clematis garden. This was first suggested in Jackman’s and Moore’s book of 1887 when the name to such a garden was a ‘Climbery’! No wonder the idea never caught on with a name like that! The idea was again suggested in Ernest Markham’s book in 1935 called Clematis, but seems to have had little success. The pergola is a feature of many a garden but this usually consists of roses, honeysuckle, vines, etc., with the odd clematis planted here and there. Very few pergolas of clematis are ever seen. We have one here at the Westleton Nursery built with brick pillars and wooden poles and there are clematis in flower on it for most of the year. The only snag of growing clematis on poles or pillars is the wind, if we can erect a pergola in a sheltered position all will be well, but in an open spot the wind can often damage young shoots and flowers. In this situation the species are perhaps the best, smaller flowers withstand the buffeting of the wind much better than the huge exotic blooms of the hybrids. Even with species one can have flower for several months of the year starting with the alpina and macropetala varieties in April and May, following with the montanas in May and June and even into July with the late-flowering

C. montana Wilsonii. The height of summer is rather bare of species but some of the Jackmanii varieties could fill this blank with such varieties as Etoile Violette, Huldine, Jackmanii, Margot Koster, Madame Julia Correvon, Margaret Hunt, Venoa Violacea, all good strong-growing varieties that would stand up to wind and give masses of flowers all the summer. To finish off the season two species will commence to flower in July or August, the yellow

C. orientaUs and C. tangutica, both producing a fine display of seedheads in the autumn. Later on the Viticella types with the delightful saucer-shaped blooms in various shades of purple, pink, mauve, white

and crimson will cover pillars and poles with their dainty flowers well into the autumn. For scent the very small

C. flammula with its myriads of minute flowers will give us the rich fragrance of almonds, especially on days that are warm and laden with moisture. To take us almost up to winter the late-flowering

C. paniculata will give us clouds of small white flowers right into November. Thus we can have a pergola in an open position covered in flower for nine months of the year.

A pergola in a more sheltered spot can experiment with many of the large-flowering hybrids and if we can alternate pruning with non-pruning varieties we can stagger our flowering periods the whole length of the pergola. The sight of a well-trained non-pruning variety such as Nelly Moser, The President or William Kennett flowering from top to bottom of a pole is a sight one will never forget, a veritable pillar of flower. Even in our sheltered position we should find room for at least one of the montanas, so ideal for quick coverage and perhaps one or two of the autumn species so valuable for scent and seedheads.

So much for the pergola, which most gardens can quite easily accommodate, but what about a complete clematis garden? If one has a walled or fenced garden, then this is ideal as one can clothe all the walls with different varieties for flowering at different times of the year, the north-facing wall being reserved for early-flowering varieties which do well in this position. The space between each plant varying according to size and vigour, but a general rule of 5 feet apart should be aimed at. The walls must be wired or trellised in wood slats or with the smart modern panels of thick wire coated in plastic.

The central space of a walled garden can be either lawn if the garden is small, with perhaps a lily pool in the centre to give a focal spot, with a garden seat at one end where the busy gardener can once in a while relax and contemplate on the beauty of the clematis family. If the garden is large, then we have the opportunity of growing clematis in a number of different ways. A pergola running both ways in the shape of a cross with perhaps a statue or round seat in the centre of the cross would make a superb setting for clematis of all classes. In the equally divided four sections we could have clematis raised on tripods made of poles, growing on them some of the summer-flowering varieties which can be cut down to the ground during the winter, giving us a chance to treat the poles with a wood preservative such as cuprinol, but not creosote whose fumes linger on for months killing the tender shoots of clematis. Surrounding these we can have beds of the herbaceous varieties, C. davidiana, C. integrifolia or

C. recta. An even better and much more exciting idea is to have beds of clematis on the ground, treating them as bedding plants, an effective and unusual way to grow them. This was first used over a hundred years ago when at Jackman’s Nursery at Woking a batch of Jackmanii plants were blown down in the early summer and the poles were not renewed. During the summer it was noticed that the plants spread out over the ground and flowered profusely. The effect was so dramatic that they prepared special beds where the clematis were pegged down to the ground and for several years these beds of clematis were a famous feature of their Nursery, and a hundred years later we have copied their success and in the centre of the lawn we have a clematis bed of various Jackmanii varieties at the Nursery at Westleton.

The beds should be at least 15 feet in diameter to give the plants plenty of room to be trained to cover the ground and to allow for the planting of six or more plants in each bed. Jackmanii varieties or the Viticella varieties should be used to give continuous flowering from June to October but the summer-flowering varieties must make a certain amount of growth before they flower, there are always bare spots, so if one has six or more plants dotted over the bed they can be trained over each other and pegged down to cover the bare spaces. During the summer they will flower for an incredibly long flowering period giving a massed effect and at the end of the season or during the winter they can be cut back hard. The beds can be planted permanently with bulbs which will give us a covering of colour in the spring and while their leaves are dying down, the shoots of the clematis will be covering the beds to blossom all the summer in a striking fashion. In the centre of the bed a tripod can be erected to give a central floral pillar, or a herbaceous variety such as C. davidiana. This method would be most suitable for a small walled garden where there is not room for a pergola, and a round bed in the centre of a well-kept lawn would certainly be a usual feature in a clematis garden.

Before planting the bed should be well prepared by deep trenching and digging in plenty of manure or bonemeal. As each plant commences to grow they must be carefully trained over the bed before they can become entangled with each other. During the summer plenty of water should be given, especially if the season is a dry one, with a feeding once a week of a liquid fertiliser.

Clematis can also be grown in tubs which can be dotted about our clematis garden. When planting in them make sure that the tub is big enough to begin with, 18 inches square by 18 inches is the ideal size, a smaller tub will be all right but will require constant watering and liquid manure. Good drainage is essential and the tubs must be filled with a good compost such as John Innes No. 3. For training the plant a simple arrangement of 6-foot bamboo placed at each corner and tied at the top can be used, or one can obtain a more permanent and decorative iron frame, but whatever method the result is very worth while and can be moved to any part of the garden at any time to fill in a blank spot or be used as a specimen plant to stand on the terrace or even be brought indoors while it is flowering. Take them into the open air as soon as they have finished flowering, however, as the clematis is essentially an outdoor plant and will only tolerate being inside for short periods. Almost any variety can be used to grow in a tub but I think that the Jackmanii or Viticella varieties are the best as they can be cut down hard every winter, the frame removed and repainted and the tub stored outside behind the scenes only to be covered or brought inside in very severe conditions. The flowering period of these varieties is so much longer and is continuous as well, so they make the best tub plants and will give you a pillar of flower for months on end.

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