MY CLEMATIS DIARY
February 1st, 2000
I have just fixed the label on 'General Sikorski' and having written it realised I have to change this name.
Naming a plant is not as easy as it seems. One cannot use a name which is already in vogue. But, it is not always easy to know whether a name has been used before. One can, of course, start by naming after oneself - 'Ernest Markham' would be a case in point. A member of the family can be remembered, for example Ernest Markham named a plant after his wife Nell - 'Little Nell'. It can often note a client, for example, 'Comtesse de Bouchaud', or even a royal personnage, 'Prince Charles'. Sometimes an attempt can be made to describe a feature of the plant, for example, the abundance of 'Abundance'. The name can even commemorate a town, for example 'Ville de Lyon'. Or even an event, for example 'Kosmiczeskaja Melodija' commemorates the launch of the first Russian cosmonaut.
Coming back to 'General Sikorski'. It seems that this plant was raised by Brother Steffan in Warsaw, in 1965, and introduced commercially through Noll in 1975. Then it was called 'Jadwiga Teresa'. It was Noll who renamed it 'General Sikorski'. So now, knowing this, we have to use the earlier name under the new rules on nomenclature. I must go back to the label, cross out 'General Sikorski' and put in 'Jagwiga Teresa'. The plant is named after the lady worker who helped the Jesuit brother in his garden.
Today we have almost instant contact all over the world through the internet. It wasn't so in the past and it is truly remarkable how knowledge of clematis spread all over the world. In Europe there was almost a brotherhood of herbalists. In the medieval period the only medication were herbs. Thus every medical man had to have an intimate knowledge of the botany of the plants he used. Once, due to the Reformation, universities spread through Europe, in their medical schools much time was devoted to the botany of that time. It is said that the first European university was at Salerno. Medical graduates in Britain for instance travelled to the Italian, French and German universities, and so all the herbalists got to know one another. Gerard's massive Herball in 1598 was not only a reflection of his own merit but also of Lobel and Clusius.
At the moment plants look miserable in the garden. Dark brown or black stalks with a few dangling black leaves. Yet, even in weeks, our attention will be concentrated on the flowers. We are, in fact, preoccupied by the flower of the clematis. When we talk clematis we talk about clematis flowers. But this was not the case in the past. Then the preoccupation was on the leaves, stalks and roots of plants because they had medicinal value. The flower had little and therefore was often not mentioned in descriptions of flowers, including clematis, at that time.
In this garden I bemoan the damage done by rabbits to my clematis. However I picked up an article in a journal recently where someone commented, would you believe it, on the value of having your young stems eaten by rabbits! He wasn't talking of clematis but of vegetables. He claimed that this early attention by rabbits on the young stems was equivalent to a pruning. It was from the plants pruned by the rabbits that he got his best crop!
Today, it being dry and very windy, came an opportunity for setting a light to my bonfire. I have a small area where anything that burns, or will burn, is placed. In no time at all you have a small mountain of debris. The wind has to be right, coming from the west, otherwise the flames will damage the trees. Some Japanese researchers have shown that inhaling the smoke from these bonfires is as damaging to one's chest as cigarette smoking. So I stand well away from the smoke. At the moment, in the UK, anyone can start a fire as long as it does not persistently trouble his neighbours. But this is not so in all countries. In Holland, for instance, bonfires are forbidden.
I have just rung a farmer friend to order some manure. This is a cheap and effective way of nurturing plants. At the moment it costs £10 a load. Two loads will certainly see my garden through the year. He supplies me with cattle manure and is good enough to make sure it is well rotted. To be well rotted is vital. Fresh manure is acrid and will damage any plant it comes up against. Ideally the manure must cut like Christmas cake. Two good spades full will be given to each clematis. But the manure is kept well away from the crown of the plant. Even mature manure could damage stalks. When should the manure be used? Some argue it should not be placed on the plants in winter. I have no choice. This is the only time of the year when I have time to do this exhausting work. It could well be the best time. The winter rain runs through the manure and carries liquid manure down to the roots. Furthermore the worms carry with them the manure down into the soil. Come the spring and the manure will act as an ideal mulch.
I have been glancing at my clematis to see whether they are making buds. They certainly are. Some of the viticellas are already throwing up quite strong shoots from the ground. It was a particular pleasure to see that 'W.E. Gladstone' had good large buds. This clematis, of course, has the largest bloom of all. Truly a 'dinner plate' clematis. Named after one of the British politicians of the last century. My experience is that it tends to not like the winter and will often disappear only to pop up again in the spring. If it does this, of course, it flowers late but make particularly large blooms. This year there are going to be no problems because there are some good fat shoots well up the stem. I have two plants of it, both on a north wall.
Which is the most disappointing of all clematis? Each one of us, I am sure, would name a different plant. For me a big disappointment is 'Mrs N Thompson'. She has a flower with gorgeous colouring. Most appealing. However, her constitution seems to be weak. I have a problem getting her up to even 4ft (1.2m). The usual thing seems to be she struggles hard in mid season up to about 4ft and then produces no more than about one bloom. A beauty of course and it encourages me to persist. Who was 'Mrs N Thompson' anyway? She was the wife of a Mr N Thompson who was the nursery office manager at the nursery of Pennell's of Lincoln who bred the plant.
Some gardeners are so keen to work on their clematis that they start pruning in February, or even in January. If they see a bud then this seems to be a signal to start the pruning. I see no great virtue in this. If you prune too early then you can encourage the development of buds which can be caught and damaged by a late frost. The Early Large Flowered don't need pruning anyway and what needs to be done can safely be left until the shoots are very well developed in March. As for the Late Flowered clematis then they need pruning to the ground. Premature pruning may again cause the shoots to be damaged by frost. They have plenty of time to grow being late bloomers and once the soil warms up they will quickly catch up with those pruned early.
On a hilltop like mine, you can't grow the evergreen clematis, except for Clematis 'Armandii'. Being one of the later bloomers even in my climate it puts up a very good show. Thus I don't have to worry about the evergreens. But I do have to worry about the montanas. They are only just able to survive in my climate. I went round them today and had a preliminary look. When in doubt I snip off a short branch to see whether the stem is green inside. They look promising this year. A number are enclosed in bubble wrap.
I have been pruning my rose 'Maigold'. This is an early flowering yellow rose with wonderful scent. It flowers for about a month early in the spring and then you get nothing except a small flush in the autumn. It does well on a north facing wall because a cherry tree nearby is not in leaf when it flowers. But up it, of course, I have put a clematis. Now when the clematis flowers the cherry tree is in leaf and so the clematis has to grow in deep shade. The clematis I chose, 'Mrs Cholmondeley' will do it. It is a source of amazement to me each year to find this dear lady with twelve to twenty blooms, and large ones at that, in this dark corner. She blooms sporadically right through the summer.
Soon the clematis will awaken and then will set about their allotted task in nature. Essentially this is to reproduce itself and guarantee that the genus does not fade out. The aim of the annual life of the plant is to produce pollen on its stamens which has to be contrived to fall on the stigma and be guided down to the ovary to meet the female ovule and so produce a seed of the new plant. With a fluffy tail the seed will float around and hopefully reach some nurturing soil. The task completed, the flower dies. Essentially homo sapiens has the same role. We are driven by a fierce propensity to reproduce the race. Without this propensity homo sapiens would disappear. Once the task is done then we are of less consequence and move into old age and disappearance. Thankfully nature makes the reproductive effort enjoyable. It also adds a few other delights along the way.
In my conservatory Fasciculiflora still has flowers in bud. But they don't open. They have been like that now for weeks. I expect that the temperature in there is not high enough. Anyway I keep on hoping because I have an account from someone that this can be a most attractive flower. But its true to say that I know someone else who dismisses it as being of no consequence. Soon I shall see for myself.
Reversion is an interesting phenomena in clematis. A particular bloom or all the blooms of a plant may revert to that of one of the parents. The clematis that has received the most comment in Clematis 'Florida Bicolor'. There have been reports at various times of the whole bloom reverting to 'Florida Alba Plena' or half the bloom being normal and the other half 'Florida Alba Plena'. Other strange happenings have been noted with 'Florida Bicolor'. There was a report from Japan of extra flowers on a stalk appearing from within the first flower.
Scent is difficult to define. There is no agreed standard in describing fragrance. The result is that scents are often compared to another flower such as lavender, or a plant like mint, or a tree like hawthorn, to a fruit like lemon, to an animal scent like musk, or seeds such as ginger, or to a familiar synthetic product such as chocolate. Sometimes the best we can do is to indicate the strength of the scent such as weak, strong, very strong or overwhelming. It is often difficult to get gardeners to agree about the scent of a plant. One will call it primrose whilst another will say a violet, etc. Then it seems that scent can vary according to the time of the day, it being strong in the morning or, conversely, strong in the evening. Generally warmth tends to bring out scent.
Today I have dealt with rose 'Mrs Sam McGredy'. Mrs Sam McGredy was an HT rose brought out many years ago by McGredy's of Northern Ireland. A lovely bloom with two shades of salmon pink and a gorgeous scent. Then they made a climbing plant of her. She needed tidying and pruning. This could have been done later but I have to do these jobs when I have the time. She blooms early for roses. In late spring she will be covered with a display of these perfumed roses. A sight to behold!
But after blooming this rose rarely flowers again. There may be an odd rose or two through the rest of the year. So now I have the problem of supplying colour to this particular wall. I am going to do it with three clematis which who will bloom at different times of the year. The earliest will be 'W.E. Gladstone' an Early Large Flowered clematis. Then will come 'Twilight' a late large flowered clematis. Last of all will come 'Jenny Caddick' a viticella which will bloom for a long time. So between them they are going to give me continuous colour. Alas! The one thing they will not do is to give me perfume.
I am getting somewhat concerned that my viticellas are showing so much activity. Some have got long shoots already a foot (30cms) from the ground. It is very pleasant to see they are so vigorous but one does worry lest they be struck by frost later on. To give some shelter to these early shoots I tend to leave about 3ft (1m) of stems from the original plant. I bring these together with a tie at the top so the tied old shoots make a sort of wigwam which gives the shoots from the ground some protection.
What do you do on a wet day and a cold one at that? There is a lot that can be done. Suitably dressed one can, for instance, check the clematis supports on the walls but today I put some more support up. The rose had gone, I suppose, about 15ft (4.5m) from the ground to the top of the wired area on the wall. There was a further 5ft (1.5m) the rose could go but that part of the wall was not wired. So Harry and I set about it this morning. There are all sorts of artificial supports for clematis that you can put on walls. Here I mostly make supports for the clematis and roses from horizontal wire strung in 4ft (1.2m) lengths. Holes are made with a drill. The hole then has a plastic plug. Last of all an eye-topped screw is screwed in. The screws are as I said 4ft (1.2m) apart. Between the screws is strung strong wire. The wire must be at least 1.6mm. The rose is tied to the wire all the way up its 20ft (6m). Then the clematis are tied to the roses.
Do you use a ladder in the garden? I had to do so yesterday in order to put extra wire support on the walls. In fact I had to use a double ladder. Ladders are probably the most dangerous piece of equipment that one uses in the garden. If you do use one then you should exercise the greatest of care. We carefully supported the bottom end of the ladder by making fairly deep holes in the soil to take the two bottom ends of the ladder. Higher up we tied the ladder with rope to support both sides. Thus it was impossible for the ladder to move.
Most work on clematis in the garden can be undertaken using step ladders. These are much safer but still require care. Aluminium step ladders are light and easy to move around the garden. As you pick them up from the ground make sure your hand is half way along the step ladder. With the same weight at each end of the step ladder you will find it quite easy to balance and carry.
At this time of the year and especially at pruning time you find yourself taking ties off the plants. They tend to accumulate in a pile and can be used later in the year. Ties can be a wire with a plastic cover or wire with a paper cover. The latter are only useful with plants you are going to strongly prune. Thus they can come away with the plant and not be used again. Plastic covered ties will last for a number of years. When you twist you only need to twist two or three times to make the tie secure. If you are tempted to screw eight times then you will regret it later in the year when you have to undo the tie!
Today I heard from the curator of the Durban Botanic Gardens. I had sent them some clematis in 1996. He told me they had all grown and flowered very well in the gardens. Durban of course is the sort of place where you would expect clematis to flourish. It is regarded as a garden city. Then came the bad news. Last year, 1999, they had some unusual weather which led to the loss of all the plants. It is not clear whether it was too hot or too cold. But I would expect South Africa to be a great area for growing clematis.
I was reminded today that some of the American clematis are called 'American leather flowers'. This is applied to clematis of the Texensis Group of which there are a number of fascinating and beautiful examples in north America. The term leather does not apply to the perfume of the plant but rather applies to the thickness of the petals or tepals in the urn-like flower. The term 'leathery' is applied to the thickness hence the 'American leather flowers'.
Climate plays a big part in determining what we are able to grow in a particular garden. With a temperate climate in the UK one tends to forget the trials of a gardener north of us, or again, of a gardener south of us in a hot climate. North of us it is difficult to grow the Evergreen Group or the Montana Group, or again, the Rockery Group. Thus there is a special concentration on the Alpina and the Macropetala Groups which are very hardy. Even the Early Large Flowered are not always easy to grow because they are cut down to the ground by the harsh winter. Hence an increasing tendency in cold countries to grow the Jackmanii Group and the Viticella Group. These are very happy to be cut to the ground every winter and come up smiling to produce excellent crops of flowers in the late summer. Of course the evergreen plants come into their own in hot climates and there can give spectacular displays.
When a clematarian dreams of clematis what does he dream about? Possibly he sees an enchanting garden with trees, shrubs, water courses, tumbling streams, waterfalls and a prominent feature in all this would be swathes of clematis in full flower and in multicolours. If he had a 'close up' he might dream of the beautiful multi blooms of `Vyvyan Pennell' whom I regard as the Queen of Clematis. Or into his dream may come the overwhelming perfume of Clematis flammula.
Driving my car today, I came to realise, suddenly, that it too had a link with clematis. Some years ago, as our guest we had Byng Steffen from the United States. At that time he was proprietor of certainly the largest nursery in the United States and maybe in the world. His father before him had started his business. When his father visited the United Kingdom he brought his son with him and they went round the country in some style in a hired car and chauffeur. When Byng, his son, came with his wife he felt that that degree of style was out of date and so instead he hired a car. More than that, it was an English car. He kept shouting the praises of this car to me but I had reservations because I was not always happy with English cars. But he persisted to the point when he made me drive it. I came to the conclusion that he was right and so I bought the car. It was a hybrid Japanese crossed with English. It has proved a very reliable combination. Or rather, perhaps one should say that the Japanese element has provided the reliability and the English a little good leather.
An increasing number of people are interested in clematis as cut flowers. I believe there are nurseries devoted to the cut flower trade in Japan, again in Germany, and in Holland. One can start quite early in the year with trails of Clematis 'Cirrhosa'. So beautiful if properly draped over objects. A little posy of C. 'Armandii' will bring scent to the table. The alpinas and the macropetalas and the montanas again can supply flowers to make attractive posies. In the large flowered the key seems to be to select flowers with good strong long stems. The herbaceous clematis produce some of the most beautiful. For instance C. 'Integrifolia Rosea'. Perhaps the finest of all is C. 'Integrifolia Durandii'. The texensis produce eye-catching plants for the table. Their tulips are most eye-catching. One of the most fascinating is C. 'Fusca'. Put on the table guests find it difficult to accept that such a flower is a clematis. At the end of the year there is sweetly scented C. 'Terniflora' to make a sensation. Some of the clematis look best floating in water with a skilful background of leaves.
Have you thought of taking account of the phases of the moon when planting your clematis? There is a point of view that it is best to plant during the waxing moon i.e. a new lunar phase. The argument is that as the moon approaches the earth, waters and nutritious substances in the ground flow upward towards the plant. Therefore a plant put in the ground at this time will benefit from this. It is argued also that this is the best time for applying nutritious substances to the plants as they will be more readily taken up by the roots. Even systemic fungicides are best put into the ground at this stage of the moon. During the waning phase of the moon, it is argued, the subsoil waters tend to leave the plant.
My fasciculiflora is in bloom! What joy! I had looked carefully at my plant this morning. My eyes travelled up and down the stem looking for a bud that had opened. Buds. Buds. Buds. Then high up on the stem I saw them. Three flowers in a cluster. The tepals of the young blooms were greeny-white. But the third had opened giving four creamy-white tepals making an open bell, hanging down. On the stamens the filaments were creamy-white and the anthers yellow. The protruding carpels were a greeny-white. And the flower was slightly scented! The excitement is somewhat like what Robert Fortune must have experienced when he discovered Clematis lanuginosa on a hillside in China!
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