CLEMATIS THAT MAKE CLIMBING TULIPS

by Dr John Howells

First published in Garden News, May 27th 1998


Most clematis make an open flower. But in the texensis group the edge of the petals come together to make a tulip. These tulips climb. In each variety in the group there is some glowing red colour and this with their proud bearing make them the most elegant group of all the clematis. They even dance in a breeze.

Let's talk about them in the order of their appearance. In 1890, the famous Jackman firm of Woking caused a minor sensation with six new tulip shaped clematis. They came from crossing a Large Flowered clematis; 'Star of India' was one, with the native American Clematis texensis. They got the tulip shape from the latter. Of these six two are still with us - 'Duchess of Albany' and 'Sir Trevor Lawrence'.

The blooms of 'Duchess of Albany' proudly, like all the texensis group except one, point upwards to the heavens. At her mouth she reveals a beautiful clear pink background to the petals on which are rosy red bars. Peeping out from the throat are the cream stamens. The four to six thick petals on the outside are pink with rather less pink towards the margins. A most attractive combination.

'Sir Trevor Lawrence' is as handsome as the Duchess. (After all he was a President of the Royal Horticultural Society.) The open mouth reveals a satiny crimson interior with cream stamens at the throat. The outside has the same crimson as a background but the crimson is broken up with strokes of white and green - a most enchanting effect.

We wait only a few years for the next texensis introduction - in 1903 by the French grower Lemoine. Viticella blood was used in the crossing and it can be convincingly argued that this variety is more viticella than texensis. However in this group you will usually find her though true to her viticella parent she nods rather than looks upwards. She has a large following and probably is the best seller of the whole group. Her colouring is gorgeous. Her open mouth shows four petals of a cherry red each of a lighter pink at the margin and whiter at the base. The stamens at the throat are a greeny-white. (The green is again a viticella feature.) On the outside we find the same cherry red of the petals with a silvery edge. A most pleasing effect. It also flowers earlier than the rest of the group.

Our next charmer comes from Ernest Markham at Gravetye Manor in Sussex. They called her 'Gravetye Beauty'. The flower is red throughout. At the throat the red is satiny and red stamens appear at the throat. The outside is pure red too.

There is a long gap of time until we come to our last two lovelies - in 1984. The hybridiser was Barry Fretwell of Peveril Nursery, Devon. To have produced two texensis as fine as the beauties that went before was a major achievement and puts him in the first rank of hybridisers.

His first was named 'The Princess of Wales'. But it seems that 'The' does not count in nomenclature and so the plant became 'Princess of Wales'. That wouldn't do as such a one already existed. So very happily it was renamed 'Princess Diana'. The clematis 'Princess Diana' in a string of beauties stands out in a glowing presence that has to be seen to be appreciated. Pinks are not usually vivid but this is. The mouth has this vivid pink with creamy stamens at the throat. The outside has the same glowing pink. Just a lovely thing.

The second of Barry Fretwell's creations was named 'Ladybird Johnson'. 'Ladybird' meaning 'sweetheart' is a term of endearment that goes back at least as far as Shakespeare's play 'Romeo and Juliet'. If you like a really deep red then this is for you. The deep red petals are textured at the mouth but relieved by creamy stamens. The same deep red is on the outside.

All the above climb 6-8ft (1.8-2.4m) but 'Etoile Rose', propelled by its viticella parent can make 15ft (4.4m). They are usually clambering over plants or structures but can climb if need be as can be seen at the RHS's Hyde Hall in Essex where a splendid 'Etoile Rose' can be seen climbing on a wall. The texensis group flower late summer to early autumn.

In this group some place 'Pagoda' raised by John Treasure. It has a lovely smaller trumpet flower but surely belongs to the viticella group. The word 'Treasure's' reminds me to mention two other matters. John Treasure raised from Clematis pitcheri a clematis with tiny trumpets called 'Burford Belle'. A gem. This will soon be available. The other matter concerns the original wild American clematis in this group - viorna and texensis. They are perhaps not showy enough to be grown as garden plants. But, if you want to make a judgement see them both in the garden of Burford House, a Treasure's of Tenbury, Worcestershire, one of the finest gardens for admiring clematis.

Let's turn to the subject of growing these beauties. In general it's very easy as they are vigorous and robust. Plant them as you would any shrub. Don't plant them deeper than usual. After planting, which is best done in the spring or early autumn, give a generous amount of manure or a general fertiliser such as 'Growmore'. But keep these away from the crown of the plant. Follow with a generous dose of a potash fertiliser about June time.

Pruning is easy. They usually do it for you. When you come to pruning in February - March, you may find they have died down to the ground. If they haven’t help them by cutting them to the ground. Don't fiddle but cut all old shoots down to ground level. In all probability you will see new shoots coming out of the ground. If not, they will soon appear.

These plants are so wonderful that they have only one tiny blemish. They are liable to mildew, especially 'Etoile Rose'. They are never troubled by clematis wilt. The remedy for mildew is simple and easy to apply. There are many systemic fungicides. As the flower buds appear start giving a weekly dose of systemic fungicide. Give it earlier if there is the slightest sign of mildew. Mix the fungicide in a watering can and put into the ground around the root area. It's not necessary to spray, but you can. It's a small chore but you can't have your beauties destroyed by mildew, as they will bring you and yours so much pleasure.

Reproduced by kind permission of Garden News.




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