by Dr John Howells

First published in Garden News, Sep. 8th 1997

How small is small? It is possible to grow twenty clematis even on a large balcony so most small gardens can contain this number. Sorting out which clematis did what was a problem to me until I realised that there were twelve groups of clematis that followed one another through the year. My plan is now generally followed, and we will follow it here.

For the purposes of the small garden we can overlook the evergreen group. Flowering in the winter, they make either very large plants or plants only suitable for a conservatory. So we can start with the Alpina Group flowering in MarchñApril and making a welcome splash of colour at that time. The most elegant and showy of them all is 'Frances Rivis' The clear blue petals hang down in elegant fashion. You could also try red 'Constance' All the plants in this group make single bells. They are very hardy and will flower on a north wall. They look particularly good hanging down over a small wall but they will also hang on to other plants or a wall.

Flowering just after the alpinas are the macropetalas, a group with flowers of double bells. They are a little more showy than the alpinas but like them are hardy but will flower a little after the previous group. A particularly reliable and showy plant is `Markham' Pink' The two bells, one inside the other, are slightly different shades of pink making a pleasing flower. Try it over a low wall near the window of your house so that you can enjoy it without stepping out into the frosty spring.

The next group for AprilñMay, the montanas, are of course, giant clematis, but there are two which are not too large for a small garden and yet are very showy. Try 'Freda'which has a beautiful dark red flower against dark foliage. Another delightful montana is 'Tetrarose'making a bush of glowing pink flowers.

While the montanas are finding their way to the sun, beneath them near the ground, are the rockery clematis. This is a bit of a speciality group. One is outstanding. This is 'Joe' `Early Sensation'and `Avalanche'are very similar. This plant is not hardy and is best grown in a greenhouse and then planted out in your garden for the duration of its flowering. Bring it back indoors when the weather turns nasty in the autumn.

We now come to a very large group, the Early Large Flowered clematis, flowering early summer. There are hundreds to choose from. Because they make eye-catching large blooms they are popular in the nurseries. However these plants derived from Chinese plants are not entirely happy in Europe and don' always give the amount of flower that one would like. This group is susceptible to 'wilt' Try 'Guernsey Cream' not quite yellow but getting that way and flowering early in the season. At about the same time flowers 'Lasurstern'a beautiful pure blue clematis from Germany. To these you could add `Mrs Cholmondeley' making a large flower over a long period.
Much easier to grow are the Late Large Flowering clematis for the late summer. There are a large number suitable for a small garden. Let' start with 'Hagley Hybrid' Very reliable it has a most appealing pink as it opens, turning into an almost white bloom. Another very reliable plant is the 'Comtesse de Bouchaud' with a different shade of pink. Then there is the pink and white productive, floriferous, 'Pink Fantasy' I am also going to recommend a new clematis from Estonia. Stepping into a vast nursery in Estonia last year, of all the hundreds before my eye the one that caught it was 'Piilu' a striking combination of pink and white.

Late summer and early autumn brings the trouble free viticellas. These tend to make very large plants with hundreds of blooms. But there are three suitable for a small garden. 'Prince Charles'from New Zealand has an attractive violet crimpled bloom. Then there is the white 'Huldine' not completely white as the edges are tinged with violet. To complete the trio I would recommend `Margot Koster' a dark pink and flowering over a long period.

Coming to the border late summer group, one has to overlook a very large number which are probably too robust for a small garden. But you can' go wrong with C. integrifolia 'Rosa' it makes a lovely small plant and its blooms, hanging bells, make one of the most attractive flowers in the whole garden.

In the orientalis, the yellow group, of early autumn, we have some enormous plants but fortunately we have one just made for a small garden. This is 'Helios' It covers itself with bright yellow bells and yet does not usually get much above 1.2m (4ft).
In the Texensis Group of early autumn, the flowers are more the shape of trumpets. Most of them make 2.5ñ3.5m (8ñ12ft) without difficulty. That could be a problem in a small garden. But you can handle this by letting them grow to 1.8m (6ft) and then to hang down again towards the ground, in this way making a waterfall of colour. 'Etoile Rose'has been a favourite for a long time with two shades of pink blending well together. It has a problem, mildew, but you could deal with this very easily. Before the buds appear spray the bush with fungicide; repeat every fortnight.

Now we come to the Late Flowering Group which takes us into the autumn. Most of these make gigantic plants like our own native Clematis vitalba (Old Man' Beard). However there is one that you can' do without in your garden. It will clamber happily amongst all your plants and will drench your garden with fragrance. It has rather a lengthy name `Triternata (describes the leaves) Rubromarginata'(red margin). The flower is tiny but it comes in myriads. You will love it.

Reproduced by kind permission of Garden News.

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