by Dr John Howells

First published in Garden News, Jan. 27th 2000

When winter comes there is a tendency for gardeners to abandon the garden. However, to continue in the garden is the key to a successful season of growing clematis next spring and summer. Indeed, an hour in the garden before Easter is worth five hours after Easter.

A garden plan
A plan of your garden is an indispensable tool to any serious gardener and winter gives you the time to make it. It can consist of a general plan of the whole garden with a more detailed plan of each bed and special areas such as paths, pergolas and patios. On the plan of the beds, the position of clematis should be marked with a cross, with, of course, its name alongside. Even without leaving the house the gardener using the plan can consider, evaluate, and evolve a new development.

Additional clematis
Armed with a plan the gardener can now, on a fair day, move into the garden and consider each bed and special area in turn. The question is asked "Where could I profitably plant another clematis?". So many spots will be found that the gardener will find himself quite often able to think of development lasting over a number of years. Now he can make a key plan and adjust it as the years go by. Having decided on a planting spot, the spot is marked on the plan with a round 'O'. The 'O' becomes a cross when the clematis has been planted.

Having decided where the clematis are to be planted, the gardener can now proceed to digging the necessary holes. This is not a task that needs to be left till the busy spring. A hole the diameter of 2ft (60cms) and with a depth of 3ft (1m) involves moving a lot of soil. Use light tools such as a lady's spade and a lady's fork. Free the soil with the fork and then lift out the soil with a spade. Special care should be taken to retain the top 11/2ft (45cms) of soil. This is the soil that has benefited from manuring and fertilising for possibly many years. The poor soil from the bottom of the hole can be dispensed with and replaced with good compost, loam, or loam and manure mixed. You are now well placed for planting your clematis quickly when you purchase them in the spring.

Checking labels
There is probably no such thing as a completely weatherproof label. Even the most expensive and solid looking can be lost in the garden. This is where your plan of the garden can be so helpful should a label be lost as it frequently is. Many of us have to rely on plastic labels. These rarely last more than two years and the lettering can fade even in a year. Winter is the time for checking all your labels. Does the label itself need replacing? If so it can be done now. Is the label in the best place? Usually the labels are best placed tied to a solid object near to your clematis.
Take your 'permanent marker' with you and if the lettering is fading, then re-do it.

Early pruning
The Late Flowering Clematis, which will be pruned to the ground in early spring, can usefully be given a pruning early in winter. I am thinking of clematis in the Jackmanii, Viticella and Orientalis groups. With their brown or black foliage they can look unsightly on roses, shrubs and solid structures. So prune them to about 3ft (1m) from the ground. Bring the stems together with a tie and gently put it away out of sight. The remaining stems will give the crown of the plant a measure of protection in hard weather. Come early spring and the stems can now be pruned down to the ground. Frequently by then new shoots are appearing from the ground. There is no virtue in too early pruning in the spring because all the late flowering clematis have months in which to make large plants.

Winter protection
Susceptible plants likely to be damaged by a hard frost can be wrapped in early winter in either fleece or bubble wrap. Bubble wrap is the better. All clematis in containers and in exposed positions should be protected in this fashion.

New structures
Winter is the time for constructing any new structures for supporting clematis, whether they be posts, arches, pergolas, bowers, patios, paths, etc. Holes can be dug for any clematis that are going to climb into them. All the clematis of course will also appear on your plan.

Transplanting clematis
Frost-free episodes in the winter are ideal for transplanting clematis. Remember that the roots of clematis can go very deep, 3ft (1m) and beyond. Start your digging well away from the plant and move steadily downwards on all four sides of the plant. Lift the plant gently on to a plastic sheet for moving elsewhere. Carefully inspect the plant. Ask yourself the question "Is it possible to split this plant without endangering the main plant?" Sometimes it is, especially with very mature plants, but never endanger the main plant. Large plants can be split by putting a fork into each of the two halves and then pulling the forks apart. In the smaller plants a piece may be sawn off. Your plan will be so useful here again. Even indoors you can consult your plan and ask "Do any of my clematis need transplanting and is it possible that some of them can be split?" and "Where can I put the extra clematis?"

Having undertaken all the above tasks there is still time for ordering new tools, fertilisers, fungicides, insecticides, peat, etc. Also, of course, for selecting new clematis, which I shall discuss in the next article

Herewith six clematis for the year 2000, each one of which is a treasure:
'Westleton' - this is a double-belled clematis flowering in March-April, a beautiful blue flecked with white. A strong plant. The last introduction by the greatest introducer of clematis of all time, Jim Fisk, whose nursery closed on December 31st, 1999. This ended a span of 50 years of introducing clematis.
C. Chrysocoma 'Continuity' - this is a neglected treasure. It makes a large plant like a montana. It is covered with pinky-white blooms standing up from long firm stems. Its delight are its large stamens that make the flower of continual interest. Ideal for covering a shed. Also makes flowers for flower arrangements.
'Piilu' - this is a new introduction from Estonia and likely to become very popular because of its floriferous nature and colourful flowers.
'Romantika' - this has the classic deep purple colouring of clematis. It belongs to the Jackmanii Group and flowers in late summer, making a large plant. It gained the Certificate of Merit from the British Clematis Society in 1998.
C. Viticella - this is the wild plant that has been with us for 500 years. I can't understand why it rarely appears in our gardens. It is probably the easiest clematis to grow. It makes a massive plant with hundreds of beautiful purple bells. I saw it a few years ago hanging over a shrub looking into a pool. Romantic. Stupendous.
'Golden Tiara' - this is a new introduction from Holland. It's merit is shown by the fact that it won an award in Holland and a Certificate of Merit from the British Clematis Society in 1999. A plant for early autumn when it will bring gorgeous yellow colouring into the garden while, at the same time, producing attractive seed heads. One of the best introductions of recent years.

Reproduced by kind permission of Garden News.

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