RED CLEMATIS - Large and Small

by Dr John Howells

First published in Garden News, May. 11th 2000

Red can be a dramatic colour in the garden. However too much of it can be wearisome. The best matching colour for red, no doubt, is green and nature has very cleverly arranged that all red clematis have green leaves. A good contrasting colour is white. Pink can make a pleasant complementary colour. The colour to avoid, of course, is the colour of a brick wall. Red looks hideous against brick. It can look glorious on a white wall. We need to remind ourselves that every clematis, whatever its colour, has a touch of violet in it. This applies to all the reds also.

The predominant colour in clematis of course is blue. There are quite a number of reds as we shall find out. The key to knowing clematis is to think in terms of 12 groups, each following the other through the year.

The first group of clematis, in the winter, is the Evergreen Group and here the predominant colour is white. So we have to move on to the next group, the Alpina Group, which flowers from March onwards. This is the group where the flowers have single bells. A very fine red clematis in this group is 'Constance'. Prolific of flower it looks gorgeous against a low stone wall. Plant it not too far from your window so that you can see it even when the weather doesn't allow you to go out into your garden. A first reserve, as it were, would be 'Ruby'. But in the last few year's there is a newcomer, 'Jaqueline du Pré'. This scores for its large blooms.

Following at almost the same time as the alpinas, but a shade later, is the group of the macropetalas, the group of double bells. While they may not be a true blue, one at least has merited the term 'Rosy' this is 'Rosy O'Grady', with a lovely flower and guaranteed to withstand any weather because she comes from Canada.

We are now coasting into late spring which brings us to the montana group. We associate this group with pink but there are several of such deep pink that we can reasonably call them red. There is 'Freda' which is possibly the best montana for a small garden. The bloom has two tones to it making vivid colouring. Quieter perhaps, but elegant, is 'Tetrose'. Again not too big a plant. If one is looking for a double red there is one - 'Broughton Star'; the outer and inner circle of tepals are of a different colour and make a striking bloom. Coming late to flower in this group is x vedrariensis 'Rosea'. The vedrariensis group is less hardy than the montanas but 'Rosea' is a gorgeous bloom. Give the plant some protection in a sheltered part of the garden and if need be wrap it in garden fleece if you are anticipating a hard winter.

At the same time as the montanas and at their feet are the group of rockery clematis. However we can pass them by because the predominant colours here are white, cream, green and yellow.

So now we are in early summer and we are going to find some striking specimens in our next group, the Early Large Flowered Group. Here there are two outstanding beauties. The first is 'Niobe'. This is so red that at first flowering it is almost black. It gets lighter as it matures. Regarded as a rather good container plant. It's rival is 'Rouge Cardinal'. Some favour this because it matures more pleasantly. All in this group are liable to so-called clematis wilt, which we now know is caused by rotting of the stem, stem rot.

By mid-summer another group appears, the Late Large Flowered clematis. Here one would select 'Ernest Markham' named after the celebrated gardener and still one of the finest of clematis. Another very reliable clematis is 'Madame Edouard AndrÈ'. It grows strongly out of the ground every year, very productive of bloom and reliable.
Some would point immediately to 'Ville de Lyon' as a fine choice. It again is reliable and has a lovely two-toned flower. From New Zealand we have `Allanah'. This certainly has a lovely bloom but tends to produce rather a lot of foliage but is meagre with the blooms.

Growing alongside the Large Flowered clematis are the Herbaceous clematis. Here I would point to two beauties. C. integrifolia 'Rosea' has one of the most delightful flowers in the whole of clematis. It grows to 2-3ft (up to 1m) and is a joy in any herbaceous border. But a striking new clematis has come from Russia, this is 'Aljonuska' and is proving very popular. In late summer we also come across the Viticella Group. Here, we are spoilt for choice. If you want light red, try 'Abundance' which is truly abundant in its flowering and has a lovely ruffled surface. A lighter red with a white centre is 'Madame Julia Correvon'. If you want a dark centre go for 'Kermesina'. There are two dark reds, one from Russia, 'Kosmiczeskaja Melodija' and the velvety 'Royal Velours'.

Moving into the autumn we can skip the Orientalis Group because the flowers here are all variants of yellow. We pause instead with the beautiful Texensis Group. This is the group of tulip-like clematis. There are six which I will bring to your attention and each has its followers. There is early flowering 'Etoile Rose', the glowing red of 'Princess Diana', the red and white 'Sir Trevor Lawrence', the dark red of 'Ladybird Johnson', the pink and red 'Duchess of Albany' and last to flower, the rich ruby-red 'Gravetye Beauty'. All are liable to mildew. To prevent mis-shaping these gorgeous blooms, apply a dose of fungicide as soon as the buds begin to appear. Repeat in a fortnight.

There is still one group left, the Late Autumn Group, but here the flowers are predominantly white. Though if you insist on some red, you could grow Triternata 'Rubromarginata' which at least has a red margin to the tiny white flower - and an overwhelming scent.

Of all these beauties which is the finest? No two people would agree but 'Niobe' would always be high up in the rankings.

Reproduced by kind permission of Garden News.

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