by Dr John Howells

First published in Garden News, Sept. 7th 2000

In the 1999-2000 Plantfinder there were 1,000 clematis listed. How do you find the one clematis that you want? Too often we go to a clematis nursery, look at the clematis, and just pick one that appeals to us. This is called 'impulse buying'. Having taken it home you discover the error that you have made - it flowers at the wrong time, it is too big, it's too small, it's the wrong colour, it has no scent and it wilts. Disappointment results and even loss of interest in clematis.

The road to success is to choose the clematis before going to the nursery. You want two pieces of information to ensure success.
What do I need? Your garden will tell you that.
What is available? Below we will discuss the clear answer to this.

So to answer the question "which plant do I need?" you go into the garden. You look at the spot where you are putting it and ask yourself
When must it flower?
How big a plant do I need?
What colour do I want?
Do I need something special like a scented plant, one with good seedheads, one for a container, one for shade.

Knowing what you want, how do you get what you want? There are 1,000 clematis to choose from. However, fortunately, those 1,000 clematis belong to just 12 groups of clematis. So if you know one clematis from each group, just 12 clematis in all, you know all 1,000. Let me now run through the 12 groups.

Group 1 is the EVERGREEN GROUP. This is "the tender group". These flower December to March in this country. They are mostly white in colour. Some have glorious scent. They want a sheltered position away from the wind. Try C. armandii 'Apple Blossom'. Of fine scent. Or Clematis cirrhosa with hanging white bells.

Group 2 are the ALPINAS. This is the group of "single bells". They flower here in March and April. They grow up to 2.5m (8ft) in a wide range of colours. Only one is scented. Suitable for a north-facing wall. Try blue 'Blue Dancer', or rosy-pink 'Rosy Pagoda'.

Group 3 are the MACROPETALAS. This is the group of "double bells". These also flower March and April and make plants up to 2.5m (8ft). There are a large number of colours but no scent. They make excellent seedheads and are suitable for north-facing walls. Try 'Markham's Pink' or Clematis macropetala itself.

Group 4 are the MONTANAS. This is the group of "giant clematis". They flower April to June, make very large plants usually and come in a variety of colours. Some are delightfully scented. Try 'Mayleen' a lovely pink scented clematis or red 'Freda' for a small garden.

Group 5 is the ROCKERY GROUP. This is the group of "dwarf clematis". In this group we have small plants which tend to be tender. They flower in late spring. They are mostly white. They have wonderful seedheads. They can be grown in a container. Most need protection in winter. Try 'Early Sensation', a beautiful white. Or greeny-cream 'Pixie'.

Group 6 is the EARLY LARGE FLOWERED GROUP. This is the "dinner plate" group. These have the largest flowers of all but unfortunately every clematis in this group is liable to wilt. They are still worth growing - in early summer. There is a great variety of colours, some make good seedheads, but no scent. Some will grow on a north-facing wall and some are suitable for containers. Try the beautiful blue 'Lasurstern', or again, an old favourite 'Nelly Moser'.

Group 7 is the LATE LARGE FLOWERED GROUP. This is the "tea plate" group. These flower from July onwards. The flowers are of a medium size and of a great variety of colours. No scent. Suitable for north-facing walls and containers. Try the beautiful mauve 'Victoria' or lovely pink 'Hagley Hybrid'.

Group 8 are the HERBACEOUS GROUP. These are useful for the border. Some creep along the ground. Some make short upright plants and some make tall upright plants. All are hardy and flower in mid-summer onwards. They come in a variety of colours. A few are scented. They make good seedheads. Try C. integrifolia 'Rosea' or Clematis durandii.

Group 9 are the VITICELLAS. This is the "easy group" for the beginner. They flower in late summer and make large plants, up to 6m (20ft). They make a mass of colour in many shades. No scent. Try 'Etoile Violette' a beautiful dark blue, or 'Abundance' a lovely red.

Group 10 is the TEXENSIS GROUP. This is the "group of climbing tulips". They are all beautiful plants and flower in late summer. They can grow up to 3m (10ft). No scent. Try 'Princess Diana' of a glowing red, or 'Etoile Rose' of a pinky-red.

Group 11 is the ORIENTALIS GROUP. This is the group of yellow clematis. They flower in late summer and some can make very large plants. They are all coloured various shades of yellow. A few are scented. They make gorgeous seedheads. For a large plant try 'Golden Tiara' or 'Helios', a small plant.

Group 12 is the LATE GROUP. This group takes us into the autumn. They can make very large plants. Our own Clematis vitalba belongs to this group. They are mostly shades of white. Some are wonderfully scented. They make good seedheads. Try 'Paul Farges' or scented 'Terniflora'.

If you take clematis seriously grow just one clematis from each group, twelve in all. This is not a big outlay and you don't have to buy all 12 at once. Having a plan, buy one from each group over time. Now you will know each of the 12 groups and thus you will know the whole of clematis. So you have the key to choice. Select your group first, then select the plant within that group suitable for your purpose. The garden will tell you what you need. Your knowledge of all 12 groups will make sure that the choice is the right one.

Reproduced by kind permission of Garden News.

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