by Dr John Howells

First published in Garden News, Jan. 18th 2001

I have set myself quite a difficult task to select nine clematis out of over a thousand that are available on the market. I want you to be pleased with every one that I recommend. That means that it has got to be easy to grow, reliable, giving a lot of colour and very attractive.
My first choice is Clematis macropetala. This is the type plant (original from the wild) of a group of clematis which is named after it. All the clematis in this group make double nodding bells. This clematis flowers from April onwards. It's very hardy and will grow on a north-facing wall and even in semi-shade. It can be grown anywhere in the United Kingdom. The outer bell of four petals are a deep blue. The four inner petals are of a similar colour but with flecks of white. At the centre are the white stamens which contrast beautifully with the blue petals. It's an eye-catching flower. The flowers virtually cover the plant. You can grow this clematis where you can see it from the house. It brings colour into the garden early in the year. It looks particularly good climbing down low walls. It needs no pruning. If it wanders out of the area that you have given it, then you can prune it back after it has flowered - back to the area you gave it.

We move on now to the month of May and my next choice C. montana 'Mayleen'. This is a really giant clematis from a group of giants. This plant will set your garden alight. The montanas are probably the best known clematis because of the massive impact that they make. 'Mayleen', like all the other montanas, does not flower for a very long period - perhaps three to four weeks. But during that time it really makes an impact, being covered with a multitude of blooms. This plant can grow up to 40ft (12m) and even up to the same in width. Thus it needs plenty of room. The flowers are from 2-2.5ins (5-6cms) wide, and are open pink flowers, with a gorgeous vanilla scent. There will be thousands of blooms on your plant. Plant it as you would any other shrub.

We move now to early summer and to the best known group of clematis - the Early Large Flowered Group. This is a group that we now know suffers from stem rot (clematis wilt). This group is striking for the size of the flowers. These are large, shapely, and colourful. I have selected two beauties. In my experience they are less likely to wilt than many of the others. But I cannot guarantee that either of them will not wilt for you. 'Lasurstern' is a gorgeous German flower. It has deep clear blue petals with a crinkly edge. The stamens in the inside of the flower are creamy-yellow, making a fine contrast with the blue petals. 'Lasurstern' is one of the first Large Flowered clematis to flower. My second choice in this group, 'Dr Ruppel', comes from Argentina. This is a hugely popular plant because of its colouring. It has rosy-pink petals with a deeper rosy-pink stripe. The inside of the flower is a light brown. Plant both these clematis as you would any shrub. These plants can be grown to climb walls, fences, arches, pergolas, arbours or into shrubs, trees and roses. They make good cut flowers and you can even grow them in containers.

Now we move on to mid-summer and what I regard as possibly the finest of all clematis. This is 'Victoria' and belongs to the Late Large Flowered Group. In this group the flowers are not as large as in the previous group but they are still a good size. However, they provide more colour than the early group because of the quantity of flowers. 'Victoria' makes as much colour impact as would a small montana. In this flower the petals are a deep mauve with a rosy central bar. It has a light centre. It flowers for a long period. Plant it as you would any other shrub. Give it plenty of fertiliser and plenty of water. you prune in late winter right down to the ground.

Still in the same group, the Late Large Flowered Group, we come to the most popular clematis in the world. This is 'Perle d'Azur'. It is exceptionally vigorous and makes an enormous display of colour. It's a lighter blue than most clematis. If you look at it closely it is violet. To contrast with the violet there is pale yellow stamens. It has one small defect. It can be a little slow starting off. Don't let that deter you though. Buy a strong plant from the nursery. Once it has taken off it will produce hundreds of blooms year after year. Plant it as you would any shrub. Prune as you would 'Victoria'. If you want drama in your garden then grow three to six of these plants in a row. They have done this at Sissinghurst.

We are still at the same time of the year but we are now going to turn to a clematis suitable for your border. This is an exceptional plant. Although I am very fond of the previous two for their overall effect, I would probably have to say that 'Durandii' probably has the finest bloom of any clematis. It arrives in a number of different shapes, all intriguing. Then there is the contrast of the indigo blue petals with the yellow stamens in the centre. It differs from other clematis in not being a climber. It has long stiff stems to support it. But these do not cling. Thus it is a scrambler or a clamberer. It is probably the best of all clematis for cutting for the house. Prune it to the ground in late spring.

We are still in mid-summer and we now come to probably the best group of all the clematis groups. This is the Viticella Group. Here I am really spoilt for choice. All the plants in this group are vigorous. They really want to grow. They are not too particular about the soil or even the situation. This is definitely the group for the beginner. You will be so pleased by the amount of colour that you get that you will be hooked on clematis forever. My choice in this group is 'Blue Belle'. This flowers in the early autumn. It is called blue but to my estimation it is more of a purple. And a deep purple at that. The inside of the flower is yellow so you have lovely contrast between petals and stamens. It is a very vigorous plant.

We are in the late summer, moving into the autumn, and you are by now asking "Is there not a yellow clematis?" I have one for you. And not only that, but it is an exceptional beauty. This one has only been with us a few years and is proving to be very popular. This is 'Golden Tiara' of the Orientalis Group. In this group all the clematis are shades of yellow. Here we have nodding flowers with dark purple centres. Almost at the same time you find silvery seedheads on the plant. You have countless blooms. It makes a really big plant, up to 10ft (3m). This is an easy plant to row. Put it into the ground as you would any other shrub and prune to the ground in late winter.

Reproduced by kind permission of Garden News.

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