by Dr John Howells

First published in Garden News, Sept. 20th 2001

Hugh Morgan, the Queen's apothecary, introduced Clematis viticella to the United Kingdom in 1569, over 400 hundred years ago. From this Clematis viticella came the many hybrids now known to us today. The original plant is still very garden-worthy. This is the group of clematis for the beginner. The Large Flowered clematis are eye-catching in the nurseries but it is the Viticellas that are eye-catching in the garden. There are at least 30 that I could describe to you but I will concentrate on 12 favourites.

This is well named. It makes a big plant growing up to 6m (20ft). The flowers are a deep red. The long flower stalks make it useful for floral arrangements. It first flowered in 1939.

'Alba Luxurians'
As the name suggests it is luxuriant in its flowering and is meant to be white. Frequently the white has within it large sections of green, almost as if the tepals couldn't decide whether they wished to be sepals or petals. This makes the flower eye-catching. Raised in this country and introduced in 1900.

'Betty Corning'
This is a subdued beauty with a number of virtues. It flowers are a most attractive bell shape. It has some fragrance, it is said. The delicate bells come in profusion, dancing in the breeze. The plant is named after its founder Mrs Betty Corning. She was out walking one day in Albany, New York State, and saw this plant in someone's garden. He said he had it given him by someone else and brought it back to his garden in a potato. In turn, Mrs Corning introduced it to a professional grower in the States. Introduced in 1933.

'Blue Angel' ('Blekitny Aniol')
This is the nearest thing to a light blue clematis. In fact it is violet. The flower has wavy margins and a ruffled surface, making it unusual and appealing. It was raised by Brother Stefan Franczak who is curator in the Jesuit House in Warsaw, Poland. Introduced in 1990.

'Blue Belle'
If you want a vigorous plant in the garden then this is it. 'Purple' is more exact than blue. But a belle it certainly is. One of the tallest of the viticellas it still has comparatively large blooms which are eye-catching because of the light centre against the very deep purple. Flowers later than most viticellas and it is useful as an autumn flowering plant. Introduced in 1925.

There is something 'olde worlde' about this plant covered with lovely purple and white nodding bells. The more you live with it the more you like it. It produces hundreds of lovely bells through a long season. Care should be taken to have the right colour background to show off the intrinsic beauty of this flower. Raised by Barry Fretwell and introduced in 1979.

'Etoile Violette'
This French clematis is one of the most popular of all clematis. Preferred by some to 'Jackmanii' as it gives a very large display of velvety dark purple blooms with light centres. Very reliable. Raised in France in 1885.

'Jenny Caddick'
This is a handsome, comparatively new, introduction. It has a neat, clean, glowing pinky-red flower. The medium sized flowers come in succession over a long period, right into mid-autumn. Introduced by Harry Caddick and named after his daughter. Probably the first viticella to flower and almost the last to give up.

'Madame Julia Correvon'
This is an ever-popular viticella. Its appeal is the glowing red colour, its interestingly twisted tepals and the light centre. It flowers early and after it has finished its first flowering, if you prune it hard, it will produce a second crop of flowers into the autumn. Another French viticella.

'Margot Koster'
This plant scores because of its continuous flowering over a long period into mid-autumn. The colour is a most appealing pink. It does not grow as tall as most of the viticellas, making about 3m (10ft). This makes it also suitable for a container. Raised in Holland and introduced in 1911.

A very pretty flower being square and the tepal having a white centre with a broad pink edge. It looks lovely dancing in the wind hence, perhaps, its name. French bred and then introduced by Jackman's of Woking about 1930. There are other dancers in the viticella world - 'Tango' and 'Foxtrot'.

'Mrs T Lundell'
Another very attractive comparative newcomer from Sweden. The inside of the tepal is mauve with a rosy-mauve central bar of a deeper colour. The flowers fade attractively. The flower twists and curves appealingly. One of the loveliest colouring of all the viticellas. An eye-catching flower for cutting. Raised in Sweden in 1985.

Everything about growing viticellas is easy. Hence its great value to the beginner. Gardeners disappointed by the Large Flowered also turn to the viticellas. As a group they are floriferous, vigorous, reliable, and winter-hardy. Plant as any other shrub in the spring or early autumn. No fussing. Being vigerous you do need to feed them. They like an annual mulch of manure, or, a handful of general fertiliser such as Growmore, in the spring and again in the autumn. Keep them well watered. Pruning is of the easiest. In February-March prune the stems right down to the ground. Yes, right down to the ground.

Stem rot (clematis wilt) does not affect the viticellas. You may hanker after three or four extra plants. Make a trench with your hand in the ground for about 1.2m (4ft). Bring the long stem of a viticella down and place it in the trench. Push the soil back, firm it, and put a stick at the end of the trench to remind you that it is there. In a year you will have three or four new plants.

Viticellas can be grown anywhere. You can grow them over poles, arches, pergolas, and bowers. You can grow them over sheds, walls, roofs. You can grow them over shrubs, into trees, and with climbing roses. You can grow the shortest in tubs and containers.
My only regret at coming to the end of this article is that there are so many lovely viticellas that I have not mentioned. The word 'viticella' in the nursery guarantees a fine plant for you. Having said this I feel I must give you a little present, a Dutch treat. There is one that you must simply just have for its perfume. This is 'Triternata Rubromarginata'. This plant is covered with myriads of tiny blooms with red margins. The perfume is stunning. Grow it near a gate or a path and you will be drawn to it.

Reproduced by kind permission of Garden News.

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