by Dr John Howells

First published in Garden News, Nov. 25th 1998

Behind the Iron Curtain life went on. Flowers were loved. New flowers continued to appear. The best of these new flowers, including clematis, are now finding their way to the West.

The most active hybridising of clematis in the old USSR occurred at the Nikitsky State Botanic Garden, Yalta, Crimea, in what is now the Ukraine. There M.A. Beskaravainaya and her colleagues, over the years, developed a large number of new clematis. No doubt the kindly climate there contributed to their success. I will allude to a number that have caught my eye.

The first is 'Luther Burbank'. This is a large flowered, late flowering, plant with purple-violet tepals and pale yellow stamens. The Russians named it after the prominent American plant breeder. They also produced an outstanding new herbaceous clematis, 'Alionushka' (a girl's name). This makes a strong growing, non-climbing, semi-shrub with most attractive bell-shaped nodding flowers of satiny lilac-pink. In Sweden this year I saw another fine new integrifolia from Yalta which could even outdo the former. This is 'Pamiat Serdtsa' (memory of the heart). Here the nodding bells are of satiny violet-lilac. Yalta also produced a fine new viticella, 'Kosmicheskaia Melodiia' (cosmic melody). Call it 'Kos mel' for short. This is very strong growing and has lovely satiny dark-cherry tepals with cherry-purple stamens. It does very well in my garden. If you want a really strong growing clematis to cover a large area, up to 20ft in height and 20ft wide, then look no more. Yalta has produced one. 'Paul Farges' would do the job for you. But be aware that being grown over small shrubs it is liable to suffocate them. It would do extremely well used to cover a shed. The flowers are white, single, and scented, produced in enormous numbers and with yellow stamens. Its maximum impact is in early autumn.

Just north of Yalta, at the capital of the Ukraine, Kiev, M. Orlov was busy with his hybridising. From Kiev came 'Negus' with dark violet tepals and grey-purple stamens. A late flowering variety, 'Sputnik' has light blue tepals, 'Gnom' has purple tepals and 'Vostok' purple-violet tepals. However, the one I would particularly draw your attention to is 'Negritjanka' (African girl). If you like really dark purple flowers then this is for you. Being a viticella it is also a strong grower.

We need, next, to take a considerable jump north - to Moscow. This city does not have too kindly a climate for clematis. But here, an elderly lady, M. Sharnovova, was busy hybridising. She didn't start until she was over 70 and carried on to her death at 103! Clematarians dealing with the tranquil clematis have a long life! Prominent clematis of hers are 'Georg Ots', with a bluish-violet flower; 'Pribaltika' with light violet flowers; 'Stasik' a purple-violet flower and 'Anna German' with a violet-blue flower. I am taken with 'Gorneye Ozero', a lovely light blue.

We need to move west now to little Estonia

In Estonia there was a family headed by Uno and Aili Kivistik. They persuaded the powers that be that their collective farm at Karla, Estonia, be turned to clematis production. This was in 1974. They gathered a collection of clematis from Europe, the Baltic States, Russia and the Ukraine, and from these founded a clematis collection by cross-breeding. This ultimately led to 6,000 hybrids being tested. 250 of these were found garden worthy, and 150 were given names. They concentrated on late flowering clematis which do best in that harsh climate. Unhappily Uno died this year but by now the children and grandchildren were involved and the enterprise continues.

The first of the Estonian clematis to make an impression in the West was the beautiful white 'Valge Daam'. However, the jewel in the crown is probably, 'Romantika' with dark violet flowers, very productively produced. It has made a big impression already in this country. 'Viola' is a lovely bluish-violet flower; 'Ruutel' is a fine red; 'Bella' another lovely white and 'Roko-Koalla' a white flower with a yellow stripe. In my visit to the farm this July, however, I was greatly taken with 'Piilu' with its lavender-pink flowers with red stripes. It has 'Hagley Hybrid' in its background and is therefore reliable as well as showy.

A long era of misfortune has made Warsaw into a drab, spiritless, city. But a bright spot is the garden of the Jesuit House of Writers where the Keeper of the monastery garden is Brother Franczak. Over many years he has produced a flow of outstanding clematis.

'Jan Pawel II' named after our Polish pope has been known for a long time in this country and it is a very good performer in late summer with its pinky-white tepals and a deeper pink stripe. Other fine clematis from Brother Franczak are 'Kacper' with very large, deep, violet-blue flowers, 'Kardynal Wyszynski' with large, deep red, flowers and golden stamens, 'Monte Cassino' with large, glowing red flowers and cream stamens, 'Sympatia' with large rosy-mauve flowers, and 'Warszawska Nike' with deep velvet purple flowers and golden stamens. But I would draw your special attention to 'Blekitny Aniol' (Blue Gem) which has a crinkly surface and violet colouring. My plant looks gorgeous with dazzling climbing rose 'Summer Wine'. Equally fine is 'Emilia Plater', again with a crinkly surface, but making a larger flower, and with a deeper violet colour.

Characteristic of this new hybridising is the emphasis on the viticella group. This is because they are floriferous, hardy, and trouble free. Their talents moved me to write a book on them, The Viticellas, which will be out in the spring. In the meantime revel in the beauties from the East.

Reproduced by kind permission of Garden News.

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