CLEMATIS IN YOUR TREES AND SHRUBS

by Dr John Howells

First published in Garden News, Jan. 17th 2002


Clematis are at their very best when climbing naturally into trees, shrubs or other climbing shrubs. Before we consider some combinations let us look at a few basic principles.

We need to know what clematis are available. There are over a thousand clematis on the market in the UK. Fortunately we can encompass all these by considering them under 12 groups. Knowing one member of a group we can know all the clematis in that group. Furthermore, the groups run one after the other right through the year. See the enclosed table which will tell you which group of clematis is available at a particular season of the year. The year is divided into 12 seasons roughly coinciding with the month of the year.

Your clematis and your tree or shrub must be matched for size. Too small a clematis and there is no impact. Too large a clematis and the host plant may be killed.

There are three ways in which you can use your clematis on your host plant. Firstly, you can use your clematis before the plant flowers, giving colour to the plant when otherwise it would be colourless. Secondly, you can have a clematis flowering on your plant at the time when your plant is in flower. In this event you have to be clever in having the right colour match, and perhaps lucky, to have the two coinciding in their flowering. Thirdly, and this is the easiest way, you can have your clematis on the plant after it has flowered. In this way you are using the foliage of your host plant as a background on which to display your clematis. Many colourful early flowering plants are devoid of colour later and make ideal backgrounds for clematis, for example, lilac, magnolia, wisteria, rhododendrons.

Not only can you match the colour of the clematis flower to the flower of your shrub or tree, but you can also match the clematis colour to the foliage of the host plant, e.g. the dramatic yellow of Golden Acacia (Robinia pseudoacacia 'Frisia') is ideal for matching any of the many blue clematis.

Whether the clematis needs pruning or not can be of great importance. The first six groups to flower in the year, do not need pruning. But if you use them on your plants you have to realise that the leaves and stems of the clematis are going to be on your plant throughout the year. They may not be unsightly but some might be in winter. The six groups that need severe pruning can be pruned to the ground immediately after they have finished flowering. Thus they won't embarrass the host plant afterwards.

You can choose to use your clematis in sequence on a plant. For instance, on the excellent host white-leafed pear (Pyrus salicifolia 'Pendula') you can have an early flowering clematis such as 'Prince Charles' to be followed by 'Romantica', to be followed by 'Blue Belle'. On the other hand, if you want drama, you can have three plants of 'Prince Charles' flowering together.

Don't forget your hedges. Some gardens can give 50-100 yards of wonderful background against which clematis can be displayed.

When planting avoid too much shade or the clematis may never take off. When planting in a globe shaped tree it is best to plant the clematis alongside the tree at the edge of the globe and guide the clematis into the foliage. In an upright tree there is no problem, as wherever you place your clematis, it will have light. However, it is always desirable to plant the clematis in a spot near the tree where it will be not be in competition with the roots of the tree for moisture and nutriment. (See diagram.)


SEASONS WHEN GROUPS FLOWER

EARLY WINTER
December
Group I
Evergreen



MIDWINTER
January
Group I
Evergreen



LATE WINTER
February
Group I
Evergreen



EARLY SPRING
March
Group II
Alpina
Group VIII
Macropetala


MID SPRING
April
Group II
Alpina
Group VIII
Macropetala
Group V
Rockery

LATE SPRING
May
Group IV
Montana
Group V
Rockery
 
 
EARLY SUMMER
June
Group VI
Early Large



MIDSUMMER
July
Group VI
Early Large
Group VII
Late Large
Group VIII
Herbaceous
Group IX
Viticella
LATE SUMMER
August
Group VII
Late Large
Group VIII
Herbaceous
Group IX
Viticella
Group X
Texensis
EARLY AUTUMN
September
Group X
Texensis
Group XI
Orientalis


MID AUTUMN
October
Group XI
Orientalis
Group XII
Late


LATE AUTUMN
November
Group XII
Late



From Choosing Your Clematis. John Howells. Garden Art Press. 2000.

Some combinations
The most spectacular pairing you will make is that between Clematis montana and a large tree in the spring, huge trees like evergreen oaks, Scots pine, chestnuts, etc. For a montana try the native montana, C. montana, or 'Grandiflora' (white), 'Mayleen' - (pink), 'Pink Perfection' (pink).

Conifers are an excellent background for clematis. You could try a small montana such as montana 'Freda' or macropetala 'Wesselton', early in the season, or orientalis 'Helios' late in the season.

Holly makes a fine background to clematis. Best to use the late flowering clematis such as the viticellas. Trim your holly tree or hedge in the spring, allow your clematis to climb into it in the summer, prune your clematis after flowering and give your tree or hedge an autumn tidy.

Golden Acacia (Robinia pseudoacacia 'Frisia') is not only an excellent small tree for a garden but has spectacular yellow foliage. Any blue clematis looks gorgeous against the yellow. For example 'Jackmanii', 'Gipsy Queen', 'Etoile Violette'.

The white-leafed pear (Pyrus salicifolia 'Pendula') is possibly the finest tree host for a clematis for its silvery foliage is a superb backdrop. It will take three clematis, either in sequence, or flowering together. See suggestions above.

A fig tree with its glossy green foliage can be a fine background to a macropetala.

Cotinus makes a lovely background. The very dark variety can host viticella 'Rubra'. A lighter variety would be a lovely host for viticella 'Betty Corning' which has scented bells. 'Madame Baron Veillard' would be fine even in the autumn.

Rhododendrons are drab once they have flowered. For a large rhododendron grow into it 'Paul Farges'. Watch carefully that the clematis does not damage the host. Immediately the clematis has finished flowering, prune it to the ground.

Wisteria is the finest climber for hosting a clematis. Try to match the flower with 'Niobe'. Once the flowering is over many clematis look fine rambling among the beautiful foliage. Try 'Gipsy Queen', 'Jackmanii', 'The President', etc.

Jasmine nightshade (Solanum jasmoides 'Album') is a very strong climber. It's white blooms mix well with clematis. Try 'Mrs T. Lundell' or 'Triternata Rubromarginata' which has a gorgeous smell. A Ceonathus can look drab after its gorgeous flowering. Use the dark foliage for light-coloured or white clematis, for example, 'Nelly Moser', or 'Huldine', later on.

Donít forget your creeping plants and your creeping conifers. A whole host of clematis look fine rambling over them. In particular use the best ground cover clematis of all - 'Jouiniana praecox'.

Reproduced by kind permission of Garden News.




Site created and maintained by Studio 46 jga@Studio46.co.uk