by Dr John Howells

First published in Garden News, Feb.25th 1998

To talk to your clematis is not as mad as it seems. They do benefit from it. So do you. It's reasonable to ask how does it work? We are going to find out. Let's talk to a few.

Now 'Vyvyan Pennell'. How I appreciate you. For me you are the Queen of the Clematis. You were raised by Walter Pennell and he thought so highly of you that he named you after his wife Vyvyan. Your early double flowers are a kaleidoscope of blue tones. Then in the autumn you produce a crop of single purple flowers. But you have a terrible weakness. You are the greatest wilter of all wilters. You did exceptionally well in 1997 but some of your stems wilted. To help you next year I am going to give you an anti-wilt programme. First of all I shall cut all the damaged stems right to the ground. On the ground I am going to place grit to a height of 1.5cm (1/2 in) all round the area where the stems emerge from the ground. The idea here is to produce drainage so that the humidity around you is reduced. Now that I have an underground "leaky pipe" I shall not water you above ground, again reducing humidity. To make sure you are going to be all right every month I will give you a drenching, into the ground, of "Supercarb".

'Jackmanii' they said you were called. Then my friend, Bing Steffen the famous American clematarian, came round the garden and said "That's not 'Jackmanii', that's 'Gipsy Queen'". You two can easily be confused. The difference is that 'Jackmanii' has a light interior (light green), while you have a dark interior (purple). However growers find it easier to propagate you and so you can be sold under the 'Jackmanii' label. You are doing so well for me that I intend to propagate from you. One of your stems on this side I am taking down to the ground. I will make a trench with my hand. Just so. The stem lies in the trench. The soil will be returned. At each node I will put a brick to mark it. The stem coming out of the ground will be fixed to a stick. I shall wait a year and on this side I shall expect at least two good plants. I shall do the same on the other side for two good plants there. Two of you I will leave in the ground so as to extend your length. The others I will plant elsewhere or give away to friends.

Dear 'Mrs Cholmondeley', what an awkward name you have. Of course we British pronounce you 'Mrs Chumley'. I wonder what a Japanese gardener makes of this curious English language. Whatever your name you are a very good "doer". An attractive light purple, one could say that your flower is a little "gappy". Against that you flower almost continuously through the summer. But I have a concern for you. I have placed you in this dark corner. You try your best but the number of blooms you can produce in a season is very small. I must put my error right. Come the winter I am going to lift you and place you in a more favourable position, a sunny spot, elsewhere in the garden. As you are an established plant I shall see whether I can nibble any corner of you and so get an extra plant or two. Your new home will be well prepared with manure and, of course, a "leaky pipe" will be quite close to your roots so as to give you a continuous supply of water.

'Marie Boissellot'. You were raised by your father, a French grower, back in the last century. You married to become 'Madame le Coultre'. You are still probably the best white large flowered clematis available to us. You have become very strong where you are and have edged into the lovely yellow rose 'Schoolgirl' to such an extent that she is swamped. So I am going to prune half of you, the half climbing into 'Schoolgirl', almost to the ground. This will mean that you will produce new stems late in the season and these I am going to move away from the rose so that you stand on your own. While I am at it, I don't see why I shouldn't let you mix with 'Gipsy Queen', which is standing next to you. Your white and her purple will make a nice combination.

'Comtesse de Bouchaud'. They do give you a time of it over your name. They keep calling you 'Comtesse de Bouchard'. Heaven knows why! You were raised by the great Morel and he had a customer by the name of the Compte de Bouchaud. So it is reasonable to assume that you were named after the Compte's wife. Anyway, you have proved to be one of the most reliable late flowering clematis of all. You rarely wilt and always give a reliable show of pink flowers. At one of the shows last year I saw a whole row of you and I thought what a dramatic sight that was. So this coming year I am going to layer you on both sides, and then the following year, layer again. Hopefully, after a couple of years I shall have six or seven plants instead of one. You should make a dramatic impact.

'Fair Rosamond', you have a lovely name. Legend has it that you were the mistress of Henry II and in order to make you safe he built a labyrinthine house for you. However, it is said that Queen Eleanor still managed to find you! You have a special place in the garden because you are the only Large Flowered clematis that has real scent, the scent of primroses. You produced a fine crop of delicate, attractive, bluish-white flowers last year. You also have the advantage of flowering early. Now, what can I do for you? Your watering is right because you have the "leaky pipe". However I think a tonic of manure, once the ground gets warm, will be helpful. Later in the season I will try nitrogen feed, like sulphate of ammonia, so as to stimulate new growth ready for next year.

Here are another six first-class large flowered clematis worth growing - and talking to. 'Dr Ruppel' the best striped clematis - from Argentina; 'Lasurstern', a glorious blue from Germany; 'Miss Bateman' with its dramatic white and magenta flower from England, 'Niobe', a wonderful satiny red from Poland, 'Perle d'Azur', the abundant light-blue flowerer from France, and 'Victoria', so reliable, productive, and showy with its purple-blue flower - from England again.

So we have talked to our clematis. They are going to be better for it. And why? Someone said it could be due to the carbon dioxide from our breath! It's much simpler than that as you saw. As you talk to your friend a clematis, you help your friend. It benefits. So do you.

Reproduced by kind permission of Garden News.

Site created and maintained by Studio 46