by Dr John Howells

First published in Garden News, May. 5th 1999

We are so used to seeing beautiful clematis climbing up a wall or a shrub or a tree that we think that all clematis are climbers. In fact not only is there a clematis for every month of the year but there is a clematis for every situation you can think of in the garden. We will look at a group that are not only vigorous, trouble-free, floriferous, but are most suitable for your borders.

We can call this group the Herbaceous Group or the Border Group. Furthermore, we can divide them into three sections - 1) the creepers section; 2) the mid-height section; 3) the tall section.

The first group creep or clamber along the ground between your plants giving excellent ground cover. They tend to have a lot of leaf, and from amongst them spring stems with clusters of flowers, each giving the impression of a hyacinth. Like hyacinths many of them have wonderful scent. These all belong to the Heracleifolia Group. Most of the flowers have a tinge of blue in them, either just a feint violet or going on to deep glowing blue throughout the flower.

Probably the most vigorous is 'Mrs. Robert Brydon'. So vigorous that you often find when you buy a plant that you end up with 'Mrs Robert Brydon'. The petals are off-white tinged with violet. Another good plant is 'Wyevale' (blue and scented). Then there is 'Campanile' (pale blue), 'Cote d'Azur' (pale blue) and 'CrÈpuscule' (mauve and scented). There is also the new 'Sander' from Holland (pale blue). Now for a touch of romance, there is a new heracleifolia from Holland called 'New Love' (violet). So named because Jan Fopma, the distinguished Dutch clematarian, has a new partner, hence 'New Love'. Said by some to be the most perfumed of all clematis is 'Edward Pritchard' (blue), but not easy to find. A new heracleifolia is 'Roundway Blue Boy'; look out for it.

Now I come to the outstanding creeper. This is 'Jouiniana Praecox'. If you want abundant ground cover then this is the plant for it. It can comfortably cover 4sq.yds. You can criticise some of the heracleifolias for having too much leaf and too little bloom. This is not so with 'Jouiniana Praecox' as the whole plant is covered with bloom, the flowers being white with a violet edge.

Now we come to the section of medium-height, say 2-4ft (60cms-1.2m). Pride of place has to go to scented C. integrifolia 'Rosea', a beautiful glowing red and a superb border plant. Scented C. integrifolia 'Alba' also catches the eye with its pure white blooms. Then there is 'Olgae', (deep blue and scented), 'Pastel Blue', 'Pastel Pink', and 'Tapestry' (deep pink). An intriguing plant is 'Petit Faucon' which has just been given the British Clematis Society Certificate of Merit. This plant appeals by its long yellow stamens and delightfully curling petals. Then we have long blooming 'Aromatica' with long panicles of bloom and a wonderful scent. 'Songarica' makes a misty bush with bright white and pink tiny blooms scattered here and there.

A plant that has hit the headlines recently is the Russian 'Aljonuska' which has received the B.C.S. Certificate of Merit. This has beautiful large rosy-pink blooms in profusion. Most attractive. However, this summer I saw a sister plant from Russia, 'Pamjatj Serdtza' in bloom in Sweden. An interesting blue, it is possibly even more attractive than 'Aljonuska'.

If I had to pick three from this section it would be C. integrifolia 'Rosea', 'Petit Faucon' and 'Aljonuska'.

Now we come to the taller section, 4-6ft (1.2-1.8m). Dr. F.L. Skinner, in the harsh climate of Manitoba, Canada, concentrated on producing really hardy clematis. One of these was 'Blue Boy'. It makes a shrub 6-8ft (1.8-2.4m) high, with nodding silvery-blue flowers. 'Blue Rain' from Russia has a rather similar habit and small fragrant nodding blue flowers. A superb plant is 'Hendersonii'. This plant was the first clematis hybrid to be produced in the United Kingdom; this as far back as 1835. Still a glorious plant covered with deep blue nodding flowers and in flower for a long period, one of the longest periods in the whole garden. Now come two competitors, 'Arabella' and 'Durandii'. 'Arabella' can go up to 6ft (1.2m) with purple blue flowers with a cream centre. A fine plant. 'Durandii' in my opinion is even finer. Just as tall with deep indigo flowers contrasting with yellow stamens. Superb for flower arranging. Truly a plant for every garden.

The border group is so trouble-free that everything about its cultivation is easy. Plant them as you would any other shrub. There is no need for deep planting. As all the plants make a lot of growth they do of course benefit from rich feeding. Give a cover of your favourite compost or manure in the winter and let the worms take it into the soil. In the spring give a handful of 'Gromore' fertiliser for every plant. Just before flowering give a handful of potash around each plant. All clematis, and this group are no exception, enjoy copious watering.

There are no pests or diseases particular to this group. They do not suffer from stem rot (clematis wilt). Pruning is of the easiest too. You will find most of them will already have pruned themselves to the ground in the course of the winter. With these all you need to do is clip the remains away and burn. With the others, if stems remain, cut them to the ground.

Some of these plants will need support in the border. Not of course the creepers and the clamberers; give these free reign over the soil making sure, of course, they don't trample over anything precious. The middle group can be given artificial support in the shape of a cane, a number of canes, or many of the supports now available for herbaceous plants. The tall group look very well given support up to 4-5ft (1.2-1.5m) and then allowed to hang down in a waterfall effect.

All these plants will look best climbing into low shrubs or even low trees. Try to match the flowers to the foliage of the shrub or tree. If you are very clever you may get the flowers of the shrub and the flowers of the clematis to harmonise. That is a difficult art and probably it is safest to match the clematis colour to the leaves of the shrub.

Reproduced by kind permission of Garden News.

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