Clematis are the queen of flowering vines. Alluring, diverse, they are best known for their large striking flowers in a wide range of colors from white to pink, red to burgundy, yellow and even black, but never orange. The clematis can be bodaciously large such as the showy flat-faced flowers of the hybrids or gracefully petite with elegant bell-shaped flowers. For sheer flowering power, few flowers rival the clematis.
Hardy to zone 5, clematis enjoy 6 hours of sun or more per day. They prefer cool roots so plant the roots 2 to 4 inches lower in the soil than in the container you buy the plant in. Some gardeners like to place a rock over soil covering the roots to keep them cool. Once the plant is established, this consideration grows less important as the roots can grow deeper in the soil, seeking cooler temperatures.
As any clematis lover knows, the tricky thing is to know when to prune them. Clematis falls in 2 classes: those flowering on old growth and those flowering on new growth. This distinction determines when to prune. Old growth plants should be shaped in early spring and after flowering to control their size. New growth plants can be cut back to 12 inches in late winter or early spring. Since clematis can grow 6 to 13 feet tall and bush out 3 to 6 feet wide, pruning is essential to control size.
Because they are vigorous growers, the plants need support to climb. Trellises, pergolas, arches and fences all provide good structure for these climbers. I have them growing on old ladders, through a wrought iron screen repurposed into a trellis(here), intertwining an ice cream parlor chair repurposed into a planter(here) and around the mailbox, using twine to guide the vines.
Smaller new plants or dwarf varieties can even be planted in containers for vertical interest.
To extend their flowering season, think of sequential planting, choosing early, mid and late summer/fall bloomers. Clematis consort well with other vines like honeysuckle, climbing hydrangeas, wisteria and even other clematis in complementary colors. I have C. montana, a small flowered variety and an early bloomer, sharing a pergola with wisteria, which blooms as the clematis starts to fade.
Clematis are good companion plants to wend their way through trees and other plants. I grow some through lilacs. They pair beautfifully with climbing roses.
I don’t often think of cutting clematis for use in arrangements but there is no reason why not. The flashy bodacious beauties are best floated alone.
They add striking beauty in simple arrangements:
A talented fellow garden club member created these gorgeous floating bowls of flowers with clematis and other summer blooms as centerpieces.
At the end of the season, the spent clematis flowers deliver ornamental value with their silky seed heads. The same clematis in summer, left and bringing fall interest, right.
For more information on clematis, I highly recommend the bible on these flowers: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Clematis by Mary Toomey and Everett Leeds.
I hope you have been inspired by this post on summer’s best climbling blooms.
“Beauty is one of the great facts of the world, like sunlight,or springtime, or the reflection in dark waters of that silver shell we call the moon. You have only a few years in which to live really, perfectly, and fully. When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it, and then you will suddenly discover that there are no triumphs left for you…Time is jealous of you, and wars against your lilies and your roses. You will become sallow, and hollow-cheeked, and dull-eyed…Ah! realise your youth while you have it. Don’t squander the gold of your days, listening to the tedious, trying to improve the hopeless, or giving away your life to the ignorant, the common, and the vulgar…Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing…The world belongs to you for a season…how tragic it would be if you were wasted. For there is such a little time that your youth will last. The common hillflowers wither, but they blossom again. The laburnum will be as yellow next June as it is now. In a month there will be purple stars on the clematis, and year after year the green night of its leaves will hold its purple stars. But we never get back our youth. The pulse of joy that beats in us at twenty, becomes sluggish. Our limbs fail, our senses rot. We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were too much afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to…Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray