29: Spring 2012

Author: Barbara O'Brien

The Clematis Wall

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The Clematis Wall
Barbara O’Brien

Over the years, I have bought or grown from seed many clematis plants. And according to the usual gardening advice offered have dotted them about the garden… climbing up an old cherry tree here, scrambling among shrubs there, over fences, wickerwork wigwams and archways.

All things considered, the results have been really rather disappointing. Some have performed better than others, of course. But, in my opinion, a single clematis plant is never going to provide a big Wow! factor. For a start, I don’t know of any one clematis that flowers continuously from Spring to Autumn. So, three years ago I went on a clematis hunt around the garden and dug them all up! I was amazed by how many I found. I heeled them all into an empty flowerbed while deciding what to do next.

My eyes fell on a very nicely positioned brick wall. It’s the back wall of our garage and forms a backdrop to the patio. It faces south west and gets all the afternoon and evening sun. The bed at the base of the wall is quite narrow – no more than 12 inches wide – but at eleven feet long I thought it would provide plenty enough space for all my clematis plants once the old soil had been enriched with lots of compost and fertiliser. A trip to Wilkinson’s and enough wicker trelliswork was bought to cover the whole wall. In went the clematis plants, most of which had lost their labels. But a few months later when they started to flower, all was revealed and their names came rushing back to me, one by one.

The first to make growth and come into bloom were the white and purple ‘passion flower’ heads of C. florida var. sieboldiana. (I have two plants of this and these were the very ones that had been on display in the Cheshire & Friends RHS stand the previous year.) Next came the pinks of ‘Doctor Ruppel’ and ‘Hagley Hybrid’ followed by ‘Miss Bateman’ with her creamy-white flowers and contrasting red anthers. They were joined a month later by the deep purple of ‘Star of India’. At some point ‘Wada’s Primrose’ waded in and the pale blue ‘Prince Charles’ appeared mid-season, and so did the deep claret-red ‘Niobe’. The wonderful ‘Perle d’Azur’, pretty ‘Marie Boisselot’, and quite a few unnamed ones, all flowered in turn.

Then, oh joy, later in the summer just when I’d given up hope, thinking I’d lost it, my very favourite clematis of all, C. crispa ‘Rosea’ – a beautiful texensis-type flower with bell-shaped petals and curly edges – burst into bloom. I’d grown it from seed bought from the Clematis Society stand at the RHS show. It was not a plant I’d ever seen for sale and the plant I’d grown was the only one of the seeds to germinate. It stubbornly refuses to grow from cuttings.

As a footnote (literally) to the Clematis Wall – at the base of the brickwork, squeezed into the few remaining inches of soil between the roots of the clematis plants and the Indian-stone edge of the patio – are three types of strappy-leaved bulbs which flower in succession from early summer to late autumn. First to appear are the giant snowdrop flowers of Galtonia candicans, followed mid-season by a selection of agapanthus including the gorgeous ‘Navy Blue’. Last but not least is the lipstick pink perfection of Nerine bowdenii.

The Clematis Wall has been a huge success, providing total wall-cover and a continuous display of flowers from May to late September. The only drawback is because all the plants with their different pruning regimes are mixed in together they all get the same haircut. Once a year, as they come into growth in Spring, they all get cut down to about 18 inches. This seems to work fine – except for the early-flowering C. alpina and C. macropetala which would be flowering on wood from the previous year, if they’re going to flower at all. I can’t remember for sure but I think I probably have got a couple of those. But of course they’ve never flowered on the Wall, and never will, because they’ve been pruned wrongly.

Still, as they say, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

First published in the Cheshire & Friends Group Newsletter, Spring 2011
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 29.
© Copyright for this article: Barbara O’Brien

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2012. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.

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