The Clematis Perspective

Clematis jackmanii climbing trellis in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Clematis jackmanii climbing rose trellis (photo: Kathy Diemer)

The word perspective has several translations, one meaning the way objects appear visually.  And clematis is a perspective changer, it’s as simple as that.  When a clematis vine is added to the landscape it adds height, dimension, and drama, all of which help to create a different perspective.  A visual feast for the eye, so to speak.  With ambitious cultivars that climb to twenty feet and modest types that stay around six, available in an unbelievable array of colors and bloom sizes, there is sure to be a vine that will stimulate your landscape design.

Not only is there a vast selection of shades and heights, but clematis comes in varieties that will flower from spring to fall, some that rebloom and some that form beautiful seed heads when the flowering is done.  In other words, this is a power-plant of a vine that can provide seasons of splendor in average garden settings with a fair amount of sun exposure.  And versatility is another of its attributes; as clematis vines can “go it alone” and climb a wall or trellis, but many of the smaller choices are equally happy twining around a rose bush, shrub or tree.

Brilliant white clematis in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Brilliant white clematis (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Combining a clematis with another plant is a wonderful opportunity to create a fabulous and unique arrangement.  Many of us have seen climbing roses with bright colored clematis blossoms peeking out between the thorny branches, but less vigorous vines can also be woven in amongst smaller trees and shrubs with the same brilliant effect.  When a luscious pink cluster of ‘Nellie Moser’ drapes over the canopy of a dwarf maple for example, the contrast of acer’s lacy lime green leaves paired with electric pink blossoms results in a dazzling show.  But then, that’s just my perspective . . .

Here are a few of my favorite, dependable climbers in order of bloom time:

Clematis 'Nellie Moser' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Clematis ‘Nellie Moser’ striped blossoms (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Clematis ‘Nellie Moser’: As if performing a spring symphony, the 6″ pale pink flowers with deep rose stripes splay open in perfect harmony with my peonies and rhododendrons in the middle of May.  This is a concert you won’t want to miss.  Ms. Moser likes sun, but prefers protection from the hot afternoon rays.  And she likes her toes in the shade, so plant her behind a short shrub or perennial in well drained soil (zones 4-8) and things will be just fine.  Nellie doesn’t like steamy hot summers and will stop blooming as the temperatures heat up, which is fine as that’s when other clematis like jackmanii start to display.  This petite (6-8′) clematis doesn’t require any pruning (perhaps a little pinch before new growth emerges to remove any dead stems) and blooms on last year’s vine as well as new growth, with a chance for another flush at the end of the summer.  Nevertheless, spent flowers morph into attractive seed heads at season’s end.

Clematis jackmanii in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Clematis jackmanii’s bright purple flower (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Clematis jackmanii: Just as Nellie is taking her last bow, in swoops the handsome dark knight, clematis jackmanii, to stir up some action in the summer heat of July.  The bluish-violet blossoms of this heart-throb start from the base and travel up the stem in a profuse display of vibrant color.  Though only four petaled, when jackmanii is woven around the prickly stems of a ‘William Baffin’ rose, the collaboration of a grape flowered clematis and deep red rose is an experiment in dazzling contrast.  Easily grown in fertile, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade (mine gets its shade from the rose), clematis jackmanii grows to 10′ in zones 4-8.  Because Mr. J (developed by an Englishman in the mid-1800’s, Hugh Jackman, no, just kidding-but Hugh is a  handsome knight-George Jackman) blooms on this year’s new growth, and so can be pruned back to about 2′ in late winter or early spring.

Sweet Autumn Clematis in A Garden for All by Kathy Diemer

Delicate white flowers of Sweet Autumn Clematis (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Clematis virginiana: When most clematis have long since petered out, along comes showy white virginiana to get the Autumn show started.  And, I’m happy to say this much loved beauty is native to Eastern North America, tolerates average to moist soil conditions and will grow substantially (to 20′) if left to its own devices.  Virginiana is different from the afore mentioned clematis not only in growth habit, but its flowers are much more petite and emit a subtle scent as well.  Clematis virginiana is often confused with sweet autumn clematis, or clematis terniflora, also formerly known as clematis paniculata (and that’s another story) because of the similar flower and ability to grow quite tall.  But virginiana (and terniflora/paniculata-whatever!) are a bit quirky in that they are equally happy to clamber up a fence or meander along the ground.  This clematis can also be pruned quite hard in late winter if you want to keep it neat and petite (I cut mine back every two or three years to about 24″), as virginiana also blooms on new growth.  Whichever way you decide to grow it, the galaxy of ivory flowers will illuminate your landscape in great contrast to the surrounding October foliage.

Visit Brushwood Nursery for a great selection of vines (if you can’t find them locally), and check out Clematis praecox, a downward trailing vine that works wonderfully on a wall or raised bed ♥

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