Becoming a clematis collector is both a beautiful and dangerous occupation. Like a treasure trove of jewels clematis come in almost every colour imaginable with bloom times ranging from spring to summer to late fall. With so many to choose from these are the sorts of perennials that have gardeners scoping out real estate ads in search of smaller homes and bigger lots.
While most clematis clamour for attention by scrambling up fences, walls or arbours or lacing themselves through trees or hedges there are some exciting newish varieties that are more shrublike in form. Clematis Bijou™ only reaches a diminutive height of 12 – 18 inches (30-45 cm) but there is nothing small about its blooms or appeal. Gorgeous ruffled mauve petals etched with pastel pink form the three to four inch (8– 10 cm) blooms that clematis collectors know and love. A second variety called Clematis Filigree ™ is identical in growing habit to Bijou™ but features silvery blue petals instead. Both bloom on old growth in the spring and new growth in the summer keeping them in constant petal from May right through to July. Hardy to Zone 4 (no colder than -35 C) this pair of captivating compact clematis is perfect for planting along borders or for creating unique hanging baskets or containers. For best results plant in full sun or part shade in well drained rich soil.
Up here in Zone 2b or not 2b depending on our use of mulch, microclimates and of course, our winters, we can often get away with growing plants from Zone 4 so the collector in me is already thinking that Bijou™ and Filigree™ are definitely worth the risk.
On the flip side, there are four tried, true and terrifically tough climbing clematis that have more than earned their elevated status in our frosty firma. Here they are:
‘Prairie Travelers’ Joy’ the name elicits images of the vine flooding fence lines providing an eyeful of joy to the prairie traveller. I like that. This clematis is fast growing, tolerant of hot, dry conditions, poor soil and hardy down to – drum roll if you please – Zone 1. It just doesn’t get any hardier than that! No matter how wicked and wild our winter I always knew my Prairie Travelers’ Joy would be there to greet me in the spring. Plant in part shade in rich soil and it will quickly reach its full joy-filled potential of 16 feet (5 meters) and beyond with a 3 foot (1 meter) spread. Also makes a great ground cover. However, this one is looked upon with alarm by those in warmer climates and for good reason. Bred up by Dr. Frank Skinner ‘Prairie Travelers’ Joy’ is of an extremely robust nature and given the proper conditions it will seal up your home, sheds, fences and arbours in an envelope of green. It’s enough to make you start packing pruners in your purse in case this clematis grows over your door while you’re off getting groceries. If a vine happens to snake its way onto the ground it will put down roots and make a new plant, which can be considered either helpful or horrific depending on your situation. In midsummer it hatches gorgeous white star shaped blossoms that turn to frothy seed heads in the fall.
Clematis x ‘Blue Boy’ not to be confused with ‘Blue Bird’ this one is yet another hardy wonder from Canada’s own botanical genius Dr. Frank Skinner. Nodding steel blue blossoms toss their bell shaped heads up and down vigorous vines from midsummer straight through to early fall. Easily attains heights of 6 – 10 feet (2 – 3 meters) with a two foot (0.6 meter) spread. Hardy to Zone 2a.
Clematis tangutica ‘Golden Tiara’ is a robust beauty native to northwest China and hardy to Zone 2b. Has a wide spread of 6 to 10 feet (2 – 3 meters) and scrambles skyward topping out at a whopping 15 feet (4.5 meters) and beyond. The vines are smothered with soft yellow blooms from midsummer to late fall when they morph into fluffy silvery seed heads.
Clematis ‘Jackmanni’ I’m going out on a vine here to call this one the most beloved clematis ever cultivated. Jackmanni is the quintessential clematis. It is the one responsible for luring more gardeners down the mad, mad, path of clematis collecting than any other. Developed in England over 150 years ago its huge, flat, deep purple blooms have been gobsmacking gardeners for decades. Petals reach 5- 6 inches (12 – 15 cm) in size and plaster the vines with rich colour that cannot be ignored. This is also one of the best clematis for planting in shade. Hardy to Zone 3.
To rejuvenate the above four simply hard prune down to knee height in the early spring every two to three years.
So there you have it. If you tend a small garden then Bijou™ or Filagree™ could be just what you’re after. If you have challenging, cold conditions and are in the market for some tried and true robust climbers any of the four listed above will fit your fence just fine…and there are many, many, many more.
Half Dozen Tips for Clematis Care
• Plant in full sun or partial shade
• Add a generous helping of peat moss to the hole before planting to boost acidity and moisture retention.
• Clematis likes its roots shaded and cool so be sure to plant a groundcover at its base or top up with a couple inches of mulch.
• Keep roots evenly moist. Clematis planted under the eaves of a building will need frequent hand watering.
• Work a cup of either bone meal, alfalfa pellets (the kind used for horse or rabbit food), compost or fish emulsion into the soil as soon as spring growth emerges.
• Position climbing clematis a foot from foundations to ensure ample elbow room. This also prevents clematis from contracting chlorosis – a condition caused by lime leaching into the soil from concrete foundations.