There are many unwelcome visitors in the garden; greenfly, rose sawfly, aphids, blackfly, pigeons and deer to name but a few. More recently however, another entry was added to this list. This new entrant isn’t an animal, bug, bird or pest; it is an entirely different creature, indeed if you could call it that. It doesn’t have eyes, mouth or teeth, nor legs to move around nor does it have wings to fly. This new presence is completely invisible. It can’t be smelt, it can’t be sensed by touch, nor can it be heard as it is completely silent. It doesn’t have a taste and it is far too small to be seen. It utterly evades the senses. It pervades the air yet you can see straight through it. It is a dark, malevolent presence that wafts lazily here and there only makes itself known when it chances upon a clematis. When this happens, there is little hope for the plant.
It is the thing that causes Clematis Wilt and this time it took out almost all of the Clematis “Chantilly”, in a matter of days.
My favourite clematis, Clematis Chantilly was growing as a strong, tall column of green with so many buds along its length the flowering was promising to be a jaw-dropping spectacle worthy of the Chelsea Flower Show. That is until it became infected with wilt. I first noticed it when the numerous flower buds that were all pointing up and just days from opening, suddenly drooped, the green leaves also hung limply from the leaf stems. Over the next few days these flowers and leaves withered and whole stems began to turn brown and crisp. What was once a vibrant green tower of flower power was reduced to a a sad, brown, stolen promise.
Clematis Wilt is still a mysterious condition that affects the large flowered hybrid clematis. It seems to be caused by a fungus called Phoma Clematidina but there can be other causes. The way and the speed at which Clematis Chantilly mostly died points to a fungal wilt condition. The fungus causes lesions in the stem towards the base of the plant that stop the water flowing beyond that infection point, causing everything above it to collapse and die. The fungus strikes close to flowering time, which I find particularly evil. Once Clematis has wilt, there is nothing that can be done, susceptible clematis does not have natural immunity to fight off the infection nor are there fungicides or other treatments that can be used as a cure or even reasonably as a preventative measure. Friendly garden wildlife such as nematodes, predatory bugs and birds are no use here.
All you can do is watch with a feeling of complete helplessness as the wilt systematically destroys entire sections of the plant.
It is in all, completely disheartening and having seen wilt take out Clematis Chantilly so quickly, I’m convinced this is the source of my problems (and reputation) with trying to grow clematis. This wilting is affecting a couple of other clematis planted in the trugs at the front of the house but thankfully to a much lesser extent.
Despite the devastation all is not lost. While most of Clematis Chantilly has now browned to a crisp and even the parts that have inexplicably escaped will eventually succumb; wilt rarely kills the entire plant. The roots will still remain alive so what I need to do now is to be brave and cut the plant down to the ground. I should also remove the stones and replace as much of the upper layer of soil as I can without disturbing the roots too much. Eventually, fresh shoots should emerge from the base and the plant will grow again. It won’t flower this season though; I’ve been robbed of that. While the clematis will regenerate, the unwelcome hostile presence of clematis wilt will continue to hang over the garden and it may strike again and take out other clematis, just on the verge of flower.
While I now have to wait until next season to hopefully see Clematis Chantilly flower again, I can look at pictures of the show from last year in the meantime: