We have a lot of Clematis in the garden, it’s one of my favourite plants, specifically the large-flowered hybrids with spectacular dinner-plate sized blooms. The only trouble is that Clematis are relatively expensive, normally selling between £8 and £14 each and I have very hit-or-miss track record when it comes to Clematis thriving in the garden.
We tried smaller Clematis planted up with bedding annuals in large trugs in front of the house for a few years but they seemed to hate the hot sun over the summer. The black pots would heat up to cook the roots and the watering became a nightmare. There were six Clematis in all and after a particularly bad year, they were all moved to the back and planted in Fruit Avenue, one up against each fruit tree. Even here, some have done very well, while others are barely surviving. Elsewhere in the garden, each time a new shrub or tree goes in, there’s usually an empty Clematis pot set into the ground close-by to make the watering easier (so the water goes down to the roots of the establishing shrub as opposed to just wetting the surface. When the plant is established, the empty pot can be removed but it would be a shame to simply backfill with soil. Planting a clematis in its stead lets me get this climber close to the host plant it will be clambering up without disturbing any roots.
The arches haven’t come away without either, as clematis has been planted to go up the roses which are trained to go up the arches. It means that there’s a clematis in most parts of the garden clambering up various trees, shrubs and even hopping from one border over to another.
On the whole Clematis seem far happier in the ground than in pots. This includes the “Patio collection” or “Boulevard” Clematis from specialist grower Raymond Evison. We have several of these pot-specialised Clematis and they wanted to be anywhere but actually in pots. Thinking about the Clematis we do have, the more traditional varieties such as “Nelly Moser”, “Miss Bateman” and “Jackmanii” have taken a couple of years to establish but are now doing very well. Clematis “Miss Bateman” is so large it’s in danger of smothering one of the fruit trees. The ones that struggle are the smaller varieties such as “Giselle” and “Pickardy” (which I don’t remember seeing at all this year).
Clematis in my garden usually die by wilt. It all starts off well, with the initial season’s growth being strong, vigorous and lush. Many flower heads form, they’re just on the verge of opening and then wilt suddenly hits and takes out a large portion of the Clematis in one fell swoop. The Clematis has to start all over again, only to get hit by wilt once more. It mainly happens to the smaller Clematis varieties, the ones that don’t grow so high. They don’t have the size and vigour to grow several metres into the light and can end up being shaded out by surrounding plants, making them weaker and seemingly more prone to wilting. Having said that, both C. “Dr Ruppel” and C. “Sho-Un” have been hit hard by wilt this year to the point where C. “Dr. Ruppel” hasn’t flowered at all. These two varieties are large, usually growing to the top of the fruit trees and hanging off the ends.
Wilt reduces Clematis to browns sticks in just a few days
Clematis wilt is a strange disorder, I’m still not sure what it is. Wilting can be caused by a fungal infection of Phoma Clematidina, but this is apparently rare. More common could be the grazing of the Clematis stems by slugs and snails, though this doesn’t explain why it’s usually the same Clematis that are affected. The fungal infection is unlikely as wilt doesn’t appear to have “spread” to surrounding clematis, which are sometimes only a few metres apart. A lack of water doesn’t explain why only a part of the Clematis is affected with wilt, leaving other sections completely untouched. In the end, it going to have to be “just one of those things” that happens in the garden and it may improve as the Clematis grow and establish or it may be a case of removing the clematis that are regularly affected and trying something new – a new variety of Clematis, that is.
Not all is gloom and doom for Clematis in the garden. Most have thrived and while I’ve been used to seeing Clematis trained up trellis and obelisks in a more formal and cultivated manner, there’s something very appealing about seeing Clematis spilling out of trees and running through shrubs – almost as though it’s “free range”. It’s the natural setting for this “Queen of Climbers”.