Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Dainty Ladies of the Clematis World

Clematis macropetala 'Markhams' pink' and a blue companion
clothe a weathered trellis in a soft wash of color.
Photo credit; Jill Elliott

Typically when most people think of clematis it is the large flowered summer blooming vines which come to mind with their vibrant colors and flamboyant display. Certainly they are show stoppers and are a quintessential part of any cottage garden, especially when allowed to scramble through a rose of equal stature.

There is something incredibly feminine, however, about the earlier blooming alpina and macropetala clematis as they mark the dawn of the new gardening season with their quieter, more restrained beauty.

C. alpina 'Pamela Jackman'
Photo credit;

Both these species have a special role to play before the garden gets into full swing with their gently nodding bells in shades of blue, pink or white. The alpina and macropetala clematis are similar in many respects; they can tolerate poor soil and will grow in semi-shade/shade. Growing to a modest 6-8’, they are an excellent choice for small gardens where they can tumble over low walls, scramble up trellises or cover the bare knees of roses which are still getting ready for their own moment of glory. Imagine one or two in a woodland garden, enjoying the dappled sunlight and adding vertical interest to a carpet of early blooming perennials such as woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata).

As if that wasn’t enough these early blooming beauties leave behind silky seed heads to grace the vines throughout the remainder of the year. For those readers who are sticklers for details, then yes the one major difference is that the alpinas have just four petalled single flowers whereas many of the macropetala clematis have the appearance of a double layer of petals. (I’m not going to bore you with the intricacies of petal definitions….suffice to say many macropetala are just plain ‘frillier’!)

Seed heads of C. alpina 'Constance'

More reasons to love them;
  • No need to prune them although they can be tidied after flowering
  • Survive rambunctious dogs romping over them

Soil and stuff;
  • Fertile, rich, well drained
  • Mulch with compost
  • Most are hardy to zone 3

A few special varieties to look for;

C. alpina ‘Burford white’
C. macropetala ‘White lady’
C. macropetala ‘Albina plena’ – double white flowers

C. alpina ‘Constance’ – pretty nodding bells
C. alpina ‘Pink flamingo’ – a soft pale pink
C. macropetala ‘Markhams pink’
C. macropetala ‘Rosy O’Grady’ – large, nodding pink-mauve flowers

C. alpina ‘Frances Rivis’ – large, rich blue and white flowers
C. alpina ‘Pamela Jackman’ – very early and profuse blooming variety
C. macropetala (the species) – lavender and white
C. macropetala ‘Cecile’ – a semi-double variety

C. macropetala 'Markham's pink' shows off its ruffles,
deep purple veins and dark stems.
Photo credit; Jill Elliott

Want to learn more? You might enjoy the book ‘The rose and the clematis as good companions’ by John Howells. My own copy is very well thumbed! It is a British publication by Garden Art Press (1996), available worldwide.

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