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Garden Talk: Clematis crazy

Clematis will cloak your fences in rich colour – and there’s one for every season. Here’s my pick of the best:

Spring:

Spring flowering clematis tend to have smallish flowers. First up in March are the evergreen C. armandii variety with long dark green leaves and a mass of small, scented flowers. ‘Snowdrift’ is pure white and ‘Apple Blossom’ pink-tinged.

From April to May come the delicate bell-shaped flowers of the alpina clematis such as the gorgeous deep blue ‘Frances Rivis’ and pink ‘Constance.’ The multi-petalled C. macropetala varieties are very pretty – exquisite grey-blue ‘Lagoon‘ is a must.

Finally, for May there are the vigorous montanas. C. ‘Elizabeth’ has a mass of pale pink flowers while ‘Willsonii’ is a lovely scented white variety.

Cultivation: Armandii and alpina are happy in dappled shade –montanas need more warmth. These Group 1 clematis need a tidy up after flowering to remove dead shoots and keep to their allotted space. Armandii can be cut right back after flowering to avoid the leathery leaves taking over.

Early summer:

If you like big (up to 15cm wide) exotic-looking flowers, early summer clematis, which start flowering in June, are for you. The blousy ‘Nelly Moser’ with large lilac striped flowers is well known, or try purple ‘The President’ or deep red ‘Niobe’.

Cultivation: They like sun or partial shade, depending on the variety as some such as ‘Nelly Moser’ are best in shade to prolong the flowers. These pruning group 2 clematis can become a tangle so remove old stems to the base in late February leaving a framework of healthy stems shortened to around a third before being tied in.

Late summer:

Clematis flowering from July are great as they keep going well into Autumn. C. ‘Jackmanii’ is a well-known variety with deep purple flowers and yellow green stamen. C. Etoile Violette is a winner with rich plummy purple flowers and yellow gold stamens, while C. ‘Purpurea Plena Elegans’, is a pretty dusky pale plum double. ‘Prince Charles’ with sky blue flowers is similar to ‘Perle d’Azure’ but more reliable and compact so great for fences. These clematis look lovely scrambling amongst climbing roses such as the pink ‘New Dawn’, or yellow ‘ ‘Buff Beauty’

Cultivation: They tolerate partial shade but prefer sun. Group 3 is easy to prune by cutting back old growth to 23/45 cm in mid February to mid March above a healthy bud. (As a rule of thumb any clematis flowering from July can be cut hard back in spring as they flower on the current year’s growth.)

Autumn:

For a bit of zing, C. orientalis ‘Bill MacKenzie’ has bright lemon-peel like petals and silky seeds into October – but it’s also useful for its foliage, which stays green from May to November. Golden Tiara is another of the same tangutica variety with black stamens.

Cultivation: Happy in sun or shade. ‘Bill Mackenzie’ can become large so prune hard (20cm from the ground) in February and again in the summer.

Winter clematis:

In the dead of winter, clematis cirrhosa varieties, brighten the garden with their delicate bell-shaped flowers and evergreen foliage. ‘Wisley Cream’ is white and ‘Freckles’ has dark pink speckles.

Cultivation: Cut back overlong shoots to a healthy bud after flowering if growth needs to be restricted.

Janine Winlaw – writer and gardener