Every gardener is familiar with the extraordinary effectiveness of vines in a proper setting, but most of us become discouraged after bad luck. The daintier vines have a habit of developing some unknown illness and dying back unexpectedly, while those which thrive usually do too good a job of it. Many a porch has collapsed under the weight of a husky vine, and many a fence has eventually been relinquished to the stranglehold of some plant which was merely intended to decorate and drape it . . . not to take possession. The lusty vines, which are coarse in growth and bloom, may have a definite place in our gardens, but they are just about as subtle as Niagara Falls.
A well-grown Clematis has none of these objectionable characteristics. Even the hardiest of them has a very deceptive daintiness about it, and they are readily kept under control, while the less rampant growers in the group are as exquisite as old lace. Their culture and maintenance is simple, and the variety of stock now available should make your mouth water.
By and large, Clematis prefer neutral to alkaline soil, good drainage, and shade at their roots. The first two of these requirements can be taken care of by mixing crushed limestone with the soil at the bottom of the planting hole. Or you may set your plant in sharp sand and mix some lime with the soil which you replace. The necessary shade can be provided either by mulch or by other plant material. Protected this way, they are amazingly resistant to summer heat and drought. While the roots want shade, the tops want sun, so unless you have a lode wall or building to provide the naturally ideal location, plant them in the sun, and give the needed root shade by some artificial method.
Pruning requirements demand some knowledge of the individual species on hand. As a general rule, those which bloom in summer or fall should be cut back in early spring, since they flower on new wood. Thin them out a bit, and leave from two to three feet of growth on the remaining shoots. The early spring flowering varieties bloom on old wood, and only the usual shaping up and removal of dead wood is necessary.
Nurserymen divide Clematis roughly into large and small flowering varieties. Both groups contain their aristocrats, and you will be missing some very handsome specimens if you confine your purchases to the large flowering sorts. They vary not only in color but in floral shape and number of petals. A majority of the large-flowering types which open wide tend to have six petals, in the single forms; while the small flowering- forms and those which remain partially closed and bell-shaped seem to prefer four petals, though there are exceptions to both these tendencies. Colors range from pinks, purples, lavenders, blues and whites to vivid scarlet and butter yellow. The floral pattern maybe anything from a frothy raceme or panicle to single blooms borne as individually as a Rose. Hybridists have elaborated the already attractive species until the present list of available Clematis is a treasure-house to lure any gardener into wangling a vine where he never even wanted one.
Among the large-flowering sorts, C. jackmani needs no introduction. It is probably the best known of all Clematis, blooming from mid-summer until frost, and even solving the pruning problem by dying back each winter. An improved form is the new C. jackmani superba, while a reddish variety has also been introduced in C. jackmani rubra.
For those who like double varieties, Belle of Woking is a good light blue, and Duchess of Edinburgh a fine white. The double varieties seem to lack the distinctive charm of the clearcut singles, but among the doubles, these two are certainly good.
Comtesse de Bouchaud is a fairylike thing, with white petals edged lavender, delicately curled. Under favorable conditions, it is pink. Two handsome winners are Crimson King and Mme. Edouard Andre, while Duchess of Albany is a brilliant rose-pink, lighter at the edges, the slightly cupped petals giving this variety an interesting shape.
C. henryi is an unusually fine white, with dark-tipped anthem providing an effective contrast to its dazzling purity of color. Lord Neville is a very dark, velvety blue-purple, while Elsa Spath and Ville de Paris are somewhat lighter purple, the former being the bluer of the two.
Among the lighter lavenders and blues are Ramona, Lawsoniana, Mme. BaronVeillard, and that dainty pale blue, Mrs. Cholmondeley. Then there is the very unusual Kermesina, with only four petals, deeply veined, somewhat curled, and a bright rosy red in color.
In the small-flowered group are some lovely and unique specimens. Those with partially closed, pendulous flowers are C. crispa, C. texensis, and C. tangutica obtusiuscula. The first, C. crispa, is a very handsome species, the outside of the petals being lavenderpurple, edged in white, with the inner side a rich burgundy. The yellow anthers in the center set off this unusual flower to perfection. C. texensis is equally striking, with its fire-red buds, unfolding at the tips to disclose a lighter flame interior. C. tangutica has four pendulous but separate petals of butter yellow, with green stamens. It is a curious thing, quite unlike its brothers and sisters, and the fruit in the fall is as showy as the blossoms.
C. montana undulata is another fourpetaled species whose blossoms unfurl a. delicate pink. The new C. troutbeckiana has lavender flowers as does the older Spingarn variety of C. jouiniana. In fact, for those who know only the common C. paniculata. in the small-flowering group, there is a great surprise in store when you investigate this little known section of the Clematis family.
The small-flowering varieties naturally bear more flowers than do the large-flowering sorts, but the large blossoms cover more area, so there is no rule to follow if you want. showy specimens. Each species is distinct, and all have their own peculiar charm. They bloom at different times of year, and there are at least twice again as many good types not included in this scanty list. Careful choice would certainly eliminate anything approaching monotony, even if every vine in your garden were a Clematis.
Getting Acquainted With Clematis