A clematis for every need


The deck that is attached to the back of the house is four and a half feet above the ground on the downhill side, and for years I searched for the right plant to hide the area beneath it. I envisioned a vine that would grow quickly to cover the lattice and railing, and hoped to find one that wouldn’t engulf the house or take twenty years to do the job.

From the start wisteria was ruled out since another had been planted on a small arbor  by the driveway, and the muscular trunk quickly crushed the sturdy timbers into splinters. Ten years after the vine was cut down, and after repeated treatments with herbicides it continues to send sprouts from the roots that were left behind.

Other vines were discounted as too vigorous, or not vigorous enough, until I settled on Chocolate vine, or Five-leaf Akebia (Akebia quinata), with lush foliage and clusters of dark purple blooms. A year later it was obvious I should have done more research since it was growing more quickly than I could possibly keep up with. The stems crossed fifteen feet under the deck to climb the lattice on the far side, and into a tall hinoki cypress another ten feet further.

The akebia was more easily eradicated than the wisteria, though for several years I would catch a stray sprout or two. So, I was back where I started, and still determined not to settle for a skimpy clematis. I considered honeysuckles. Too fast, I thought, though there are some marvelous choices. Perhaps a splendid variegated leaf kiwi vine like the one that once clambered over a fence along the garden’s border. Slow to start, but ultimately too fast, I decided. Finally, I settled on a clematis, but far from a wimp.

Clematis montana ‘Rubens’ grows aggressively without being overwhelming, and its soft pink blooms are abundant in May, though unremarkable by comparison to others that are more brightly colored. Its growth is just what I was looking for, though my wife is likely to disagree, since following flowering it grows at a quickened pace for several weeks when it tries to cover the table and chairs, and the elephant ears and other potted tropicals hanging out on the deck. But, then it slows to a more manageable pace, and the stems are easily cut back with pruners.

At the far corner of the deck a tall nandina rises above the railing, and two clematis have been planted at its base to wind through the branches. The vigorous ‘Rubens’ would quickly smother the nandina, but white ‘Henryi’ and purple ‘Jackmanii’ behave themselves so that they are barely seen when not in bloom. But, in bloom, they’re wonderful.

Both ‘Henryi’ and ‘Jackmanii’ are common varieties, available anywhere at a fraction of the cost of fancier types. But their large blooms and vibrant colors work well twining through the nandina, though their growth would have been too slow for covering the lattice beneath the deck. In May the effect of the three clematis is precisely how I imagined it could be, though there were more than a few troubles getting there.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. tiff says:

    I’ve never had luck with clematis – they stay puny even though I’ve tried the ‘cool feet warm head’ thing.

    What’s your secret?

  2. Dave says:

    I have lost a few clematis over the years, and I think that in addition to sun on the foliage and shaded roots the more finicky varieties also prefer more moist soils. I don’t think that montana ‘Rubens’ is picky at all.

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