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Clematis: Queen of the Vines

Flowering clematis always reminds me of cascading waterfalls – their stunningly gorgeous blooms seem to tumble from the vine. Reigning over all others in the garden, perhaps it is the reason clematis are known as ‘Queen of the Vines.’

Several hundred species exist with diverse blooms in rich hues – from dainty nodding bells to large single or double, star-shaped flowers. These vary in size from just a few centimeters across to edging over the rim of a dinner plate. Clematis easily fit into garden spaces, no matter how large or small, and every gardener deserves to appreciate their beauty. Plant varieties which bloom at different stages through the growing season and you can enjoy clematis from late spring to fall.

Happiest with their roots in cool shade, clematis foliage benefits from at least six hours of sun each day to realize their full potential. Consider planting a small shrub or perennial companion, such as a daylily, to shade the root run at the base of the vine. Dig a large size hole in well-draining soil, working in lots of compost, bone meal, and organic fertilizers. Clematis climb upwards and require a solid and robust fence, trellis or arbor. Vines are long lived and can take down flimsy garden structures that are unable to stand up to their weight. Plant your clematis root ball 15 cm (6”) below ground level, and fill in the hole, burying 10 cm (4”) of the stem. Water deeply, and continue to water regularly once a week during the first year of growth. A little patience is necessary, as it may take a year or two for clematis to establish, take off, and begin flowering prolifically.

Clematis Ville de Lyon
Clematis 'Ville de Lyon'

Flowering clematis always reminds me of cascading waterfalls – their stunningly gorgeous blooms seem to tumble from the vine. Reigning over all others in the garden, perhaps it is the reason clematis are known as ‘Queen of the Vines.’

Clematis Ville de Lyon
Clematis 'Ville de Lyon'

Several hundred species exist with diverse blooms in rich hues – from dainty nodding bells to large single or double, star-shaped flowers. These vary in size from just a few centimeters across to edging over the rim of a dinner plate. Clematis easily fit into garden spaces, no matter how large or small, and every gardener deserves to appreciate their beauty. Plant varieties which bloom at different stages through the growing season and you can enjoy clematis from late spring to fall.

Happiest with their roots in cool shade, clematis foliage benefits from at least six hours of sun each day to realize their full potential. Consider planting a small shrub or perennial companion, such as a daylily, to shade the root run at the base of the vine. Dig a large size hole in well-draining soil, working in lots of compost, bone meal, and organic fertilizers. Clematis climb upwards and require a solid and robust fence, trellis or arbor. Vines are long lived and can take down flimsy garden structures that are unable to stand up to their weight. Plant your clematis root ball 15 cm (6”) below ground level, and fill in the hole, burying 10 cm (4”) of the stem. Water deeply, and continue to water regularly once a week during the first year of growth. A little patience is necessary, as it may take a year or two for clematis to establish, take off, and begin flowering prolifically.

It’s important to know about the pruning needs of the clematis variety you’ve chosen as these influence vigorous growth, flowering, and therefore, bloom time. Clematis are divided into three groups, each with different pruning requirements. Following are varieties from each group to showcase their immense beauty as well as highlight their easy maintenance and hardiness.

Pruning Group A – Blooms on old growth

Clematis macropetala ‘Blue Bird’

Hybridizer Dr. F.L. Skinner is best known for ‘Blue Bird,’ which he bred with the Canadian Prairies in mind. One of the hardiest varieties of all clematis, to Zone 3, it is a vigorous grower. A profusion of nodding lavender blue flowers with milky white centers adorn this woody vine in early summer and are attractive to hummingbirds. Multi-stemmed with a twining, trailing habit, and reaching heights of 3m (10’) Blue Bird needs a sturdy, durable trellis or arbor to climb upon. This vine can potentially live 20 years or more. Categorized in Pruning Group A: Blue Bird flowers on the previous season’s growth. Other than removing obvious dead wood in the spring, this vine should only be pruned where necessary immediately after flowering.

Clematis 'Blue Bird'
Clematis 'Blue Bird' is one of the hardiest varieties of all clematis.

Clematis macropetala ‘Blue Bird’

Clematis 'Blue Bird'
Clematis 'Blue Bird' is one of the hardiest varieties of all clematis.

Hybridizer Dr. F.L. Skinner is best known for ‘Blue Bird,’ which he bred with the Canadian Prairies in mind. One of the hardiest varieties of all clematis, to Zone 3, it is a vigorous grower. A profusion of nodding lavender blue flowers with milky white centers adorn this woody vine in early summer and are attractive to hummingbirds. Multi-stemmed with a twining, trailing habit, and reaching heights of 3m (10’) Blue Bird needs a sturdy, durable trellis or arbor to climb upon. This vine can potentially live 20 years or more. Categorized in Pruning Group A: Blue Bird flowers on the previous season’s growth. Other than removing obvious dead wood in the spring, this vine should only be pruned where necessary immediately after flowering.

Pruning Group B – Blooms on old & new growth

Clematis VancouverTM Fragrant Star

Enormous 20 cm (8”) pure white blooms, deep red tipped stamens, and a pleasing light vanilla scent – VancouverTM ‘Fragrant Star’ is unique for a large flowered clematis. This radiant beauty grows to a height of 3 m (10’) making it a wonderful companion for climbing roses. VancouverTM series clematis hybridized in British Columbia are known for long lasting blooms and stellar garden performance. Categorized in Pruning Group B:  Fragrant Star first blooms heavily in late spring on the previous season’s growth, followed by a second bloom on new growth in early fall. Trim this vine immediately after the first blooms finish in the spring to ensure the second bloom. In late February or early March, prune again, removing any weak or dead vines. Hardy to Zone 4.

Clematis 'Fragrant Star'
Clematis 'Fragrant Star' is a wonderful companion for climbing roses.

Clematis VancouverTM Fragrant Star

Clematis 'Fragrant Star'
Clematis 'Fragrant Star' is a wonderful companion for climbing roses.

Enormous 20 cm (8”) pure white blooms, deep red tipped stamens, and a pleasing light vanilla scent – VancouverTM ‘Fragrant Star’ is unique for a large flowered clematis. This radiant beauty grows to a height of 3 m (10’) making it a wonderful companion for climbing roses. VancouverTM series clematis hybridized in British Columbia are known for long lasting blooms and stellar garden performance. Categorized in Pruning Group B:  Fragrant Star first blooms heavily in late spring on the previous season’s growth, followed by a second bloom on new growth in early fall. Trim this vine immediately after the first blooms finish in the spring to ensure the second bloom. In late February or early March, prune again, removing any weak or dead vines. Hardy to Zone 4.

Pruning Group C – Blooms on new growth

Clematis ‘Ville de Lyon’

Popular with gardeners since its first appearance in France in 1899,
‘Ville de Lyon’ is a vigorous grower, blooming from June through September. Profuse flowers open bright cherry red, with scarlet red edging and contrasting creamy yellow stamens. As each flower matures, an attractive opalescent sheen develops over the center of each petal. Flowers are large, 10-15 cm (4-6”) across and vines can reach heights of 2.5-3.5 m (8-12’). Ville de Lyon is well-suited to growing in containers.  Categorized in Pruning Group C: Ville de Lyon blooms only on the current year’s growth. Cut back or ‘hard prune’ vines in late February or early March to a pair of strong buds on each stem as close to ground level as possible. Hardy to Zone 4.

Clematis Ville de Lyon Schreiners
Clematis 'Ville de Lyon' is well-suited to growing in containers.

Clematis ‘Ville de Lyon’

Clematis Ville de Lyon Schreiners
Clematis 'Ville de Lyon' is well-suited to growing in containers.

Popular with gardeners since its first appearance in France in 1899, ‘Ville de Lyon’ is a vigorous grower, blooming from June through September. Profuse flowers open bright cherry red, with scarlet red edging and contrasting creamy yellow stamens. As each flower matures, an attractive opalescent sheen develops over the center of each petal. Flowers are large, 10-15 cm (4-6”) across and vines can reach heights of 2.5-3.5 m (8-12’). Ville de Lyon is well-suited to growing in containers.  Categorized in Pruning Group C: Ville de Lyon blooms only on the current year’s growth. Cut back or ‘hard prune’ vines in late February or early March to a pair of strong buds on each stem as close to ground level as possible. Hardy to Zone 4.

Florissa's Tips!

When planting in containers, avoid materials such as metal that are likely to conduct heat. A good size container is 45 cm (18”) in height, width and depth.

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