Gripped within the arms of yet another Polar Vortex, a term I learned from Al Roker on The Today Show, I am now, more than ever, eagerly waiting for spring’s arrival. This particular cold spell even has Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle shivering. A native Jersey boy, I can’t remember a winter so brutally cold. Waking up to sub zero temperatures is not only getting old fast, but will have me appreciating daffodils, the unfolding of foliage on deciduous trees and warmer temperatures even more. And if I let myself go and dream a bit more, the bright pastel colors of Clematis will hopefully wash away any remnants of this past winter.
Clematis, a perennial vine, offers so much diversity both in form and color. Once considered a plant only for the experienced gardener, the “Queen of the Vines”, has come a long way through technological advances and breeding techniques. Today Clematis should no longer be seen as intimidating, but rather a plant for everyone to enjoy. A genus of about 300 species, Clematis is part of the buttercup family Ranunculaceae. And while most gardeners know Clematis x jackmanii, a garden staple since the mid 1800’s, accelerated cultivars now exist making Clematis brighter, stronger and easier. Fragile, young woody stems are not necessarily the norm anymore.
Many nursery professionals have contributed to the breeding and success of this perennial vine. However, Raymond Evison OBE, VMH, is a nurseryman, lecturer and author who has dedicated much of his life to the plant. Breeding and developing truly modern Clematis, Mr. Evison has introduced more than 100 new plants. His nursery, The Guernsey Clematis Nursery, remains one of the largest specialty producers of young Clematis plants today. “Based on the island of Guernsey, one of the English Channel Islands, popular and new improved cultivars are bred in partnership with Danish rose specialist Poulsen Roser A/S” (www.guernsey-clematis.co.uk). Mr. Evison has also achieved an amazing 25 Gold Medals at the Chelsea Flower Show. With over 50 years of dedicated breeding and understanding of this plant, Mr. Evison’s contribution can sometimes seem overwhelming or daunting. Here are a few favorites, bred for exceptional color and growth, to help narrow the playing field.
Abilene (= ‘Evipo027’) has beautiful pink flowers that contrast with yellow anthers (part of the stamen that contains the pollen). As the flowers mature and fade, a central deep pink stripe becomes more evident. Flowering early and late summer, this garden gem only gets 3-4 feet tall. Arctic Queen (= ‘Evitwo’), one of the best double white Clematis, flowers from late spring to summer. Ideal for growing in the garden or in a container, Arctic Queen can grow 6-8 feet and appreciates a light prune in early spring. Very adaptable, this Clematis prefers to be sited anywhere except on the north side. Anna Louise (= ‘Evithree’) has huge eye-catching blooms that are 5-6 inches across. Another introduction that flowers for two seasons, Anna Louise sports bright violet flowers with a noticeable central bar of reddish-purple on every petal. This climber will reach 8-10 feet tall and about 2 feet wide. Perfect for sunny locations too. Rebecca (= ‘Evipo016’) is one of my favorites! Massive 5-7 inch magenta-red blooms, a color not often seen in landscapes, insures its shock value. A compact grower, Rebecca easily lends itself to container gardening too. Broad, overlapping petals with ruffled edges hint of style and texture in the garden. Finally, Crystal Fountain (= ‘Evipo038’) produces amazing double flowers on an extremely compact and bushy plant. A frilly, almost pompon-like bloom, this unusual flower reminds me of the tropical Passiflora. The blooms, hues of purple and blue, can last up to 5 months. This, like many others, is a re-bloomer.
The etymology of Clematis, “a climbing plant”, suggests what most envision. Climbing varieties valued for their ability to run up walls, fences or obelisks. In addition, their ability to travel in and around other plants, showing off their flowers, as they poke their heads through is widely known. However, today there are many varieties that are more compact and ideal for containers or small garden spaces. Not to mention those that can be trained as a groundcover… a neat gardening trick. Remember, most clematis benefit from having their roots cool and their tops warm, trying to maintain cool, moist soil. You can achieve this either by mulching them well or surrounding the their bottoms with companion plants. In late winter or early spring prune the stems of your Clematis to within 8-12 inches of the soil level. In closing, this spring, look for the stylish blue label complete with the distinctive Raymond Evison® signature and add a little zip to your garden.