- Author: Erin Mahaney
When I moved to my current home, I had never heard of clematis. But a colorful package at a big box store caught my eye and I planted my first two plants in my backyard. I had misgivings because the planting instructions made the plant sound a bit fussy – “feet in the shade, head in the sun?” Protection from strong winds . . . in Benicia?! Not likely! So I wasn’t terribly optimistic about the plants’ survival, but the pictures were pretty and the price was right. (I have justified many plant purchases by telling myself that the cost is less than a bouquet of flowers and will last a lot longer if the plant thrives.)
I had mixed results. The clematis I planted in my wind tunnel of a side yard failed almost immediately. But the other clematis, “the President,” has thrived even as my yard becomes shadier each year as my flowering pear trees grow taller. The plant reliably produces enormous, purple flowers for months at a time. After seeing those first blossoms, I was hooked! And then, after a visit to Chalk Hill Clematis, when it was open to the public several years ago, I was even more enthralled. I had no idea that there were so many different types, with blooms in a wide variety of shapes, colors, sizes, and types of petals.
Clematis require full sun or part shade and rich, fast-draining soil. According to the Sunset Western Garden Book, we can now disregard the advice to plant clematis with their “feet in the shade,” and instead make sure that the plants are properly mulched and watered. I can attest to the fact, however, that the plants need protection from strong winds (and pets) due to the plants’ fragile stems.
I now have several clematis in my yard. Most of the plants are deciduous vines, but one of the more unusual plants, ‘Alionushka,’ is a hybrid between a herbaceous clematis and large-flowered hybrid. It has nodding, pinkish-mauve flowers and sprawls, rather than climbs. Interesting!
Some of my clematis are struggling, some are thriving, and some that I gave up for dead years ago have unexpectedly reappeared. But despite the fairly windy and shady conditions in my yard, I have had just enough success to wish I had room for more. Unfortunately, each clematis has been planted exactly where I can’t see any of them from inside the house, but that gives me a good reason to head outside to admire them after a long work day. Now, as I have realized that I haven’t killed all of my clematis immediately, I may push my luck and try moving them to better locations next fall.
At this time of year, I miss the wildly blooming roses that I once had in my now tree-shaded yard. But my clematis have proved to be a lovely, reliable source of vibrant color.