- Author: Erin Mahaney
In my last blog, Clematis Extravaganza Weekend – Part 1, I wrote about the Rogerson Clematis Garden in Oregon. In this second blog on my Clematis Extravaganza Weekend, I'll share information from a tour at Joy Creek Nursery (located north of Portland in Scappoose, OR) about different types of clematis, including varieties that we can consider growing in our warmer Solano County climate.
We specifically planned our visit so that we could attend a tour of the clematis gardens at Joy Creek Nursery. In part due to its relationship with clematis hybridizers and collectors, the nursery contains a wide variety of both climbing and herbaceous forms of clematis from many parts of the world and has even introduced some of its own clematises. The purpose of the tour was to focus on a variety of clematis that provides a succession of plants that bloom throughout the growing season as well as to introduce visitors to some lesser-known varieties. Our tour began with a brief overview of clematis by one of the nursery's co-owners, Maurice Horn, who explained that the clematis genus contains over 300 species of plants and provided tips on growing and pruning the plants. The plants can range in size from small shrubs to house-eating vines. We then toured the clematis gardens (photos below).
The large-flowered clematis that we typically see in our garden nurseries (and which are the beautiful clematis that I think many of us would love to grow), are the product of years of hybridization. But there are many other, smaller-flowered varieties that are vigorous and have reputations for being easier to grow. Some of these varieties have flowers that are equally showy as the large-flowered types, while others are more subtle. In the interest of space, this blog won't cover all clematis varieties discussed on the tour or how to grow or prune the plants. Instead, I'll focus here on four of the small-flowered varieties. For more information about the different varieties and cultivars (and pruning), see an article on Joy Creek Nursery's website at: https://www.joycreek.com/clematis.htm.
Solano County has many microclimates and some of us can grow the gorgeous, large-flowered varieties just fine. Not me. As much as I would love to grow the large-flowered clematis, my yard is either too sunny and hot on one side, too shady on the other side, and blasted by wind on all sides. (I know, I should just move on to other plants, right?) But after learning about the many varieties of clematis that can be grown in varying conditions, I decided to try a few of the small-flowered varieties that are suitable for Benicia (USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 9). I also wanted to try growing a few of them like I saw at the Rogerson Clematis Garden; that is, not just tied to trellises, but also scrambling through shrubs and across the ground. Clematis don't do well in wind, and while I'm trying to grow them in more sheltered areas in my yard, the entire yard is extremely windy on some days. Perhaps lower-growing plants may be more successful. I've already seen the effects of wind on my newer, more fragile plants that I've trained vertically, but I'm hopeful that they will survive and thrive as they mature. Below I've mentioned a few of the varieties I've selected to try this summer – wish me luck!
The Atragene group generally consists of woodland plants from colder climates. The plants flower in the spring and have small, bell-shaped flowers followed by showy seedheads. My friend and I fell in love with some of the plants based on the seedheads alone! It is best to plant this group in part shade where the plants will be protected from the hottest sun. In general, these plants do not do well in warm climates. Examples include ‘Constance,' ‘Pink Flamingo, and ‘Blue Bird.' I'm giving a ‘Blue Bird' a try since it should grow in zone 9 and I found it in a Bay Area nursery, which gives me hope that it will grow in our area. The plant (a 4” pot) is too tiny to tell how well it will do, and it looked scorched after our recent heatwave, so I draped some shade cloth over it until it matures a bit. It seems happier now.
The Integrifolia group is found from Central Europe, Russia, and West and Central Asia. Thus, these plants are cold hardy and some of them tolerate heat as well. This group is suitable for a Mediterranean climate like ours. These herbaceous perennials are not climbers, but they can be tied to structures to make them look like they are climbing, woven into shrubs, or left to ramble across the ground. Some of the crosses between Clematis integrifolia and the large-flowered clematis bloom all summer to fall. Examples include ‘x durandii,' ‘Arabella,' and ‘Roguchi.' I previously grew ‘Alionushka,' with its nodding pink flowers and it did very well in a sunny location mostly protected from the wind (until I killed it when we redid our yard by not replanting it soon enough). I'm now trying Clematis integrifolia, which will grow in a 2' mound with blue nodding flowers. I also planted ‘Roguchi' this summer and the nodding purple flowers are tiny but absolutely charming. (See photo below.) There has been some breakage from the wind, but overall, so far, so good!
The Texensis group includes crosses between Clematis texensis and large-flowered clematis. These plants do well in full sun (at least in Oregon) or part shade, and have upright tulip-shaped or nodding bell-shaped flowers. Examples include ‘Princess Diana,' ‘Fire and Ice,' and ‘Gravetye Beauty.' I'm trying ‘Gravetye Beauty' in (mostly) full sun and will let it ramble through across the ground. It's too soon to tell how it will do, but so far it seems happy.
The Viticella group and its crosses have a reputation for being vigorous and relatively easy to grow. They thrive in a range of conditions: hot and cold, full sun and part shade. The flowers range from bell-shaped to nodding to outward-facing shapes and the plants generally bloom in the summer. My interest was peaked because this group originated from the Mediterranean region, spanning Portugal, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran and into western Asia. I was so intrigued by Viticellas that I bought a used book, “Trouble-Free Clematis: The Viticellas” by John Howells, which is a terrific resource, not just for information about the Viticella group, but about growing clematis in general. Examples include ‘Alba Luxurians,' ‘Polish Spirit,' ‘Minuet,' and ‘Carmencita.” It turns out that one of the solid performers in my yard belongs to the Viticella group, ‘Galore.' It is in a container and gets full sun and a lot of wind, but still thrives.
The “Clematis Extravanganza Weekend” began with the intention of seeing an old friend and wistfully ogling some pretty flowers. But it turns out that there are some interesting options for those of us with challenging backyard conditions too!