Beauty for a Small Place

A renowned breeder of clematis introduces compact hybrids of the colorful flower.

Focus On Gardening

April 17, 2005|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,Sun Staff

There are few garden sights more dramatic than an ancient stone wall blanketed in clematis blooms the size of dessert plates and in colors stolen from an Impressionist's paint box.

After more than a decade of breeding, the colorful profusion of clematis is now available for smaller places: the patio, the deck or the balcony, or that cramped spot in a city garden.

Raymond Evison, the courtly Englishman who is the much-decorated godfather of this plant, this season has introduced three hybrids for just such small spaces, as well as the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) Collection of compact, "super performer" clematis.

"People are continually having smaller places to garden," he said in a telephone interview from his base of operations on the Isle of Guernsey in the English Channel. "Ten years ago, we could see this."

"Clematis can be quite tall and quite unruly. We decided to look at developing a compact, free-flowering and longer flowering plant."

It took more than a decade to find the right parent plants, find a well-performing offspring and produce enough plants for the insatiable retail appetite of gardeners.

The result is three vigorous patio clematis: the violet Cezanne, a pinkish-red Picardy and wine-red Versailles.

"We are looking to produce a very nice pink and a deeper, clearer blue and a very nice red for next year," Evison said.

Evison did the gardener an additional favor. The pruning of clematis is a nuisance, as each of three plant groups requires a different technique. The trick is to remember to which group each of your plants belongs.

Evison's patio collection will bloom on old and new wood, but for the sake of simplicity, he recommends ponytail pruning: Grab the plant like a hank of hair and cut it to about 12 inches above ground level.

"That approach would horrify any serious gardener," he said. "But with our patio collection, we wanted to keep it simple."


Homestead Gardens

743 W Central Ave.

Davidsonville, MD

410-798-5000 or 410-956-4777

Bru-Mar Gardens

1009 Bay Ridge Road

Annapolis, MD


GreenFields Nursery & Landscape

5425 Falls Road

Baltimore, MD


River Hill Garden Center

12165 Clarksville Pike

Clarksville, MD


The Dutch Plant Farm

151 Baughmans Lane

Frederick, MD


Watson's Garden Center

1620 York Road

Lutherville, MD



Clematis is easy to grow in containers. Only the most vigorous, such as Clematis montana (also known as Anemone Clematis), are impractical for such small spaces.

Choose two-year-old clematis with a well developed root system. It will give you a good display in its first year. Also, choose clematis with longer flowering seasons. Consider combining several clematis in the same pot: perhaps one early and one late-flowering for a long display. But be careful to choose plants from the same pruning group.

Choose your pot carefully, as the key to keeping clematis happy is keeping the roots cool in summer and frost-free in winter. Plastic pots are not a good choice, and neither is terra cotta. Heavy ceramic pots or wooden half barrels are more conducive to even soil temperature. The pots should be at least 18 inches deep and wide and have adequate drainage holes. Clematis hates wet feet. Pots should be combined with a climbing plant support, such as a tripod, obelisk or woven willow cones.

Fill the pots with a soil-based mix blended with slow-release fertilizer. Evison recommends fertilizers used for tomatoes or roses. Each year, scrape away the top four inches of potting mix, being careful not to disturb the roots, and replace it with fresh mix.

Regular watering is essential, and daily watering may be required during the hottest months. Covering the soil mix with a pebble or cocoa-shell mulch will help conserve moisture. Also, consider planting annuals around the base of the clematis. This, too, will keep the roots cool.

Place the plant deep enough so two sets of leaf nodes are below the soil level. This encourages plants to send up more new stems and create a thicker plant.

Clematis can be planted in spring or early fall in a location that gets at least five or six hours of sunlight. In a very sunny location, consider planting clematis of the darker, richer colors. Lighter colors will, literally, become washed out in intense sunlight.

For more advice, visit

SOURCES: American Horticultural Society Practical Guides: Clematis (Dorling Kindersley Publishing, $8.95) and The Gardener's Guide to Growing Clematis by Raymond Evison (Timber Press, $29.95)

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