Clematis: Queen of the Vines

a photo of Clematis Rooguchii

Profusions of flowers climbing up a trellis, spilling over walls, creeping through the garden as a showy groundcover, Clematis do it all.

By Abby Lapides

[This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener June 2018 issue.]

Profusions of flowers climbing up a trellis, spilling over walls, creeping through the garden as a showy groundcover, Clematis do it all. Clematis breeding has come a long way from Jackman’s clematis which was introduced in the mid 1800s.

The large blue-violet bells on ‘Rooguchii’ clematis daintily dangle from the ends of each stem. This long-blooming plant —usually flowering from early summer well into fall—forms a hybrid shrubby-vining mass of blooms. ‘Rooguchii’ will easily grow 6-8’ with support. Since it does not produce twining tendrils, I find that growing the vine in the middle of a wrought iron obelisk gives the best support to get this beauty up to height. If left unsupported, ‘Rooguchii’ will grow into a 2’ tall groundcover with about a 4-6’ spread that looks great spilling over walls. This blooming machine blooms exclusively on new wood. I appreciate this because it can be pruned at just about any time without having to worry about cutting off flowers.

A photo of Clematis Sapphire Indigo

C. ‘Sapphire Indigo’
photo courtesy Donahue’s Greenhouses

‘Sapphire Indigo’ came into production a few years ago and it’s already a fan favorite. The Intense indigo and violet flowers cover the plant when in bloom, from early summer into fall. This petit plant only reaches 4’ tall if trained on a trellis, otherwise it will grow into a thick groundcover about 1 ½’ tall and 3-4’ wide. This small wonder requires no pruning and also looks excellent spilling out of containers or short walls.

Another long blooming variety, ‘Avant-Garde’ begins blooming in late spring and will continue well into fall. The cranberry red heavily frilled

A photo of Clematis 'Avante Garde'

C. ‘Avante Garde’
photo courtesy Donahue’s Greenhouse

petals surround fluffy pink inner petals and a yellow center, creating a 2” in diameter wonder. Heavily blooming, expect hundreds of these beauties covering the 10’ vine. ‘Avant-Garde’ tolerates some shade as well, blooming as well in part shade as full sun.

2002 winner of the ‘Award of Garden Merit’ by the Royal Horticultural Society, ‘Huldine’ is considered the best blooming white clematis

a photo of Clematis 'Huldine'

C. ‘Huldine’, photo courtesy Donahue’s Greenhouse

available. Waves of 4” pearly white flowers with yellow centers grace the garden from late spring through fall. ‘Huldine’ usually grows 8-10’ tall, but can reach 15’ when given a tall enough support to grow on.

From Poland comes ‘Wildfire’ clematis, whose large blooms are produced early and for a long period of time. But what makes ‘Wildfire’ exceptional is its unique flower color. Each large petal of violet is striped with a thick red-purple bar. Growing 8-10’ tall, ‘Wildfire’ looks great growing against white trellises and fences.

A photo of Clematis 'Wildfire'

C. ‘Wildfire’, photo courtesy Donahue’s Greenhouse

The show stopping blooms of ‘Diamantina’ will wow even the most jaded of gardeners. Multiple rows of fluffy mauve petals look like a lion’s mane. Sometimes the interior pom of petals has a slight magenta stripe adding another showy aspect to this already striking flower. Each flower can last for up to a month, longer than most clematis. Blooming in spring and again in fall, this more compact variety can easily grow in the ground or in a large container.

A photo of Clematis 'Diamantina'

C. ‘Diamantina’, photo courtesy Donahue’s Greenhouse

When planting one of these beauties, be sure to dig a large hole and loosen up the soil well. Clematis like cool roots; mulch and plant low-growing plants like cranesbill or Drift Roses to shade the clematis roots. It can take a few seasons before clematis fully settle in, but once established you may enjoy these versatile and showy vines for years.

Abby Lapides is owner of Sugar Creek Gardens in Kirkwood, MO. She has degrees from the University of Missouri, and is a member of the Landscape and Nursery Association of Greater St. Louis.