This is the first year in the garden when I’ve truly wondered what clematis I have. It sounds a bit mad, but there are maybe half a dozen clematis here and I don’t know what most of them are. This leads to pruning quandaries and for the first time looking back through dozens of pictures of the garden the penny has dropped that some clearly like being pruned and others not so much and this affects how many flowers appear.
I’ve always loved clematis. In the first house I bought in Manchester almost twenty years ago I had a tiny terrace garden and I filled it with clematis. I loved Montana because it grew like stink and would double in size seemingly before my eyes. After that I bought a few more varieties and planted them all over the garden, but I didn’t really care what group they were in and didn’t ever prune them or wonder about it.
Now in this garden I do tend to prune a fair bit. I might be deemed a little bit snip happy at times. There is a lot to get through here and from October(ish) onwards I try to get around as much as I can. However, come next October I’m going to leave a bit more than I normally do. I’ve heard the term ‘putting the garden to bed,’ which I thought meant cutting back a tonne of stuff and that is exactly what I did. Actually it seems more forgiving and natural now to leave lots of skeletons of plants and seed heads to cast a fetching frosted landscape and a habitat for all kids of creatures. Next Autumn I’m not going to put the garden to bed. I’m going to leave it to it’s own devices. It also occurred to me that if I figured out which group was which for my clematis and got some really nice garden supports I could train the group 2 clematis (if I could spot them) to greater heights and more flowers. It’s a good game if nothing else.
So having read a bit, dug through loads of photos and trying to keep things as simple as I can cope with (which is reeeeaaaally simple), these are the three groups of clematis.
Group 1 includes my old friend Montana. From now on I’ll gingerly snip at this group like trying to cut my own fringe in lockdown. We have three Montana clematis in the garden at the moment. All three are growing under vastly different circumstances.
The first is a whopper. This one is the ultimate woody warrior. I can’t imagine how old he is, but I guess this is the eventual mammoth stature reached without any pruning. I don’t mind him, his bulk is hidden behind a big yew so all I can usually see is his tufty top of flowers every Spring. Even if I tried to give him a trim I think I might end up entombed inside him like a spider in a web. He is about to burst into flower now and I’m wondering if at some point his flowers will climb on top of the yew like a festival crown. I hope so.
The second is growing in a tub by the kitchen window. This is kind of a stupid place to plant a Montana because they are such greedy plants and require a tonne of nutrients. But the interesting thing is that it does quite nicely and the tremendous growth is curbed, so this one is like a teeny bopper version of the granddaddy above. I grew it to mask some pipework and it does draw the eye away so mission (sort of) accomplished.
The third Montana is in a genuinely daft place. We have an old yew tree (one of many), which is a particularly scrappy shape, so I had this grand idea to festoon it with a clematis on one side and a rambling rose on the other. The rambler, which is a Paul’s Himalayan Musk is fab. The clematis is basically trying to grow in a dark bit of scrub deep under a yew and probably hates me. It’s still there and I feed it, but I can’t see it doing much. I think I’ll dig it up and move it. Anything else is just mean.
The gallery below shows some of the clematis we have here and I picked up yet another one last weekend for less than three quid. Actually it was this clematis which set the experiment going because it came with a handy cut out, which got me thinking about pruning groups.
This is my plan for this year: most of the clematis have been cut back in some fashion, either trimmed back low in late Winter or forcibly reduced in size by the fierce winds we have here. The top left Tinkerbell style plant hasn’t been touched and has never in four years flowered until last November! Spotting those flowers made me really happy. I genuinely couldn’t even remember what colour or shape they might be. The Montanas (bottom right) also haven’t been touched.
The purple clematis bottom left is I am sure one of the types that likes to be trimmed a bit, because that old picture shows flowers nicely at the top and last year’s picture showed flowers near the floor. All of this sounds a bit of a pain, but I quite like the detective work and if you can get a plant which looks awesome in the Summer then that is lovely for everyone (bees included).
Other than being slightly curious in terms of pruning, clematis are pretty easy to look after. Here are some clematis tips:
- Plant them deep with lots of compost.
- Almost everyone says clematis like their roots cool. I scatter bits of broken pot at the base.
- Water well.
- Feed and water, they are greedy so make sure you are generous.
- Try to remember what group they are and prune accordingly.
Feedwise: Tomorite is great and I use that as a general feed for lots of stuff here. I also have liquid seaweed and this Summer I plan to feed every two weeks for at least the clematis and roses. I also mulched this Spring (finally). I used Strulch which is a straw based mulch and spread about 5cm deep under the clematis, rose shrubs and larger border.
Enjoy! Clematis are fab as plants go. You can basically treat them like pets. Loads of food, hair cuts and even training them around, well whatever you want really.