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Discover the many gorgeous varieties of clematis—both a popular climbing vine and also a flowering shrub! Did you know that there are over 200 species and hundreds of hybrids of this popular flower? There are saucers, bells, tube shapes, tulips, open bells, doubles, and semi-doubles. Take a look.
Clematis: A Flowering Shrub
Everyone is familiar with clematis as a flowering vine, but what about one that is a shrub? Clematis heracleifolia is a bush that dies back almost to the ground each winter. In spring it puts out new growth and soon reaches about four feet in height and width. By August it is covered with small but gorgeous, blue flowers that resemble hyacinth blossoms. The flowers have a delicately sweet aroma and the slightly fuzzy leaves have an almond fragrance.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the vining ones too. If you have room for the “queen of climbers,” there are many vigorous vines with large blooms often measuring 6 inches across! They are showstoppers that look terrific along a fence or wall. Just be aware that it can take a few years for the vine to mature and flower, so consider a plant that’s been grown in a container at a garden nursery if you want a head start.
My favorite climber is Clematis viticella ‘Betty Corning’. She is a lovely vine that produces loads of light purple, nodding, bell-like flowers all season long. She also dies to the ground each winter in my garden but puts on an amazing growth spurt each spring, covering a 10-foot-tall post in my yard. Many gardeners weave their vines through a tall shrub or tree for support.
Have you ever seen a yellow clematis? We usually think of them in the white, blue, or pink color ranges, but Clematis tangutica has bright yellow, nodding bell-shaped flowers. It also produces fabulous silky seedheads that look like something right out of a Dr. Seuss book! I came by mine totally by mistake. It was labeled as Clematis Montana, but I was in for a pleasant surprise when it bloomed with yellow bells instead of pink stars! It makes a spectacular display against an evergreen backdrop.
By September, sweet autumn clematis is making a big splash. It is a vigorous-growing vine that can grow up to 20 feet tall in one season. I cut mine back to about eye level each spring, and by early fall, it has climbed to the roof of my shed and is covered with a multitude of small, star-shaped white blossoms. The bees love its sweetly scented flowers.
Sometimes, I am impatient and hate waiting until September for the sweet autumn clematis to bloom. So, when I heard that plant breeders had developed one that not only blooms in July but has purple flowers. I had to have it. The search for ‘Sweet Summer Love’ began last spring, and like any dedicated, or should I say obsessed, plant collector, I did not rest until I had one in my garden. It grew well last year, wintered over our toughest winter, and this summer had grown about 5 feet high. In July, it was covered with bluish-purple stars with white centers. For once, a new plant has lived up to the hype!
If you have had trouble with your large-flowering clematis succumbing to the dreaded clematis wilt, give some small-flowered ones a try. They are not only cheerfully pretty but tough and resistant to this common fungal disease. There is a wide spectrum of colors and shapes to choose from and surely you have room for one more plant in your garden!