Growing Clematis with the Correct Clematis Supports
All, by their very nature need supports, and these supports must be strong enough to do the job for a considerable time.
Where plants are grown against a wall, there is now a vast array of different types of trellis available in a variety of materials and designs. These are all very suitable for the purpose. However, unless you are growing an evergreen, you should give some consideration as to what the structure will look like during the winter, when it and not the plant becomes the decorative fixture.
Perhaps the best system for supporting wall-trained plants is to use strong, medium-gauge wire pulled taut between two vine eyes. Such a structure becomes virtually invisible as the plant develops, and provides all the strength and flexibility that both the gardener and the plant require, making it one of the better clematis supports.
Clematis can also look very effective when grown up free-standing pillars. A number of different types of these are available. Made out of hardwood, they will last for many years. But always bear in mind that when a clematis is in full leaf, the support needs to be firmly anchored to the ground to stop the whole structure keeling over in a sudden squall. Don’t be tempted to use concrete for this job, as it rots timber far more quickly than anything else. One of the metal spikes used for fence posts is ideal, and can be dug out and moved if necessary.
Wooden supports of all sorts, from arches to fences, need to be maintained from time to time. This is best done during the winter, when the climber is dormant and can be disentangled from its support with a modicum of safety; any shoots that break can be pruned back to a good bud and will soon recover. You should also check what preservative has been used on the wood, and make sure it won’t harm the plant.
Creosote, for instance, is lethal to all plant life over a long period. It is far better to use one of the acrylic preservatives, which not only protect the timber but also renew the colour of your structure.
Growing Clematis and Climbers Against Walls
Walls are often thought of as the obvious place to grow clematis and climbers. Unfortunately, they are not always the best option. Theat the base of a wall is frequently dry and impoverished. The wall itself can absorb large quantities of water, which then evaporates so that more is taken up, leaving even less water available to the plants. Despite these drawbacks, however, there are plants that will grow well in these conditions. If you think carefully and make the right choice of plants, then even the most unglamorous of walls can be made to look more attractive, and the structure of the house will blend harmoniously with the garden.
Clematis on their own, with the possible exception of the montanas, are poorly suited to growing up walls. They tend to loose their bottom leaves as they grow, and very often you are left with a bare and leggy plant, starved of moisture, with just a few scraggy blooms atop a jumble of stems. In such situations, clematis are always best used in conjunction with other shrubs, the classic example being climbing.
A clematis-rose combination provides a display of scentedthroughout the summer. The clematis spreads throughout its host, its bare lower stems hidden among the roses. A good climbing rose to choose might be Rosa ‘New Dawn’, which has wonderful soft-pink blooms and is less vulnerable to the usual ills of blackspot and . It works well with Clematis ‘Perk d’Azur’, the best late-flowering blue. This particular combination should remain in flower from June until September.
Unsightly walls present a different problem. In such situations the whole wall needs to be covered and hidden completely from view. The vigorous climbers are ideal for this purpose. Boston ivy, Virginia creeper and Russian vine will all make short work of hiding even a quite large area of wall, while the montana group of clematis will provide a flowering screen in the early months of the year.
Evergreen climbers are more difficult. They generally require a protected site away from the effects of cold winds, and this is especially true of the evergreen clematis and the more exotic climbers. However, any of the varieties of our native common ivy (Hedera helix) will grow happily against even the coldest wall, and can be readily clipped to keep them under control.
Most climbers require some sort of structure on which to climb up the wall. There is now a ride selection to choose from, ranging from wooden grid trellises to thin plastic netting. Perhaps the best solution, however, is strong medium-gauge wire stretched taut between vine eyes. Equally effective is a pattern of wall nails ranged horizontally to the required width of the plant, and spaced vertically at intervals of about a yard (metre). This method provides adequate support for the plant without becoming an eyesore in the winter months, as is often the case with many of the other systems.
Growing Clematis and Climbers Up Trees
Growing clematis, indeed any climber, up a tree is often easier said than done. You have to think carefully about the type of tree, and you need to know when your chosen climber will flower and how vigorously it will grow. There is little point in growing a montana through an apple tree, as they will both flower at the same time – and a large-flowered hybrid would simply not be able to cope with the demands of the host tree.
The so-called forest trees such as oak and ash are totally unsuitable for even the most vigorous of climbers, with the possible exception of the more robust roses. The various decorative cherries can also prove a problem as they are surface rooters. This means they take up a lot of the food and water that might otherwise be available to the clematis.
Conifers and the smaller garden trees are a different matter altogether. Many of thecan add a new perspective to an otherwise dreary specimen, or provide flowers after the host plant finished its display.
When planting a climber to ramble up and through a garden tree, plant it well away from the main stem – preferably just inside the canopy – and lead it up to the branches by means of some stout twine. This will allow the climber to become established outside the dry, impoverished soils around the trunk. Even so, it pays to incorporate plenty of organic matter into the planting hole, and to keep the clematis well watered and fed for the first few seasons.
The same applies to a coniferous host. Plant your climbers away from the main body of the plant and lead them up towards it at an angle. Then they will normally do better and will also be easier to manage.
The choice of variety is also important for maximum effect. The bigger conifers such as the cultivars of Chamaecyparis lawsoniana (Lawson cypress) will cope quite happily with the less vigorous montanas – Clematis montana ‘Pictons Variety’, for instance. For the smaller conifers it is better to choose a late-flowering clematis such as C. ‘Comtesse de Bouchaud’.
The later-flowering clematis can also be trimmed back in the autumn. The conifer will then look tidier during the winter, while the clematis will be less vulnerable to damage from winter storms.
As clematis use their leaf stems to attach themselves to the host plant, they can often be left to their own devices. But you can often improve the display by using paper-covered wire twists to tie in certain selected stems; this will ensure that they flower exactly where you want them. It also stops the clematis being dislodged in windy conditions.
Growing Clematis and Climbers Through Shrubs
Clematis make ideal subjects for growing through a variety of other shrubs of different sizes. Some of them will extend the period of interest by flowering before or after their host. Others will create an attractive foil for a flowering shrub or one grown for its foliage.
Clematis were very often grown like this in Victorian times. But nowadays, for some strange reason, it is no longer the first idea that springs to mind when we think of growing clematis, or indeed any climbing plant.
Some shrubs are more difficult to match than others. Lilacs and rhodendrons, for instance, are almost impossible to link successfully with clematis because of their fibrous surface roots. But with most combinations you are unlikely to encounter any problems.
One of the most effective ideas is to combine growing clematis with one of the old-fashioned roses. Most of these wonderful plants have only a short flowering period, so grouping them with clematis makes for a wonderful combination, adding scent, colour and structure to even the smallest garden.
Perhaps the best candidates for this purpose are the later-flowering clematis hybrids; these can be pruned back hard, which means the rose is less of a nightmare to prune than might otherwise be the case. Lower-growing shrubs such as weigelas, cotinus (if pruned annually) or the smaller mock oranges (spp.) are suitable with early large-flowered and double hybrids. Clematis ‘Miss Bateman’, a pure-white variety, looks superb growing through the rich-purple foliage of ‘Royal Purple’. The texensis varieties lend themselves well to scrambling through the branches of low-growing shrubs, where you can look down into their tulip-shaped flowers.
The taller shrubs don’t necessarily demand vigorous clematis. Some of the more compact clematis varieties will provide colour around the lower branches of shrubs that might otherwise be bereft of interest. Examples of these include the hybrid Clematis ‘Royalty’, with its gorgeous plum-purple semi-double blooms, and C ‘H. E Young’, which has light-blue single flowers.
Manyare too vigorous for growing through any but the largest and most robust shrubs. But there are a few exceptions to this: the double pink bindweed Calystegia hederacea ‘Fiore Pleno’, and also some of the honeysuckles, can be just as effective when allowed to mingle through the branches of another plant.