IALWAYS MADE A BEELINE to see Dan Long and his Brushwood Nursery booth of climbing plants at a big annual spring sale nearby, but in the event chaos could never pester him long enough to ask all the questions I had stored up—which Clematis I was pruning wrong; what vines I could overwinter indoors; what climber would play nice with what other intertwined. Thinking (as I am) about adding more vines to the garden this year? My Q&A with Dan may help with some choices, growing tips and combination ideas—plus I am offering two $30 gift certificates to kick off A Way to Garden’s 2012 giveaway season.
Brushwood Nursery, aka gardenvines [dot] com, was founded in 1998 in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, out of a Lord and Burnham greenhouse Dan rented for $5 a year plus upkeep. (Such a deal!) Dan, a University of Delaware horticulture graduate, used to teach at nearby Longwood Gardens and worked with Conard-Pyle, where he got fluent in the propagation of Clematis, which most nurseries call “a nuisance crop,” he says, with their particular trimming schedules and rambunctious intertwining tendencies.
Enter a business opportunity: a high dollar-per-square-foot greenhouse crop, and one that not everyone is good at–enter Brushwood. He started selling vines over eBay, eventually launching his own website, and recently outgrew the climate and space in Pennsylvania and moved to Athens, Georgia.
The Brushwood collection now numbers more than 500 climbers, with Clematis as the main event—including ‘Omoshiro,’ top photo, which may be the first large-flowered one I ever buy (it’s more than 7 inches across, and fragrant). There are climbing roses, jasmines, passionflowers and more–but let Dan tell you.
The Q&A With Dan Long
Q. A guy with 500-plus climbers must have a serious collector gene. What prize have you hunted down recently, and what is the next holy grail? What’s hot?
A. I was really happy to finally get Clematis tangutica ‘Lambton Park’ [below]. It has huge flowers! We found it at a nursery in Germany and imported it back in September. For the near future, we’ll continue to work with contacts I made in Europe last summer, including licensing agreements with a couple of French rose breeders.
Q. You’ve told me that though the business is in climbers, you are crazy about lots of other plants, too. Like what in particular?
A. We’ve moved just far enough south that I can grow an amazing assortment of figs. At last count, I have 16 varieties planted. Some are technically zone 8 plants (we’re 7b here), but I’m still going to try. I’m starting a small grove of Camellia sinensis so I can make my own tea. We’re also going to establish a wildflower meadow to support my honeybees in summer. They get lots of nectar from trees in spring but will get a boost if we have lots of summer flowers.
Q. With the business move and ramp-up, you said you haven’t landscaped yet…but what does the garden of your imagination look like? Any inspirations to share? [Below, work at the new nursery location in Athens, Georgia, is under way.]
A. Naturally, we’ll feature lots of climbers. Trellises will be important, but we’ll grow through shrubs and small trees a lot, too. I like lush, overflowing informal designs the most. I was lucky to live near Chanticleer Garden and visited regularly for inspiration. Their gardeners are fantastic!
A. The “feet in the shade” recommendation is a bit of a myth. It’s actually all about having ample moisture during the growing season. As long as you can provide that, a good mulch will do fine. Along those same lines, good fertility is important for clematis to perform their best. If your soil is weak (we are on very tired old cotton land here) amend it well with organic matter and consider some bone meal, too. Here’s a neat trick: Plant your clematis at a 45-degree angle–actually lean it over in the hole–to promote more shoots from the base sooner.
Q. I know that you practice IPM, or integrated pest management, limiting chemical usage and otherwise observing green tactics. So if I’m an organic gardener, what do I feed my vines?
A. Fresh compost tea is great. It’s hard to get around here but I’ve read that more garden centers are brewing it so you can go pick up a couple of gallons without having to brew your own. Mulching with materials that break down to feed the soil will help, too.
Q. I confessed to you that I tend to have a pretty brutal clematis pruning system, cutting most back fairly hard (to 12-18 inches), which delays bloom but doesn’t seem to kill anyone. But please, tell us what the right way is, and I’ll try to behave in 2012.
A. All clematis will benefit from annual pruning. The good news is you won’t kill a clematis by pruning it or not pruning it. If you don’t know the variety, use the time of year it blooms as a guide. Those that bloom in early spring on old wood shouldn’t be pruned until after they bloom. Use it as an opportunity to shape or thin the vine as needed only. The ones that bloom in late spring will stay cleaner, look better and bloom more if you cut them back to some fat buds in late winter. How high to do it will vary by variety. You can experiment with different heights or achieve blooms at varying heights if your clematis has enough stems. The ones that bloom later, early to late summer, can be cut way back. Some will die to the ground and should be cleaned up like herbaceous perennials. Others may be cut to a foot or two from the ground.
A. Yes, you can but the ones with the same pruning needs will tend to bloom around the same time. As long as you keep track, you can plant group 2 and 3 clematis together. [An explanation of the group numbers can be found by scrolling down after you click on this page.] You can even grow them onto a group 1 clematis like a montana [inset above, Clematis montana 'Wilsonii.'] I wouldn’t recommend that for the ones called atragenes, though (ones from the species alpina and macropetala). Even if you combine plants that bloom at the same time, the color-blend effect can be marvelous.
Q. On that same thinking: Are there other climbers that can cohabitate with clematis happily (or other vines that work with each other and not clematis)?
A. Clematis are great choices for growing through other plants because most have very light structures. Clematis and climbing roses make great partners. They have similar needs and the clematis won’t harm it’s mate as long as you keep size in mind. Choose a clematis that will hug and flower on the “legs” of the rose or just reach up into the canopy to mingle colors. Larger clematis like tangutica and montana varieties should be avoided. They can be grown safely in trees.
A big climber like ‘New Dawn’ could accommodate a tall viticella hybrid like ‘Etoile Violette’ or ‘Polish Spirit’ in its canopy and a shorty like ‘Climador’ on its legs. Remember, though, any time you increase the density of growth, make sure there’s ample moisture and fertility. Also, choose a rose with good disease resistance. The canopy will get dense with clematis foliage by the end of the season.
Q. Those of us who garden in the North were always told to stick to Canadian Explorer Series roses and a few other stalwarts if we dared plant a climber. I think that’s changing. Anything exciting to recommend?
A. Folks in Zone 4 should really stick with the Explorers for best results. There are plenty of beautiful climbing roses for Zone 5. ‘Eden’ is a great choice, as well as ‘Joseph’s Coat.’ Many of Bill Radler’s new climbers like ‘Morning Magic,’ ‘CanCan’ and ‘Winner’s Circle’ are fine for the cold. ‘Winner’s Circle’ has been likened to a climbing Knockout. ‘Westerland’ [below] is a solid choice, too. That orange bloom would look great with a big purple clematis woven through it.
A. True jasmines are wonderful for fragrance. Trachelospermum is a bit over the top unless you can stand back a few paces. Clematis montana is wonderful in spring. Many of the climbing roses have good fragrance, too. I like ‘Albertine’ and ‘Colette’ a lot. There’s a brand new one called ‘Stormy Weather’ with a rich, delicious fragrance. We’re going to grow lots of it.
Q. Some treasures in your catalog will never make it through my winter—but I’m game to protect them in the cellar, my unheated garage, or the house, even. Recommend some vines we can push the zone limits with.
A. We had great success with Aristolochia in a large pot. Late each spring, we’d set it out by the back porch corner and guide it up wires , where the blooms would dangle overhead and bloom all summer. At the end of the summer we’d just cut it back and keep it in a sunny, protected spot until the next year.
The same can be done for most tropical and subtropical plants. Some will even perform indoors with enough light. Passiflora ‘Lady Margaret’ [left] is a nice compact selection that doesn’t need yards of stem to bloom. Try it in a hanging basket in a sunny window. For others almost hardy enough, let them go completely dormant but roll the container in to protection for winter. Jasminum ‘Fiona Sunrise’ is a good example. That awesome chartreuse foliage is worth a little extra effort and it’s perfectly happy grown in a large pot.
Q. Are there online places you find yourself browsing for inspiration or reference—whether some institution or a blog or photo site? Any bookmarks to share (besides A Way to Garden, tee hee)?
A. I scan many of the gardening forums like Gardenweb, Gardenbuddies, and Davesgarden when I get the time to learn more about growing vines and climbers in other climates. There’s a new community just getting growing from the founder of Dave’s Garden (Dave Whitinger) called All Things Plants that looks promising.
The world’s most complete clematis reference for most species and hybrids is Clematis on the Web . They are very quick to get new selections online. It’s a great advantage they have over print. For fans of our native Viorna Group specifically, try American Bells . Carol Lim has become an authority on the group and is in touch with other experts throughout the U.S. on the subject. For Passiflora, Myles Irvine’s Passiflora Online is the very best. The Dutch National Lonicera Collection, kept by Arjan Laros, has great information and pictures of honeysuckles.
Q. You must have a great library of garden books. Can you recommend any favorites you wouldn’t be without—one about roses, maybe, and a clematis resource, and also your favorite general garden book of all?
A. “Climbing Roses of the World” by Charles Quest-Ritson is quite thorough, but the “American Rose Society’s Encyclopedia of Roses” is excellent and useful specifically for American gardens. Toomey and Leeds’ “An Encyclopedia of Clematis” is my top choice followed by Linda Beutler’s “Gardening With Clematis; Design and Cultivation.” For obscure vines I like the “RHS Manual of Climbers and Wall Plants.” I’d be run out of Athens, Georgia, if I didn’t mention Allan Armitage has a brand new book, “Vines and Climbers.” Fortunately, it’s easy to recommend since it’s loaded with great vines and practical advice.
How to Win the Brushwood Gift Certificates
TWO $30 GIFT CERTIFICATES for your choice of plants on Gardenvines [dot] com are up for grabs, and all you have to do is comment below, answering the question:
What’s your favorite climber–whether a perennial, annual or even a woody shrub like a climbing rose? Tell us about it. (Aphids be damned, I love Lonicera, or honeysuckles, and small-flowered Clematis that scramble up and over shrubs in the garden.)
I know, you’re saying: “Is she nuts? It’s winter. I can’t plant vines now.” But not to worry; the gardenvines [dot] com site allows you to reserve a plant and get a reminder when it’s ready to ship. Even with items not in stock right now, or that you don’t want delivered immediately, this is the best time of year to shop, before those in limited supply are gone.
I’ll pick the winners at random after entries close at midnight, Wednesday, January 11, and email them the good news.
(All plant photos courtesy of Dan Long, Brushwood Nursery.)