giveaway: vines q&a with brushwood’s dan long

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.

Small-flowered clematis and disease-resistant roses are hot these
 days. People want performance in the garden without trouble or
chemicals to get there.

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!

Q. One always hears the phrase “face in the sun, feet in the shade” when asking for advice about how to make clematis happy, but there must be more
to it.  What pointers do you have to share?

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.

Q. Can I combine multiple clematis on the same structure or support for
 extended bloom? I assume it has to do with similar pruning schedules, but
 which ones live happily ever after together?

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

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

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.

Q. If it’s fragrance I’m after, what are your top climber picks?

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.)

January 4, 2012


  1. Nancy N. says

    Since I have a shady/semi-shady garden, what I’m able to personally grow is somewhat limited. But I seem to have the most luck with red honeysuckle and climbing hydrangea. I am trying my hand in the few somewhat sunny pockets with clematis, we’ll see how that goes.

  2. Ken Newman says

    I hesitate to list my favorite vines. The mention of them always invokes a love or hate reaction,(mostly hate). They are aggressive, invasive and require constant pruning. Over the years they have defeated every arbor and trellis I’ve grown them on. They are our Trumpet vines ( Campsis radicans ). At times I swear you can actually watch them grow. When laden with flowers and swarmed by hummingbirds they are magnificent and well worth the effort. Our Trumpets are legacy vines started almost 40 years ago from rooted suckers taken from an ancient massive vine growing behind my wife’s parents home. We have taken transplants with us through two moves. The current batch are now ten years old and thriving upon several sections of split rail fence that separate pasture areas from our raised beds and kitchen garden row crops. In a few years they will pull down some of the split rail and we are already planning more substantial replacements. And while I’d never bring them anywhere near out more formal flower beds,( I think a distance of 500 feet is safe, maybe), they are still my favorites and our home wouldn’t be complete without them.

  3. Sandy Hutchison says

    I haven’t found a spot for it in my New York garden yet, but I still miss the William Baffin in my NJ garden. I’m not sure it was officially a climber, but it did need good support to avoid flopping its long canes all over the place, and bloomed best off the laterals. I fantasize about cutting down some of the (many) trees in front of our house, putting up a split rail fence, and planting William Baffins along it, maybe with some black-eyed susans for late summer contrast.

  4. says

    I loved the interview and maybe this would be a great venue for you to continue ? It’s hard us gardeners that do “everything”, not the same as the specialist, collectors. It’s so great to get specific advice ( so clearly sought in your interview) from the experts in specific fields. May I suggest, maybe a winter visit to California to visit the largest rose collection in the US and the collector, Greg Lowery or ” Vintage Gardens” in Sebastopol Ca.. Also Rhododendron expert Paul Molinari of Enjoy Rhododendron, Occidental, Ca.
    Oh, I have so many favorite vines… hum I would have to say my current favorite is the climbing rose Le Marque a noisette that usually is blooming here in December. Also the wisteria “Cookes double purple”.

  5. Rene' says

    Thank you for the interview. It was very informative and timely. I have been thinking since the fall to plant a climbing rose and a clematis in the spring. I have two now, a Niobe which is lovely and another one that is large and magenta in color but i don’t know what type. I’ve always struggled in knowing when to prune it (so I haven’t) but now from your interview I do.

  6. says

    I know its not very interesting, but I love clematis, too. My grandmother had 4 varieties growing up various out buildings on our farm. Can’t beat a nostalgic plant.

  7. says

    I love the raspberry-ish fragrance and rich cerise pink color of Zephirine Drouhin a climbing bourbon rose that is growing on my garden trellis. I have been looking at Bluelight Clematis to grow with it but I’m still thinking of the pairing possibilities so I’d love to win your giveaway. The interview was so helpful and interesting, thank you, Margaret. I’d love to see more of this type of thing.

  8. Grandmama says

    We have lots of land but most of it is woods and almost all is very shady so our options are limited. We have several clematis which do well in semishade and a relatively new Autumn Clematis which I hope to see bloom more in its second year. My favorite is climbing hydrangea which is slow to start but actually prefers shade and will grow on trees without killing them. They have interesting bark and lovely lace cap flowers and can grow to 50 feet – no pruning required!

  9. Marsha says

    I love my New Dawn climber; it has been blooming its care-free head off for years over my garage door in the Bronx, and I always find at least one bird’s nest hidden within at the end of the year. A few years ago, I planted a ‘Rooguchi’ clematis in front of the canes, and this past year, I had quite a few blooms along with those wonderful silvery spider-like seed pods I had seen on the clematis plants at Wave Hill.

    Thanks for your blog and photos–I always learn so much!

  10. Connie Prain says

    Hard to choose my favourite climbing plant, however old fashioned fragrant sweetpeas would be my first choice. I loved them in my grandmother and my mother’s garden and so have grown them since by first garden some 45 years ago. I sometimes save my own seed The rose Westerland, is also a favourite. It never fails to bloom i’ts chameleon blossoms reaching upward to the gutters on the house. This year, blossoms continued into November. My photo of Westerland on my computer’s desktop lets me enjoy it’s beauty all year. I would love to win this giveaway, Clematis’s would be wonderful.

  11. says

    My all time favorite climbing plant is the Passiflora caerulea – Passion Flower. I absolutely love the white and blue flowers and how it climbs with ease. It makes me so happy to see how my garden had no grass, flowers or vegetables and over the years it has transformed with actual grass, a flower and vegetable garden that includes herbs, strawberries, kumquat and meyer lemon trees, tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, and string beans. This year I plan to grow double the vegetables and will enjoy every minute of composting, planting, picking and propagating. Yahooo!!!

  12. Joanie Stevens says

    I love Morning Glories – especially the old fashioned blue with white and Grandpa Ott which is purple-y magenta. They look good winding through perennials AND climbing on trellises!

  13. Marge says

    My favorite climber is a clematis called, “Betty Corning.” Number two is also a
    clematis called, “Piilu.” If you live in the mid Hudson Valley of New York be sure to
    visit, “The Climbery” in Livingston, NY. which is a garden that is open to the public, by appointment, and there are over 5000 clematis.

  14. Doug says

    I love the climbers and live with many of them. Hard to choose one, but, it being January, I have to go with:

    Hydrangea anomala petiolaris (climbing hydrangea)
    It’s exfoliating bark and sinuous form are beautiful through the winter, as are its buds in spring, its flowers (and glossy leaves) in summer, and its buttery yellow foliage in winter. A truly 365-day garden star.

    Also love Lonicera “Dropmore Scarlet” (yes, aphids be damned) and Clematis henryii.

  15. Beverly says

    The petite Cypress Vine is my favorite climber for the hummingbirds it brings to my garden, for its delicate filigree foliage, for its automatic return by self sowing, for the intensity of red in the starry trumpets and for its ability to smother the trellis each summer. (Ipomoea)

    Close second….. Clematis ‘Roguchi’ whose flowers imitate a 1962 cobalt blue hairdo.

  16. Rebecca says

    Although I have many favorites that I grow…. Akebia quinata is absolutely a vine I would adore the most if I could grow it. (it is invasive where I live, even though I have not seen it at all growing around here, I respect guidelines on invasive species). I think the leaves are a lovely happy shape and who could resist chocolate scented purple flowers!

  17. Roxanne says

    I have to agree. I’ve had my Lonicera for 15 years now – very little care with so many happy returns! Nice to look at and smells wonderful!

  18. Pat Crouse says

    I have two old-fashion climbing roses that bloom in the spring. They are pink and smell wonderful. Also have three clemantis; names have been lost along the way. One should do much better since it will get more sun with the loss of our dogwood tree. Tried sweetpeas this past year but they didn’t do well. Always grow morning glories with one of the clematis. Growing climbing plants on the house shed and garage adds another dimension to my garden.

  19. Carole Clarin says

    I’ve been trying to grow a climbing vine on my arbor and have only managed to have a very sparse honeysuckle-would love to add to it! Also, I may have killed my daughter’s clematis by pruning too much so I owe her one!

  20. Michael says

    In our zone 4/5 climate in Montana, I am fond of any vine that persists through winter and deer browsing. Campsis radicans meets the first criterion, but the deer ensure that it never gets above knee level. Elmer Swenson’s table grapes ‘Swenson Red’ and ‘Edelweiss’ are bone hardy here, but also vulnerable to deer (and the fruit is a delicacy to bears). The rose ‘Alchymist’ sort of functions like a climber, but tends to lose part or all of its canes in very cold years. We’re trialing the honeysuckles ‘Dropmore Scarlet’ and ‘Goldflame’, and should know more by next summer. For us, the winner is the native Clematis columbiana.

  21. Gayle says

    I love climbing vines of all kinds, but I make sure to plant Grandpa Ott morning glories every year; they are wonderful. I also love them growing in and through a large ‘Jude the Obscure’ rose, which has the most incredible fruity fragrance of any rose I have ever grown. Yellow Lady Banks Rose is another favorite and would be great with a blue/purple clematis growing through it, I think. But it’s hard to think of a vine I don’t like . . . I would grow them over and up everything in my garden if I could. Thanks for the great interview.

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