MANY OF US GROW OR HAVE GROWN SWEET AUTUMN CLEMATIS, C. terniflora (also sometimes labeled C. paniculata). Though sweet-smelling enough, it is anything but sweetly behaved, and it’s hardly the only choice among Clematis for fall interest. Frankly some of the others, particularly the C. tangutica group that includes ones like the guy above, hold far greater interest for me both in flower now and also later, with their silvery, fluffy seedheads.
That’s not to say that C. tangutica cultivars aren’t beasts of a vine, too. As with C. terniflora, I cut these back hard in early spring, to less than a foot above the ground. They nevertheless produces a rampant amount of growth, to more than 10 feet tall, and around mid- to late August start to open up an increasing number of charming yellow bells: lemons with their peels unfurled in quarters. (If I didn’t hack it in spring, but simply clean out the dead stuff a little, it starts blooming for me in June.)
I know I’m being imprecise, but frankly I cannot tell several of the good tangutica cultivars apart. I think mine’s ‘Gravetye Variety,’ with deepest maroon anthers, and other good cultivars to look for include ‘Bill MacKenzie’ and ‘Golden Harvest.’
My tangutica type doesn’t cover itself in the sweet-scented froth of flowers of C. terniflora, a Japanese native that’s got a reputation as a terrible thug, or like its native American, far better-behaved near-lookalike C. virginiana, which grows wild at the woodland edges near here and throughout the Eastern part of the country. The yellow-flowered C. tangutica types are more of a curiosity item, the kind of clematis you want to go up and inspect, each flower a real oddball. You know I love odd vines.
Though it started its show in summer, my purple ‘Polish Spirit’ clematis (below) is still at it, by the way. Yup; month after month, nonstop since late June. And ‘Duchess of Albany’ is back in bloom, admittedly having rested quite a bit along the way. It’s almost like the Duchess woke up just in time to greet ‘Gravetye Variety,’ and perhaps compete for my affection before the two retire for another season.