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.)

  1. naomi d. says:

    I do love honeysuckle, as invasive as it can be. I remember carefully picking the whole flower as a child, pinching the end off, and pulling the stamen over my tongue for that little bit of sweet.

  2. bill says:

    I love my clematis, but I really love climing white roses on the trellis. There is nothing quite like walking under them when in full bloom. It is lke a dream.

  3. Tori Matton says:

    I absolutely love clematis but planted 2 different types around some columns and can’t figure out how to prune them since they have different schedules. Am sooo excited Brushwood is moving to Athens cause I visit there regularly! Such a warm winter here in Annapolis, think many of my spring bloomers will die of frost. So excited you’re coming to Baltimore – just a hop, skip, and jump from my house in Annapolis.

  4. Clare Haugen says:

    I would have a difficult time picking my favorite vine! The vines I have now came with this property and they’re flourishing. One clematis is near the patio and blooms all summer until the first HARD frost. Another clematis is growing up into a red Maple tree. A large honeysuckle near the patio brings in the hummingbirds. In the past I’ve grown Morning Glories and Sweet Pea. I’ve also had a Hydrangea vine growing up a trellis.Flowering vines are great space savers.

  5. Robin says:

    I love Clematis texensis, Actinidia kolomikta (variegated kiwi vine) and Akebia quinata, to name a few. I know the Akebia can be a little too rampant, but I don’t mind keeping it held back. Some plants are just worth it.

  6. Lynn Cavo says:

    I love clematis and enjoy many in my garden. Favorites include texensis ‘pagoda’ growing through a little leaf elm, Duchess of Albany (pink tulip-like flowers) supported by an arborvitae, and Roguchi, a diminutively blue bell shaped flower growing up our pergola. These are but three favorites of many, many favorite clematis varieties I grow including Etoile Violette growing with New Dawn roses on the pergola.

  7. winter says:

    Agh, these photos made me drool…..
    As much as I love the ornamentals the vine I am most excited about at the moment is the lowly hop. Home-brew here I come!

  8. Bette says:

    Do grape vines count, we have concord grapes I enjoy watching them grow and reach such great growth in one season and produce such beautiful fruit. Not to forget the wine I am drinking now!

  9. Laura W says:

    I love my Colette climbing rose! It has beautiful flower form and color and is wonderfully fragrant and, at six years old, it is really covering its arbor nicely!!

  10. Jeanne in AZ says:

    Catsclaw! It can take the heat in Phoenix and never dies off if it freezes in late December or January (which it will!!).

  11. Dina says:

    Autumn Clematis is my favorite, in combination with bush clover, when the vine intertwines with the shrub at the end of August, it’s spectacular!

  12. Marcia says:

    I don’t know the “correct” name for it, but it’s a tiny little climbing plant that looks exactly like candy corn – so pretty and delicate.

  13. Cinda says:

    I love Clematis and have my eye on a Black-Eyed Susan Vine. But, having just gone through the beauty of fall color (well, okay, it’s been a few months), I have to say that one of my favorite climbers (that nobody would actually plant as it does well enough on its own) is Woodbine/Virginia Creeper. I love the beautiful red in fall, up sides of trees and across rock faces along the Blue Ridge Parkway!

  14. tracy says:

    I planted a climbing hydrangea last summer that I have high hopes for this year. So, though my autumn-flowering clematis garners the most attention, my fave of the moment is my hope for the future — the hydrangea.

  15. Barbara says:

    I love clematis especially my autumn clematis. After a trip to the cape I first fell in love with the little white flowers that provide such a wonderful scent in the fall. Now with several growing along my fence I love how even the dried flowers provide me with wonderful winter interest in the garden.

  16. Elisa says:

    I haven’t had many vines but I love them, would love to learn more about them, and would love to have them around the garden. One of my favorites has always been Passion flowers – just about any variety. Friends in Portugal have them growing all over the exterior of their granite walls. Gorgeous.

  17. Susan says:

    I don’t think i could pick one favorite, but at the top of the list would be Wisteria sinensis or chinensis, Rosa banksiae Lutea, Clematis montana rubens, and New Dawn Rose

  18. My favorite is a deep red Clematis I rescued from a corner of a plot taken over by hostas when I bought the house. I noticed it come up for two years, not blooming. But it has thrived on the fence of my garden when I moved it to more light and water. I also have a climbing hydrangea that has been growing for four years, but I expect this is its blooming year, since I have cut the privet that blocked its light.

  19. Carla D'Anna says:

    I have a pink flowering clematis growing up through a red leafed Japanese Maple. I love when my maple has pink flowers! LOL, someone always falls for that. This is my favorite.

    I don’t have one but I love the sweet autumn clematis vines.

    I have 2 trumpet vines on old cedar trunks (7 or 8 feet tall). I hope I can keep them under control.

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