WHEN I SEE ‘POLISH SPIRIT’ CLAMBERING up and through the golden Chamaecyparis lately (above), I realize I have a serious Clematis shortage around here. Not in the Chamaecyparis, specifically, which the vivid purple ‘Polish Spirit’ is doing a good job festooning all by itself, but in lots of other places where things are looking a little dull.

I’ve mentioned my penchant for growing vines up and over otherwise-dull shrubbery, and in doing so not long ago I guess I got to realizing I was barely making use of a fraction of the opportunities.


An accidental favorite of mine is ‘Duchess of Albany’ (above, and detail, bottom) a Victorian era hybrid of C. texensis. I say accidental because I thought I was buying its cousin, another texensis type with much deeper-colored flowers called ‘Gravetye Beauty,’ named at the turn of the 20th Century for the home of William Robinson, the great English garden writer. But when she bloomed…the beauty was a duchess, and I didn’t have the heart to toss her majesty in the heap. With the help of a big spiral of jute twine, she cloaks a post on my back porch.

I purchased the C. viticella hybrid called ‘Polish Spirit’ (top) because of its name, frankly, as did Martha Stewart when we both first heard of the cultivar. ‘Polish Spirit’ wasn’t named for Martha, but certainly could have been. It was introduced a full century later than ‘Gravetye Beauty’ or ‘Duchess of Albany,’ in 1984. If you can’t find it, its cousin ‘Etoile Violette’ is another 3-inch, rich-purple possibility….and come to think of it, it’s around here somewhere, too. Yikes: It was climbing in the big bottlebrush buckeye that a storm took down last week, so I’ll have to go rescue it.

venosa-violacea-detailAnother viticella hybrid, ‘Venosa Violacea,’ bears a distinctive star of white in its otherwise purple tepals (above). This one’s a little bigger-flowered than the others (4 inches wide, perhaps, not 3). Now three weeks into its bloom cycle, it’s just getting stronger, and in fact like all those cited here, will often go for much of the summer.

All are similarly easy to care for: Since they flower on new growth, cut them back hard in earliest spring each year, to about 18-24 inches above ground level, just above where you see a good number of fat buds ready to pop. You have to be brutal with such clematis, or else. I recently discovered a good write-up of such no-nonsense clematis-care instructions at the Brushwood Nursery website, along with more than 200 kinds of clematis (and 350 garden vines over all). For the former discovery, thank goodness. For the latter, oh dear. Seems as if all my missed opportunities for vines up shrubs (and posts, and trellises, and trees, and perennial borders, and walls…) can easily be filled.


  1. Carol, May Dreams Gardens says:

    Good info and thanks for the link to Brushwood Nurseries info. Oh dear is right, why do I suddenly feel lacking when it comes to clematis. I’ve got several, but obviously need more!

  2. leslie land says:

    Oh Margaret, how right you are about Brushwood, the land of temptation for sure —

    and how right you are about the clematis: can’t have too many! – until (almost) all of them get wilt, as has happened to me this year. I whacked all the sick ones down, except for the gorgeously blooming Will Goodwin whatabeautifulblue, dammit, in the golden elder, but I’ve never been able to figure out how to give clematis the air circulation that helps prevent fungus and also have them winding and twining among other things in the fashion we both love. It’s usually just one or two, which come back ok the next year, and and species types are usually immune, but this year it’s a plague.

    It’s probably the whacky weather – too hot, then too cold and damp – but given how great your plants are looking it appears you’ve solved the problem. How do you do it??

  3. Kitt says:

    Oh, I do miss the clems in my old garden, which were just reaching their peak when I left them. Just one in the new garden, foolishly planted inside a decorative support only three feet high and now completely engulfing it.

    Next spring it will get a hard prune and be retrained on a more suitable, tall trellis gate, and be joined by more clems.

    One of the best things I’ve found for training clematis on fences is a superfine trellis netting made of black plastic. Staple it to the fence and you can hardly see it, but it’s easy for the clems to grab onto and climb. Home Depot and most garden centers carry it. Ross brand is the most common.

  4. margaret says:

    @Leslie: What did I do? Nada. Just lucky (this year).

    @Writermom: Tell it it had the dreaded clematis wilt, and that you were just cutting off infected parts to save its life. Seriously, though, I have broken all the “rules” for one reason or the other, like when utility work had to be done unexpectedly that required moving something woody in the heat of summer, e.g. Keep an eye on it and maybe provide a little shade and regular drinks?

  5. margaret says:

    Welcome, John, the Butcher of Atlanta! Writermom and I are glad for the company (and I suspect there are some blade-wielding others among us, too, who have hacked things ferociously despite the conventional wisdoms to the contrary). We’re glad for the new of your success. Love to hear of successful experiments.

  6. writermom says:

    As usual, I did something today in the garden, and then when I was finished, read about the proper way to do it! But maybe I didn’t botch it up too bad.

    I got aggravated with my purple jackmanii clematis this morning and whacked it down almost to the ground, but did intuitively stop just above the healthy buds. We’ve had a nasty baking hot drought here in northeastern North Carolina for several weeks, and its leaves had become scorched and shriveled. Usually I cut it back hard in February or so, but it’s the first time I’ve ever attacked it in July.

    Do you think I may have killed it?

  7. John says:

    To writermom: Don’t panic about whacking down your jackmanii, I did the same thing here in Atlanta because mine was growing on a 5 foot trellis that just wasn’t big enough and it had become a big unruly mess. We too are in a perpetual drought (the weatherman yesterday said that it would take a whopping 34 inches of rain to just get out of our 3 year drought!!!) so a lot of my garden is quite crispy! Anyway, my clem shot straight back up in a period of a month, and I’ll bet yours will too if you just keep an eye on it and keep it watered. Also, I did the same brutal treatment to my Roguuchi clem. with the same results and it looks better than ever. Makes me wonder if the pruning guidelines are really all that important(?) Good luck!

  8. writermom says:


    Glad to see another Southern gardener. Yes, we have the benefit of a longer growing season, but in summers like this, it’s more like a longer dying season. Tomatoes that showed such promise withering; squash curling up its leaves by noon and bearing little warty dry things…

    We had several inches of good rain last night, but now that the heat is back up in the 90s, the soil is dry as ever. Guess I’ll go water more.

  9. Ken Smith says:

    Nice clematis photos. I esp like the ‘Dutchess of Albany’…somewhat like ‘Hanajima’ in the petal structure except that ‘Hanajima’ droops. But it is the twists and curls in both that show depth and subtle changes in light. And that transfers well to a photo.

  10. margaret says:

    Welcome, Dooryarder. I thought they were temperamental but now just grown them pretty easily where the soil is good and they get decent light and such. No tricks. I do start with bigger plants than I used to…no longer the little slips of things that were so common for awhile. And I am brutal with the pruning, as mentioned, with these summer bloomers. So no real answer…

  11. Dooryarder says:

    I’m so jealous. I have no luck with Clematis and I’m such a sucker for vines. I have Dutchman’s Pipe coming out of my ears but can’t grow Clematis for the life of me. Three years ago I planted ‘Niobe’ and enjoyed a few brief blossons for a season or two. Now the plant has vanished…what gives? Last fall I planted Clematis Henryi under a fence – it’s just sitting there looking forlorn. What am I doing wrong?

  12. Rick says:

    The clematis growing saying I heard from my grandmother growing up was “They like their feet in the shade and their heads in the sun.” Cute trick, but can be done. Plant in the garden where the roots are shaded past 1pm, and mulch is necessary as well. Train the vine to grow to a southern or western exposure for maximum sunlight. And if you have already planted and the roots are not naturally shaded, mulch!

  13. Betty says:

    The other thing that clematis roots love is to grow their roots under stone, which also seems to give them a cool root run. And they like to eat, and I have heard they like egg shells at their roots. Has anyone else heard that?

    I too am grateful for the reference to a new place to find unusual varieties!!! Thanks Bunches!!!

  14. Brian G. says:

    I just bought two Montana ‘Rubens’ for my zone 5 garden. A bit of a no-no since Montana are supposed to only be hardy to zone 6 but what the hay. I’ll keep their roots cool in the summer and warm in the winter with lots of mulch and cross my fingers. If they don’t come back next spring I’ll only be out 28 bucks, right? I like to live on the edge. Anyone have any luck with planting out of zone?

  15. margaret says:

    @Brian: I say it will be OK. I feel like the zones have shifted anyhow, and I grow so many more “Zone 6” plants that I did in my “5B” garden 20 years ago nowadays.

    @Titania: Welcome, and thanks for sharing A Way to Garden with others who visit your mysterious digital garden (as I just did!). A quick trip to Queensland with plants whose faces I mostly do not recognize…but now I am back.

  16. titania says:

    Margaret, Away to garden is a fantastic blog.
    You have heaps of information. Your newsletter is great and I will get lots of information so I live on a different Continent and a different climate. I wish you well. I put you on my bloglist if this is all right with you.

  17. Terri says:

    I am nuts for texensis and viticella varieties and for years thought I was having no luck at all when I planted 6 cuties on the east fence of my property. It’s got lots of yews and magnolias along that fence as well, so I figured no bloom meant there was just too much competition- until, that is, we were invited over for drinks to our east-of-us neighbours- where low and behold the clematis were blooming their heads off all to the benefit of our rarely in town friends. I am now trying to tie their early vines to my side of the fence. It is so funny really, as the neighbours who have no idea of what’s in their border (they have a gardner) thought the blooms were from their side.I still let two plants do the cross border trip to please them. But so true h they grow for the light!

  18. islandexile says:

    I have a dim memory of Christoper Lloyd, writing in Country Life, mentioning an old trick of planting 3 together to spectacular effect. Has anyone encountered this in the flesh, so to speak? I have clematis anxiety and have never experimented with this technique.

  19. margaret says:

    Hi, Islandexile. The only issues with multiple vines on the same support is when you have to prune. It would be challenging to disentangle them and selectively prune one very hard and one not and such if they are all intertwined. So as long as the pruning can be managed, so worry (e.g., all three of the clematis I showed get the same treatment in pruning, so they’d be easy grown together). If the plants have different needs, it would just be a lot more work. And the really vigorous ones (like montana rubens, or the sweet autumn clematis, or even yellow-flowered tangutica) probably don’t play well with others (now are they good companions for shrubs as they will engulf them).

  20. Diane says:

    I have a very beautiful “polish spirit” clematis. Every year, it climbs quickly and cascades over my fence.

    This year, some is attacking the flowers. No matter what I try to use to control the infestation, new blooms are half eaten up within 24 hours.

    Is there anything I can do to stop this?


  21. margaret says:

    Welcome, Diane. Other than the occasional and mysterious issues with Clematis wilt, these guys are not usually loaded with pests, so hard to say what you have.
    Sometimes slugs will eat young plants (not your situation), as they will ANY plant, it seems.
    Though I have never seen it, there is a so-called blister beetle that likes Clematis. The best photos of blister beetles I could find to show you were here. Are the leaves also being eaten? I don’t think beetles would be selective to simply eat blossoms, so this seems unlikely.
    So I’m voting for earwigs (or mice, and don’t get me started on the flower-bud-eating antics of mice and even chipmunks in my garden on various kinds of plants).
    Earwigs are apt to eat anything, it seems to me, and feed at night, so is the eating going on overnight? I was able to track down a decent earwig photo for you on the British Clematis Society website, and though their pests and issues can be different, we have earwigs on both sides of the ocean. If you rooted around in the daylight nearby, you’d probably find evidence of them asleep.
    Have a scout and let us know.

  22. Dee/reddirtramblings says:

    I bought several new clematis this year. I love the way they transform everything they climb, and I’m trying them in lots of new spaces.~~Dee

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