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.
Another 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.