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. Alejandro says:

    @Brian: I planted a montana in my zone 5 garden and it’s doing great. I probably planted it too close to a large tree and it took it many years (4 probably) to start flowering but it’s now putting an excellent show. When it comes to clematis there is no such thing as overfeeding, I find. It’s also worth it to do a great job at planting time, I usually dig a 20 x 20 ” hole and mix in tons of organic matter.

    @Islandexile: When I combine clematis in the same area I make sure they belong to the same pruning group, 3 or C being the easiest, cut them all 1 foot above the ground and that’s it. To me Christopher Lloyd’s book on clematis is still the best! That said, I don’t recall having seen 3 clematis together in his garden @ Great Dixter.

  2. LeLo says:

    I love clematis. However, I no longer love the Clematis montana rubens, because here in Portland, Oregon, it just gets so happy, it grows like a fiend. It grew so huge, so large and so high, up a tree, it formed its own wind sail, perfect to capture a brisk winter wind and take down our beautiful cedar fence. Sigh. We’ve rebuilt the posts, and have had to say good bye to the clematis. I’m sticking to the daintier versions now. ;)

  3. margaret says:

    Welcome, Sally. Sorry for your struggle over there. The only non-chemical insecticides I have seen are two at Gardens Alive, and I have not used them (and haven’t battled blister beetles yet). I wish I had an answer for this one. Have you also inquired at your local cooperative extension whether there are any tips specifically for your area about fighting this pest–when to attack, etc?

  4. sally kuisle says:

    Yes,here in beautiful Boulder, Colorado, I have the dreaded clematis blister beetle that for the past 3 yrs has devoured my autumn blooming clematis. I’ve tried Spectracide. It helps a bit, they actually duck and hide. I need “the big plan” since they are obviously doing their whole life cycle right below my beautiful clematis and I really hate using chemicals.
    Please help. sally

  5. Shirley says:

    A query for you experienced clematis growers. Has anyone tried to grow clematis in pots on a second floor deck in SW Vermont? Are there any varieties that might succeed? I understand growing in pots can imitate winter temperatures of one or two zones colder. ‘Twould be nice but….

  6. Robin Mitchell says:

    We have several hybrids and a viticella on our front fence, exposed to sun and frost alike. The frosts get the above-ground parts in late autumn, but we cut the stems off at ground level and they shoot out again in early spring and are rarely fazed by late frosts. One year we left the tops on, thinking they might shelter the young growth, but all we got was an unsightly tangle of old brown and new green.
    Ouir montanas routinely get their leaves frosted, but during the winter the old leaves gradually tumble leaving the stems to sprout in spring. The montanas do best where their feet are in the shade, but do manage reasonably well even in bright sunshine. We never have to wait longer than two years for cuttings to bloom.
    Robin Mitchell, Cadsonbury Plant Breeders.

  7. margaret says:

    Welcome, Robin. Half a world away, your advice and experience with the clematis nevertheless sounds very wise. I think they are a mess left to regrow from the tops, too, and do a regular cutback as you suggest here, too I hope that we will see you soon again, and thanks for the advice.

  8. Robin Mitchell says:

    Thanks, Margaret. My remarks apply only to hybrids, by the way – our montanas regularly shed their leaves with the onset of winter, but we leave pruning them until after they’ve flowered. Robin M, Cadsonbury, New Zealand

  9. wkeithscott says:

    HI ALL: I hardly recall, planting an ‘clematis’ that lived, or got marched over in garden developments, maybe now I’m ready to initiate something, discretionary ‘again’. They are sensitive, and to find an spot, for an few to shine ‘Polish Spirit’, [& few friends] along with an ‘white Kousa Dogwood’, the smaller weeper one.

    Could be, in an ‘garden frontal section nearby’, as an ‘piece de resistance’, I’ll think about it for there is not much room, nearly have to ‘pry them into such a selective spot’, perhap’s with an ‘small cedar wood lattice motif’, and benching spot to muse about excellence, and color scheme. An perfect mix, but running out of room, but I can dream, can’t I. + k (Zone5, Canada)

  10. Margaret says:

    Welcome, WKeithScott. I am always prying things into tight spots here, too, so I understand. :) Glad to see you, and see you soon again, I hope.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Meryl. If I recall correctly the varieties with Clematis texensis “blood” in them are the most apt to mildew, but any plant can by July/August etc. if too thick and overgrown or growing in a place without good air circulation — particularly if there are hot, dry periods of stress prior. Thinning the vines more in spring when pruning, looking after watering to avoid stress earlier in the season, and sometimes relocating a troubled vine to a more open spot are possible solutions. The British Clematis Society has some info.

  11. Sandra says:

    I have all of these with the exception of ‘Polish Spirit’. I am an avid clematis fan. One can’t have enough of them.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Sandra. Sounds like you have a great assortment — I want to add more, since they just bring extra enjoyment to an area, don’t they? See you soon again, I hope.

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