up and over: more clematis on more shrubs

more-clematis-for-shrubsI AM IN THE BUNK-BED STAGE OF MY GARDEN CAREER: stacking plants on top of one another, layering the hell out of every square inch rather than making one more king-sized bed I don’t need and can’t maintain. Nowhere is this more on my mind lately than with the opportunities to use vines. At a plant sale the other day, all the seller had to say as I eyed an unfamiliar yellow-flowered Clematis was, “A customer told me he was growing those up his winterberry hollies.” I was sold. Give me some of those…and those, and those, too.


I’ve told you how to do this before with various shrubs, to get two seasons of interest from the same space: with Clematis, and also the oddball called Codonopsis.

After seeing Brushwood Nursery’s selection of vines at the Trade Secrets show last Saturday near me (just a few of the astonishing 400 or so in the online catalog), I’d have to say proprietor Dan Long has something for every shrub, and then some. Wow. Though I had already added four or five new clematis to the garden the last two weeks, I bought five more from Brushwood’s booth, good-sized plants for very fair prices, and tomorrow they will get their homes here.

And then I went back to my place and emailed the very best gardener that I know, the expert among all experts, about Brushwood. I gave him some links to various departments on their site (knowing his tastes in plants just a little, tee hee). And here came the email reply:

“Wow. That’s some list. I want to try everything. How is it that we haven’t known about this???”

My sentiments, exactly. But now we do. So many shrubs (and even trees), so many possibilities (including ‘Polish Spirit’ up and over Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Crippsii,’ below).

clematis polish spirit in chamaecyparis

  1. Heidi says:

    Gertrude Jekyll also did a lot of ‘bunk bed gardening’ (although I’m sure she had another name for it) especially with clematis, layering them over shrubs, etc. at the back of her mixed borders. One can never have too much clematis!
    -Heidi Lewis
    Fredericksburg, VA

  2. Linda says:

    Any tips on how to get it to actually grow into the shrub? I’ve been trying to get Jackmanii to grow into my Rosa Rubrifolia for years, but it always runs in the other direction, along the ground.

  3. Amy Harris says:

    Brushwood nursery has such a wonderful selection of clematis. Clematis montana Rubens is absolutely lovely with pale pink flowers, will grow quickly, and cover a fence — or prob’ly anything else — with small star-like flowers that on a hot day really do smell like vanilla. Heaven! And I’ve found their horticulturalist very helpful with advice.
    Linda, I do very gently tie it initially to encourage it in the ‘right’ direction.

  4. Squirrelgardens says:

    Ironically I just spent Sunday transplanting clemetis to a new area. Recently purchased some newer varieties from Brushwood Nurseries. This blog and the posts have really inspired me again. I think that the practical can do approach is why all the information is so valuable.

  5. Leslie says:

    I discovered Brushwood while looking for the American native groundnut (which they have) and then spent way to much time on their site. The plants arrived a bit ago in fantastic shape. I was so pleased to see them at Trade Secrets and got more plants. Too bad that they will be moving to Georgia. Hope they still keep growing plants for us zone 5 people.

  6. woody plant girl says:

    I planted a ‘Zepherine Drouhan’ rose and intended for her to nestle among the climbing hydrangea on my fence next to my garden gate with ‘Polish Spirit’ taking over the billing later. Well, of course, I’m still building garden walls and ignored that little menage a trois and Zephereine expressed that she was too glorious to be held back, took over roosting in the ‘Pink Princess’ crabapple next too her and took some of her buddies with her. They arranged themselves far better than I could. Yes, I do need to prune them back but I hesitate to spoil their work.

  7. Kathy says:

    I’m stacking, layering and I can’t stop buying more plants, even my neighbor’s fences aren’t safe anymore, they all look like they need a vine. After buying plants over the weekend I was planning another shopping trip mid-week. Your website fuels my addiction, you are an enabler of the best kind.

  8. Jeanne says:

    Where to start! I love the concept of “buck bed gardening”! Like you and the rest of the commenters, I love clematis! I tuck them everywhere in my small garden. I have an autumn clematis (blooms in fall) along the fence of my veggie garden–gives me a wave of flowers just as everything else is dying. I have a Bee’s Jubilee and a jamanii that grow up my Mme. Alfred Carriere rose, which in turn has climbed to the top of the neighbor’s hawthorne tree (!). Inspired by V. Sackville-West, I have a bush-type clematis in a pot in the garden (she had a C. alpina in an urn in her garden–the flowers just draped out of it).

    Sigh, so lovely.

  9. Janice says:

    With our normally mild winters here, vines like clematis grow happily for many years. We have a few really old standard sized fruit trees in the neighbourhood, with old-fashioned clematis climbing right up the trunks and into the branches — really spectacular, and takes the bunk bed idea to a whole other level (10-12 ft up!). Some of the clematis are at least 40 yrs old! i don’t have any that old, but do have a clematis tangutica that i planted when i first moved into this house. It scrambles quite happily across our patio wall and has great seed fluff-balls that we leave on for the wrens and finches to put in their nests

  10. Brian G. says:

    I will try the bamboo stake tip. I am trying to get a ‘Montana Rubens’ to go up a cedar and it isn’t playing ball.

    Am I dreaming or is there a frost alert for tonight!? This is my first spring time frost, how damaging can these be? Will I lose my newly planted perennials and flower buds?

  11. boodely says:

    Oooo yay! Your post couldn’t have come at a better time as I have 3 clematis sitting on the back patio waiting for their spots.

  12. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    Margaret, I think I had more control than you Saturday, even though I combed over Trade Secrets for four hours. Most of the day, I was just carrying around a single $7. odd colored hen and chicken called Orostachys Iwarenge “Dunce-Caps”. But then I came across the WONDERFUL iron creations of Cory, the son of the people that own Old Farm Nursery. I have many of his pieces in my garden. They are not just plant stakes, or things for vines to grow up on, but ART works, and “winter interest”, for a reasaonable price. Most under $100. I saw a 7foot tall plant stake, with a welded obelisk on top, with four iron curles coming down from it. Kind of like a three dimensional fleur-de-lis. That “Magic Wand” now graces a spot in the back border. Anyway, it seems that many people from Trade Secrets FOLLOWED me to Beardsley Gardens in Sharon, To Old Farm Nursery in Lakeville, and then to Salisbury Garden Center where I finally picked up the Caster Bean plants.
    As for the Clematis, I have bought in the past the expensive , and the cheap. I had a wonderful pair from The Home Depot, that were probably two for $10. They were not what the package said, but flowers continuously from mid summer to fall. A couple of years ago, the moles voles, and mice that live here ate through them, and that was it. Now I buy the cheaper ones (around $10. each) so it they are eaten , I don’t care that much. BUT i have a great Clematis called Clematis tangutica. It has a yellow bell shaped flower that points down. After the flower is gone, it has the most beautiful feather like stamens that look great in winter arrangements. I also have the Autumn clematis, Betty Corning and Nelly Moser.

  13. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    Brian G. …you will NOT loose any of the NEW perennials that you planted this year. Mostly ALL perennials that have naturally emerged, from the ground, can take a light frost. It is the tender annuals, and plants labeled “Half Hardy Perennials” (plants that live for may seasons in warmer climates) that might be damaged. Go out , and cover them with an old bed sheet, or some plastic bags. BUT uncover them tomorrow morning, or they might be damaged by a build up of to much heat under the covering. Annuals seem to get damaged when the temperature hits 28 degrees. Late this afternoon, I covered what I could, and many hanging baskets, and potted plants have come into my garage. Good Luck!

  14. margaret says:

    Welcome, Lisa. That’s how it starts: Just a small space, just a few plants…and then you will end up like me. :) Watch out! I just enjoyed a visit to your blog, and especially the “Monkey Business” cooking/craft project (“Peace, love and monkey business” is a theme-song refrain here…you covered all the bases on that one, thank you). I hope we see you soon again.

    @All of you: I hope everyone up this way eluded severe frost damage last night; at just before 5 AM here, it was 37…so not so bad. I had tucked away all the tender things, the way Fred describes that he does.

  15. Vince says:

    How close together can you plant clematis? I have 3, but they are all solos. And what does it mean to prune “hard” after flowering?

    1. margaret says:

      @Vince: I would say no closer than 18 inches, because they live a long time (if all goes well). Even 2 feet. As for prune hard, it means cut it most of the way down (which is what I do with most of mine early each spring), to about 12 or 18 inches.

  16. Brian G. says:

    Thanks for the tip, Fred. Unfortunately I am a weekender and couldn’t do the sheet thing but it looks like it didn’t get as cold as expected. Let’s hope that was the last cold blast till next fall!

  17. Ted says:

    My fave for growing amidst other plants: Rougchi and Alionushka. Both are fairly short, not very ‘viney’ and have well displayed flowers. I think of them as the ulitimate knitters.

  18. Lolo says:

    I owe you thanks (blame) for the link to Brushwood. I promptly spent a hundred dollars on half a dozen vines and roses that I do not need. I was relieved (disappointed) that so much of their stock was sold out or I would have had much more to thank (blame) you for. My aching back and hands are looking forward to the day when I will relax and enjoy (wish for even more) the beauty of my new beauties.

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Lolo. I am glad to be thanked (blamed) and am responsible (guilty) as charged. I agree; I was glad they were sold out, too, or it would be real havoc here. Thanks for joining in, and do come again soon.

  19. Theresa says:

    clematis vine I’ve had for many years which has flowers at this time,a frost is expected tomorrow should I cover them?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Theresa. Depends how hard it is to do so…usually they are pretty tough characters, with the fresh, tender foliage having even a worse shot on most plants than the flowers I find. If you can cover something precious, do; but sometimes we have to just let the heavens decide what our fate is. :)

  20. Cheryl says:

    Hi WE have had a clematis for many years now every year it has had tons of flowers this year same one same place one flower was all we got. And now it is climbing and it’s just healthy green leaves and new ones coming. No flower buds, date is 7/3/10

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Cheryl. The common reasons plants don’t flower (presuming they are healthy, which yours seems to be otherwise) are there: Too much Nitrogen fertilizer (are you feeding it or is it near lawn that’s being fed?). Too much N (versus P and K in a balanced formula) can promote green growth but sacrifice bloom. So can improper pruning (sometimes very hard pruning delays bloom quite a bit) or too much shade. Has something else filled in nearby (a tree or shrubs) or changed so that now the plant is growing in more shade than when it was young?

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