Isn’t the above clematis a thing of beauty? It’s one of the Montanas, growing with obvious gusto on a fence not too far from where I live. Whether you say Clem-A-tis or CLEM-a-tis, chances are if you’re a gardener, you grow at least one of these vines. I’m a big fan, because there are just so many cultivars to choose from.
A few years ago, I discovered a terrific clematis nursery on Cape Cod that has a mind-boggling online catalog. I never imagined there was such variety – so many colors, flower shapes and sizes, growth habits and bloom times! I tend to prefer clematis that bloom throughout the season. I am particularly fond of viticella “Polish Spirit,” which is vigorous and beautiful, especially when clambering through shrub roses. By the way, this is an ideal situation for clematis, most of which like their roots in the shade and their leaves in the sun. It also benefits from the regular feedings I give the roses.
These vines have been around for a very long time. We know that they were seen in European gardens in the 1500s. It seems that the dreaded “clematis wilt” began to rear its ugly head in the early 20th century. Then, as now, growers did not have an effective weapon against this disease, which renders plants wilted and moribund, seemingly overnight. Clematis wilt is actually a fungus, Ascochyta clematidina, and is spread by spores. It is more of a problem during wet weather.
The best defense against clematis wilt is to remain vigilant and cut off and dispose of all affected stems. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet, and cut the entire plant down to the ground. The good news is that wilt does not affect the roots, so the plant will likely survive. I had a “Perle d’Azur” that was stricken two summers in a row. I cut it back but no new growth emerged during those two growing seasons. The third year, it came back and was unscathed by the fungus.
At this time of year in Rhode Island, the clematis are starting to strut their stuff. When we are driving somewhere, to my husband’s chagrin, I sometimes screech to a stop in front of particularly beautiful specimen. Pausing to simply admire is, in my mind, the right thing to do.