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Marin IJ Articles

Royal Companions

  • Nanette Londeree
  • By Nanette Londeree

    If you’ve got a rose growing in your garden, you already have the queen of flowers. How about providing the queen with some company and introducing the Queen of Vines—the clematis? While it may be hard to imagine two queens getting along, these two are really well suited companions. Consider what they have in common: beautiful flowers that can bloom repeatedly over a good part of the year; the same cultural requirements – both flourish in rich soil with good drainage and at least 6 hours of sunlight, need the same amount of water and fertilizer, and respond to the same general treatments for pests and diseases. And like roses, clematis flowers make excellent cut flowers, lasting up to ten days in a vase. It’s their differences that make them such delightful garden companions. Their contrasting flower form—the rose with its full, voluptuous blossom and the clematis adorned with flat, simple flowers. Their colors—roses come in a myriad of colors though not true blue, while clematis has a wide array of blues and purples that are a wonderful complement to the rose. Their seed pods—the golden heads of the clematis in twirly spirals or punk-rock like spikes are a terrific foil to the fruity orange-red hips on the rose.
    So, let me introduce you to the Queen of Vines. Clematis, pronounced klem 'a-tis (from the Greek ‘klema', meaning a vine or branch), belong to the Ranunculaceae or buttercup family, along with anemones and peonies. There are over two hundred species of these perennial herbaceous and woody vines, plus hundreds of hybrids and cultivars. Found in temperate zones around the world, many are native to the U.S. Most are deciduous, with a few that are evergreen. There’s great variety in flower form, color, bloom season, foliage and plant height. These plants are true vines; they attach themselves to others plants or support structures by means of a delicate leaf stem called a petiole. These petioles have tendril-like qualities that are able to twist around and latch on to things as they grow. Unlike tendrils, they don’t have a tight grip; it’s more relaxed and can easily be removed.
    There are three general flower forms of clematis: small flowers in loose clusters, bell or urn-shaped flowers and flat or open flowers. The large-flowered hybrids have blooms ranging from four to ten inches in diameter and can put on a spectacular display with a profusion of 100 or more blooms per plant in a season in colors of white to cream, a range of blues, violets and purples, pink, red and some bi-colors. By the way, the flowers don't have any real petals; the colorful structures that look like petals are sepals surrounding the insignificant true flowers. To make it even more confusing, some clematis texts refer to them as sepals and some tepals. Whatever they’re called, their flat flower form attracts butterflies and hummingbirds to their blooms.
    Like roses, you may get some powdery mildew on plants in areas with poor air circulation, aphids feeding on new growth and spider mites producing stippling on the leaves. Snails and slugs may attack newly planted plants and cause what looks like wilt. Despite these potential problems, most clematis are trouble-free once they are established. Treat these maladies the same as you do for your roses.
    The most devastating problem of clematis is a fungal disease called clematis wilt. The plant or part of the vine collapses suddenly and, within a few days, the stem and leaves turn black and die. This can be incredibly exasperating if you‘re new to growing this wonderful vine. If the gorgeous plant that you treated so well turns into a bunch of black mushy stems, don’t despair—like the mythological Egyptian bird the Phoenix, that dies in a fire and later rises renewed from the ashes, so will your clematis. They are very resilient plants and as long as their roots are well established, they should come back with healthy new growth either within the season, or the following year. If you do experience wilt, cut off and destroy all the affected parts. Plants in their first year of growth seem to be more susceptible than established specimens. This is a disease mainly of large-flowered hybrids. Small-flowered hybrids, the species and their cultivars are less susceptible to this malady.
    For more information about the Queen of Vines, check out the American Clematis Society website at www.clematis.org. It’s filled with more information on care and photos of many varieties.
    Now, are you ready to introduce your current queen to her a new companion?