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We’re Crazy for Clematis

12 Sep

Earl Nickel
Curious Plantsman

No shrinking violets, Clematis are some of the most beautiful, hardy and heart-stoppingly gorgeous perennial vines in the world. Boasting a wide range of flower colors and shapes, they come in 10 different forms – everything from the large, four-petaled montana hybrids and showy large-flowered peony-type double forms, to those with narrower saucer or star-shaped petals and delicate nodding tubular flowers. Throw in colors that range from pure white to shades of pink, red and purple – even yellow – and you get an idea of how there can be over 250 species or varieties found nearly worldwide.

Many of us enthusiastic gardeners tend to think of Clematis as Spring blooming plants and indeed, there are many varieties that do bloom in Spring. But some species and their hybrids bloom as early as March and as late as December in mild climates, giving us Bay Area gardeners plenty of choices for our trellises, arbors and fences. The wide-ranging bloom times are also a boon to our fine feathered and winged friends, as Clematis make an excellent nectar-source for hummingbirds and all manner of bees and other pollinators.

Now is an especially good time to get Spring blooming varieties in the ground, giving their roots a head start and resulting in a more robust plant come April. If you plant Fall blooming Clematis now, you’ll be giving them nearly a full year to establish, virtually guaranteeing an excellent bloom show next Autumn.

Fall Bloomers

With extravagant wine-red flowers, Clematis ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ blooms over a long period in Summer and Fall, with large (3”) single flowers. This heirloom selection boasts quite possibly the richest red flowers of any Clematis, putting on a spectacular show in Fall. Reaching 8’ tall and 5’ wide, the fast-growing, lacy foliage looks especially nice twining up a trellis or scrambling over a fence. This beauty performs wonderfully in warm Winter areas where many large-flowered varieties refuse to grow. A pruning Group 3 variety, it blooms on new growth, so prune to about 1’ tall in early Spring for a bigger and better display every year! 

Speaking of show stoppers, Clematis texensis ‘Duchess of Albany’ offers up the loveliest pink flowers from mid-Summer to early frost. Featuring equally large (3”) five-petaled flowers that are cotton candy pink with deeper rose-pink ribs, this hardy selection dazzles in the Fall. Adding to its charm, flowers have tapered petals, giving the impression of five hearts bound together. An heirloom from 1890, this selection reaches a modest 10-12′ in height, making it perfect for a trellis or arch. No worries this climber will take over an area! Another bonus is that this Clematis can take more sun than many varieties. 

For those “Prince-ly” lovers of purple, there’s nothing more beautiful than the velvety purple tones of Clematis ‘Polish Spirit’. This C. viticella hybrid is a later blooming variety with saucer-shaped, luminescent violet-purple petals. During Summer and early Fall these large (3-4”) blooms nearly smother the mid-green leaves, making for a spectacular show. It fills out to a nice compact 10′ x 10′ size, usually in one season and year by year it adds more flowers, especially if it’s pruned to 1-2′ in Winter. This variety is ideally suited to mild climates, where some other species may not thrive. It’s also disease resistant and one of the easiest Clematis to grow.

Blessed with a deliciously heady vanilla fragrance, the aptly named “Sweet Autumn Clematis” (C. paniculata) bursts into a cascade of starry creamy-white 1” blooms in late Summer, practically smothering the foliage thru Fall and prompting curious friends to ask “Wow, what is that?” The cornucopia of flowers are followed by silky seedheads, prolonging its appeal. Vigorous and tough as nails, it can reach 20′ by its second year. Kept in a pot, it may top out at 8-10′. This herbaceous Clematis is perfect for covering an unsightly fence, trained up the side of a house or even climbing up into a tree. You’ll want to prune it hard, back to 1′ in late Winter, so any Fall foliage obscuring taller plants will be removed. You can even prune it mid-season before the flowers arrive to keep it smaller.

Spring & Summer bloomers

Some Clematis like to get a head start on the year and that’s particularly true with eye-catching Clematis armandii ‘Apple Blossom’. This selection carries the distinction of being one of the few evergreen species in this genus, with large leathery leaves that can reach a foot long and 4” wide. Leaves begin soft and bronze on color before maturing to a deep green. Climbing quickly via twining tendrils, this sweetly fragrant bloomer can shoot up almost overnight in Spring. Volumes of rose-colored buds soon open to pink-blushed 2” white flowers, attracting a vast contingent of bees and hummers. Given its rapid growth to 15′, its dramatic floral show and sweet vanilla fragrance, this is the perfect candidate for growing along a walkway, be it over an arch or up the side of the house. No problem pruning this vine to shape; it simply grows back right away!

Charm-incarnate is one way to describe the lovely and easy-going Clematis macropetala ‘Blue Bird’. Lime-green foliage in Spring soon gives way to an abundance of nodding periwinkle-blue flowers over a long period in late Spring and Summer. These open 3” bell-shaped flowers feature contrasting cream-colored stamens, making it a one-of-a-kind beauty. Its delicate semi-double flowers belie its toughness, as ‘Blue Bird’ isn’t fazed by extreme heat, cold, humidity or seaside conditions. Once the flowers are done, large silky seedheads (great in dried arrangements!) prolong the plant’s attractiveness. Though it can take a lot of sun, this species also tolerates shade. Throw in the fact it blooms on old wood (no pruning necessary) and stays a modest 12’ tall and you pretty much have the perfect vine.

Don’t let the funny name stop you – Clematis ‘Rooguchi’ is one of the longest blooming varieties, pumping out cute nodding purple bells from late Spring well into Fall. What the flowers lack in size (1.5”), this vigorous climber makes up for in volume. Each flared bell has a stiff, almost, waxy feel and the flowers are presented facing outward, adding to its charm. Though it possesses no tendrils, once you start it on a trellis or netting, it’s off and running. One plant can easily cover a 15′ x 15′ area in record time. Prune to the ground in late Winter and keep an eye out for new stems emerging in the early Spring.

Growing Clematis

All Clematis are cold hardy, with all of the above selections classified as USDA zones 4-10, with the exception of C. armandii, which is still a champ in USDA zones 6-10. In cooler climates you can plant these Clematis in nearly full sun or, if appropriate, part sun. In hotter areas, they’ll prosper best in morning sun and afternoon shade. The two exceptions are the sun-loving Clematis ‘Blue Bird’ and C. armandii ‘Apple Blossom’. Whether planted in the ground or in a large container, it’s advisable to cover the top of the soil with bark mulch to keep the roots cool. Choose a quality soil amendment to both add nutrition and to ensure good drainage. Root rot is an occasional issue with Clematis, so drainage is vital. Follow pruning guidelines as listed for the particular variety you’re growing and top dress with a nutritional compost in late Winter. 

Return of the Golden Fuchsia

10 Aug

photo: James Gaither

Few plants garner the cult following of Deppea splendens, the magnificent cloud forest plant that’s probably launched more insane bidding wars on ebay than any other. It’s almost iridescent leaves & delicate gold & maroon blooms suspended daintily from filament-like pedicels make a late Summer & Fall display that knocks some serious socks off.

Discovered & named in 1972 & the original collection was made by Dr. Dennis Breedlove in 1981 near Chiapas, Mexico. On a return visit in 1986, the canyon where the original plants were discovered had been razed & converted to farmland. There was no trace. It’s now presumed to be extinct in the wild, though there is more than one clone in cultivation today. Ours came from Strybing Botanical Arboretum in San Francisco, where the plant thrives. Those cool, foggy Summers are the perfect thing for a cloud forest dwelling rarity & keep its leaves lush & emerald green.

For many years the availability of this exquisitely rare plant has been scarce, but this year we have enough to not only offer it, but FEATURE it in our brand new and super pretty Summer catalog! Making a place for the plant in your own home garden can’t bring back what has been lost in the wild, but it can help encourage awareness of rare & endangered plants & ethics aside: aesthetics, folks – this plant is mad pretty. Who wouldn’t want to have a specimen of such copious beauty close to their domicile? Not all endangered plants are pretty, you know. I won’t go naming names because that’s just not nice.

What you need to know in order to get your Deppea to grow? Keep it out of the hot hot heat, please – your plant will sulk, drop leaves & generally pitch a fit. It can take a fair amount of direct light, but with too much sizzle you’ll find yourself the accidental killer of an extinct plant (which, really – no pressure. You’re not necessarily responsibly for the development that got it into this rarified position. Don’t fret.) Too much cold is a sure fire killer, too. Protect from all but the lightest frosts, or bring the plant in under cover.

Our plants in the nursery are currently growing in 10-20 gallon pots and are doin’ fiiiine. Heavy soils are ill advised, so amend for drainage & mound the soil up a leeetle bit. Average water should suffice, or regular if you’re somewhere with extremes less gentle than those of the Bay Area. This plant is a challenge. That much is true. It’s also more & more rewarding as it thrives & ages, with ever-heavier clusters of flowers & a beautiful form. When well grown, it can eventually be shaped to look like an elegant multi-branched tree. In cultivation it will achieve around 8+ feet in height (though it’s often much shorter) & stays more tall than wide – 4’ or so, but pruning will ultimately determine the plant’s footprint.

photo: Kelly Kilpatrick

It’s been yearrrs since we’ve been able to offer this plant. Last year we had a teensy crop and they all got scooped up fast. This time we’re sure we have a high enough count to really spread the joy of Deppeas to everyone far and wide (well, as far and wide as is appropriate to the plant’s needs.)

P.S. (Once more with feeling) have you seen the shiny new Summer catalog? It’s super swell!

 

Our First Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!

15 Oct
Here in the Bay Area, October is when we finally get a taste of Summer. The long days of overcast mornings and cool but sunny afternoons finally heat up and our Indian Summer begins. Right now, I’m thrilled about two super long-blooming low maintenance plants which reside in mutual affection here in a back corner of the nursery. 

Hibiscus cisplatinus

Hibiscus cisplatinus
Since so few gardeners know of this amazing Hibiscus, I am probably its number one fan in all the world! (and honestly, I think our staff is a little bit worried about this). Handy-dandy for filling in a large space, it will grow into a dense evergreen base-branching shrub 5’ x 5’ in its first year. Never showing signs of chlorosis like many tropical species here in the fogbelt, it is most vigorous *and* bloomiferous – bearing huge cotton candy pink flowers from May to December. Prominent and velvety cherry-colored stamens emerging from a rich ruby throat take its beauty ratio to a whole ’nother level! In Winter, I cut it down almost to the ground and each Spring it has bounced back bigger and better than ever.

Hibiscus cisplatinus habit
Echium gentianoides

Echium gentianoides spike

The perennial rebel of its family, Echium gentianoides blooms almost year around here in coastal California. Notoriously difficult to photograph, all who see its large bright blue flower spikes, fine form and complimentary smooth blue-grey foliage in person fall in love and take one home. Luckily, it’s easy and fast, reaching a manageable 4’ x 4’ within a year.

Echium gentianoides habit
Thank you to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day! It’s a lovely honor to participate.


Fantastical and Majestic Giant Dahlias!

6 May

We Bay Area folks are blessed by the Dahlia Deities, for we not only get to grow these magnificent towers of flower, they grow here LIKE WEEDS (Have no fear, they are not invasive and do not self-sow). Those of us who grow these in our own gardens, and especially those who have plants that are visible from the street, know it is the kind of plant to draw a crowd. Passersby get a bad case of rubberneck, drivers park suddenly and hop out of their cars with cameras. It is not unheard of for total strangers to knock on your door to enquire with awe, What IS that thing?

Dahlia imperialis
It is Dahlia imperialis, people, and it is a whole lotta Dahlia! To at least 8 ft. tall, it can reach 20 ft. when happy. In areas with cold Winters, some gardeners include this monstrous beauty just for its foliage! The tall canes are bamboo like, with lush leaves. The flowers, though, the flowers!! Each lavender pink bloom can span up to 6” and the massive flowering panicles can be 3 ft. across – and mind you that is per stalk! Large plants can produce an abundance of flowers both alarming and astounding when you stand underneath them in full bloom and see them allll looking down at you. Wonder!

Dahlia 'Double White'

Dahlia tenuicaulis

We grow TWO forms of Dahlia imperialis – the single pink form, and a fantastical double white flowering form that has all the same requirements, but with stupendous double white flowers that look like shooting stars. Not only that, but occasionally – sorry guys, not right now! – we have another very special tree Dahlia species – Dahlia tenuicaulis, which blooms early and often with dark purple-magenta flowers. And we have a FOURTH top secret tree Dahlia in the works that I cannot talk about. Actually, forget I ever said anything. OOPS.