The First Lady–May’s Clematis of the Month


So many of the large-flowered clematis in my garden are blooming extremely early this year, as much as six – eight weeks ahead of schedule.  But whenever they choose to bloom, they look wonderful!

During my frequent strolls through the garden, I enjoy observing clematis in all their various stages–and, yes, sometimes I even talk to them.  This spring, Clematis ‘The First Lady’ talked back loudly, showing herself off to great advantage.  I purchased this clematis two or three years ago as Clematis ‘Rhapsody’, a clematis for which I had been hankering for some time.  Once I saw the first meager bloom, I knew I had purchased a misnamed plant.  But not until this year, when the poor clematis had built up enough strength to drag itself up out of the heavy shade of a big Fatshedera into the sunshine, did I really see what a gorgeous flower my mistake clematis produced–large lavender blooms (one flower actually measured 9 inches in diameter!), with contrasting burgundy stamens, ruffled edges, and textual ridges in the middle of each pointed petal.  Elegantissimo!  I was able to identify it as Clematis ‘The First Lady’ and seriously considered deeming this tough and beautiful plant Clematis of the Month for this month.

The First Lady3

Serendipitously, yesterday my yoga teacher described to me a clematis a friend gave her as a cut flower.  She has a fine eye for detail, so I was able to identify her unseen clematis from her description as Clematis ‘The First Lady.’  I showed her a photo on my smart phone to be sure and impressed both her and myself with my quick ID.  That clinched it–Clematis ‘The First Lady’ is Clematis of the Month for May in my garden this year!



Clematis ‘The First Lady’ is an American clematis introduced into commerce by Arthur Steffen in Long Island, New York, in 1989.  Mr. Steffen’s company is also responsible for introducing, in 1932, another gorgeous and famous American clematis, now grown throughout the world, Clematis Betty Corning.  The beauty of the name of May’s Clematis of the Month is that you can choose your own favorite First Lady to be represented by this clematis.  I know who mine is!

Below is a smattering of the many other worthy candidates blooming in my garden this month.


The satiny blooms of Clematis Louise Rowe


Clematis Rebecca


Clematis Ramona (lavender) with Clematis Marta


The ever-stunning Clematis Josephine


Clematis Cezanne


Clematis Fireworks


Clematis Utopia


Clematis Fujimusume–such a gorgeous blue!


Clematis Morning Mist–one of these blossoms measured 10 inches!



Clematis Climador (also known as Clematis Königskind)



Clematis Caroline (pink) with Clematis Vyvyan Pennell



Clematis Lord Herschell




The bells of Clematis Sonnette (also known as Clematis Peveril Peach)


Clematis Crystal Fountain (also known as Clematis Fairy Blue)


  1. Patrick said,

    May 24, 2016 at 3:00 am

    Oh your Clematis photo’s are beautiful. Where do you find your pots/containers? What type of material are the pots/containers made of?
    Your pot trellis’ are really nice, where do you find them ?
    – Patrick


    • May 25, 2016 at 8:12 am

      Thank you, Patrick. I do enjoy taking photos of clematis!

      Most of my pots are ceramic, which insulate the clematis from cold and heat better than most other types. Of course, they are more expensive, too. I have collected mine slowly over the years. I keep my eyes open for sales at nurseries–my local nursery has them 30% or 40% off a couple of times a year. There is also a discount pot place in my area.

      The same goes for climbing structures. I keep my eyes open when at nurseries and use my imagination, especially at yard sales. I have one structure that used to be a curvy 4′ cd holder–I use it upside-down for clematis. I also find structures at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show here in Seattle every February.



      • Patrick said,

        May 25, 2016 at 8:33 am

        Thanks Laura for your reply. I have somehow managed to amass some 14 Clematis plants – most of them are in Pots/Containers – I’ve been planting them in stone-like Ceramix containers and Urns which are supposed to be ‘weather resistant’ and protect the plants over the winter. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

        Quick question ….. Have you ever grown ‘Romantika’ or ‘Negritianka’ ?
        These are Clematis that I have been interested in but wanted some feedback from growers.



      • May 25, 2016 at 9:05 am

        I grow both Negrityanka and Romantika and love them. They have rich dark colors (Romantika very dark purple/blue and Negrityanka more a dark plummy purple) and are floriferous, with flowers three-to-five inches in diameter. I have Negrityanka growing in morning sun (til about 1 or 2pm) and Romantika in bright dappled sun all day–both are doing well.


      • Patrick said,

        May 25, 2016 at 12:14 pm

        Thanks, Laura —— do you ‘Romantika’ and ‘Negrityanka’ in the ground or in pots ?



      • May 25, 2016 at 1:26 pm

        I have both in the ground. I checked Clematis on the Web for size. Negrityanka gets about 7 – 9′ tall–that’s a little large for a pot. Romantika, on the other hand, is said to grow only about 6 – 7′, so would be more suited to a pot. Generally, I try to use pots only for plants that will grow 7′ or less–and even then I try to use big pots (at 15″ in diameter and 18″ deep, preferably bigger).


      • Patrick Bowen said,

        June 1, 2016 at 8:35 am

        Hi Laura – Thanks for the reply, I somehow have now amassed a total of 17 Clematis, 13 of which are in Pots/Containers/Urns. I have stone-like Urns, and ‘weather-resistant’ pots, but none of my containers or pots are Ceramic/glazed ceramic. All of my Clematis are either Grp. 2 or Grp. 3 Clematis (I have more Grp. 2).
        I’m desperately trying to ‘connect’ with clematis professionals as I am planning ahead and try to figure out how I can prepare my Pots/Containers and Urns for Winter here in Zone 7A. I’ve already been advised that I should not have invested in the family of Clematis I’ve already purchased as trying to keep them alive over the Winter will be a big big struggle 😦

        Can you offer any help or advice for me so I don’t lose 13 Clematis Plants this Winter ?

        Thank you in advance.


      • June 1, 2016 at 10:56 am

        Hi, Patrick,

        As long as your pots are thick-walled and weather resistent, your clematis should be just fine. Just don’t use thin-walled plastic pots.

        When you overwinter clematis in pots, you have to think of your pots as two zones colder (5a for you). Most group 2 and 3 clematis sail thru a Zone 5a winter just fine. There are a few exceptions, like Clematis florida ‘sieboldii’, Clematis florida ‘Alba Plena’, and their progeny. Should you have one of those, you could winter it over in an unheated garage, basement, or shed. For the others, just mulch them well and maybe tuck them in close to the house. They should be fine!

        I think you are about to attain clemaniac status! Welcome to the club.



      • Patrick Bowen said,

        June 1, 2016 at 11:29 am

        Thank You, Laura for your reply. Yes, I have attained “clemaniac” status. I often email Debbie from Silver Star Vinery as I purchased my ‘Hagley Hybrid’ in April from her —- it is loaded with flower buds, and the first bud is about to open! I am totally thrilled! I will take a photo of it and send it to Debbie.

        I had a guy from Chicago who grows a lot of Clematis that I will lose most if not all of my Clematis that are planted in containers/pots/Urns
        this Winter. He recommended that I only grow “The Atragenes” in my area of Coastal New Jersey/Zone 7A. So I got very worried, because it is way to late now for me to go out and buy all new Clematis —– I just acquired 17 Clematis – Early and Late-flowered Group 2 and 3 plants
        and they are all planted already.

        The best I can do for the Potted Clematis is wrap them in something
        or Cover them in something. I know you said most sail thru a Zone 5A
        Winter just fine, but will my ‘potted’ Clematis sail thru a Zone 5A Winter Just fine ? I’m panicking now ………..



      • June 1, 2016 at 1:01 pm

        Truly, Patrick, don’t worry. I looked Hagley Hybrid up on Clematis in the Web (online database wth three or four thousand clematis) and it’s hardy to Zone 4. Check out all your clematis on this website–you’ll beaable yo relax!


  2. Marisa Earnst said,

    June 3, 2016 at 10:09 am

    Beautiful flowers. Can you suggest a clematis to grow in a pot in a sunny patio that only gets 6 ft tall and is group 3? I’m in Mt Vernon, WA


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