Clematis atragenes Blooming!

Seattle has been drowning, drenching, and dripping for the past three months. Most days, staying reasonably dry while working in the garden has not been possible. Nevertheless, the garden is burgeoning, and the Clematis atragenes have begun to bloom. These are early spring bloomers have delightful nodding bells in many soft colors and delicate foliage.  Included among the C. atragenes are C. alpinas (usually single), C. macropetalas (usually double), and C. koreanas.

I have sadly lost three of my six atragenes, C. Jacqueline du Pre (a crisp and lovely pink and white alpina), C. Cecile (a delightful blue-purple alpina), and C. Pauline (a richly colored purple macropetala).  Hrmph!  Maurice Horn of Joy Creek Nursery told me that he fears that the warmer weather of recent years in the Pacific Northwest has taken a toll on these cold-hardy plants.  We may start having trouble growing them here.  The three I lost were all against the house; the three I have left are all in the open garden, which is presumably a bit cooler, at least in winter.  I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

Hmm, maybe I should buy more just for testing purposes.


In my garden, the first to bloom (as usual) is C. Blue Dancer with its extra long sepals.


Here’s the luscious and rosy C. Markham’s Pink, just beginning its show.  I also have C. Willy, another pink and white one, but his buds are still tightly closed.

March Clematis of the Month: Clematis macropetala ‘Maidenwell Hall’


Finally, finally in late March I got my first clematis blossoms of the season!  Whooo hooo!  Four clematis alpinas and macropetalas in my garden have opened their beautiful blooms!  Clematis macropetala Maidenwell Hall gets the prize for March this year because this poor young plant got such a shaky start.   While visiting a nursery north of Seattle in the Skagit Valley in the heat of August, my friends and I found a 90% off table.  Lo and behold, there was a clematis there looking hot, dusty, and bedraggled.  A friend spotted C. Maidenwell Hall first, but she kindly allowed me to purchase the plant.  The plant obviously appreciated coming to a caring home, because it has most definitely perked up.  It’s off to such a good start that I will be able to give my friend some cuttings!  Here’s another shot taken in warm early morning light, which drew out the more purple tones.


Clematis alpinas and macropetalas (also called alpine clematis) are among the first of the clematis clan to bloom in the spring.  Their dainty bells, dangling among the delicate serrated leaves, signal the beginning of the long and continuous slide show of clematis blossoms that lasts into the winter.  Alpine clematis particularly enjoy growing in deciduous shade where they can soak up the warmth on sunny spring days, but later be sheltered from hot summer sun by the tree’s leaves.  These clematis, which grow to about 12-15′ or more, come in blues, purples, lavenders, pinks, and whites and are said to be hardy to Zone 3.  They rarely need pruning (unlike their more unruly late-spring and summer-blooming cousins).  The difference between Clematis alpina and Clematis macropetala is that the alpinas usually have only four tepals, or petals, while the macropetalas are double or semi-double.  Because of much cross-hybridizing, though, sometimes the distinction is a bit hazy.

Below are photos of the other three alpinas and macropetalas blooming in my garden.  Two more, Clematis alpina Willy and Clematis macropetala Cecile, are a bit shy to bloom so far this year.

Here’s Clematis alpina Blue Dancer (a former winner of Clematis of the Month).  It sports particularly long tepals.

Next up, Clematis macropetala Markham’s Pink, one of the most beautiful pink ones.

And finally we have Clematis macropetala Pauline, with rich blue and purple colors.

Northwest Flower & Garden Show


This stunning Living Wall Bull’s Eye, created by West Seattle Nursery, won two major awards at the show–and was my personal favorite.  Check out the accompanying Living Hanging Lamp below.


Clematis at the Show

Of course, I was on the hunt for clematis and clematis-related items.  Only a very few clematis were showcased in the major displays.  Below is a lavender Clematis alpina tucked into a fence.  Poor lighting and distance from the viewer made getting a usable photo of the nearby New Zealand clematis impossible — but it was there!


Several Clematis armandii were on display at the show, both in the major display areas and among the vendors.  The only one actually blooming was this one at the Great Plant Picks booth.   Here in the Seattle area, we should be seeing (and smelling) Clematis armandii in full bloom within a month!


The last clematis I saw was the species Clematis balearica at the Northwest Perennial Alliance booth.  The better-known Clematis Freckles is a selection of this one.

cirrhpsa balerica2

Only one clematis (Clematis durundii) was for sale at the show (bare-root) – see photo below.  Since I already have that one, I managed to get home without a single clematis!  Where, oh where has Clearview Clematis been the past few years?  This British Columbian clematis grower set up beautiful clematis displays each year and had loads of clems for sale at the show!


Ideas for Clematis Structures in the Display Gardens

The Flower Show did, however, abound with potential structures for growing clematis–if you used your imagination.  Below are a few of the beauties I spotted:

Rusty iron circles artfully welded together.

Rusty iron circles artfully welded together.

Beautiful rebar fencing

Beautiful rebar fencing

Rustic Tuteur.  Wouldn't a clematis look great on that?

Rustic Tuteur. Wouldn’t a clematis look great on that?

Wild and crazy wires!  Perfect for vines.

Wild and crazy wires! Perfect for vines.

How about some real clematis to go with the wrought iron ones?

How about some real clematis to go with the wrought iron ones?

A cage?  Why not?

A cage? Why not?

What a gorgeous gate!

What a gorgeous gate!

Clematis Structures from the Vendors

Multitudes of vendors were cheek and jowl in the sales areas.  Eyes were popping and credit cards were singing.  Below are a sampling of potential clematis structures among the vendors.

Lovely metal panels for fences.

Lovely metal panels for fences.

How about a coatrack?

How about a coat rack?

Or the Space Needle!

Or the Space Needle!

More panels.

More panels.

Another cage!

Another cage!

Whoa!  Crazy!

Whoa! Crazy!

What Came Home with Me

Because I am growing many more clematis in pots now, I came home with two 4′ willow tuteurs, two 5′ metal tuteurs, and one 6′ metal tuteur (I may use that one in the ground).   My cat, of course, thought this was a photo-op for him.

Five New Teutors!

Five New Teutors!

An exciting vendor I discovered at the Flower Show is Garden Connect, which sells simple rubber connectors.  You can use them to make your own tuteurs, fences, or structures for veggies like peas and cucumbers.  See photos below or go to the Garden Connect website.  I came home with three packs of these!

Garden Connects -- for fast, easy plant support.

Garden Connects — for fast, easy plant support.

Now if the weather would just cooperate so I could get out there and start making more structures for my clematis!

And the Winner Is . . .

Blue Dancer! 

Blue Dancer

Blue Dancer

Yes, the first of my Clematis alpinas to blossom this year is Clematis Blue Dancer, with its profusion of  long luscious light-blue petals.  Some of the runners-up may bloom tomorrow.   Like Opening Day at Fenway Park (don’t forget, I was a Bostonian for many a year), the first alpina marks the start of the clematis season for me.   Bring it on! 

Drip Irrigation 

As you probably know, clematis are by and large NOT drought tolerant plants.  Believe it or not, this can be a serious problem in the Seattle area.  “What?” you say.  “But Seattle is Rain City!”  If you don’t live around here, you may not realize that Seattle can be dry as a bone in July and August.  Last summer we had NO rain whatsover from mid-July through most of September.  Not a drop.  Very trying on clematis–as well as the person who has to water them.  Only a very few parts of the world have this dry summer, wet winter weather phenomena–the Pacific Northwest, Chili, New Zealand, South Africa, and the Mediterranean.  The up side is that we can easily grow many exotic specimens from these plant-rich parts of the world–Grevillea, Azara, Chilian Fire Tree, Euchryphia, Cistus, Hebe, Lavender, and Ceonothus, just to name a few. 

My garden is watered in summer by a soaker hose system that is adequate for most of my plants.  All the clematis, however, whine all summer long.  Several times during a typical dry spell, I am forced to go around the garden with the hose and stand at a each clematis for at least five minutes–very time consuming if you have 130 or 140 clematis!  To solve the problem, my friend and professional gardener Sean is helping me to install a drip system JUST for my clematis.  Oh, and for my pots and window boxes, too.  Then I can spend the dog days of summer sitting in the shade reading a novel and admiring all the blossoms!  Ahhhhh.

Clematis Pruning Workshop

Good Gravey, the garden is burdgeoning!  Like Ellen DeGeneres (quoting Simon and Garfunkel), I want to say slow down, you move too fast.  Whenever I’m at work, the day is perfect for gardening.  When I’m off, it pours or it’s freezing like today.  Geesh.

Students from the Clematis Pruning Workshop

Students from the Clematis Pruning Workshop

Clematis Pruning Workshop

Last week I taught a Clematis Pruning Workshop in my garden with four students attending.   I enjoyed it and learned new things myself!  The eager students seemed to have a good time as well.

Pruning Group A (Early-Blooming, Small-Flowered Clematis)

First we walked around the garden looking at how various Pruning Group A clematis look in early spring.  These clematis, which bloom between October and May, don’t usually need an annual prune. 

We checked out my Clematis montana growing in a 90′ tall Port Orford cedar (it’s about 40′ or 50′ into the tree, which looks amazing when it blooms).  We also inspected three evergreen New Zealand clematis that will show off their fragrant creamy white blossoms soon.  Two Clematis cirrhosa, also evergreen, are growing in the garden, too, and one of them, Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’ (see my February post highlighting this clematis), has been in bloom for over a month now.  One of the most unusual Pruning Group A clematis I have is Clematis napaulensis, which is winter green (it goes dormant in the summer) and sports creamy white bells with red stamens in winter–mine is young and not blooming yet.  But the majority of Pruning Group A clematis in my garden are various hybrids of Clematis alpina and Clematis macropetala, both of which have lovely nodding bells in many colors in April and May.

Comparing Early  Spring Growth on Various Clematis

Clematis alpina (Pruning Group A)

Clematis alpina (Pruning Group A)

 We found that the Pruning Group A clematis (alpinas and macropetalas) and the large-flowered spring-blooming Pruning Group B clematis both had new leaf growth tight to the vine in early spring, and many were already showing flower buds.  The leaves on the alpinas/macropetalas are more finely divided than those on the Pruning Gruop B clems.  See photos.  When compared to Pruning Group C clematis in my garden, which bloom on old wood, we found that the young growth on the Cs stretched out much further from the main vine and showed no signs of flower buds.   These clematis are working to grow vines this time of year, while the As and Bs on the other hand devote their spring energy to producing flowers–they will throw vines after they finish blooming.   

Clematis 'Guernsey Cream' (Pruning Group B)

Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’ (Pruning Group B)

Please note:  these photos and comments represent observations of particular clematis in my garden and can’t really be used to identify which pruning group another clematis represents.  If you don’t know what clematis you have or when it blooms, prune it lightly as for Pruning Group B (which will be described in my next post, coming soon) and wait to see when it blooms and what it looks like in order to identify it.  

Clematis 'Betty Corning' (Pruning Group C)

Clematis ‘Betty Corning’ (Pruning Group C)

The Actual Pruning

Pruning Group A clematis do not typically require an annual pruning.  However, because most of them are large plants, they will eventually get into trouble and need to be pruned, very often after they have gotten large and unwieldy or when they are growing where they are not wanted.   The best way to handle this situation  is to prune shortly after the plant has finished blooming.  I described the process to the group and had them practice on a large plant.  They divided the plant into two parts — you have to be a bit rough to get the plant separated into two groups, but don’t worry, the plant will recover.  Then they cut half of the plant back hard and left the other half to be pruned hard next year.   This process has the two-fold advantages of ensuring that the plant won’t succomb to the hard pruning and maximizing bloom for the following spring.

We spent considerable time on Pruning Group B plants, which require much more detailed pruning (see my upcoming post for details).  Additionally, the group pruned a large Pruning Group C plant (Clematis ‘Betty Corning’) so that it would have a leg up into the tree it is growing in (normally Pruning Group C plants are cut back to 1′ – 3′ because they bloom on new wood).    I demonstrated a similar pruning situation on a Clematis ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ that must climb a fence before it can reach the tree it will embellish with its red blossoms in summer.  See before and after photos below.


Clematis 'Fair Rosamond' Before(Pruning Group B)

Clematis ‘Fair Rosamond’ Before(Pruning Group B)

Clematis 'Betty Corning' Before Pruning

Clematis ‘Betty Corning’ Before Pruning

Clematis 'Madame Julia Correvon' Before

Clematis ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ Before


Clematis 'Fair Rosamond' After

‘Fair Rosamond’ After


Clematis 'Madame Julia Correvon' After

Clematis ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ After

Clematis 'Betty Corning' After

Clematis ‘Betty Corning’ After

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