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)

Clematis at the Arboretum Spring Plant Sale

florabundanceThe quintessential spring plant sale every year in Seattle is the Washington Park Arboretum’s Sale, and I was there last night for the opening day of this three-day event.   The sale has many vendors with interesting and unusual plants, and the Arboretum itself sells plants from its greenhouses.

And wouldn’t you know it!  T&L, a wholesale nursery specializing in groundcovers and clematis, was there!  Yikes!  I just finished getting all my plants, including clematis, in the ground.  What to do?  What to do?  Well, I took a deep breath and decided to severely limit myself to bringing home only two of the 30 or 40 varieties they had on offer.  Since I first saw it  with its 8-10″ two-toned pink blossoms at a garden tour in Portland, I’ve wanted Clematis Fireworks.   I also found Clematis Kiri Te Kanawa, a beautiful blue double hybridized by one of my favorite clematarians, Barry Fretwell.  Hmmm, now I have to decide where to plant these two June bloomers.  A few other plants also demanded that I take them home, and even my husband bought three plants himself (his taste runs to gunnera and other odd plants).

My eagle eye also spotted Clematis recta purpurea, I think somewhere in the vicinity of the Langley Gardens display, and Clematis recta ‘Lime Close’ (aka Serious Black) at Sundquist Nursery’s stand.   In earlier posts, I’ve described both of these purple-leaved clematis with fragrant white flowers.

The Arboretum Sale goes through tomorrow (Sunday, April 28), so if you’re in the Seattle area, head on over there. 

Oh, and then there’s the Master Gardener Plant Sale at the Center for Urban Horticulture next weekend!

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