Clematis Bells

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Clematis ‘Buckland Beauty’–beautiful bell flowers inherited from Clematis texensis.

Gardeners who have a nodding acquaintance with clematis are often only aware of the big beautiful heart-stopping, jaw-dropping blossoms of late spring.  As one becomes more and more enamored with clematis and delves deeper into the genus, the dainty beauty and wide variety of the bell-shaped flowers are the ones that captivate.

The southeastern US is a breeding ground for many bell-flowered clematis species, which have long been widely used by hybridizers to create lovely new plants.  Clematis ‘Buckland Beauty’ above, for example, is the result of a cross between Clematis texensis (a red bell-flowered species from Texas) and one of the other species.

The Texensis Clan

In my last post, I described Clematis texensis and some of its progeny.  The species, which grows in Texas, is variable.  The flowers tend to have a downward-facing bell shape, usually with recurved tips, sometimes lined with white or yellow.  The inside of the tepals can be various shades of red, yellow, or white.


A lovely red Clematis texensis with white accents


A Clematis texensis seedling with reddish-purple outer tepals, white on edges and the underside


Here’s another, a bit pinker with a shorter flower.

Hybridizers discovered the wonderful red of Clematis texensis (also called the Scarlet Clematis) in the late 1800s, and still today exciting new hybrids come onto the market.  Crossing Clematis texensis with other types of clematis has resulted in an astonishing variety of new and beautiful plants, such as flatter blossoms of Clematis ‘Ville de Lyon’ and Clematis ‘Catherine Clanwilliam’ showcased in my last post.   Of course, many of the progeny have bell-shaped blossoms, like the aforementioned Clematis ‘Buckland Beauty’ and the following lovely offspring of this interesting species.


Clematis Sonnette climbing through a variegated Azara.


Clematis ‘Duchess of Albany’, hybridized using C. texensis 125 years ago!

Princess Diana

The beautiful Clematis ‘Princess Diana’


Clematis Princess Kate ‘Zoprika’, one of the newest texensis hybrids coming from J. van Zoest Nursery in The Netherlands.  Photo from J. van Zoest Nursery.

The Crispas

Clematis crispa is another American species, native in the southeastern US.  This sweet small bell flower often has tepals that curl strongly back on themselves.  It comes in many soft colors–white, light blue, mauve, pink.  The crowning glory for this clematis is its beautiful light fragrance.

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One form of Clematis crispa

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Clematis ‘Betty Corning’, discovered growing in a garden in Albany, is clearly a Clematis crispa seedling, especially given its delightful fragrance.

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Clematis ‘Princess Red’ certainly looks to be a Clematis crispa hybrid, but the color suggests that Clematis texensis might be the other parent!

The Viornas

Clematis viorna, like C. crispa and C. texensis, is one of over 20 species that are native to the southeastern US and Texas, which are all grouped together in the viorna section of the genus clematis.  Clematis viorna is just one of the many clematis in the viorna section.  It has flowers in the shape of small bells or urns that come in colors like red, pink, reddish brown, and purple.  Many plants sold as the species may actually be hybrids of Clematis viorna and another clematis in the larger viorna clan.


One of my two Clematis viorna.  This one pairs beautifully with Beauty Berry!


A different Clematis viorna looking adorable on my fence

Japanese Hybrids

Many interesting clematis with bell-shaped flowers have been coming out of Japan for many years.  Joy Creek Nursery is a good source for Japanese clematis.  Below are three examples.


The fragrant Clematis Kahori no Kimi–perhaps Clematis crispa is a parent?


Clematis Hakuji–another Clematis crispa descendent?


Clematis Shizuku–looking a little viorna-like?

The best sources I’ve found for bell flowers are Brushwood Nursery and Joy Creek Nursery.   So, come on–get one of these dainty-blossomed clematis for your very own!

Bloomin’ June!

 Drip System, at Last!

Each clematis has its very own emitter!

Each clematis has its very own emitter!

Life is good. My friend Sean helped me (uh, well, actually, I carefully watched him) put in a drip system for my clems and all my pots. I am in heaven. With the dry spell we’ve been having, I have NOT had to spend hours (sometimes DAYS) watering. YayHA! Thank you, Sean. He showed me how to tweak the system myself, and I plan to make some tweaks this weekend. Hmmm, we’ll see how that goes.

Soon I’m Off to the International Clematis Conference in Germany

Where are the clems? (2011 Belgium Conference)

Where are the clems?
(2011 Belgium Conference)

Yes, it’s true. There actually is an annual international conference where clematis enthusiasts from all over the world gather together to immerse themselves in clematis for a whole week. Later this month I will be heading to southern Germany to attend my third conference (the other two were in Portland, Oregon, and Belgium). Now, I know you are probably imagining us sitting around in a stuffy conference room listening to erudite lectures about obscure clematis. Oh, no, each day all 60 or 70 of us visit two to four gardens and nurseries together–punctuated with rest stops for delicious food and drink, amid comraderie in a multitude of languages.  But just imagine our consternation when, once in a while, we visit a garden with no clematis! Though we are able to enjoy the garden anyway, we are mystified that a gardener could actually neglect to weave at least one clematis into the garden design. We might even find a little time for one of those erudite clematis lectures, too. I plan to take lots of photos and hope to post from Germany, so keep a lookout (I’ll be in Europe from June 27 – July 11).

Bloomin’ June

My garden is in transition now between last of the large-flowered May-June bloomers and the beginning of the later-blooming clematis. Every day I find another clematis in bloom — what an exciting time! Here are just a few of my beauties:

Clematis Caroline, just starting her show.

Clematis Caroline, just starting her show.

Sweet Little Clematis Hakuji

Sweet Little Clematis Hakuji

Clematis Vyvyan Pennell (first bloom ever after four years of wilt!)

Clematis Ekstra

Clematis Ekstra

First Blossom of Clematis Etoile Violette (must be 5" wide!)

First Blossom of Clematis Etoile Violette (must be 5″ wide!)

Clematis Fair Rosamond, winding down

Clematis Fair Rosamond, winding down

Clematis Fugimusume

Clematis Fugimusume

First ever bloom on my new Clematis florida

First ever bloom on my new Clematis florida

Clematis Josephine, still going and going

Clematis Josephine, still going and going

Clematis The First Lady (she'd look lovely with the dark purple  Clematis The President )

Clematis The First Lady (she’d look lovely with the dark purple Clematis The President )

Clematis Margot Koster

Clematis Margot Koster


First of Many for my Recently Moved Clematis Pagoda

First of Many for my Recently Moved Clematis Pagoda

Clematis Proteus

Lounger (non-climber) Clematis recta purpurea

Lounger (non-climber) Clematis recta purpurea

Clematis Sonnette--adorable!

Clematis Sonnette–adorable!

Collecting Clematis Seed

C. 'Sonnette'

Three clematis in my garden tempted me to collect seed this fall:   a sweet pink bell (Clematis Sonnette), a light blue little nonclimbing clematis (integrifolia type) from the Rogerson Clematis Collection (Clematis Skylark), and a species clematis (C. viorna) with small urn-shaped flowers in lavender and white (C. viorna). 

C. integrifolia ‘Skylark’

Growing clematis from seed tickles the imagination.  The anticipation is great, waiting first for the seed to sprout and then for it finally to bloom.  What color will the flower be?  What shape?  Will it be fragrant or have great seed heads?  You just never know til you see it.  Even the most careful of hybridizers can be surprised by the result of a carefully planned cross between two different clematis.  

C. viorna

I am a novice at starting clematis from seed.  My first foray into the process came into being when the British Clematis Society sent me seed in 2011 as a reward for joining .  Those first seedlings are growing well, but none have bloomed yet.  Since then I have also started seeds received from friends, the Rogerson Clematis Collection, and the International Clematis Society, as well as seeds harvested in my own garden.   One caveat about growing clematis from seed:  it can be a long process — not for the impatient.  Some seeds can take as much as three years to sprout; others as little as six months.

Seedheads from C. integrifolia ‘Skylark’

Today’s subject is about the first step in seed starting — collecting seed.   To be viable, clematis seeds need to be brown (not green) and should look as though they may drop any minute.  In the photo on the right, the seedhead in the middle is still too green and its feathery tails are not fluffy enough to harvest yet.  But take a look at the seedhead to the left and below it — seeds are brown with fluffy feathers and ready to be picked.  Some clematis have very long feathery tails like those in the photo (from C. ‘Skylark’) and others have much shorter tails that don’t fluff up so much.   Seeds can be large like C. viorna (below) — about 1/4 – 1/2 inch wide.  Others are smaller, but still visible.  If you don’t see any seeds in the fluff, there probably aren’t any.  Go out into your garden with a container or a baggie and check your clematis for viable seeds.  If you find seed, pull the whole seed head off with your fingers and drop it into a container.  Be sure to have a separate container for each plant from which you harvest.

Back indoors, dump the seeds, tails and all, on a plate or paper towel.  What a treasure trove of possibilities!  I take the time to pull the feathery tail off each seed.  This step allows me to get a better idea of just how many seeds I have, but is not required for successful germination.  

To the left are the C. viorna seeds prior to cleaning (removing the tails).  The purpose of these feathery tails is to help the clematis drift in the air and land, perhaps, a bit far from its mother.  But they are certainly not needed when planting seed in pots.  Below is the same set of seeds, minus their tails. 

Since recent Seattle weather has been wet, I will allow the seeds to really dry out on a paper towel on top of the refrigerator for a few days. 

C. viorna seeds after removing tails.

When I feel sure the seeds are dry, I will pour them into glycene or paper seed bags and place the bags in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and put it  in the fridge.  I also put one or two of the dehydration packets from old vitamin bottles inside to help keep the seeds dry.  Some clematis seed require a cold time prior to germination, so I just put them all in cold storage for a few months.  In spring I will plant them in seed starter mix and leave them outside to their own devices.  This process works well for me so far. 

But if you have a greenhouse or an inside seed starting area with enough light and warmth, you could pot some of your seed up and wait and watch all winter to see that first little tiny bright green leaf that will lighten your heart and bring a big smile to your face.  If you decide to start yours now, here is a link to a great website that goes into the nitty gritty of starting clematis from seed: .  Otherwise, like me, wait til spring, when I will show you how I start my seeds.

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