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)

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!

Planted 6 More!

Now all my clematis are in the ground! Yippee!  I managed to plant the last six between downpours a few days before Christmas. 

One of them, Clematis Rhapsody, is obviously misnamed.  When I bought it late last spring — the flowers were HUGE and the bloom was a luscious light mauve with a reddish boss.  I simply couldn’t resist. But in the process of planting it the other day, between a dwarf Pieris and a variegated Fatsia along a fence, I looked it up on Clematis on the Web on my smartphone to see what exposure it needed.  Lo and behold, I realized that my plant is certainly NOT Clematis Rhapsody.  The first photo below is of my clematis blooming in its pot last June.  The other photo is the real Clematis Rhapsody–deep purple with a white boss.  Hrmph.  Unfortunately, this problem of misnamed clematis is not an uncommon occurence.   If you can identify my lovely unknown clematis — please let me know!


My Plant that is supposedly C. Rhapsody'

My Plant that is supposedly C.

The Real Clematis Rhapsody

The Real C. ‘Rhapsody’

The other five clematis I recently planted are listed below with links to photos and descriptions on that fabulous website, Clematis on the Web.  This website has incredible information and usually photos of thousands of clematis!  I can spend hours diddling around there.  I also use it when I’m at nurseries to look up a particular clematis.  I can find out how the blooms look, when it will bloom, how to prune it, and lots more.

Clematis The First Lady, an American clematis

Clematis Jan Fopma, a clematis that lounges rather than climbs

Clematis Bagatelle

 Clematis Etoile de Malicorne

Clematis florida sieboldiana, a second one because I love it so much

Now that all my clematis are planted (except for three that are still to small to be planted out), I guess I’ll peruse my favorite mail-order clematis nurseries.  I’ll be telling you more about them later.

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