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Collecting Clematis

June 17, 2020

By Jon Peter, Curator & Plant Records Manager, Royal Botanical Gardens.

Clematis is a highly collectable genera of herbaceous perennials and climbing vines. There are more than 4000 species, cultivars, and hybrids in existence. Flowers can be large and small, have sprays of star-like flowers, and hanging trumpet shaped flowers and with a bountiful array of colour combinations. Clematis come in a stunning variety of forms that are sure to pique your interest. Even the fluffy and feathery seed heads are magnificent well into autumn.

Clematis ‘Duchess of Albany’
Clematis ‘Duchess of Albany’ – RBG Accession 20140088*A – This old cultivar features ‘tulip shaped’ flowers and was introduced into cultivation in 1894.
Clematis ‘Gipsy Queen’
Clematis ‘Gipsy Queen’ – RBG Accession 20140098*A – A beautiful purple cultivar with wide spreading tepals, ‘Gipsy Queen’ was introduced in 1877 by United Kingdom nurseryman Thomas Cripps.

The genus name Clematis comes from the ancient Greek word meaning “a climbing plant”. Some gardeners may pronounce this name as “KLEM-uh-tiss” and others may use a different emphasis as in “klem-AT-iss”. This genus was first published by Linnaeus in Species Plantarum in 1753 but the name long pre-dates that as it was used in classical Greek for various climbing plants, and is based on κλήμα (klēma), meaning vine or tendril.

Clematis Niobe
Clematis ‘Niobe’ – RBG Accession 20140117*A – This cultivar was introduced from Poland in 1975. It produces very large red to purple to nearly black flowers.
Clematis ‘Ruby Wedding’
Clematis ‘Ruby Wedding’ – RBG Accession 20140133*A – This unique cultivar has Clematis texensis in its parentage and starts off more ‘tulip shaped’ and begins to open wider as the flower matures.

The Clematis Collection on the lower terrace of Laking Garden was constructed in spring 2014 as part of the renovation of the Iris and Peony Collections. The iron ‘tree sculptures’ which support the growth of the climbing clematis were designed by the award winning Virginia Burt Designs (www.vburtdesigns.com) and fabricated by Dan Klick, both local Burlington, ON artists.

Clematis ‘Huldine'
Clematis ‘Huldine’ – RBG Accession 20140103*A – The beautiful tree sculptures, which supports the upward growth of the vines as a typical trellis does, are known at RBG to be called ‘treellis’.

There is a long history of collecting Clematis at RBG, going back to 1986 with the opening of the Harvey Clematis Garden in Hendrie Park which showcased clematis species from around the world. The current edition of the Clematis Collection features over forty distinct types of Clematis, mostly hybrid cultivars. Some of these were hybridized as far back the late nineteenth century (‘Candida’ – 1862, ‘The President’ – 1876, ‘Duchess of Albany’ – 1890) and throughout the twentieth century (‘Blue Belle’ – 1923, ‘Ernest Markham’ – 1937, ‘Margaret Hunt’ – 1969, ‘Mrs. Harvey’ – 1999).

Clematis ‘Mrs Harvey’
Clematis ‘Mrs Harvey’ – RBG Accession 20140115*B – My personal favourite in our Clematis Collection is this gorgeous blue, bell-shaped flowered cultivar with tepals which become recurved and irregularly twisted. This cultivar has a connection to RBG as it was found by Christopher Andrew and Christopher Graham next to the garden of the late Mrs. C. W. Anne Harvey, right here in Ontario. RBG’s original collection of clematis was mostly donated from Anne Harvey’s personal collection and the garden was opened as the Harvey Clematis Garden in 1986
Clematis ‘Polish Spirit’
Clematis ‘Polish Spirit’ – RBG Accession 20140121*A – This popular, easy to grow cultivar was raised by Brother Stefan Franczak of Poland in 1984 and introduced by Raymond Evison in 1990.

The Clematis Collection features cultivars which were hybridized throughout the world, notably in Poland, France, and Japan, and are a nice representation of the abundant variety of clematis flower colours and shapes available, from exquisite tulip-type flowers of the Texensis-Viorna Group to the large, flattened disc flowers of the Large-Flowered Group. Thousands of clematis cultivars have been hybridized and grown for their magnificence throughout the summer months. RBG’s Clematis Collection is at peak bloom in June to July and continues to dazzle with feathery seed heads well into autumn.

Clematis ‘Perle d’Azur’
Clematis ‘Perle d’Azur’ – RBG Accession 20140119*A – This hybrid that was raised by Francisque Morel in France in 1885 can have much paler coloration than this image portrays. Either way, it is beautiful plant which is later to flower.

With the right conditions, clematis can be very rewarding to grow in your garden, the complex part is how you prune them in late winter. Clematis can be divided into three groups based on the standard of pruning which is best suited to them. The pruning groups are indicated on the labels, so visit often to explore and learn the different methods that each pruning group prefers.

Clematis Collection pictured in early spring 2016
Clematis Collection pictured in early spring 2016, just after late winter pruning of the collection.

Currently we have 142 individual plants represented by 61 accessions, 11 species and 57 taxa (unique types) throughout the gardens of RBG. You can find examples of the herbaceous (non-vining) clematis growing in Rock Garden, you will see clematis draped upon roses in Hendrie Park Rose Garden, and you can experience a great diversity of historic and new clematis growing in the Clematis Collection at Laking Garden. The clematis started flowering in May and many will continue to flower for months, so please come, and enjoy the magnificence of our little collection of cherished Clematis.

Clematis ‘Huldine’
Clematis ‘Huldine’ – RBG Accession 20140103*A – The pearly white tepals are a beautiful backdrop for the fine yellow anthers of this hybrid which was also raised in Lyon, France by Francisque Morel circa 1914 and introduced by Ernest Markham in 1934.
A portion of the Clematis Collection
A portion of the Clematis Collection as viewed on a beautiful sunny morning on June 18, 2020 with the Peony Collection in peak flower in the foreground and the Laking Garden Gazebo in the background.

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