My long, sad, happy affair with Clematis

Clematis and I have a thing. It isn’t always good. It isn’t always long. But, you know, I just can’t quit them.

This time of year, the love affair begins, when the garden arch in the back is decked with the blue wings of Clematis alpina ‘Pamela Jackman’ (above). It’s a lovely little clematis that will take some shade and has been faithful to me for over a decade.

Clematis ‘Dawn’ with admirer

Last year, I was thrilled to have enough new growth to be able to train it through the branches of the Rosa ‘New Dawn’. Great, I thought. Wonderful! This year, however, the blooms seem lost in the rose foliage. Is it trying to tell me something?

I have many clematis trained up the fence that divides me from my neighbour M. We’re friendly types, so the fence is open weave. I have lots: ‘Hagley Hybrid’ (aka ‘Pink Chiffon’), ‘The President’, and one of my faves C. viticella ‘Venosa Violacea’ (to name just a few). They bloom beautifully. Trouble is, it’s mostly on his side of the fence.

After years of this, in 2003 I finally got wise and purchased a pyramid-shaped obelisk, plunked in the middle of my tiny garden bed. Three clematis went in, including a pink ‘Dawn’ (to go with my New Dawn rose; see it pictured at right, with friend), blue ‘Daniel Deronda’ and barred ‘Dr. Ruppel’. In 2009, Dawn remains a winner, but t’other two seem to be no-shows. TBD.

Everyone should have a C. macropetala ‘Maidwell Hall.’ I used to. It was an exquisitely blue and white multi-petalled, nodding variety that bloomed in May – and it was paired with a pure white C. macropetala ‘The Swan’ . You’ll note the collective use of the past tense.

Had a lovely ‘Lady Betty Balfour’ – once or thrice. Nope. A ‘Nelly Moser’ and ‘Bee’s Jubilee’ – nuh uh. ‘Anna Louise’ – my hopes are still up for this one. Perhaps second time’s the charm? The death roll is too lengthy and depressing to continue.

Clematis fargesoides ‘Summer Snow’

You can see that I exist as a one-woman subsidy for the clematis industry.

Hey, I even met clematis breeder extraordinaire Ray Evison once at Canada Blooms (in the “good old days” of the Loblaws extravaganza gardens). The split second before I’d recognized who he was, I asked him to identify… a nearby shrub.

Do you think he jinxed me?

Finally, there’s, Clematis fargesoides ‘Summer Snow.’ It’s a delicate white flower with serious, thug-like tendencies. Rooted in the driest, north-most corner of my house, it still manages to put out ten or fifteen feet of new growth in a season, all of it absolutely covered with small white stars for more than a month, followed by fluffy seed heads.

And thank heavens for that.


  1. Now you went and made me feel bad. My ‘Rebel Love’ went an died (roofing accident) and all my other Clematis are at the old house. My yard is now a clematis free zone. I’m going to have to do something about that.

  2. Perhaps you are cursed but you are not alone! Clematis seem to be very challenging to establish. I planted one last year (Tangutica) that is still alive this year, so that is my biggest clematis success so far 🙂 Someday I will aim for a bloom.
    Plant Lady

  3. Wow … I’ve never seen this type here in Malaysia. I guess we don’t have it here. I know, it’s the weather… That is one nice flower.

  4. Clematis ‘Summer Snow’ is great, and having killed a few autumn clematis, I’m happy to hear it’s a thug. Is it fragrant? That’s often a deciding factor in my small garden.

  5. Thanks, everyone for your comments.

    Pomon, Sadly ‘Summer Snow’ not fragrant. I know what you mean by fragrance. My tiny garden now a bowl of lilac and daphne. Mmmm. But the clematis is very tough and long-lasting.

  6. Don't give up on Clematis. I grow many in my Toronto Garden. I find that the viticellas do best. My favourite is 'Elvan', a lovely campanulate purple/pink. However can't resist the large flowering ones. Today i bought 'Yukikomachi' at Fiesta Gardens. Maybe we should look at these as being short-lived perennials?

  7. After seeing a spectacular "Summer Snow" clematis on a garden tour I went out and bought *3* as I think I dont have the perfect place for it to flourish ie not enough sun or space so I am hedging my bets! But you have given me hope as you say yours does well with it positioned on the north side of your home so obviously not much sun…right?

  8. 3 years ago, I was looking for a vine/ clematis to cover a 12 feet tall wooden fence, in Montreal. The area is shaded completely by the neighbour's house.
    Upon reading your article I realized, I found the right candidate: Summer Snow.
    So, I ordered one online and after 3 years of patience it has nicely covered the fence and has been in flower since early July, and is still full of buds. I love it.
    It is now competing with another thug at the other end of the fence Tangutica, which will be covered in yellow nodding bells by early september.
    I just wanted to thank you, for your article, it helped me to decide 🙂


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