From the memory banks: Sweet Autumn Clematis

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a few things that got lost in the shuffle of the too-many-things-to-write-about growing season. One of them is Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora – also widely but erroneously known as C. ternifolia, it seems through a printer’s error shortly after its discovery in China; C. recta and C. paniculata are also synonyms). Ah, a Clematis by many other names can smell as sweet.

Apparently, this is another gardening thug with a tendency to escape in the wild. Take it from me, however, as a woman who seeks out thug-like plants with the hope they’ll survive my dry shade garden. All thugs are not created equal.

I planted this years ago, with dreams of it clambering up our biennially flowering old apple tree like a white cloud. It languished for a while, during which I took endless ribbing about my so-called rampant vine from Mr. TG. Then it unceremoniously expired.

That’s why I was very interested to see it growing in a sunny garden in East York. It was even close enough to the sidewalk that I could safely sniff, and can assure you it would be a sweetly scented way to be welcomed home as you walk through the bower.

Speaking of bowers, the very similar native version of this clematis, virgin’s bower or, by strange contrast, Devil’s darning needle (C. virginiana) can be differentiated from the Chinese species by its leaves, according to this article by Sue Sweeney on the Ontario Trees & Shrubs site. The native’s leaves are toothed, and the non-native’s are smooth.

Since I first attempted to grow this, a far bigger thug, Clematis fargesoides ‘Summer Snow’ has made itself quite at home on my fence (no more apple tree since we added the Queen Elizabeth Wing, 16 years ago). While unscented, it has larger (1″ or 2.5 cm), starlike flowers that bloom from late May to September. As far as I know, it’s content to stay put without roaming out of its bounds – not by seed, at any rate. As thugs go, this might be one of the good guys.


  1. That trickster Sweet Autumn clematis can't be killed here (Zone 7). It survives the droughts and gets revived in the winters…I totally love how it covers structure with its fragrant white flowers …but, also, dislike that it smothers everything in its way. I fell head over heals for another ranunculus family member Clematis montana 'Rubens' a delightful Vanilla scented beauty that has lived in a container all summer. I was supposed to stain the fence before I let it have its way with the garden.

    I totally empathize and sympathize with your dry shade conditions. I have sought out plants that tolerate it with varied success.


  2. My Sweet Autumn Clematis has been in the same spot for two years and never bloomed. Plentiful, healthy foliage, though. It gets plenty of water, has shaded roots, etc. Do you figure I should move it from part-sun to full sun or give it another year? It's gonna be hard to find a new spot.

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