Clematis do well here in Portugal and there’s even one native to both Portugal and western Spain, Clematis campaniflora – it has dainty little blue-white bell-shaped flowers with curved petals. This one is certainly worth a spot in your garden!
Clematis is a popular plant that produces masses of flowers in a variety of shapes and colors, from herbaceous types for a border to vines for a wall, fence or pergola, so decide which ones you want first.
Herbaceous varieties grow to between 75cm and 1.5m in height with a width of less than 1m, but vines will grow vigorously and will soon fill a wall that will reach around 3m in height and need something to hold on to – twine or wire of at least 1 inch from the wall will work well.
Clematis is all about flowers, so it makes sense to choose one that goes well with the rest of your garden. Do you want big, showy blooms, striped or double, or something more subtle and delicate? What about color? Fragrant flowers? Decorative seeds after flowering? One that blooms at a specific time of year? decisions decisions!
Most clematis grow best in a sunny or partially shaded spot, but there are plants that are suitable for most aspects. Pick your spot in the garden and choose a plant that will thrive there, perhaps a shady wall or one that’s particularly hot and sunny – and if you prefer an evergreen, remember these need a sunny, sheltered spot.
Maybe you have a theme in mind, so color might be important.
Clematis Flame is a large, vigorous, deciduous climber with masses of small, fragrant, star-shaped, creamy white flowers with glossy green leaves. Flowers appear in late summer and fall, followed by fluffy seed heads.
Cirrhosa clematis freckles has bell-shaped, creamy-yellow flowers, sometimes mottled delicately with red interior, that reach up to 6.5 cm in diameter and are borne from late winter to early spring, followed by silky seed heads.
Clematis Viticella or Italian clematis as it is sometimes called, has purple flowers and is a great climber along a fence, rock face or other vertical space. It may spread to the ground in a wooded area, emerge from a container placed on a patio, or provide a backdrop to a cottage or traditional garden. There are so many to choose from and many are sold in garden centers. If you have a particular preference I’m sure they will advise you on availability.
Popular ones are often available year-round, while more unusual types may only be available during certain times of the year. In garden centers this is often just before flowering when the plants are in bud. Clematis are usually sold in containers, with climbers putting up a tripod of sticks or a small trellis for support.
Look for healthy-looking plants with more than one stem growing from the base and with growth covering most of its support – roots should be visible through the base of the pot, indicating that it is is a well established plant. When bringing your plant home, remember that container clematis need to keep their roots cool, so dress the pot with a layer of pebbles, plant low-growing plants in the same container, or place other planted containers on the sunny side.
Avoid placing your clematis right at the base of a wall or fence, especially if there are gutters or an overhanging roof as it can be very dry. Instead, position them about 12 inches apart or in a more open spot that also has room to grow.
Clematis prefer a moist and well-drained soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH. If your soil is acidic, sweeten it regularly with limestone or some wood ash. When planting, dig a good hole, work in plenty of compost and some granular organic fertilizer, and give your plant plenty of room to grow – some clematis are strong climbers and quickly become a nuisance in too small a space.
Every flower gardener should know the pleasure of growing clematis. If you already have one, you’re probably planning how to squeeze another one in!