I’m all about the vines since I’ve started training them to give me screening and privacy (see before and after in this video). But I hadn’t included clematis in the project because I’d never had success with them – unless you count the out-of-control Sweet Autumn Clematis that’s a noxious weed in these parts.

But then a couple of weeks ago Adrian Higgins wrote about clematis on in the Washington Post and I HAD to have one.  Or more. (Nonsubscribers to the Post, if the paywall won’t let you in, try using your browser’s incognito setting.)

Higgins especially praised the later- and smaller-blooming C. viticella like this ‘Sweet Summer Love’ variety shown in the photo above, growing among roses in his own garden. He touted them as somewhat easier to deal with, which was all I needed to hear.

But when I scoured garden centers across two counties in the Maryland suburbs of DC, there were none to be found.  Worse, at some stores there were no clematis to be found of any kind! Which only made me want them more, and want them NOW, not next year, because I’d read Higgins initial word of wisdom (of many) on the subject of clematis vines: they won’t look like much for the first two years. “This is what is required of clematis: you plant it in fairly rich soil, you chop it back, then you let it slumber for at least two years.”

So I wanted the slumbering to start ASAP.

Left to right: The President and Will Goodwin.

So I wound up with the more common and difficult type of clematis that blooms twice – in late spring/early summer and again in late summer/early fall –  one ‘The President’ and one ‘Will Goodwin.’  But now that I’m committed to them, I reread Higgins’s article and found it daunting.

  • Where to grow? The one weird pickiness of clematis I was familiar with is “liking their head in the sun and their feet in shade.” But how to plant them is weirder still – inches above the crown or where they were growing in the pot, then cutting them back to no taller than 12 inches.  Higgins acknowledges it’s hard to remove all that nice growth, but says it’s worth it for the increased branching both actions are intended to achieve.
  • They’d better not dry out, so water regularly and mulch them. They “like moisture but not wetness.”  Got that?
  • And also they need feeding! 
  • Then there’s pruning, which is complicated and intimidating. There are three groups, and the Group 2 that includes my newly bought varieties indicates that they bloom on old and new wood, so better not do much to them! Just remove the dead stuff (duh) in late winter.  (Higgins refers readers to the Clematis Society’s website, which “has sought to simplify this by publishing a info about the pruning groups.
  • Oh, and the large-flowered ones like mine are prone to disease! “One evening you see the vine about to burst forth, and the next morning you are greeted with stems and unopened buds that have collapsed. Not every stem is always afflicted, but it’s enough to ruin the show.” What???? It’s called Clematis Wilt and it’s baaaaad, caused by not enough sunlight or air circulation.  So something else to add to the site requirements, along with not too much sunlight at the base.  
  • And careful – the stems are brittle, so make sure you don’t harm it during the planting process, which we know is weird to begin with.

So despite my many decades of planting perennials, I felt anxious about planting my new clematis vines, with all their strange requirements and frailties. So naturally I turned to YouTube, where I homed in on one my favorite gardening channels – Oklahoma Gardening – and found this one that showed me what I needed to know.

Scenes from the video. (L) Showing what depth to plant it at – looks like 3″ above the soil level in the pot. (R) Pointing to where to cut back the plant to after planting – to no taller than 12.”

More tips from the video:

  • Amend the soil with compost and add bone meal.
  • Remove the post the vine is attached to, and all the ties, detach all the stems from each other, and then spread them out before attaching them to their new support. (This applies to all vine, right?)
  • She also suggests getting a wire cage for the clematis to attach to if the support is too thick for the leaves to wrap around (as is the wooden fence in the video). Or couldn’t we just hammer in a few nails to attach string to, to tie up the vine?
  • Her parting words remind me of Higgins’ opening advice in his article: “If you pay a little attention to it right at the beginning and get it trained right, they become pretty maintenance-free and provide a lot of enjoyment for the garden.”

Well, I’d say I’ve paid more than a little attention, catering to every single demand this picky plant makes on the gardener, and it had better deliver. Not any time soon, of course, but two years from now these babies had better dazzle.

The image of a friend’s assorted varieties of clematis on one support inspired me to plant my ‘The President’ and ‘Will Goodwin’ at the base of the same pole.