MY CLEMATIS DIARY
As usual we will start the month's diary with a quiz. The answer will be found on August 5th. I am going to name a number of clematis, seven in all, and three of these are red clematis. Perhaps you can pick out the three. 'Ernest Markham', 'Fair Rosamond', 'Jackmanii Alba', 'Victoria', 'Lasurstern', 'Niobe', 'Ville de Lyon'.
When you receive this it will be early autumn in the UK and the northern hemisphere and early spring in the southern hemisphere.
In the northern hemisphere we find ourselves in the second best time of the year for planting clematis. The best is the early spring and the early autumn is second best. It is a period for tidying up towards the end of the month. It is also a time to gather clematis seed for spring sowing. One may wish to pull some of the late flowering clematis off their supports, and I am thinking of the viticellas; the Orientalis Group, and the Texensis. Cut off everything except for the lower 3ft (1m). Tie these together and tuck them away out of sight. In late winter you can then prune to the ground. Watering can be reduced but one keeps an eye on the weather. If it becomes very dry one resumes the watering. It is no longer necessary to fertilise the plants. The general work continues - the weeding, cutting lawns, trimming edges, etc.
In the southern hemisphere at least one activity is the same as in the northern hemisphere. It is the best moment for planting clematis. Having planted them make sure they have adequate nourishment and, if need be, add manure or a handful of good general fertiliser around the plant but well away from the stems. This is also the moment to prune the late flowering clematis to the ground, making sure that frost damage is unlikely. It is worth now looking round the Early Large Flowered Clematis, the 'Nelly Moser' group, to cut out any damaged stems.
It is the time to move around the garden and be sure that one has identified any place where a clematis can profitably be grown. Having decided what to buy, it is the moment to visit a nursery to make the necessary choice. If there is no nearby nursery then one can profit from the perusal of a catalogue from a good nursery. These can be planted in early autumn in the northern hemisphere. Most gardeners will prefer to do this exercise in early spring, the best time for planting.
Some of the late flowering clematis are now quite spectacular. The white leafed pear, Pyrus salicifolia 'Pendula' has three clematis climbing into it - 'Blue Belle', a very deep blue, 'Abundance' a bright red, and violet 'Prince Charles'. Showing up against a Cotinus in bloom is the American 'Betty Corning'. There are several hundred bells, all perfect.
I am struck by the very large number of young birds around. It is pleasant to think that one has contributed to an increase in the bird population. These young birds are hungry and maybe they displace the older birds. But I am told there is another reason for one not seeing the older birds - they are moulting at the moment and during this time, which can last up to a month, they tend to hide themselves.
There was an intrusion into the garden today but a pleasant one. There is no objection to a man-made intrusion as long as it harmonises with the environment. In this case it was a balloon. Except for an occasional burst of noise from the gas chamber it very quietly floats above and over you. I was offered a ride by the family for my 80th birthday. But the captain, on hearing that I had two artificial hips, declined to take me. As it happened they had a very gentle landing. The compensation from the family was as good as the balloon ride! Now for the quiz result. The three red roses were 'Ernest Markham', 'Niobe', 'Ville de Lyon'.
I have been intrigued by a phenomena that you could call "March of the Trees". On one side of our property there is a large group of trees, collectively called "The Grove". Between us and them there is a lane and a lawn. The trees, whatever I do, invade the space of the lawn and the lane. They do this by an invasion of seedling trees that soon become small trees and then large trees. Furthermore, any space is quickly filled by branches from the large trees. During the winter I try to halt the invasion by taking up seedlings and by lopping branches. Next spring the invasion continues.
The hundred or so viticellas that I had growing over my holly hedge has been as fine as usual. The colour is now on the wane. On the road side of the hedge I have a number of Large Flowered Clematis. The comparison between the two groups is striking. Virtually no colour comes from the Large Flowered Clematis. The colour coming from the viticellas on the other hand is so striking that people come from miles around just to see the phenomena. Yet so often people are taken by the Large Flowered Clematis at the nurseries and buy and grow them. I am hoping that my next book Choosing Your Clematis will help to correct this.
How miserable Clematis cirrhosa and Clematis napaulensis look at this time of the year. Every plant needs a dormant period and these evergreen clematis, that give such joy in late winter, are in their dormant period now. They look so miserable that it would be easy for someone to throw them away thinking they were dead. But in a month or two green shoots will appear and in no time at all we shall have bloom. The Clematis texensis are particularly good this year. There were early signs of mildew. But one dose of fungicide stopped that immediately.
I was given a very useful piece of information today. One of the largest botanic gardens in France is at Caen. They are almost completely organic. They stimulate the production of ladybirds. So much so that a citizen of Caen can call at the botanic garden and be given a handful of ladybirds to take back to his own garden. These are very effective against aphids. They would not, of course, be effective against fungal disorders.
The moulting continues in the birds. It has now struck the peacocks. This is the only productive time in the life of a peacock. It leaves a few gorgeous plumes behind as it walks. If one could rush them through a bed of shrub roses I can see them being almost denuded and you could run a hat factory from the proceeds. But, of course, their appetite is as strong as ever.
'Plucky' the pheasant now has a new tail! His springy steps are now even more arrogant than usual. 'Plucky' is a real strutter.
I am feeling much better about Turkey today. I was under the impression that peacocks came from that country. I now understand that they come from India and Sri Lanka. I wonder what makes Sri Lankans, Indians and owners of peacocks identify with strutting peacocks. Lady Amherst, wife of the Governor General of India back at the beginning of the 19th century, not only brought clematis from India but also brought back birds. I checked on her. She had the good sense not to bring the peacock back.
Most of today was devoted to my granddaughter, Georgina. With great enthusiasm she is studying Roman Britain. Of course, near to us here, we have the oldest Roman town in Britain, Colchester. In fact it claims to be the oldest recorded town in England. So of we went to the castle where there is a marvellous, superlative, fantastic, museum of the Romans in Britain. Every aspect of their life here, from their baths, to their houses, to their farms, to their wars, to their roads, to their clothes, to their gardens, are covered by displays and films and exhibits. After all, they were here 400 years and there is a great deal to know about them. Doing it leisurely the museum took us most of the morning.
We walked up the High Street and in the near sky I could see that letter "M". I knew I was in for it. I could tell we had to enter the doors of McDonald's. I closed down all my senses to zero. But Georgina was an authority, an expert, and so I was able to leave it to her. I found a quiet corner and left her to do all the ordering, etc. She soon came up carrying all the packaging. This is half the fun - opening these packets. I had a gargantuan coke, the point being that there is a stimulant in this that helps to sustain you through these moments.
We proceeded further along the High Street and there was Waterstone's new bookshop. I kept Georgina well away from the religious section. She is already into meditation. I noticed a cushion and a few candles in her room! That tells you all. Instead she got immersed into a very humorous adolescent volume. I had a glance round and noticed their bookshop is in decline, only having one of my books on display!
We were now approaching the climax of our visit. We fetched the car and made for Staples, the stationers. Nothing fascinates my grandchildren more than a visit to Staples. Georgina let drop the fact that she wasn't intending to bankrupt me. I thought today was only going to be near bankruptcy. In the back of her mind is the fact that her brother, Julian, managed to extract a mobile phone out of me on his visit a few weeks ago. Instead of trying to stimulate your brain to counter the ingenious hints that come your way it's far easier just to nod occasionally. We had a nodding session, and it wasn't really too hurtful.
Soon Julian, Georgina's brother, will be back from the Far East. He is travelling with a school group through China to Mongolia and back to China. They expect to help in an orphanage in Mongolia, but also to be doing some pretty severe trekking. He will be on the lookout for clematis at my behest. The great Russian botanist from Leningrad, Maximowicz, explored in this area in the last century. China, of course, is the home of some of our finest imports. One can think of C. montana 'Rubens' introduced by E.S. Wilson for instance. Clematis lanuginosa was brought in by Robert Fortune from China and revolutionised the hybridising of clematis in Europe. Julian will be visiting the Great Wall of China and, growing up parts of it is Clematis hexasepala, which is used by the Chinese for medicinal purposes - against cancer.
Today proved to be a day of rest. Maybe I needed it. We both decided that we would do something that is very rare in our lives. We would sit in the garden all day and enjoy it. We have seven seats in the garden where one can relax. Today we sat on some of them. But you must be firm with yourself if you do this. It is forbidden to do any gardening. You can, maybe, do some trivial job like turning an ornament to turn in a different direction. Being without my hearing aid I sat close to the fountain and was delighted by the music. We ate out all day. I had a bottle of champagne left from my birthday and it is a good thing sometimes just to celebrate ourselves.
Back to reality today! Marching across the lawn was a peahen with no less than three little ones!! Treble trouble. Of course, the little ones look adorable. What can you do faced with innocence? On the other hand, Nero and Caligula were infants once. Each day the innocent will be eating their own weight in clematis shoots.
As one busies oneself in the garden, one comes across jobs that need doing. However, one needs to ask oneself whether it is possible to defer them until a quiet period in the garden such as in late autumn or winter. Doing them now will interrupt essential tasks such as watering, weeding, pruning, etc. The sort of task that can be deferred could be, for instance, adding extra wire supports to walls, extending a bed, fixing a new seat in place, improvements to paths, etc.
Looking at my wife's efforts on her patios, I have to admit to pangs of envy. She has so much colour everywhere. The same applies to the conservatory. Not only is there colour. There is also scent. Furthermore it is productive - lemons for the kitchen, parsley for the cooking, mint for the lamb, lavender for lavender bags, etc. Clematis has a strong competitor here. Should I join the ranks of the patio adorners and abandon this fickle and demanding plant. My resolution was dashed even more when I looked at the water lilies in the pond in full sun. Do we have a clematis that can match such a water lily for beauty?
My confidence in clematis received another jolt today. I find myself weeding a bed that I had rather neglected for a few weeks. The nettles and the weeds are hip high, all benefiting from the manure given in copious quantities to the clematis. The clematis had certainly moved a little but with nothing like the vigour of the weeds. Are too many of our clematis constitutionally weak? Are we being ruthless enough in discarding weak plants? Too often, simply because a clematis is new, it is given a place. However, all too often the clematis lacks distinction and vigour.
The wondrous viticella display is coming to an end. A few, such a 'Huldine' which is a late flowerer, is still making a brave show. In fact I noticed that one plant of 'Huldine' is yet to flower. Had I pruned the early flowering viticellas immediately after flowering then I would have had a second crop but, alas, time was too short this year.
Today there was a fine specimen of the 'Green Woodpecker' busy on the lawn. He is doing us good by removing insects, ants in particular. He really is a colourful chap. There is the crimson streak over the head. Bright green parts, yellow rump, and a red stripe round the eye in the male. I understand that he is sometimes called the 'yaffle' because his loud tone can almost sound like laughter. Furthermore, in some areas he is also called the rain bird. This is said to be due to the fact that in the clear atmospheric conditions before rain he can be heard so clearly.
The 'Great Spotted Woodpecker' is seen very often in the garden and they will feed at the bird table. They do not have a song but they produce a drumming noise by sharp taps of their bill on a dead bough. This is a very common sound in the garden here. The predominant colour seems to be black and white although again the red area at the back of the head can be conspicuous. Both sexes have a red area under the tail.
I am impressed by a climbing shrub that challenges even the best of clematis. This is Solanum jasminoides 'Album'. It's a fast growing and beautiful climber up to about 30ft (9m). It produces, on glossy leaves, large clusters of white flowers with a yellow centre. It has no scent. I am growing 'Triternata Rubromarginata' through it. This makes a nice contrast against the white flowers and supplies, in abundance, the scent so missing in the Solanum.
Last night, looking through the bedroom window late at night, there right under the window was a large male fox. It so happens that the lawn in that area has the best grass in the garden. Thus any rabbit in the garden frequents that area for this good grass. The fox was scenting around and clearly picking up the scent of the rabbit which I know is in the garden at the moment.
As is our wont, we quite often have a drink in the early evening either in the conservatory or on the patio. As the evening draws on, one can see formations of birds above us. Most often it is large groups of gulls who, having fed in the fields all day, are now making their way back to the coast. Sometimes they are in 'V' formation but most often in loose groups. Coming in the opposite direction from the coast would be large groups of crows making their way back to their roosting sites in the country. At about one mile distance on the junction of the River Brett and the River Stour is an area favoured by hundreds of Canada Geese. When the wind is from that direction their chorus can be easily heard.
Much as we might complain about many aspects of motoring the fact is that it is becoming increasingly easier to travel around this country because of the fine motorways. We are on our way to the island of Anglesea. Either from London or here you can now travel the whole distance on double carriageways. One notice we passed - Bridgemere Nurseries - brought my attention to clematis. Under the expert guidance of Chris Saunders the nursery has an excellent collection of the Orientalis Group. More than this, Chris Saunders has sought them in the Himalayas. His modest but riveting lecture was one of the best I had ever heard on plant hunting.
Our quest was the Bryn Terfyl Festival, and in particular, the first night which was devoted to opera. It was certainly a well-placed location being only a few yards from the double carriageway from London. It was held in a natural amphitheatre that could hold 100,000 people. The backcloth of trees and Snowdonia was spectacular. This was not a festival to bring Bryn Terfyl to his people. This was a festival for him to bring international opera to his people. A challenging programme was sung by four singers, all renowned on the international platform. An audience of 5,000 people gave them a warm reception. To attract 5,000 people to an opera concert in London would be creditable. To attract 5,000 people to an opera festival in this remote area borders on a miracle. The encore, bringing the four singers together, was no less than the quartet from the last act of Rigoletto. As the last tones of the Welsh National Anthem died away the brilliant firework display began. In turn this precipitated a cloudburst of immense proportions matching the cloudbursts that one can experience at the opera in Verona.
One of the delights of north Wales is the little town of Beaumaris on the Menai Straits and with a glorious, compelling, view of Snowdonia. This must have been the spot where the Druids, particularly their female consorts, held up the Roman invasion, and in distant East Anglia, allowed Queen Boudicca to massacre the garrison left behind in Colchester. You can visit the castle, but more interesting is the old prison. Here you can experience man's inhumanity to man and even walk to the scaffold.
Visiting an area, I like to pop into a second-hand bookshop, if there is one available. This one had thousands of books but one's life was made difficult by the fact that they were not grouped and labelled. But year's ago I came across an invaluable book here on clematis. This is a book by Jim Fisk in 1962 called Success with Clematis. It has an introduction by Rowland Jackman. A book of only 82 pages, it tells you all that is worth knowing. It's a gem, full of practical information.
At the extreme end of Anglesea is Holyhead, Caer Gybi in Welsh. The Caer reminds us that here there was a Roman fort. Holyhead Mountain is the only hill of consequence in Anglesea and being right on the coast it is a superb observation point over the Irish Sea. A part of the mountain has gone because stone was required to build the nearby breakwater which made a harbour refuge over a hundred years ago, and juts out into the sea for a distance of one and a half miles. The whole area is now a nature park. There is a museum devoted to the quarrying and to the building of the breakwater, and to the fog-station nearby. Long before it was a nature park it was my introduction to nature. Here we walked the paths, keeping an ear open for the whistle which would denote a coming explosion in the quarry. Over the hill was the fog station with its two old naval guns. These would be fired in fog to warn passing vessels of the coastline. Immediately under it is a cove inhabited by seals. We would climb the cliffs here for the eggs of puffins, raizorbills, guillemots and cormorants. When possible these were carried in our mouths for safety. On the nearby "Rocky Coast" we fished for bream, whiting and pollock. In the nearby lake you can fish for roach, perch and carp. I did not know then that here and there over the bushes are colonies of Clematis vitalba, now at the seed stage.
The supreme walk, in my experience, is that to Llandwyn Island on the west coast of Anglesea. The island is approached through a belt of trees, in the possession of the Forestry Commission, and entails a long walk on a magnificent beach, until you enter the island which is now a point not quite surrounded by water. It is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. You proceed a short distance, only to find on your right a small sandy cove that just simply compels you to strip off and swim. Passing a ruined church after a long walk you find yourself with a small row of cottages and two disused lighthouses. On a nearby small island is a large colony of cormorants. You are now right out into the ocean with nothing to impede your view of Snowdon in one direction and Holyhead Mountain in the other. For a real thrill come on a windy day. The roar of the waves will drown even the chattering of the cormorants in their colony. On one visit out at sea, high in the sky, I could see a group of gannets. A rare seabird. They wheel high in the sky and then dive, with a wing span of 6ft (1.5m), straight for the ocean. It is said that an old lady lived in one of these tiny cottages. With the incoming tide she would row to Caenarvon to shop. On the outgoing tide she would be carried back to her island.
It is interesting to ponder on what precipitates interest in clematis in an individual. I share an experience in common with Jim Fisk. He had an aunt with a Clematis 'Jackmani' and it was his interest in this that brought his lifelong interest in clematis. I also had an aunt who had a Clematis 'Jackmani'. In late summer they came from distances to see this glorious plant. It clearly stayed in my memory.
A walk round the garden today reminds me that there are still some fine clematis to be seen. I was impressed by a late flush of Clematis chrysocoma 'Continuity'. Its long stamens make it a striking flower. Its long stems make it excellent for cutting. Nearby was the lovely rose 'Maigold' with an autumn flush. A beautifully formed flower, it has gorgeous scent. The Texensis Group, of course, are at their best. Though I caught some mildew on 'Ladybird Johnson'. She is rather susceptible to this. The Orientalis Group, of course, is also at its best. But perhaps the most impressive is the Diversifolia Group at the moment. In flower I have such as 'Blue Boy', 'Blue Bird', 'Juuli', 'Arabella' and 'Hendersonii'. All these flower for a long period and make excellent border plants. They can climb into shrubs or they are quite happy to display themselves on artificial supports.
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