MY CLEMATIS DIARY
Majorca has two wild clematis in its flora. One is Clematis cirrhosa and the other is Clematis flammula. Last year I made the acquaintance of Clematis flammula in the late spring. This year I was just able to catch Clematis cirrhosa before all the flowers had gone. As my first hunting ground I took the old road from Pollenca to Campanet, which takes one through a gorgeous valley in the foothills of the mountains. At first I saw none. Then after a mile, suddenly, on the left side of the road, facing north, there was a plant of Clematis cirrhosa in full bloom. The shrub went up to no more than 5ft (1.5m). It was in flower, I realised, because it was in a very shaded part of the road against a tall hedge.
On a previous visit I had explored the hamlet of Biribona, and I knew that running out of the village was a lane that led up into the mountains. It seemed just the sort of place to find more Clematis cirrhosa. So I journeyed there today. Just as I walked out of the village I saw some cirrhosa up on a wall and I took this as a good omen. However, casting an eye to the right and left of me, I journeyed up towards the mountains for at least two miles and saw nothing in the way of Clematis cirrhosa. Mark you, there was a great deal else to see. Just as I left the village there was a splendid olive grove. The trees looked as if they had been there for infinite time, all gnarled and twisted. I noticed, too, that they had been pruned. Very heavily pruned. It seemed drastic treatment for trees so old but I am sure the owners knew what they were doing. Further up there was a stream, now dry, with trees on both sides. I made a note that although the lane would be difficult for cars nevertheless it would be a lovely place for a picnic some day. But as for Clematis cirrhosa there was none.
Today I returned to Biribona because I had seen Clematis cirrhosa high up on one of the walls and therefore thought that surely somewhere there must be some Clematis cirrhosa. So this time I took the road to Caimari. Sure enough within a few feet of leaving the village I came upon an abundance of it. All the way to Caimari, a distance of about five miles, there was Clematis cirrhosa on both sides of the road. One could almost call this the road of Clematis cirrhosa.
Today I returned to the old road between Pollenca and Campanet on our way to the caves of Campanet. But there was a purpose in my visit. Botanists describing the flora of Majorca make the point that the flowers of cirrhosa and its foliage can be very diverse. So my plan was to check on this supposition. They are clearly right. Having found a clematis with diverse blooms and diverse foliage I then checked to see how closely they grew together. Within a distance of ten yards (9m) I found one clematis heavily freckled inside, so freckled, that on the outside the bloom looked red. Within the ten yards there was another plant with the flower only lightly freckled. Again within the ten yards there was a plant with a flower with no freckles at all. It was a clear white bloom. The foliage again was equally diverse. In some plants a leaf can be single and large, in another it could be finely cut, and in yet another it could be very finely cut.
Collecting a plant in the wild reminds one of the thrill that the great plant hunters must have experienced. Or did they always know at the time what an impression the new plant was going to cause? Who was the greatest plant hunter of all time? Siebold from Germany, PËre Armand David from France and EH Wilson from the UK must compete for this title.
And who was the most significant plant hunter for clematis? There there can be little doubt. Robert Fortune's finding of Clematis lanuginosa created the interest in clematis. He must have been bewitched by this large clematis growing wild on the hills of central China.
The finding of Clematis patens was also significant for the development of clematis. But much less so than the finding of Clematis lanuginosa. One of the Jackman's, probably George Jackman, published a list of the genetic background of 100 clematis grown in the 19th century. Eighty five per cent of these had Clematis lanuginosa in their background, pointing to the immense impact that this clematis made. Clematis patens on the other hand had something more like 8% in the background of the clematis. Clematis patens however is a much tougher clematis than the Clematis lanuginosa and comes from Northern China and Korea.
When there are not many clematis about in flower to admire, then naturally, one's eye picks up colour elsewhere. Walking in the countryside this morning my eye caught a land band of yellow in the distance. This proved to be acres and acres of yellow gorse. They were a telling sight in the sun. This reminded me that when Linnaeus came to Great Britain he was loud in his praise of our gorse. We natives tend to regard it as a weed which inhabits waste ground. He saw the intrinsic beauty of it.
Before going away I had put my Clematis fasciculiflora in a shed in the dark. My purpose was to retard the flowering of the plant. People showing clematis sometimes have to do this in order to get the plant flowering at the right moment. So I was interested to see how effective was this mechanism. It was very effective. On my return I could see that the plant had hardly matured at all.
Today I have been looking at all the clematis that have been given protection against frost this winter. The time has come to remove the protection. I have been using two types of material, one 'garden fleece' and the other 'bubble wrap'. It would seem to me that the garden fleece is the superior material. It breathes. Bubble wrap makes an impenetrable protection which, unfortunately, allows no air to get in. Thus mould and rotting can take place in the leaves and stems.
I have been looking at the Type 1 pruning group. This type embraces the Evergreen Group, the Alpinas, the Macropetalas, the Rockery Group, and the Montana Group. The first four groups are not going to need pruning this year. I'll reserve judgement over the fifth group. I can that one or two may need pruning after flowering.
Today I went round all my Early Large Flowering clematis, Group VI, in my classification. They make up Type 2 in the pruning code. I have simply taken out all the dead stems and left it at that. After this group has flowered it may be worthwhile doing some further pruning.
Today I have undertaken the final pruning of Type 3 in the pruning code. In my gardener's classification this embraces the Late Large Flowered clematis, the Herbaceous Group, the Viticella Group, the Texensis Group, the Orientalis Group and the Late Autumn Group. Last autumn all these plants were pruned to within 2-3ft
(0.5 -1m) of the ground. The stems were brought together in a tie and they were left. The stems gave some protection to the crowns of those plants. Now they have all been cut right to the ground. In most instances young shoots are already coming from the ground. I am somewhat happier to see some good strong shoots coming from the soil rather than weaker shoots coming from short stems that have been left in the ground.
Today I have been checking on my watering system. Most of the garden is watered by a leaky pipe system 4-6ins (10-15cms) under the ground. I have six watering points. This means that I go to each point in turn giving the area watered by that point about an hour's watering. Some day I might put these points on a clock so that the watering occurs automatically. This is by far the best system for watering clematis. The water is released underground, thus none is lost. Furthermore the ground around the crown of the plant is not made moist; this reduces the incidence of stem rot (clematis wilt). Each year I have a few breaks in the pipes. This is usually caused by frost. However one has to continually remind oneself when one is working in a bed that the pipes are beneath. To repair a cut is simplicity itself. The pipe is cut right across with scissors or pliers. Then a plastic connector brings the two ends of pipe together.
'W E Gladstone' has truly surprised me this year. Normally my plant dies to the ground each winter although it comes up strongly again. It has not died down this year. It has thrown up strong shoots and some of these have large buds on. Later I should have some 'dinner plate' sized blooms from this plant.
Today I saw two excellent examples of C. armandii 'Snowdrift' in bloom. Both produced a wall of white blossom, a sight to behold. My C. armandii 'Apple Blossom' will not be in bloom for some while yet. This is for two reasons. Firstly, we are elevated beyond the village in my garden here. Elevation makes a considerable difference in flowering time. Secondly, to avoid the strong cold winds I have had to put it in a sheltered corner; the semi-shade tends also to retard the time of flowering. But when it comes it will be a glorious sight, probably blooming at the same time as 'Cydonia Japonica'.
Sometimes, buying clematis late in the autumn, you feel they need a spell in a pot before you can plant them out in the ground. One has two options. Firstly, one can put all the pots together in a trench and bring the soil up to the lip of the pot. They will be quite happy there until the spring when one can deal with them in the normal way. Secondly, one can put the pot where you are intending to put the clematis and leave it there over winter. I did this with six clematis last autumn and will have to deal with them tomorrow.
Today I set about dealing with the six pots with clematis that I had planted in their planting positions in the autumn. I find that the best technique is to dig down on one side of the pot, exposing that side of the pot from top to bottom. One then takes the secateurs or strong scissors and cuts down from the top edge to the bottom. One then gently pulls the two halves of the pot apart. Then one pulls upwards and the pot will slip out of the ground. However, this will only happen if one has taken the bottom of the pot away before planting. This is best done with a sharp knife, cutting just above the lower limits of the side of the pot. Cutting it all the way around will find yourself with the flat bottom of the pot in your hand.
Today I was asked to recommend a friend a suitable clematis for strong scent. My thoughts of course immediately turned to Clematis triternata 'Rubromarginata'. What a mouthful! My friend asked me to repeat it, then to repeat it again. Then he asked me to kindly write it down for him. It is a trial that some of our clematis flowers are difficult to pronounce. This particular plant is a great joy and a plant for every garden. I am tempted to call the plant 'Scented Gem'. People would surely understand that. However, I am advised that I would probably only add confusion to the situation by producing yet another name.
Today my eye caught C. viticella 'Mrs Tag Lundell'. Earlier in the year cut to the ground she is already displaying twelve strong shoots from the ground, all of which are now up to 3ft (1m). She is a Swedish clematis named after the wife of the distinguished hybridist Tag Lundell. She has the distinction, to my mind, of improving her colouring as the flower gets more mature. This is unusual. Certainly a fine addition to the ranks of the viticellas.
While it is unusual for blooms to become more interesting with age there are exceptions. Both C. montana 'Freda' and C. viticella 'Ville de Lyon' open as young blooms with a strong red colour. Within a short period of time in both blooms the centre fades so that now one has a two-tone bloom instead of a one-tone bloom. This tends to add to the attraction of the flower.
While some blooms do get more interesting with age, in general, blooms lose colour with time. This particularly happens to the light pinks such as 'Hagley Hybrid', 'Comtesse de Bouchaud'. In fact it tends to happen to all blooms of slight intensity. It can also happen to the bi-coloured blooms. A good example of course is our old friend 'Nelly Moser'. Of a really delightful delicate pink when she first opens, unfortunately, given more light, then she tends to fade badly. Some people arrest this development by growing her in semi-shade.
The time has come to hoe the bed. People have preferences in hoes. I use a Dutch hoe. There is a special problem in my bed. Just below the surface are the leaky pipes which is the mainstay of my watering system. I find, however, that if I am careful I can usually hoe the top inch of the surface without doing any damage. When I get within a foot of the bottom of a clematis plant then I discard the hoe and weed by hand.
Some of the viticellas are making such growth that some of the stems are loose in the breeze. Thus they are calling for support or some of them will snap off. Th support that I give them are canes of varying lengths. Some need the support of a cane just to go 3ft (1m) into a shrub, some 4ft (1.2m) and some 6ft (1.8m), I choose the cane of the length that will do the required job. To the cane I attach ties of plastic coated wire. The ends of the tie are left open and in to this I gently insert the stem or stems. The ends of the tie are gently brought together thus capturing the stems. The ends are then twisted once or twice. If one twists too many times, then when one comes to undo the tie later in the year, one will find oneself with rather a lengthy job.
The English climate is capricious. Having had some lovely warm days the weather forecast has warned of frost last night. They were right. This morning everything was covered with a layer of white frost. I was out early to see what damage had been done to the clematis. It is the montanas that are the most vulnerable this time of the year because they are forming buds. Thankfully the buds are not sufficiently well developed to have been damaged. Some years it has been known for all the clematis on plants in all the gardens in the United Kingdom to have been destroyed by frost. Other plants that are very vulnerable are the magnolias and later on the blooms of wisteria. I carefully examined the magnolias and, fortunately again, the buds are not open enough to have been damaged.
The hoeing is going well. It is as well to start early in the year when there are not too many weeds. One must remember the adage "if you hoe when there aren't any weeds, there never will be any weeds". That is very true.
Hoeing in a rather distant, sheltered, shady corner, I checked on the growth of two of my montanas, the original montana, sometimes called 'Montana alba' and C. montana 'Pink Perfection'. Despite the shade both are growing well. However, I saw a development that must be nipped in the bud. Ivy is growing out from under the trees and have already found their way into the area inhabited by the montanas. They will soon be putting roots down and taking moisture away from the montanas. Fortunately ivy is very easy to work with. You get hold of the end of a branch and tug. This takes you several feet back towards the main plant. Having loosened all the branches it is quite easy to cut them away with a sharp spade. The montanas will be alright this year but I suspect I may find myself having to do the same next year.
The peacocks are in the garden again! There are three of them. Two males and a female. Peacocks are incompatible with successfully growing clematis. They nip all the young shoots as they come through the ground. Young clematis is as tasty to peacocks as asparagus is to me. When the stems of clematis get tough of course the peacocks will avoid them because these stems are poisonous and acrid. I wish they didn't avoid them! Peacocks are dirty, noisy, vicious, and destructive. For a short time of the year, during the mating season, the males put on an astonishing, but somewhat ridiculous, 'display'. I have found that a hiss that I have developed sets them off in flight. But, of course, in the early morning when I am not about they are back in the garden.
Of course a bird well worth having in the garden is the thrush. Two or three years ago I never had a snail in the garden. I put that down to the fact that I had a very light soil and there was insufficient calcium for their shells. But I was wrong. The reason was that I had thrushes at that time in the garden. But now south-east England is barren of thrushes. The snails have become a monumental pest. Perhaps the blackbirds will learn to eat snails.
A remarkable bird in the garden, of course, is the swift. They come every year to nest in the eaves of the house. They feed and mate in the sky. Their feet are rudimentary. The only time they are on anything solid is when they nest. When they coast into the nest you can hear the impact as they hit the nest. Their feet are no use at all as landing gear. As the young move about we have to be careful to keep an eye on the nest. If the youngsters drop out and reach the ground they can never rise again because the feet can't give them a send off. So we must get there before the cat. All one needs to do is simply to pick up the young swift and throw it into the air when, immediately, it soars away.
The bird miracle of the year, however, are the swallows. We have a number that nest in the house every year and have done so as long as we have lived here. They come thousands of miles every spring to find precisely the nest that they left last year. Then, of course, in the autumn they leave us again, only to return next year. I had a pair that nested in a shed. They had nested there as long as I can remember. However we had converted it into a table-tennis room for the grandchildren. So I decided I would block the entry. The swallows came and they were very excited at not being able to get in. However I went out to talk to them. I suggested there were many other places nearby where they could nest and this year I was not letting them in. The male bird was very assertive and he came within a few yards of me. His missus stayed a few yards beyond that. A debate went on but he threw a final argument at me that was irresistible. He said "I have been here longer than you and I have as much right as you to be here". I had to let them in. I developed a close relationship with those swallows. They used to like to come down and have a chat. Birds, like all animals, love you to talk to them. They could be high up in the air and see you in the yard and down they would come for a talk. Miracle birds!
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