MY CLEMATIS DIARY

August 2000


September 1st
At the start of the month, as usual, let us start with a quiz.

Which of the following are yellow or near yellow in colour?
'Lady Northcliffe', 'Lasurstern', 'Golden Tiara', 'Etoile Violette', 'Freda', 'Guernsey Cream', 'Countess of Lovelace', 'Madame GrangÈ. The answer will be found on September 5th.

September 2nd
We shall now look at the jobs to be done in the garden over the care of clematis in October.

In the northern hemisphere we are in mid-autumn and here the following tasks can be accomplished:

  1. Plant new clematis. This is the second best time in the year for planting clematis, the spring being the best.
  2. Prune Group VI, the Late Large Flowering clematis and Group IX, the Viticella clematis if they are looking untidy on their host plants. They can be pruned to about 3ft (1m), brought together with a tie and discreetly hid away, for a firm pruning to the ground in early spring.
  3. The herbaceous clematis can be tidied if the untidyness is obtrusive. They will prune themselves to the ground in the winter.
  4. The Evergreen clematis in pots can be brought into the conservatory to stimulate growth in preparation for flowering later.
  5. Cut late flowers and seedheads for the house.
  6. Reduce the watering programme.


In the southern hemisphere it is mid-spring. The Evergreen Group will have flowered. The Alpinas, the Macropetalas and the Early Montanas will be in bloom. Prune clematis if they have not been completed last month. The first five groups, the Evergreen, Alpinas, Macropetalas, Montanas and Rockery, only need a tidy. Group VI, the Early Large Flowered clematis should have any dead stems removed and burnt. The remaining stems are pruned from above to a strong outgoing bud. The remaining groups, Group VII the Late Large Flowered Group, Group XIII the Herbaceous Group, Group IX the Viticellas, Group X the Texensis, Group XI the Orientalis and Group XII the Late Group are all pruned to the ground. The only exception to this would be a very large plant in any of these groups. Here the side stems are pruned back to near the main stems. Apply general fertiliser or manure around the clematis. Start the watering programme. Look out for aphids on the clematis and spray with insecticides if required.

September 3rd
I have been having a long think about the hundred or so viticellas that I am growing along a holly hedge. In the past, in order to produce healthy strong plants, I have pruned these clematis to the ground. They certainly respond to this. But they have a very long way to go to the top of the holly hedge. This causes me a lot of work. This year I shall start a different programme. The viticellas will be pruned to just the level of the top of the hedge. I shall hold them there on canes and hope they will get through the winter. Thus, in the spring they are already at the top of the holly hedge and can simply be encouraged to slip over to the other side.

September 4th
The plum tree has produced plums - and what a lot of plums. The tree is just simply covered with bright red or red-black round plums. They make delicious jam. This is the Mirabelle plum. Although reputed to make a small tree, the one near here is very large indeed. They are known for the rich preserves they make.

The story goes that the owner of this property at the end of the nineteenth century, he being the person who laid out the garden, marked his territory by a number of Mirabelle trees.

September 5th
The result of the quiz on September 1st was 'Golden Tiara' and 'Guernsey Cream'.

Working with my hundred viticellas I find yet again that I am struck by the immense growth that clematis of this group make during the season. Many of the plants can be compared for vigour with the montanas. So the question is "what sustains such immense growth?" The answer is two-fold. 1. A copious supply of water. 2. Ample fertilising. In my case the first is supplied by my 'leaky pipe' system which I am convinced is a form of watering very suitable for clematis. You can easily determine a copious supply and furthermore it goes under ground level thus reducing the risk of stem rot (clematis wilt) and putting the water close to the roots. In my case the nourishment comes from an ample supply of manure.

September 6th
Understanding the structure of the clematis flower helps one to isolate features in the flower. Most flowers have four whorls. The clematis only has three. The outside whorl is of petals, called tepals in clematis. This is the colourful part of the flower that attracts the insects - and also us. The next inner whorl is that of stamens. The stamens end in pollen sacs which produce the pollen, this is the male part of the flower. At the very centre is the third whorl - that of the carpels. Each carpel ends in the sticky tip that collects the pollen. In clematis the outside whorl, the tepals, not only are a feature of attraction but they also protect the bud. The missing whorl is that of the sepals that in most flowers are green and protect the buds. The flower of a clematis lives for one function only - to perpetuate itself. It does this by attracting insects that carry the pollen from the stamens to the carpels. The wind also can perform the same function. In clematis there are no nectaries to attract bees. But I am told by one authority that there are nectaries in Clematis vitalba, the wild clematis.

September 7th
Clematis has a good colour range except it is skewed towards a large number of violet coloured flowers, in many shades. There are many whites, pinks, some reds, and the many blues. Yellow is the colour that is absent except in one group. There are two or three in Group VI, the Early Large Flowered group, that are creamy-yellow. There is one group that is predominantly yellow - this is the Orientalis Group - Group IX. So in summer and autumn one can embellish one's garden with yellow clematis.

September 8th
In growing clematis the tendency is to keep the various coloured clematis apart. Thus on a wall one may have white clematis, nearby a blue clematis, then a pink clematis, then a red clematis and then another blue. However, it is possible to mix the colours. For instance, into a large rose one can grow three clematis, each of a different colour - perhaps white, pink and blue. They can look most attractive. A different policy is that of just growing a number of clematis all of the same colour. There is a famous wall in Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, England, where drama is brought to the garden by a number of plants of 'Perle d'Azur'. They make a most attractive large sweep of colour.

September 9th
I was reminded today that conifers can make a fine background for climbing plants. My eye caught a Bryonia climbing up one of my conifers. It has always been a rival of clematis, being a climbing vine. In the old days it had priority over clematis because it had more medicinal qualities than clematis. The yellowy flower is followed by most attractive little red grapes. It differs from any climbers by arising out of a tuber. This can be enormous in size. People compete with one another in producing the heaviest. There have been reports of tubers half a hundredweight in weight. It seeds very readily in the garden. Therefore you need to take the tuber up if you are going to prevent it flowering.

September 10th
Today, at a small town (whose name I won't mention) I was struck by the innordinate number of Funeral Parlours. They were supported by an inordinate number of florists. Clearly not the kind of place to settle in - above ground, anyway. I was struck also by a glimmer of hope for solving the peacock menace. A trail of peanuts might take them in that direction. You can skip the flowers.

September 11th
Today in the garden I saw an interesting phenomena. 'Vyvyan Pennell' in the autumn produces single blooms and of course double blooms in the spring. Behind the whorl of tepals in this single bloom I could see an attempt at producing a whorl of sepals. There were just two. One was large and the green only covered half of it, while the other was small and completely green. This seems to suggest that in clematis the outer whorl, the sepals, are dropped and the flower merely retains the inner whorl, the petals. De Candolle, the great French classifier, said that if there was only one whorl in a flower and there were doubts as to if it were a sepal or a petal then it should be called a 'tepal'. That seems to be the position with clematis.

Some would argue however that the one whorl in clematis is made up of sepals. This would imply a two-stage change of development. In stage one the petals would be dropped and in stage two the sepals would turn themselves into petals. It would seem much more logical to have a one stage change of development. That is to say, sepals would be dropped and the petals simply stay as they are.

September 12th
Today I was looking at the interesting leaves of Clematis akebioides. It has lovely grey-green foliage. Which leads to the question as to which clematis has the most interesting foliage. Clematis armandii perhaps has the most dramatic in that it has very large thick glossy leaves. These are present even in the winter. C. napaulensis and C. cirrhosa have interesting foliage in that it is cut up almost like parsley. C. tenuifolias is even more attractive than C. akebioides. The strangest is the New Zealand Clematis afoliata which has no leaves.

September 13th
Today there is a village event. In true English fashion we shall present ourselves tidied up and with our best accent.

September 14th
Our wild Clematis vitalba has finished blooming and is now at the seed stage, earning its name "Old Man's Beard". If one looks carefully one can see that there is a large amount of it in our English hedges. One is continually coming across new uses of this clematis. As it has no true medicinal qualities it is the stem that tends to be used for a variety of purposes. Only today I heard that, in the thatching world, clumps of the thatch are tied together by the stems of Clematis vitalba.

September 15th
C. Jouiniana Praecox has done very well for me this year. Of the Heraclefolia Group, the creeping clematis, this must be the most productive of flowers. The flowers are creamy-white with a prominent violet edge. The plant is covered with bloom. It can spread over a large area, maybe 8ft x 8ft (2.5m x2.5m). Given a little support it will even climb up a wall.

September 16th
Extraordinary news today. One of my grandsons has become the 'lead' singer in a local jazz band. Fabulous! At the age of three all my grandchildren were a budding Caruso or Joan Sutherland. Then they just faded. Nice, of course, if he had taken after Pavarotti , but you have to acclaim talent in any form. I hope he hasn't caught a croak from the peacocks.

September 17th
My granddaughters were complaining bitterly of the amount of homework they have. Sometimes it amounts to three hours of an evening. Yet the parents pay heavy fees to have the children educated at a day school. I think that education should take place at school, under the supervision of skilled professional teachers. Both parents often work and they have only a short evening to do the many things that have to be done in a household, and have no time or skill for homework supervision. Governments should legislate that education takes place at school. And furthermore, that the school term should last for a specified period of time. Private schools make their term shorter and shorter in order to save money and increase profits. One needs a UPP - Union for Pupil Protection.

September 18th
One of my granddaughters was telling me an interesting story. It seems that when she was younger her parents discouraged her from eating chocolate. They thought she was too stout for her age. She told this to a school friend. The friend immediately said "but that is child abuse". "Oh!" said my granddaughter. "What are you doing about it?" said her friend. "Well, nothing," said my granddaughter in astonishment. "Well, you must" said her friend, "that is glaring child abuse. You mustn't let adults get away with it." "Oh!" said my granddaughter in bewilderment. "Have you got the phone number?" said her friend. "No, I haven't." said my granddaughter. "Well, I have." said her friend, "I always carry it with me, just in case." I reckon you also need a UPP - Union for Parent Protection.

September 19th
My Clematis apiifolia is in bloom. It is not a stunning sight. It is a smaller version of Clematis vitalba. It has a nice little flower and it has some scent. It is probably hardly garden-worthy. If in the autumn you want something really vigorous then 'Western Virgin' from Canada is for you. This is really robust and vigorous. It also carries an immense amount of bloom. Mine was so vigorous that it took a whole corner of the garden to itself. Ultimately it was swamping so many other plants that one winter I had to dig it up.

September 20th
Growing clematis from seed is a tricky and time-consuming business, and it is not always successful. Seed from the small flowered clematis tend to come through true to form. But most people would like to produce plants from seeds of the Early Large Flowered clematis. This is not usually very rewarding. A clematarian near here, Frank Cadge, once grew a thousand plants from seed. They were all quite vigorous plants and they grew in row after row. However, Frank only found three or four clematis that were worthy of putting on the market. Just occasionally chance seedlings in the garden can prove to be a winner. But only, of course, quite rarely. 'Margaret Hunt' was a chance seedling as, indeed, was C. montana 'Freda'.

September 21st
In a journal the other day I saw a new game outlined for children. The children are encouraged to put marks on snails, either with paint or with nail varnish. To do this they have to find snails in their hideouts. The hideouts are called "rookeries". Having found a nice large snail, it is put under a pot and one corner of the pot is lifted with a stone so that the snail can exit. The next day the child has to track the snail, following it's silvery trail and catch it.

I think this is a cunning adult way of encouraging children to understand the menace of snails and to catch them. The children soon tire of the game and then they are encouraged just to collect the snails. Now, of course, the children know where the snails are hiding. Have you noticed that although all the journals and books tell you how to find the snails, they never tell you what to do with the snails once you have caught them. One gardener proposed taking them in a bucket a wood two miles away and losing them. That doesn't help the wood very much. You can, of course, put the snails in a large open area and leave them to the birds. In the old days, when we had thrushes, they soon disappeared. You can also, of course, throw them onto the roadways and cars soon dispose of them. If you are really organised you have a bucket full of saline (salt) water, and drop them in there.

September 22nd
Today I ordered some rows of garden fleece for the winter. In my garden it is necessary to protect some sensitive clematis by wrapping them with garden fleece each winter. I tried bubble-wrap last winter. This was not good material because it doesn't breathe. In no time at all the moisture inside the bubble-wrap encourages all sorts of infections, including grey mould, to develop. Garden fleece is a better material.

September 23rd
I am sometimes asked whether mushroom compost is good material for mulching clematis. The compost contains a lot of nutrients. It also contains some lime. However, mushrooms are rich feeders and there is probably very little nutrient left when they dispose of the compost. In my experience it is not a good compost for clematis.

September 24th
I noticed my wife was collecting her teabags yesterday. She has a tremendous display of plants in various sized pots, both on the patio and on the conservatory. I noticed that she puts the bags at the bottom of the pot, claiming that they make an excellent reservoir of moisture.

September 25th
Reading today about the Romans I came upon an item of horticultural interest., One is always reading about the Romans simply because they seem to fascinate examiners for certificates that my grandchildren take. It seems that the rose was a symbol of secrecy. Thus the ceilings of dining rooms often had the rose motif. This was to remind people to be discreet and not to impart confidential knowledge under the influence of wine. Hence the term sub-rosa. It seem that Cupid god of love, gave a rose to Harpocrates, the god of silence, for not telling on Venus, the goddess of love.

September 26th
They say that if you have seen most of what you want to see in France, then that is the time to go to Corsica. We made a brief visit last year and very much liked what we saw.

The island of Corsica well named 'The island of beauty'. It is almost covered with mountains which even come down to most of coast. In England the Almighty put aside the Lake District for walkers. In the Mediterranean the Almighty put aside the whole of Corsica for walkers. One walk even extends the whole length of the island. All walks are very well marked and maps are available. To go anywhere at a distance you have to cross a mountain. But the main roads are very well tarmaced and essentially easy for driving. But with so many corners progress is inevitably slow. The other glory of Corsica is its beaches of yellow, or even white, sand. Add to this the warmth of the water and the warmth of the people.

September 27th
I was watching a cormorant fishing a short distance from the beach. Nearby was a gull in attendance. I wondered why the combination. Then I saw that the cormorant had caught a fish. However he did not get it cleanly into his mouth and bits fell into the sea. Immediately the gull pounced. You could call this collaborative fishing. I have seen the same thing with seals and gulls. Again the gulls watch the seals fishing and any debris left behind by the seal is quickly pounced upon by the gull.

September 28th
Today, early in the morning, we caught the train with three carriages that leaves Ajaccio, the capital, for Bastia over the mountains in the far north. This is a safe way to see the mountains and their valleys. At Vizzavoho we left the train. This tiny hamlet is the gateway to a vast forest of tall trees. A picnic was enjoyed and then we rambled through the forest, coming across a gem of a church deep in the forest. We were back in the hamlet in time to catch the return train to Ajaccio. Global warming could be affecting the island in that there was less rain than usual this year and you could see that some of the streams were dry. There is also the perpetual threat of forest fires.

September 29th
I keep a look out for the clematis of the island. There are two. Clematis cirrhosa comes in winter. Clematis flammula comes in the summer. There is an abundance of Clematis flammula. Its growth pattern is different from that in Majorca. Here there are no hedges and thus the clematis has to climb into trees. This it does, sometimes to a considerable height.

September 30th
Are there dramatic surprises in Corsica? At least two live in the memory. The first is the view, in sunlight, of the granite cliffs of Porto as seen from the village of Piana. The second is the MusÈe Fesch. This remarkable collection consists of the finest number of Italian paintings outside the Louvre. It is unusual to see such a magnificent gallery in a town of no great size. It reminds me of the gallery in Williamstown, in New England, USA, which houses a magnificent collection in a village in the woods of New England.


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