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Bring a profusion of color with clematis

An early blooming clematis Countess de Bouchard really commands attention in a Jamestown garden. John Zvirovski / The Sun

This time of year, most people take notice to those beautiful dark purple flowers of the clematis blooming on trellises in many people’s yards. They are always so striking as they displayed their proliferous blooms in huge bunches. The clematis is a plant that can bloom so heavily the vision will never leave your mind as it is so beautiful.

Of course, through research, I never realized that early pioneers and travelers used this plant as a spice in place of pepper. It was known as the pepper vine during that time period and was much more readily available and much cheaper than pepper itself. But through trial and error, we also found out later that this plant is toxic in all forms and would cause internal bleeding in the digestive tract when used in high concentrations. As with many discoveries, sometimes we find that some substitutes just aren’t better than the real thing. I personally would prefer to enjoy the floral beauty of this plant over anything else.

There are a few different types of clematis and numerous varieties available. In simple terms, they can be classified as early and late blooming types. The easiest way to separate the two are that the early blooming types are the ones that typically bloom before the longest day of the year and the late blooming types are the ones that bloom after that date.

Clematis are great for many different uses. You can use them to climb a fence, trellis, arbor or pole. They grow anywhere from 5 to 9 feet tall. Some will have blooms the size of a quarter such as the traveller’s joy or old man’s beard hybrids. Others will have medium-sized flowers like the common deep purple variety we see around our region in the name of Jackmanii. This one is the most common as it is also the hardiest for our area. You can also find large blooming types such as the Nelly Moser and Nirobe hybrids. These blooms can reach up to 6 inches across in shades of red, pink, white and lavender!

In today’s world, there are so many new varieties to choose from and many nurseries are now carrying these new types. Most of them are for zone 4, but tend to do very well in our area. They will range in color from white, purple, lavender, red, pink, yellow and blue. Some of the flowers are single, bi-colored types and some others are double blooming with many layers of petals in each flower. There is now a selection for every taste as a consumer.

Clematis enjoy fertile, well-drained soils with plenty of moisture. I always find a nice richly organic soil to be the best for them in which to succeed. The plant will start off small when first planted and will gradually grow in size from year to year. Patience is always rewarded with a beautiful floral display during the summer blooming period.

One of the key items to remember to treat you plant well is to keep the roots shaded and cool while allowing the rest of the plant to get plenty of sunshine. Placement of a medium-sized plant, in front of the vine’s roots, serves as an ideal solution to keep the roots cool. Just make sure that the plant in front of the clematis does not grow over 2 to 3 feet tall as not to cover any flowers on your clematis when blooming.

When purchasing a plant in the nursery, always choose one that has good stem structure and plenty of shoots from the base. The stronger and more vigorous the stems, the stronger the root system will be. Catalogs offer many different varieties, but unless you trust the vendor, I tend to avoid them as more times than not, you seem to end up with a frail plant for a high cost. This is one of those plants where you are better off buying upon physically inspecting the specimen in question. Always allow anywhere from three to five years for your plant to reach a mature state for prolific blooming.

In the springtime, I watch the stems to see where they begin to grow. Some will come up from the ground, and others will bud on the stems. For the ones that bud on the stems, once they leaf out some, trim out all the dead branches and let the plant take over from there. This trimming usually occurs around Mother’s Day as a good rule of thumb. For the ones that come up from the ground, I shear off the dead stems 2 inches from the ground.

The clematis are beginning to bloom now and soon you will be noticing the huge purple displays of the Jackmanii clematis on people’s homes and trellises. One cannot help but notice how gorgeous these vines are, and it is definitely one that I would call a staple in many of our landscapes.

Pepper is pretty cheap in today's world, so I would suggest growing this plant for its sheer beauty over anything else!