Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Clematis Redux


Is there any greater thrill (at least for a gardener) than walking out into the garden and discovering the first bloom on a favorite plant, especially one that tends to be finicky? This is Clematis 'Jackmanii' (I think ... I remember planting one and I think it was in this spot). I want to say that I'm not any more obsessed with clematis than I am with any other plant that I consider extravagantly lovely. But I would be lying. I blame my continuing obsession on my friend Linda, whose Jackmanii at her home a few blocks from here regularly sported too many blooms to count. It was a memorably glorious display, all the more so because clematis are alleged not to grow well here. She and her mother Billie both had a knack with them, although Billie's vine was not as floriferous, much to her chagrin. (Billie was another of my gardening mentors: she didn't obsess about it, she just did it, with spectacular results.) Linda was certain that her success could be traced to her planting the vines directly into pine bark mulch. I've always found this very interesting, since clematis allegedly prefer a more alkaline soil: our gumbo clay certainly qualifies. A knowledgeable friend told me the reason for the old adage "head in the sun, feet in the shade" was because the clematis prefer their roots to be cool. It makes me wonder if by planting the vine in the acidic pine bark mulch, its roots grow deeper seeking out that alkaline soil and thus remain cooler than they would closer to the surface. I should test that theory on one of the plants that remain from last year's purchase of 100+ 4-inch pots.

I can hear my readers now saying "WHOA! 100 PLUS POTS? Are you NUTS?" Allow me to explain. The Lowe's located a mere 1/2 mile from my corner of Katy frequently puts plants on clearance to make room for new stock. Last year on one of my routine clearance rack patrols, I discovered pot after 4 inch pot of clematis, many of them in good condition, others languishing but still viable, and some all but gone. They had them marked down to 50 cents each but even at that price, there was no way they'd be able to sell them all. So I accosted the manager of the gardening center and asked if she'd like to make me a deal. I walked out with all 100+ pots for $10.
While a fair number of them didn't make it, enough did to make my purchase a real bargain. I sent friends in Tennessee and Iowa about 10 plants each, gave several to my mom and other gardeners, and have lost count of how many I kept for myself that are still with me. This one is either Fireworks or Dr. Ruppel (anyone?):I love the dainty blooms of Clematis pitcheri. It's hard to get a good closeup unless I lie down on the ground and shoot from below, which is not going to happen. Y'all will have to settle for this slightly blurry shot.I was at Lowe's this afternoon and my route to the cash register took me right by the clematis selection. (It DID ... I had to pass them on my way back from the clearance racks.) Tell me I should have resisted when this beauty called my name (anyone know hers? There wasn't a tag but I'm wondering if it's Niobe.) That's actually two blooms jostling for attention.Here's a shot of the Jackmanii today:

I have yet to achieve anywhere near the bloom rate that my friends Linda and Billie did. For that matter, my mother has a 'Ramona' that has been spectacular the last couple of years. I'm determined to crack the 'clematis code', though, and when I do, watch out!

4 comments:

Carol said...

When you crack that "clematis code" let me know. The few I have struggle a bit, and I would love to grow more. Annie in Austin seems to have the knack for growing them, too, not only in Texas but also in Illinois before that.

Maybe there is no code and some gardeners just can and others can't?

No, I hope there is a code because I'm determined to figure it out!

Lovely clematis, by the way. Sorry I can't help you with positive id's.

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Cindy said...

Carol, it makes me feel better that you have trouble with them, too! I'm convinced that the key to cracking the code is to find the right microclimate in the garden. Linda's & Billie's were on east-facing fences and had that protection from the afternoon sun. My mom's, though, is on a south-facing wall which gets a fairly good amount of afternoon sun. The search continues!

Gail said...

Cindy,

I have nearly neutral soil and they sometimes grow here...not spectacularly like some can grow them!

My Blooms Day post has a Clematis that I thought was Jackmanii but it looks different from yours...I am guessing on mine, the label has been lost.

Some plants are just pickier than others! It certainly isn't our fault they don't grow!

Gail

Cindy said...

Gail, I'm guessing on my alleged Jackmanii, too. Losing tags is one of my bad habits as a gardener. It could also be due to differences in climate. I noticed in your Bloom Day post that your native columbine's colors were much richer than mine.

I'm with you: sometimes the plant should just fess up and take responsibility for its deficiencies!