Spring is almost upon us and clematis lovers are eagerly looking forward to seeing the spring flowering atragenes in bloom. Their colourful and dainty little nodding bell-like flowers are such a joy to see when the dull winter months are behind us.
Originating from the colder areas of Europe, although they might look dainty they are in fact as tough as old boots! Whilst they can be planted in any aspect I believe they do better in an open, fairly sunny position where the soil drains freely, they will not thrive in heavy water-logged clay. In their natural habitat they would be found growing in a poor, exceptionally free-draining site.
They can be left un-pruned but I think they look better cut back by about half each year which keeps the plant much tidier. Any pruning should be carried out immediately flowering has finished allowing it time to put on some fresh growth ready to bloom the following spring. See our Care Guide here.
Some of my personal favourites are:
'Albina Plena' was raised in Sweden in the early 1980's. When first open the semi-double blooms are quite creamy but as they mature they turn to pure white. It has a distinctive red flush on its crown where the flower is attached to the stalk. The flower size is 1½” - 2” and it grows around 8' – 12'.
'Frankie' was raised in England and introduced in the early 1990's. Whilst very similar to the well-known alpina ‘Frances Rivis', I have a great fondness for this lesser-known variety which has always done incredibly well in a garden I used to visit regularly. The four outer tepals are a deep mauvy-blue and its inner ‘skirt' is creamy-white. His flowers are 1½” – 2” and it grows around 6' – 8'.
'Lagoon' was raised in England and introduced in the late 1950's, this lovely clematis has, for years, been a joy in our garden. It was originally planted to clamber up a post on our pergola, but over the years (and despite my earlier suggestion about pruning) it has remained un-pruned and, left to its own devices, has flaunted itself across the neighbouring bed of dwarf rhododendrons and azaleas. Needless to say, as they bloom at the same time, they look superb together. The deep blue semi-double flowers are 1½” - 2¼” and it grows 8' – 10'.
'Markham's Pink', having been raised in England and introduced in the mid 1930's this wonderful old variety is still very popular today, 80 years on! It's lovely mid-pink semi-double flowers are borne in profusion. Many years ago my mother attacked rather than pruned our ‘Markham's Pink', it looked forlorn for several weeks but when it burst into new growth it was better than ever! The flowers are 2” - 2½” and it grows 8' – 10'.
'Purple Spider' was discovered in The Netherlands and introduced in the mid 1990's. It is one of the darkest purple flowers in this group and when the buds first break open it is almost black! The colour pales a little as the blooms mature yet it remains a very deep purple and its semi-double blooms look tremendous against the foliage. The flowers are 2½” – 3” and it grows 6' – 8'.
'Stolwijk Gold' was again discovered in The Netherlands and introduced in the mid 2000's. The most striking thing about this clematis is its gorgeous golden-yellow foliage which is at its best in the spring when the plant is in bloom. The deep purply-blue flowers are displayed perfectly against these unusual leaves. Plant this in a sunny position to enhance the golden nature of the foliage, as in shade, or even partial shade it will simply be green! The flowers are 1½” – 2” and it grows 6' – 8'.
'Wessleton' was bred by Jim Fisk a highly regarded clematis nurseryman from our neighbouring county of Suffolk. This incredably abundant form of macropetela is a wonder in our car park at home and the birds love nesting among the stems. The flower is quite large for a spring flowering clematis and of the palest blue with even paler 'inner skirt' of tepals. This hardy plant will do well for you in either a sunny location or part shade, just ensure it has a light or free-draining soil to grow in.
Hints & Tips
Between now and the end of March is the main pruning time for summer flowering clematis, but if you have to delay, do not panic as a delay in pruning will not cause serious harm – it will just delay flowering by a few weeks. Better to prune late than not at all.
Prepare or refresh supports for clematis, including those in containers. Fresh canes or trellis can improve their appearance a lot.
Planting clematis into pots now can help to get them into growth for an early start to the flowering season
You can buy and plant clematis any time as long as the ground is not frozen.