The Clematis On The Bench

garden fountain
My garden is a fairly quiet affair, as evidenced in my Roundtable home garden/tour post yesterday.  A garden that provides sanctuary is of interest to me.  But as structured as my landscape is, there are those unexpected moments.  When I drove up yesterday, Buck had the fountain jets turned up full blast.  Those columns of water sparkling in the sun made me smile.  Buck cranked up those pumps, knowing I would be tired when I got home.  A little unexpected joy never hurt anyone!  Until the pots on the deck are planted, this is my first stop on my early evening tour of the garden.      

clematis trellis

Last year I raised the bed under my garden bench, edged it in steel,  and planted it with European ginger.  I added a pair of clematis, intending them to grow up one arm, and climb along the back of the bench.  I don’t have so many options for change in this part of my garden, but this was a small change that would prove to have a considerable impact.  Our warm March triggered a lot of really early growth. The vines were up and budded up before that interminable string of freezing nights we had in April.  I was sure I would loose all of the flowers, and perhaps some of the foliage, but that was not to be.  These clematis were unfazed by the freeze.

For the past month I have come home, anticipating the latest change to the clematis.  Buck is very patient about the fact that it is the first topic of discussion.  Watching the changes has truly been a pleasure.  It has also set me to thinking about them.  

This large flowered clematis is a variety called “The President”.  I have not really grown much in the way of clematis, except for the small flowered varieties.  I really like clematis vitacella violacea, and its hybrids such as Polish Spirit.  The sweet autumn clematis, and the spring flowering clematis montana are both lovely.  Watching my pair of large flowered clematis grow and bloom has been a small but significant pleasure.

My earliest exposure to clematis on the bench dates back 50 years.  My Mom always shopped at Semrau Nursery on Gratiot Avenue.  This would be the east side of the suburbs north of Detroit.  On every bench growing geraniums, interspersed and widely spaced,  clematis.  The most beautiful clematis vines I have ever seen.  Thier stakes were at least 4 feet tall-the vines spilled over the top.  I remember how luscious they were in leaf.   I was 12-yes, I remember.  

In my 30’s, I grew but one clematis.  It was called Sho-Un.  It was the longest blooming of all of my perennials, and it obligingly rebloomed.  After 4 years in a not so swell spot, I moved it.  It never skipped a beat.  I remember how astonished I was that a vine whose stems were brittle enough to break given an unkind word would survive a major move.  Those large pale blue flowers enchanted me.  It is hard to find now-I am sorry to say.

I have read plenty about clematis wilt.  I hate a problem in the garden over which I have no influence or control.  All of that literature and documentation is enough to deter any gardener from growing them.  This might account for why I have not grown them much-beyond the small flowered varieties that grow vigorously.  This large flowered pair has done well.  They are not fussy in the least bit.  Should I rethink the clematis?   

clematis blue ice
There are so many large flowered varieties of clematis available now.  Who could choose?  I chose this vine strictly on the basis of its very pale blue flowers.  I think it is called Blue Ice, but I could be wrong.  I bought the shape and the color-not a name. 

 Margaret Roach, gardener and writer extraordinnaire via her blog, A Way To Garden, posted about Brushwood nursery in the late winter.  They specialize in vining plants, and especially in clematis.  I read, and reread their list .  How would I choose?

May blooming clematis

I have a big love for the pale blue, and blue lavender varieties.  This would include Sho-Un, Will Goodwin, and Mrs. Cholmondeley (just say Mrs. Chumley-is this not friendly?).  How would I evaluate new varieties?  I did not order anything from Brushwood.  In retrospect, I should have.  Whatever seemed good to me.  Experimenting is part of the soul of good gardening. 

clematis the president

Beautiful flowers are not the only criteria for inclusion in my garden.  The flowers are next to the last.  I like plants that are vigorous.  They make me look good.  They reward me.  Tricky, stubbornly unresponsive and fussy plants leave me frustrated.  I don’t want to worry about whether I am a good and thoughtful gardener.  I want plants that thrive, and encourage me to keep gardening.

The new issue of Fine Gardening has quite an article about the best of the best clematis.  I am disappointed that there are no white, or pale blue varieties listed.  That disappointment lasted all of a minute.  Given the pleasure these two plants have given me this spring, I think I should plant lots of them.  Everywhere.  Take my chances.  I have really so little to loose.

large flowered clematis

A clematis vine takes up not one bit of space on the ground.  When properly sited, they grow towards the sky.  Their large single flowers are breathtaking.  This spring, I am thinking I should endow my garden with clematis-lots more of them. 


Do you have favorite varieties?  What pale blue, or heliotrope blue large flowered clematis grows well for you?  Do you have a white variety that you like?  Which variety is your best performer?  Where have you placed them?  How do you handle those brittle vines?  Do you grow them on the ground?  What are your favorites?  Could you please be so kind as to advise me which clematis I should try?  I am ready to try to grow more clematis.    



  1. what a coincidence! I, too, loved the smaller flowers which bloom vigorously, but I am smitten with my new President this year. I have it paired with ‘Snow Queen’ which is lovely, but doesn’t seem quite as eager to grow as ‘President.’ Can’t wait to hear what you learn from other readers and what you discover in your own garden.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Laura, The President is a very strong grower, and bloomer for me too.I am indeed waiting to hear from other gardeners. What they like in the way of clematis will be invaluable. Thanks for writing, Deborah

  2. Margaret says

    The bench and clematis combination is wonderful! I’m going to copy it without delay because I have an old lichen-covered bench just waiting to be adorned. Re large flowered clematis, just two weeks ago I planted the white ‘Henryi’ – it came with one bloom and now has three; I’m hoping that’s a good omen. I also have ‘Nellie Moser’ – she’s at least 12 years old, gets only morning sun, and blooms without fail despite a lack of attention some years.

  3. Silvia Weber says

    “Josephine” is my favorite clematis – thick, lush orchid colored blooms – she has long bloom time. Will send photo later.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Silvia-I looked up this clematis on google images-wow. The flowers are unbelievable! How does it grow?? Josephine-how appropriate! Deborah

  4. You must absolutely grow more Clematis! I have many and love them all. In the large flowered varieties I would recommend the blues of ‘General Sikorsky’, and ‘Ramona’ and the palest blue of ‘Blue Angel’. The ‘General’ is a vigorous grower and never fails to bloom prodigiously every year. I have it on the west facing wall of the house. ‘Ramona’ is also a strong grower too. ”Blue Angel’ seems to be a more delicate grower (east side of the house) but it may get into its stride at some point. They like plenty of water. I fertilize with North Country’s Pro-Gro, an organic slow release fertilizer in the spring. Those brittle stems have to be handled carefully. I sometimes wrap chicken wire or similar around the base of the plants to prevent accidents. Years ago, the Head Gardeners at Sissinghurst in Kent recommended religiously tying in the stems as they grew to stop them from breaking, as that is where disease might enter. They had magnificent Clematis! I will email photographs of my recommendations. Suzanne

  5. Oh I love this bench and the way you’ve planted around it. I have a clematis addiction problem. When I read Margaret Roach’s Brushwood post I ordered five new clematis and then when things started leafing out I realized I had three more in pots in a holding bed for winter that I didn’t get around to planting last year. I don’t think I could have a favorite, as I have so many emotions that I relate to some of them. Mrs. N. Thompson will always be special to me even though she’s a gaudy lady because it was one of the first plants I put in my garden and she continues to thrive even though I didn’t plant her properly and probably never watered her much in the beginning. Big blue Ken Donson was the first clematis I gave any thought to and he too rewards me for my efforts and grows nicely next to the thuggish William Baffin climbing rose. Guernsey Cream is perhaps my favorite for looks and grows well in a relatively shady spot. Princess Diana is so delicate and beautiful growing up my purple smoke bush and sort of becomes one with the shrub making it look like an entirely plant. Recta Pamela rambles on the grou d filling in the bare spots in the garden. There are many others as well, but these are the I ones I feel I have a personal connection with, as strange as that may sound. I do not have a blue-and-white combination in my garden and now that I see yours I can see I’ll need to rectify that.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Erin, thanks for your letter. Did you like the clematis you got from Brushwood? I am looking up all of the cultivars you suggested. Most definitely there are more clematis in store for my garden. Deborah

  6. Sue Ellen says

    Glad to see your pictures of The President. Mine has just started to bloom. I also grow the General that was mentioned by Suzanne. It is climbing though a yellow David Austin rose and has been loaded with blooms. I grow Henryi which has hugh white blooms, Nelly Moser and HF Young,
    I have ordered from Brushwood the last two years and was quite impressed with the way they were packaged. I ordered Ernest Markham from them this year and noted that it was on Fine Gradening’s list.
    I have been reading your blog since last summer and wish I could actually visit your shop. I would be like a kid in a candy store for sure.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Sue Ellen, I am glad to hear your report about Henryi-it is on my list. I think I amgoing to get a few of the General. I have read lots about HF Young too. Fine Gardening’s list was great-but for one thing. They listed their top 50, but not their top plants of a particular color. I do not think one white or one pale heliotrope blue made the list. Shoot! I am going to look at Erin’s Guernsey Cream-sounds delectable! I don’t know how long Brushwood fills orders into the summer, but I plan to order as soon as I can. In a way, you do visit the shop-I write about it. I know there is nothing like being there in person, but let me know if there is something I could photograph for you. Thanks for writing, Deborah

  7. Deborah B says

    I have ordered from Brushwood for 6 or 7 years. Their quality is amazing and the service is the best. The plants are big and healthy, and well packed for shipping. This year I noticed they now offer siting ideas for particular clematis. For example, I finally got “Polish Spirit”, and Brushwood suggested growing this purple blooming clematis among pale green foliage, so I planted it near my variegated dogwood shrub.

    My favorite white clematis is a double one called Arctic Queen. I grow it on a trellis with a New Dawn rose, and the clematis has just about swallowed the rose. Very vigorous and a thing of beauty in bloom. (Much nicer than the New Dawn.)

    I’m trying to grow clematis thru several of my shrubs, and find it slow going. I read that you should plant the vine on the north side of the shrub so that it grows thru the shrub to reach the sun. In practice, this means the vine is in the shade in its youth, which is not ideal.

  8. Deborah,

    All the vines I got from Brucshwood were very healthy looking if not a tad on the small side. I have no complaints. My other go-to mail order clematis nursery is Silver Star Vinery. It is a small one-person operation and her plants are a little more expensive but they are huge gallon-size plants that are amazingly well rooted. I think clematis are a great exercise in delayed gratification; knowing when to not let it bloom in the beginning and snipping those buds. Do check out Princess Diana as well. She’s so elegant.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Erin, I do not know Silver Star Vinery-I will check it out. And Princess Diana. Thanks, Deborah

  9. Deborah – I grow a bunch of clematis, many in the blue-purple range. Some of my favorite white, blue and purple are Venosa Violacea, Viola (both mid to late summer flowering), HF Young (flowering right now in a lovely lavender-blue) and Guernsey Cream, my earliest large-flowered clem, whose rounded flower form I love. For the earliest spring bloom, I grow two macropetala, Blue Bird and Albina Plena, and a gold-leafed form of alpina, Stolwijk Gold. My longest blooming is Daniel Deronda, which has started in the last week and will have rich purple blooms on it virtually all summer until frost, although it’s officially an early large-flowered. I have it paired with Miguel Viso, another early large-flowered clematis with white flowers edged in a rosy purple flush that repeats at least some, though mine is young enough that I don’t yet know how much. Several of the non-vining clematis have great blue-purple flowers: Juuli, Arabella, Mrs. Robert Brydon, Durandii, Rooguchi, Harlow Carr, which cover a wide range of flower forms and shades of blue. All of these need cages unless you want them to scramble across the ground or into shrubs.
    I will add just one non-blue flowered clematis to my recommendation, Ville de Lyon. The subtly two-toned cerise flowers, beautiful form, and fairly long blooming period makes this one of my favorite clematis.
    A great resource for information on clematis is Clematis on the Web, which has a search page: where you can search by color, pruning type, group, flower or plant size, etc. There is also an alphabetical list of names. Colors of the flower photos aren’t always entirely accurate as color is hard to photograph and varies some with clematis, but there is lots of wonderful information for virtually any clematis.
    I grow clematis up free-standing obelisks, on wall trellises, and into shrubs and climbing roses. I tried planting on the opposite side of the shrub from its main sun aspect as Deborah B suggested, but find that too many of the blossoms are buried in the shrub. Now I just plant on the side of the shrub where I want it to grow, and find that the clematis will reach its support, occasionally with a little guidance from me.
    My nurseries of choice for mail-order clematis are Brushwood, Silver Star Vinery, and Hummingbird Farm, all of which send healthy, well-packed plants.
    Thanks so much for taking the time to write Dirt Simple. Reading a week’s worth of entries is a weekend treat, and I appreciate the quality of both your photography and your writing. My garden is more beautiful thanks to your design influence and plant expertise.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Babs, thanks so much for taking the trouble to write so extensively. The available cultivars are so many, that I like to hear from the poeple who have experience growing them. I did grow Robert Brydon years ago, and really liked the form and the color. I also grew clematis recta purpurea-this spring foliage was beautiful. I do plan to order HF Young, and now Guernsey Cream, since two people have mentioned it. I will look up the website you suggested, and am very happy to hear your recommendations for good plants by mail. I do enjoy the writing, and hearing from other gardeners like you. I will post about what and where I plant more clematis. Thanks, Deborah

  10. erin bailey says

    Dear Deborah,
    Thank you for such lovely photos and prose. I am enjoying your blog immensely.

    There is a wonderful extensive garden trial program at the Chicago Botanic Garden and they post articles of the full evaluations on their website. I am sorry that I am such a internet illiterate that I do not know how to give you the link. They did a huge trial of Clematis that has given me confidence in choosing varieties for my new garden that has many sites for climbers. Hardiness is a major issue for me in northern Iowa. I found out what I needed about that, as well as which aspects produced best results for each variety, and other details like which tend to bare stems below 3 feet, or which climb high on their own, and which tend to tie themselves in knots if not given some training in early spring, etc. etc.

    Thanks for the idea of clematis on a bench arm/back, too.

  11. John McDonald says

    Another Clematis lover here!Enjoyed this article immensely and will be returning to the delights of Raymond J Evison experience!He is a clematis expert par excellence,abd his work is absolute delight no matter who or where you are!His nursery is in Guernsey!Check out his website You will be blown away!

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