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Partners in climb


With some amazement, I found the clematis I planted last year not only still alive, but flourishing this spring. Two of them were especially a surprise because they had caught the dreaded clematis wilt and died back to the roots. I had sighed and promptly given up on them. Now, however, they are bright green and curling up sturdy tendrils about 24 inches tall.

Which brings us to another consideration for clematis: What are suitable companions for them?

Clematis are quintessential clinging vines and are born to run rampant over some other plant if ever a plant was, adding to the other's glory.

In "Companions to Clematis," (Guild of Master Craftsman, $17.95), Marigold Badcock writes that her clematis " 'Jackmanii' refused to be confined and became entwined with my favourite climbing rose 'Compassion': the mass of large purple heads with the salmon-pink rose was simply stunning and gave me insight into the wonderful potential of clematis to enhance other plants."

A most successful partnering is to plant clematis with another perennial vine, where both can use the same architectural support system and extend the period of bloom across more than one season.

For example, I have a four-year-old, rather lavender 'Hagley Hybrid' clematis intertwined with a Chinese wisteria, which begins blooming just as the wisteria leaves off and continues for another month and a half. Actually, I am more fond of the clematis than the wisteria at this point, and only tolerate the wisteria for being the scaffold for 'Hagley'.

Other suggestions might be our native trumpet vine (which flowers late in summer), climbing roses or hydrangeas, or any of the more well-behaved honeysuckles, such as Lonicera sempervirens.

Also, do not let yourself be put off by the instructions that many clematis have to be pruned back in the early spring, especially if you are not sure how to do this if one is mixed in with the other. Generally, the preferred flowering height for both the host plant and the clematis is going to mean pruning back to get flowers blossoming between 5 to 8 feet above the ground.

Clematis also make a fine companion trained up through open shrubbery, over shrub roses, viburnums, flowering quince, azaleas, or even up small deciduous trees at the back of the border.

Anyplace where they can have their feet in a cool, moist, shady position and their heads in the sun they will be almost certain to be happy.

One combination which I like very much is training clematis up into dwarf fruit trees.

It looks so natural there, beguiling in an "Alice in Wonderland" sort of way, that it often takes visitors quite a long time to realize that is not the tree's natural bloom. 'Jackmanii' is very effective played against an apple tree this way, as the dark leaves are very much the same size and color, while the large purple blooms are quite spectacular.

Clematis trained on a sunny wall trellis or fence has always been a cottage garden classic, remains so today and doubtless will in the future. Its classic beauty, with a simple accompaniment of daylilies, boxwood and Japanese anemones, is all one needs to form a splendid visual symphony even in the simplest of gardens.

Scraggly hedges are another natural place for clematis to shine. The montana species are excellent here, since they can run up to 25 feet and have handsome foliage of their own, as well as white or pink flowers for a long time in spring.

Good neighbors

Here are some good companions to clematis:

1. Trumpet vine

2. Climbing roses

3. Hydrangeas

4. Wisteria

5. Viburnum

6. Flowering quince

7. Azaleas

8. Dwarf fruit trees

9. Daylilies

10. Japanese anemones

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