Outdoors Recreation

The Observant Gardener: The Clematis Climbs in May

By Judith Canty Graves

The month of May brings many colorful blooms to Western North Carolina. There is always a new flower or tree blooming every week. One of my favorite spring flowers is the alluring clematis, which graces gardens in many sizes and colors.

I first saw a clematis several years ago on a garden tour and I was amazed at its stunning beauty, so I decided to grow one in my garden. Since the clematis is a climbing vine, I planted it at the base of my garden trellis. This plant, a Dr. Ruppel, produces blooms every year starting in early May. It is such an impressive sight that I think of the clematis plant as the queen of my spring garden! I look forward to seeing its blooms return every year.

Judith and her clematis

Beginning in March, I notice tiny leaves growing at the base of the trellis. By mid-April, I am always excited to see large buds appear as the vine begins its climb up the trellis. In early May, the clematis continues climbing and the buds begin to open, revealing blooms that are seven inches in diameter! It is a spectacular show as my trellis becomes covered with pink and white blooms. This is a gorgeous plant to have in a prominent place in any garden or yard.

There are dozens of different types of clematis plants. The variety of colors is dazzling, including white, pink, red, lavender and even dark purple. Some have multiple colors such as pink and white. The White Flower Farm catalog and website have many photographs of different clematis plants. Their description of this plant is “versatile vines with unforgettable flowers,” which is an accurate statement.

The clematis name comes from the Ancient Greek word klema, meaning “a climbing plant or vine.” The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus first named Clematis viticella in 1753. Originally from China, by the 17th century clematis was grown by the Japanese, and it wasn’t much later before it was introduced to Europe. In England, the plants were popular during the Victorian era. Today there are more than 250 species, and the plant, known as the “queen of the vines,” is grown around the globe.

In popular culture the clematis represents ingenuity or cleverness because it can climb anywhere and grow to great heights. All you need to provide is a trellis, a post, a pergola or a gazebo since clematis has twining leaf stems that cling to almost any structure.

The many varieties of clematis all have different characteristics such as bloom time, height and the size and color of blooms. Some bloom early in the spring, like mine, but others bloom later in the summer. By carefully choosing varieties with different bloom dates, it is possible to enjoy flowers all summer long. Just provide a spot with full or partial sun and something to climb on, and you will be rewarded with magnificent flowers in your garden.

Judith Canty Graves is a home gardener with a background in photojournalism. She lives in Asheville. To see more of her garden photography, visit TheObservantGardener.com.

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