Clematis: Discover the Many Varieties

June 6, 2016

Clematis growing on my deck.

Bobbie Bradshaw

When we think of clematis, the large-flowering, star-shaped blooms come to mind. However, there are beautiful small-flowering and shrub-types that few people even know about.

Did you know that there are over 200 species and hundreds of hybrids of this popular flower? There are saucers, bells, tube-shapes, tulips, open bells, doubles, and semi-doubles. The small flowering clematis make up for what they lack in size by the abundance of their blossoms. They also bloom for longer.

Clematis: A Flowering Shrub

Everyone is familiar with clematis as a flowering vine but how about one that is a shrub? Clematis heracleifolia is a bush that dies back almost to the ground each winter. In spring it puts out new growth and soon reaches about four feet in height and width. By August it is covered with small but gorgeous, blue flowers that resemble hyacinth blossoms. The flowers have a delicately sweet aroma and the slightly fuzzy leaves have an almond fragrance.

Don't get me wrong, I love the vining ones too, especially those with bell-like flowers. My favorite is Clematis viticella 'Betty Corning'. She is a lovely vine that produces loads of light purple, nodding, bell-like flowers all season long. She also dies to the ground each winter in my garden but puts on an amazing growth spurt each spring covering a 10 foot tall post in my yard. Many gardeners weave her vines through a tall shrub or tree for support.

Have you ever seen a yellow clematis? We usually think of them in the white, blue or pink color ranges but Clematis tangutica has bright yellow, nodding bell-shaped flowers. It also produces fabulous silky seedheads that look like something right out of a Dr. Seuss book! I came by mine totally by mistake. It was labelled as Clematis montana but I was in for a pleasant surprise when it bloomed with yellow bells instead of pink stars! It makes a spectacular display against an evergreen backdrop.

This time of year sweet autumn clematis is making a big splash. It is a vigorous growing vine that can grow up to 20 feet tall in one season. I cut mine back to about eye level each spring and by September it has climbed to the roof of my shed and is covered with a multitude of small, star-shaped white blossoms. The bees love its sweetly scented flowers.

Sometimes I am impatient and hate waiting until September for the sweet autumn clematis to bloom. So, when I heard that plant breeders had developed one that not only blooms in July but has purple flowers. I had to have it. The search for 'Sweet Summer Love' began last spring and like any dedicated, or should I say obsessed, plant collector I did not rest until I had one in my garden. It grew well last year, wintered over our toughest winter, and this summer had grown about 5 feet high. In July was covered with bluish-purple stars with white centers. For once, a new plant has lived up to the hype!

Credit: Proven Winners

If you have had trouble with your large-flowering clematis succumbing to the dreaded clematis wilt, give some small-flowered ones a try. They are not only cheerfully pretty but tough and resistant to this common fungal disease. There is a wide spectrum of colors and shapes to choose from and surely you have room for one more plant in your garden!

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.