Saturday, December 22, 2012

I want a blue Clematis!

Clematis integrifolia ex Baikal in my home garden
Baikal clematis on Sandy Snyder's rock garden
 Now that I have Elvis' annoying Christmas song ringing in your head, I should clarify: even the BLUEST clematis has more than a hint of lavender. I've tried expunging that with Adobe, and a touch of pink still lingers. Oh well...lavender is a wonderful color too...if you are reading this, you have probably grown lots of Clematis integrifolia--that massive Eurasian clump forming perennial that annoys nurserymen who can't figure out what department it belongs in (shouldn't it be in with the vines?)

As you can see, it's habit is not really vining: here on Sandy's rock garden it makes a wonderful columnar statement, rather like this column of text.

Clematis integrifolia on the foothills of the Kazakh Altai
Clematis integrifolia 'Mongolian Bells' selection in blue
 The typical forms of Clematis integrifolia found in nurseries grow several feet tall (I've seen them more than a meter) and of course, they flop and cause no end of annoyance to fastidious gardeners. but those heavenly blue flowers! You can of course stake them, and fuss to no end. Or you can seek out of of several outstanding new selections that are making the rounds. Ellen Hornig sold that wonderful Lake Baikal form, which stays under 18" tall and has been far more reliably upright than most in my experience. I'm not sure if anyone has continued propagating this wonderful dwarf with such rich color (rather like a compact race of what I found in Kazakhstan)...I have several in my garden and that's not quite enough! I also have many 'Mongolian bells'--an incredible selection made by Harlan Hamernik in Inner Mongolia which is more of a groundcover--spreading out from a central crown and blooming profusely for a very long time. We have found if this is cut back it reblooms well in later summer as well. It comes not just in this good blue, but more pinkish forms, and a near violet as well as pure whites--you have to keep buying them to see if you can get all the forms, you see!

Mongolian bells clematis in Plantasia at Denver Botanic Gardens: the first public display of this form
 I had to show the original bed where the first 'Mongolian Bells' were planted at Denver Botanic Gardens--this is near the west end of the gardens, in a wonderful drift of yellow foxtail lilies (Eremurus stenophyllus). I am not sure if the clematis grows with the foxtail in the Hindu Kush, but I did see lots of other species of Foxtail lily growing with this same clematis in the Altai and Tian Shan.
Clematis tenuiloba
A number of Viorna section Clematis must be very closely related to C. integrifolia--I find that Clematis fremontii seems especially similar to its Asian cousin. Clematis fremontii deserves (and shall surely one day get) a full blog post of its own, but meanwhile I thought it would be interesting to compare the jaunty sepals of Clematis tenuiloba from the Rockies to the Mongolian Bells--they do seem to be cousins. If you look up C. tenuiloba, you will see that some botanists have lumped this under the vining Clematis columbiana...They may be right, but for us horticulturists they are worlds apart. This dark blue specimen is growing the the Pikes Peak trough of what was once Wild Flower Treasures...

Clematis scottii
And Clematis scottii has likewise been lumped under Clematis hirsutissima by non gardening botanists...they are so different in habitat in nature, and the way they grow, I suspect the botanists will come around. The picture above was also taken in that late, departed garden. I hope we can soon regenerate spectacular specimens like this elsewhere at Denver Botanic Gardens: meanwhile, I'm glad I took lots of pictures (and planted them at home!) This last is one of the special Plant Select petites being premiered this spring: do check it out at their website!

And  may you too have a blue blue blue garden this coming year!


  1. Oh, Bill Jennings, of Colo Native Plant Society, spent quite some time studying Clematis in the Rockies, and came to the same conclusion. Scottii is kind of pinched at the opening, darker in color, than hirsutissima. And then there's C. bigelovii; someone needs to introduce that into cultivation...

  2. I love the dark stems on those Mongolian Bells - really makes the flowers "pop" for some reason.

  3. Love these...I really need to find a source for those...especially the last one...those "sugarbowl" types are so cute!


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