Spring Flowering Clematis
Clematis can be seen from Alaska to Azerbaijan, scrambling through roses, clambering up walls, and trailing over perennials. Color comes in just about every hue and shade: reds from carmine to wine; mauves from lilac to purple; and creams from pale yellow to pale green.
An early-flowering Clematis will spill color into a garden from early spring to early summer, alongside other favorites such as Tulips and Camellias. Other gifts to the gardener include flowers that range from understated nodding singles to dramatic doubles and an easy and vigorous growing habit that needs little or no pruning.
Vigorous, scented and popular, Clematis armandii produces masses of slender long-petaled white flowers throughout the spring against a backdrop of lush evergreen glossy deep green foliage. A second flush often appears in summer. Armandii prefers full sun but will put up with some shade.
Notable hybrids include Clematis Armandii ‘Apple Blossom’, which is as gorgeous as it sounds, with flowers that fade from pinkish to white, and C. 'Enham Star', developed by Enham Nurseries, which has slightly more elegant flowers and paler leaves.
Clematis armandii 'Enham Star'
Another vigorous variety, Clematis Montana will hit the ground running, reaching a height of nearly a metre very quickly. A profusion of white or pink flowers appears in late spring and lasts well into June. It’s versatile too – thriving in shade as well as sun, and very popular for camouflaging large ugly buildings, which it will sprint up. Clematis montana and its hybrids are generally too rampant for a small space though.
If you want a strong scent too, try Clematis montana 'Winsonii', which smells of chocolate.
Clematis montana Wilsonii
These evergreen winter-flowering Clematis will produce plenty of delicate drooping blooms right up to February. The award-winning Cirrhosa var. purpurascens Freckles is lightly scented, while the more unusual Clematis cirrhosa Ourika Valley has pale yellowy green flowers. Originating in the Mediterranean, Clematis cirrhosas are not all fully hardy. For example, Ourika Valley is, but Clematis purpurascens Freckles is not. They all like plenty of sun though.
Nodding flowers in colors from white and cream and mauve through to pink and red characterize Clematis alpinas. Most flower in April and May. Look out for: Clematis alpina ‘Jacqueline du Pré’, which is robust, fragrant and tinged with silver, or the beautiful, violet, Clematis alpina 'Helsingborg', which has won the RHS Award of Garden Merit.
Clematis alpina Helsingborg
Growing wild in Silberia and in gardens in Alaska, Clematis macropatela varieties are among the hardiest of all Clematis. A real treasure in the spring garden, they come in shimmering shades of pink, purple and blue. They flower in April and May.
Clematis macropetala 'Lagoon' has silver-veined purple flowers, lovely wispy seed heads, and the RHS Award of Garden Merit.
Clematis macropetela Lagoon
Early Large-flowered Clematis
Early large-flowered hybrids, which flower from mid-spring to early summer, are another option. Examples are Clematis 'Miss Bateman', which has white edged-with-pink flowers with rounded edges and the well known, Clematis 'Nelly Moser', which has soft mauve-pink blooms with a darker feathered stripe down the middle. Both varieties flower again at the end of the summer.
A spring show-stopper, Clematis 'Snow Queen' has very large - 16.5cm across (6.5") - white flowers with contrasting red anthers.
Clematis 'Snow Queen'
Caring for Early Flowering Clematis
Like all Clematis, early-flowering varieties dislike drying out as much as they dislike being water-logged, so moist well-drained soil is best.
As spring-flowering Clematis flower on last year's growth, prune them lightly after flowering.
Large-flowered varieties may be prone to Clematis Wilt, which turns the leaves black. To prevent, keep the plants healthy, well-fed and well-watered, without soaking them. Affected plants should be cut back hard.