Kinzy Faire Clematis

By: Linda Beutler
Linda Beutler

LINDA BEUTLER is a fearless gardener who grows a great variety of plants on a city lot in Portland, Oregon….

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Clematis spooneri flowering in spring on Penny’s shade house. Photograph by Allan Mandell

Clematis spooneri flowering in spring on Penny’s shade house. Photograph by Allan Mandell

The author, one of the West’s top clematis experts, returns to Kinzy Faire, the Estacada, Oregon garden that she wrote about in the July 2009 issue of Pacific Horticulture. Here, she completes the story of this exceptional and extensive garden, focusing now on her favorite subject—and one of the garden’s specialties: clematis. Visit www.pacifichorticulture.org and search the site for “Beutler” to read her past articles about clematis and Kinzy Faire.

Another way to date the evolution of Kinzy Faire is to look at its major plant collections. The garden’s creator, Penny Vogel, will say that she was never really a plant collector, but that she developed fickle passions for various groups of plants—fancies that would last about a year. She has had rose years (like the tide, they come in and go out), a conifer year, and at least two separate hydrangea years. One of the latter was highlighted by a trip she and I took to Heronswood Nursery with Beaverton gardener Mike Snyder, to buy every Hydrangea serrata selection we could afford. She dabbled in hardy fuchsias one year (a gamble at her 1,100-foot elevation), and the hardiest of the hardy are still with her.

Unlike the others, her clematis year began in 1999 and continues to this day. For this, I was quite surprised to hear, Penny credits me. She says it was on a visit to my Portland garden that she first realized the potential for plant combinations involving clematis. She began buying them, literally by the dozen. Mike Snyder tells of one hysterical weekend when he realized that one of the big-box home improvement chains had mistakenly entered the sale price of their clematis in their computers, not as $7.98 (as advertised) but as $3.98. He told Penny, and they scoured all of the locations in the greater Portland area for any clematis they did not already have. That these clematis were from a source noted for inaccurate labeling is perhaps an example of karmic principles at work; suffice it to say that, in addition to some treasures, Penny came home with many more specimens of Clematis ‘Etoile Violette’ than even a garden the size of hers can use.

Clematis collecting should not be a competitive sport, so it does not pain me in the least to say that Penny has many more plants than I do, and I suspect that she has bested me now in the number of clematis taxa she grows. No matter how much I may have inspired her, she has far outstripped me in the quality and inventiveness of her clematis feats. Kinzy Faire is now the best garden featuring clematis I have ever seen—anywhere.

Penny does not have one of everything where clematis are concerned. She buys what she has seen do well in other gardens and what she likes, often in multiples because she has the room and can, therefore, utilize wholesale sources. She casts a wide net of friendship within the local and international clematis societies, allowing her to evaluate even more clematis for their potential in her own garden. I have often seen clematis behave better in her garden—flower more generously, grow more vigorously—than anywhere else. Like me, she has a wanton and improvisational style of pruning: we do what we want to our clematis, when we want.

It was in Penny’s garden that I first saw tomato cages up-ended, with their spikes curled by vise-grips, holding up young clematis and lifting the herbaceous perennial kinds up off the ground, before allowing them to drape back down or loll into neighboring shrubs. An infestation of bunnies devastated her newest clematis one year, in spite of the best efforts of Dollie and Bear, her rabbit-dispatching, deer-chasing dogs. Now all clematis are planted with a wire mesh skirt, only ten to twelve inches tall; that height has proven sufficient to protect the spring growth. There is no bare earth in Penny’s garden, so these protective mesh skirts are quickly covered by surrounding plants.

Clematis viticella ‘Etoile Violette’ on a rustic arbor in late summer. Photograph by Allan Mandell

Clematis viticella ‘Etoile Violette’ on a rustic arbor in late summer. Photograph by Allan Mandell

The Clematis Folly

Penny invited me out to assist in a special project: the planting of her clematis folly. A decrepit apple tree in the middle of the front garden’s lawn had partly blown down, so it was cut back to a stump about five feet tall. The circle of soil around the tree—always “paved” with daffodils—was enlarged to a twelve-foot-diameter circle, and eight twelve-foot lengths of rebar were set in the ground, spaced evenly around the circumference, then bent to meet over the tree stump and tied in place. We planted a large-flowered hybrid clematis at the base of each rebar. By the next year, Penny had added horizontal wire in between the bars, to give the clematis more points of contact for spreading into each other. Had it been possible to view the folly from above, this added wire would have given the structure the look of a spider web. When the large-flowered cultivars didn’t take hold as quickly as she wanted, Penny added clematis from the Viticella Group. The circular bed became an oval, and a fringe of herbaceous perennials and low shrubs provided additional interest.

Now, ten years later, the clematis folly has become a wonderful feature. Even large flowered clematis like ‘Twilight’, which languished after the initial planting, have revived to take a starring role. The Viticella Group clematis romp everywhere, some years preferring to run, roughshod, over the perennial skirt rather than mount the folly. Every year, the folly looks different from the year before, and every year it is greater than the sum of its parts (and a lot more fun).

With the willing Millie Kiggins, garden owner, on hand to make sublime birdhouses, Kinzy Faire is also well populated with four-by-four wooden posts that are topped with her unique functional finials and wrapped in fencing cloth, each hosting a clematis. The birdhouses are utilized by aphid-eating finches and sparrows, as well as by mosquito-controlling tree swallows. The whole garden is alive with riotous clematis and chattering birds. Or is it the other way around?