Clematis for Small Spaces

The subtitle of Raymond Evison’s latest book, “150 High-performance Plants for Patios, Decks, Balconies and Borders,” will no doubt lure those relatively uninitiated to clematis cultivation into an exciting new realm of gardening possibilities. For those of us already hopelessly obsessed with the genus, this book covers territory already trod and concepts that are certainly not new. The most enticing aspects of this book for the clematis cognoscenti are the gorgeous photographs (also by Evison) of his latest introductions, most of which are not yet widely available this side of the “big pond.”

It can be safely said that Evison’s business, The Guernsey Clematis Nursery, Ltd, based on the British island of (surprise!) Guernsey, is the world’s largest wholesale producer of clematis plants. Additionally, Evison may be the most prolific clematis breeder currently active. While the focus of Clematis for Small Spaces seems clear from the title, readers may feel, by the last page, that they have read a fairly extended and well-written nursery catalog. A great many clematis are mentioned throughout the book, mainly in reference to clematis history and parentage; but of the 150 actual recommendations mentioned in the subtitle, nearly half are cultivars introduced, if not also bred, by Evison.

Often working in partnership with Poulsen Roser of Denmark, Evison has, for the last decade or so, introduced his new plants in waves of at least four at a time, united by growth habit but given group names that can be more confusing than specific, such as the “Garland Collection” and the “Festoon Collection.” Do most gardeners know the difference between a garland and a festoon? Is there a difference between a garland and a festoon? My dictionary says festoons are “garland-like” and that garlands may take the shape of “wreaths or festoons.” Ironically, at one point, this text mistakenly attributes to the Festoon Collection some herbaceous perennial clematis that do not climb. It describes the Garland Collection as woody vines, with compact but clinging growth, to be used as house plants(!). (A closer inspection of the book reveals that the two herbaceous clematis named to the Festoon Collection are, in fact, part of the Prairie Collection. The Festoon Collection comprises new Clematis viticella cultivars.)

We live in an age of branding and name recognition, but, listening to gardeners, I wonder if the mania for trade-marking cultivar names and registering collection names will actually lead to the sale of more plants; rather, I suspect it will perplex and discourage. When it comes to clematis, with 300 species and more than 3500 cultivars, rest assured that groups with like cultivation needs within the genus are already well documented. Creating new groups and renaming old ones for the convenience of a marketing scheme may prove to be a less-than-effective strategy. But let’s face it—introducing new plants and trade-marking old ones is big business.

Identifying clematis for small gardens is indeed a valuable exercise, and providing the full nomenclature is an added benefit. I applaud Evison’s use of the species name with a cultivar name, such as Clematis integrifolia ‘Pangbourne Pink’ instead of simply ‘Pangbourne Pink’, as that additional information in the name opens doors to a plant’s background and cultivation needs for buyers who wish to learn more about their new acquisition. It must be acknowledged, however, that The International Clematis Register and Checklist eschews the use of species epithets, and nurseries have begun removing them from plant labels.

In these days of urbanization, gardeners ardently seek information about any plants that will adjust to life in tight quarters. Some of the clematis recommended by Evison have been around long enough to have had thorough garden testing, and I can highly recommend several of his introductions. I agree with his endorsement of such recent offerings as Rosemoor (‘Evipo002’) from 2004, an exquisite, large-flowered, red hybrid that has proven to be a grand container clematis in my garden. The 2006 Clematis viticella selection, Avante-Garde (‘Evipo033’), has the cast-iron constitution of the other cultivars in its group, with the added bonus of being an utterly charming flower. It is thriving at Kinzy Faire, an increasingly clematis-centric garden at a 900-foot elevation outside Estacada, Oregon. Evison has a plantsman’s eye for the unusual, and was wise to introduce something this unique.

Until the Evison clematis introductions are more widely available in the US, this companion guide and “owner’s manual”—covering a narrow palette of plants where many, many more cultivars might have served the topic—will be of relatively limited value. Getting the best of the Evison plants into more nurseries and display gardens will make this title infinitely more useful.

Raymond Evison, England’s most decorated and honored clemateer, travels the world finding clematis species in their native habitats. That as-yet-unwritten book about his travels and how clematis grow in the wild is the one I’m really waiting for.

Linda Beutler, curator, Rogerson Clematis collection
Portland, Oregon