After a long winter of cold and rain, I look forward to bright colors in the garden. By April, I am overly familiar with the cream colored flowers of Clematis cirrhosa and its many cultivars that have bloomed all winter. Although I love the fragrance of the white flowers of Clematis armandii ‘Snow Drift’, their show is not long.
It is at this transition period that many clematis in Section Atragene (which include the many selections of Clematis alpina and macropetala) come to prominence. In our garden at Joy Creek Nursery, Clematis ‘Willy’ and ‘Constance’ leaf out quickly, completely filling in their wire frame supports with a dense cover of apple-green leaves in April. Their downward facing flowers show off the rich color of the reverse sides of their tepals - ‘Willy’ revealing rosy pink tepals outlined in white and ‘Constance’ matte rose-colored tepals. They are a sight for eyes that are starved for color.
Because ‘Willy’ and ‘Constance’ are in seedhead by June, many customers assume that they do not repeat bloom. We have experimented with these clematis and what we found is that if we dead-head the vines after they have finished blooming (cutting out about the upper fourth of their growth), they will send out new leaves and buds. These buds will open in June and July. The summer show is not as plentiful as that in the spring but it is still worth the effort.
Sometimes we find the stems of these plants become very woody and unmanageable with age. Last year in early June, we cut both ‘Willy’ and ‘Constance’ back to the lowest growth point on the stems (about 10 inches from the ground) in an attempt to clean up the older growth. Visitors to the nursery worried that we had killed the plants. There was no need for alarm. They grew back quickly. This year they are as bountiful as ever. This is the second time we have done this maintenance on our 17 year old plants.