Monday, May 30, 2011

White at Night: Summer Blooming Clematis

If you love to linger in the garden on the long summer evenings, try some floral moonlight. Full of large white blossoms, Clematis henryi is like a beacon, whether it’s climbing an obelisk or scrambling through shrubbery.
My friend Gail Austin, who has an entire wall of clematis in her Southwest Portland garden, plus many more climbing posts and trellises, says Henryi is the most outstanding white clematis.
“The flowers are huge and the contrast with its deep green foliage makes it stand out from across the garden. It also reliably reblooms in late summer. This is a very special clematis for me because it was my late husband Ken's favorite. When Henryi blossomed for the first time each spring, he would come and find me, take my hand and hurry me over to the plant so we could "ooh" and "aah" together at its pristine beauty. Then he would measure the blossom, and like a proud new papa after the birth of his first child, announce its size. One year it was almost ten inches across, and he could hardly contain himself!”
Clematis ‘Huldine’ and ‘Alba Luxurians’ are more modest in size, but just as luminous. ‘Huldine’ originates from France, and is stylishly cup-shaped, with six overlapping petals with the texture of satin. ‘Alba Luxurians’ is more papery, with distinctive green markings at the tips of the petals. I’ve grown both on my grape arbor where their white flowers drape over the edges like froth of lace below the large grape leaves.
I first saw ‘Alba Luxurians’ on an autumn visit to an English garden designed by Graham Stuart Thomas (the venerable author of my favorite books on roses, perennials and ornamental shrubs). The white flowers wove their way up a large Rosa glauca, mingling beautifully with the rose’s gray-green leaves and red fall hips.
The combination was deceptively simple, and all the more riveting because it was repeated throughout the same border. For me, who has to have one plant of every kind, dedicating so much space to the several of the same plants was almost sacrilegious. But it was a great lesson in restraint. Although I do admire this quality, I haven’t yet embraced it.
I haven’t yet grown ‘Guernsey Cream,’ but a recent photo of it is so enticing I’m putting it on my wish list. Both Gail Austin and Clematis Queen Linda Beutler praise it, so it’s gotta be great.