The Joy of Clematis

Book Review: The Plant Lover’s Guide to Clematis, by Linda Beutler

So there is good news and bad news about this book. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Turns out that the correct pronunciation is CLEM-a-tis, not cle-MAT-is. Which means I’ve been saying it wrong my whole life, no doubt causing more sophisticated gardeners to snigger behind my back.


Perhaps, I hoped, the author lacks the jurisdiction to make such a pronouncement. Sadly, it turns out that Linda Beutler is president of the International Clematis Society, as well as curator of a famous Clematis collection. So I guess she knows what she’s talking about.


We must therefore swallow our pride and move on. The good news is that this book is an excellent companion for people who love Clematis, or who might be about to fall in love with them.

Jackman Clematis from the Great Wall of Purple. 

I may well be in the second category. First we got the Jackman Clematis (Clematis jackmanii), which turned into our Great Wall of Purple. Then there was ‘Ice Blue’ on the back garden arch. Then came ‘Multi-Blue’ in the Tomato and Herb Bed, then ‘Betty Corning’ in the Driveway Border. Will I be able to stop at four varieties? Time will tell, but it’s probably not a safe bet.

linda beutler
Linda Beutler

The Plant Lover’s Guide to Clematis is divided into four sections, starting with how to design with this surprisingly diverse genus. Surprisingly, the Geneva Convention does not require gardeners to grow Clematis up a trellis. Depending on the species, they can be grown on trees, roses, shrubs, even sturdy perennials.

The author then provides an overview of the genus, with its roughly 300 species divided into groups and subgroups. This makes for surprisingly interesting reading. Clematis species come from a wide variety of environments, all over the Northern Hemisphere. I might suggest, though, that if the book has a second edition adding a chart would be helpful to some of us.

The heart of the book is a guide to 196 varieties of Clematis for the garden. Here you will find luscious photos and useful summaries. The significant number of large-flowered varieties that are shade tolerant came as a surprise to me.

I can imagine consulting this part of the book for an informed second opinion should I find myself perusing catalogs for a new Clematis variety.

‘Betty Corning’ with Mexican Sunflower


Finally, there is a discussion of growing and propagating Clematis that I found immensely useful. For one thing, it helped me to control a nasty case of Clematis Pruning Anxiety Disorder (known to clinicians as CLEMPAD).

Also, it enabled me to figure out what was eating the flowers of ‘Ice Blue’ (answer: earwigs), and what to do about it.

clematis insect damage
‘Ice Blue’ with earwig damage.

Linda Beutler writes with humor, directness, and expertise. This makes The Plant Lover’s Guide to Clematis a fast read. Here’s a sample of her writing on the bothersome subject of pruning:

Don’t follow a formula, don’t figure a third or a half – in fact, avoid fractions altogether. Just observe the vine, find the live nodes, and cut off what seems excessive, always making your cuts right above a pair of likely-looking buds … the worst that will happen is that your clematis will flower later in the season. 

This is definitely a good book for Clematis lovers to read and to keep around for future reference.

41 Comments on “The Joy of Clematis”

  1. Hi Jason. I think my pronunciation is almost the same as yours (clu-may-tus) and I also get annoyed when people ‘in the know’ say it differently! I have just been looking it up on the internet and have found the following:
    And Wikipedia says:
    The standard pronunciation of clematis is considered to be /ˈklɛmətɪs/ (klem-ə-tiss). Other pronunciations include /kləˈmætɪs/ (kləm-at-iss) and, particularly in the UK, /kləˈmeɪtɪs/ (klə-may-tiss).
    So you can breathe out and continue to say it how you want! Nice review – sounds like a good book for reference.

  2. The little bells with recurved petals, like your Betty Corning, are my favorites. Are you headed to the Bloggers Fling? If so, I’m looking forward to those posts. I’ll be at GWA in Atlanta in September, but am wallowing in family joy over the next weeks. We have a wedding coming up!

  3. I’m so glad you reviewed this book because I adore Clem-a-tis! 🙂 I was corrected a few years ago on the pronunciation. Maybe it will roll of the tongue in a few more years but I still have to think about it every time I say it. This book is on my wish list. See you both next week at the Fling?

  4. Does Ms Beutler have anything to say about autumn-flowering clematis? It was already in the garden when we bought the house. It’s pretty, but a nuisance, popping up all over the place and joining with bindweed, wild grape, and virginia creeper in taking over surrounding flowers, shrubs, and trees.

  5. Oh, Jason! I feel your pain. I have such a habit of mispronouncing words that it sometimes feels as though English is my second language, even though it isn’t. But miracle of miracles, I have been correctly pronouncing clematis, a flower I adore but cannot grow at the little house in the big woods. Any way you pronounce the word, clematis is a beautiful flower, and I gaze at your pictures with envy and admiration.

  6. It’s a specialty at Joy Creek. I’d say the majority of customers say kle-MA-tis, often with some embarrassment over maybe saying it wrong. I always say, if we know what you’re talking about, that’s all that matters. Then I try to say it their way for as long as I’m talking to them. Now I’m as likely to say it that way as KLEM-ah-tis when I’m not paying attention to what’s coming out of my mouth. I think I should read this book.

  7. I would never snigger at your pronunciation of clematis.

    In fact, I try to avoid sniggering as a general rule.

    The real question is, “How to prounce Beutler?” 😉

    tbh, clematis is not my favorite plant, mainly because pollinators and birds seem to ignore them and I tend to prefer plants that weave themselves harmoniously into the ecosystem.

    That said, I think some of the native herbaceous clematis vines – mainly C. versicolor for me, down here in Tennessee, – are in fact supposed to attract bumblebees, so I do hope to give them a try some point soon. Probably will add a few to the garden this autumn.

    The sweet autumn clematis mentioned by another commentator is an invasive exotic plant, but there’s also a native analogue – C. virginiana ( that has a reputation as being an … enthusiastic spreader (or a garden thug, depending on whom you ask). I’ve thought about adding it to the garden, but I’m a little scared to try it.

  8. I wouldn’t worry too much about the pronunciation. Since botanical Latin names are made-up Latin (or, in this case, some weird hybrid of Latin and Greek), I don’t think there’s any such thing as “correct” pronunciation — just some common agreement among gardeners (and this is clearly one genus about which there is a decided lack of consensus!). Anyone who has grown that Great Wall of Purple can pronounce it any way he wants!!

  9. I just love Clematis, it has to be either Montana types or the large flowered hybrids. We’ve had a mixed year for Clematis, some have done well while others have once again, caught wilt but are managing to grow through it. Many Clematis were only planted this year and are still establishing and I’m hoping they’ll only get better in time. None come anywhere close to the Jackmanii that towers over you! Still very jealous!

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