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.
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.
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.
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.
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.