My Year of Living With ‘Betty’

Clematis viticella ‘Betty Corning’, that is. Person or plant, time together can bring greater understanding.  At the same time, a hastily-made commitment to a plant (or a person) can bring pain and disappointment. These negative experiences could be avoided through careful consideration, which did not occur in relation to my first year with ‘Betty’.

betty-and-tithonia
‘Betty Corning’

My plan was to put two ‘Bettys’ on the west side of the Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). Her small, pale lilac flowers (or lavernder blue, depending on who you ask) would balance the bright orange of the Tithonia.

A third ‘Betty’ was planted at the far end of the Sidewalk Border.

I provided each with a 3′ tomato cage to get them started, but my thought was that they would eventually scramble through the Tithonia and nearby perennials. The third ‘Betty’ was supposed to scramble through the asters and Monarda. None of them wanted to mingle with the annual Mexican Sunflower or the perennials, however.

That could be due to the fact that this was the first year for ‘Betty’, which fell short of its mature height of 6+ feet.

dsc_0521

But even if they had met my expectations for scrambling through the other plants, it would have been a problem. That’s because ‘Betty Corning’ is in Clematis pruning group 2. Unlike Clematis jackmanii, ‘Betty Corning’ is not supposed to be cut back almost to the ground in spring. In fact, she should be subject to only restrained pruning.

So if ‘Betty’ had clambered through the other plants, I would have to cut her down to the ground every year during spring garden cleanup.

Fortunately, all is not lost. ‘Betty’ can recover from being cut to the ground, though flowering is reduced and/or delayed. Which is good, because I will probably have to cut her to the ground when I supply her with new 6′ tuteurs.

The other thing I found is that while ‘Betty’s’ blooms are fetching, this first year they began in June but waned in early August, rather than lasting until September as the catalogs promise. This means she is not a great companion for Tithonia, which blooms most intensely in late summer.

Despite this, I think with appropriate expectations and the right kind of support for ‘Betty’, this relationship can be saved.

39 Comments on “My Year of Living With ‘Betty’”

  1. I have two Bettys, on the west side of the house, so they get afternoon sun (mostly). I cut mine down to about 18″ each fall, once the foliage dies back, and they return each spring like gangbusters. LOTS of blossoms, too. If left to its own devices, it gets HUGE and will pull down a trellis not firmly attached to something sturdy, like a house. I’ve been tempted to use it as a ground cover, it is that prolific. Next year I plan to control its rampant growth (if possible) by limiting the number of vines growing up from the base. We’ll see who the boss is! (Side note: I planted mine originally in 2006, moved them to their current location in 2009.)

  2. Hello Jason, my relationship with Clematis usually involves them ending up dead and me moving on to another unfortunate plant and repeating the same experience, like some kind of terrible serial killer B-movie on a mean budget. I hope your relationship ends up better than mine!

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