My favourite rare clematis
Amateur Gardening|February 06, 2021
A handful of clematis varieties are immensely popular, yet there are many others that are equally beautiful though rarely seen. Christopher Lloyd picks out some of the best
Christopher Lloyd

PERHAPS 10 extremely well-known clematises account for three-quarters of all sales of this lovely flower. They are popular because they are so good and can be relied upon – insofar as any clematis is reliable. Like the Stuart kings, there is an incurable strain of treachery in their make-up. Having familiarised himself with this double handful, the enthusiastic gardener will find that there are 100 more for him to choose from. Many of these offer themselves as excellent alternatives.

Suppose you want a purple clematis. The betting is that you would acquire a ‘Jackmanii’ or – wanting fuller, more intensely colour flowers – a ‘Jackmanii Superba’. I suggest you try ‘Gipsy Queen’ as well as or instead of. This clematis habitually has a couple of extra sepals in each flower, so the shape is quite different, and more pleasing to my taste, though the colour is identical. Or you could go for ‘Étoile Violette’, again of the same colouring but with a distinct cream-coloured eye. There are six sepals, apt to curl back at the margins.

The flowers are of only medium size, but, as is always the way with clematis, they make up in numbers what they lack in size, so their impact is just as great. ‘Étoile Violette’ is at its best in July, with ‘Gipsy Queen’ in August, and you could try ‘Lady Betty Balfour’ for flowering in September. This has a large cream centred purple bloom on an extremely vigorous plant and needs full sun to produce its best.

Blue and crimson varieties

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