Just before Christmas I was telling a friend that I’d spotted and lusted over a stunning plant of Clematis x jackmanii ‘Superba’ in our local nursery, and, though I’d planned to plant one in this garden for a while, I hadn’t bought it, for reasons that I may or may not disclose later in this post (depending on whether I can work out how to make them sound less lame).
It happens that my wife overheard this conversation, and dashed down to the nursery in the hope of grabbing me one for a Christmas pressie. I knew that the plant I’d seen had already gone (‘cos I’d gone down the day after I’d originally spotted it, and knew that it had sold, but hadn’t mentioned this in the conversation). Not remembering the form of the one I was after anyway, my wife chose a clematis that appealed to her. This happened to be an ENORMOUS white flowered form named Clematis ‘Henryi’.
Many of you will know that Clematis x jackmanii ‘Superba’ is a rich, velvety purple. No matter. I’m pretty much a sucker for any clematis, and the one 18cm bloom that was on the plant on Christmas day is still there, now having swollen to a sail-like 20.5cm.
This had me running to my favourite Clematis book, Clematis by, not surprisingly, Christopher Lloyd (revised with Tom Bennett). I looked up the reference to C. ‘Henryi’, and then, having tasted again of a long-quieted addiction, re-read most of the book. It lead me to wonder: Are we ever going to see garden books, or at least books in the form of growing guides, this good again?
I’m just rereading a natural history book about which Wendell Berry writes in the foreword that it is ‘..written, not just from knowledge, but from familiarity’. The same could be said of C.L’s Clematis. It makes you realise that familiarity and experience trump pure information every time, but that we’re in a world that’s dying of thirst for the former while drowning in the latter. The short section on pronunciation and spelling is laugh-out-loud funny, but the whole thing, from start to finish, is infused with the deep, deep familiarity and experience that comes from loving, and growing, a genus for a lifetime, and the friendliness of one who assumes he’s writing to an audience that shares his passion.
I was a bit alarmed to find that C. ‘Henryi’ always failed to grow for CL, though it’s not known to be difficult. What hope have I got?