Henryi at home

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?


  1. I think you will succeed! The fact that your partner selected it means there are two people who love it. I know this sounds mushy but when my husband remarks on something in the garden, a place he rarely goes, then I find myself planting more (snapdragons and sunflowers are favourites) and making sure they have what they need. And recently after years of growth he noticed the native clematis growing through the callistemon which he passes several times a day on his way to the shed. I was so surprised by his joy at seeing the small starlike flowers and loved him more for it. But even so, your photo and the variety name “Henryi” reminded me of that wonderful video on youtube about Henri the Existential Cat. I know! I’m sorry! but it has won many awards and seems, in some way, to fit with your theme. I trust your clematis “henryi” will not suffer such ennui. Here’s the link if you’d like to see it : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0M7ibPk37_U

  2. I agree with your thoughts about gardening lore acquired over many years, especially with reference to a particular genus. Our notions of ‘good garden design’ are never going to encourage growing a collection. It also makes me think sadly of all the accumulated centuries of gardening wisdom to be found in many a garden club, progressively being lost as those members age, and not being passed on to new gardening generations, who feel that traditional club membership is not for them. How can they connect?

    1. I know. I know. I’m just hoping that the coming rebirth of interest overlaps, at least a little, with the departing generation… The obsession with food, including the celebration of old methods (and in some cases, old cooks) gives me some hope.

  3. Thanks for the link, Sally. I’ll bear that in mind whenever ‘Henryi’ is looking a little pensive or introspective.
    And I get what you mean about your husband’s interest. I’m so looking forward to the day when one of my kids notices, and comments on, something in the garden without prompting..

  4. Good luck with the Henryi. It’s a heavenly thing. Sadly, mine kicked the bucket in that strange way clematis have of suddenly vanishing without waving goodbye. I love clematis and as I can’t resist them I have rather a lot of them, including the gorgeous jackmanii Superba, in my very small but outrageously over-planted Melbourne garden.
    And no one can match Christopher Lloyd, can they, on clematis or just about anything else. He’s exactly what one wants from a gardening writer — immensely experienced, so he can tell you how to grow the thing; gloriously opinionated, so he leaves you in no doubt as to whether he thinks it’s worth the effort, and so funny that, even if some damned thing you’ve lovingly tended has turned up its toes and died on you, your spirits are lifted. Whenever I look something up in one of his books I invariably end up re-reading the entire thing. And then look at my garden with renewed optimism.

    1. My real trouble is that I don’t really have an appropriate spot for it. Or for any clematis, yet. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t buy the jackmanii ‘Superba’ in the first place (and the only reason I’m prepared to confess to).
      And that’s got to be one of the best reviews of CL’s writings I’ve read. Wish someone suddenly discovered another 10 or so long-lost titles by him, like they did with that Van Dyck on Antiques Roadshow.

  5. Thank you for the compliment. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a lost CL archive was suddenly discovered? We live in hope.

  6. That original flower, still looking good but starting to wane after at least 17 days of active service, maxxed at 21.5cm. Ridiculous. Wonderful.

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