PLANT OF THE WEEK #4: Clematis maximowicziana

You’ve really got to love a shrub or climber that waits until now to do something really big, blousy and generous.  There’s not that many of them.  Most that flower now have been doing their thing for a while, and will continue for a while.  As a gardener, that ‘moderate flowering over a long period’ is a useful strategy. But every now and then you want a really big moment to smash through the moderation.

Enter Clematis maximowicziana.  Having shot into growth in late winter from a severely clipped bone structure (just hack it back to a few branches, just long enough to give the new shoots something to immediately grab hold of and wind their way up), it grows like the clappers through spring and summer, engulfing whatever fence or trellis, house or tree is nearby, and as February sets in, breaks out into countless flower buds.  Not just lots of buds.  Thousands and thousands of buds.  It loads late summer with anticipation-levels to rival spring.  The coming moment looms on the time-horizon, and fills you with that ache – that longing – that only gardeners know as they watch the slow build daily.  Sometimes hourly.

Then the first bud opens, and next time you look, the entire fence, trellis, house or tree is covered in a thick doona a smallish creamy white blooms, pumping out their slightly almond perfume for all they’re worth.  I say almond, as that’s how Christopher Lloyd described them, and therefore the olfactory overlay I put on them when I first witnessed Clematis maximowicziana in bloom, eating up the entire rear wall of the Solar at Great Dixter in 1994. 

My next encounter was at Lambley nursery, about five years back, as it draped itself with extravagant luxury over a large fence.  I was in heaven.  I must have bought one, as now, on a fence at the back of my steppe garden, it has subsumed a large section of the chook-house fence, and is wonderfully, spring-freshly in bloom.  You really know when you’re downwind of it, though there’s always a few seconds when I’m in that ‘Wait…what?….what is that?’ phase before full recognition.  On reflection, I think that the description of the scent as of almonds is a little too exotic.  It’s a lovely scent to have blowing around in the garden, and there’s almond there, if a little soapy.  I’m glad to say that I’m no scent-snob, and I’m very, very grateful to have it, right now.  

Clematis maximowicziana is phenomenally drought tolerant.  So far, it has survived any summer thrown at it, without water.  In the worst of summers, it may fail to flower.  In such a season, I may consider giving it a few soakings in late summer, in order to not miss the whole point of having it.  But only if I have a little water to spare.  If I don’t, I know it’ll more than survive, ready for flowering the following year.

Discussion

  1. How timely! I picked a few flowers from a fenceline near home this morning with a view to ID-ing – and this it! I caught the scent first, then quickly saw the flowers. A really lovely display. (My 9-year-old daughter just had a sniff, too: “Wow, they smell nice!”) Does it grow from cuttings?

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