PLANT OF THE WEEK #85: Clematis 'Rooguchi'

The truth is that virtually any well-grown clematis, except perhaps the more common montana types, is likely to induce a groan of acquisitive longing from me.  There’s just something so other-worldly about them, so that even when you know they’re real, when they’re right before your eyes, they’re too good to be true.

But this is especially so, for me, with those that squeeze in at the waist before the sepals flare, like texensis and its hybrids.  I’m not sure quite how to describe them.  As lame as it feels to write it, they look like they’re puckering up for a kiss.

Which leads me to Clematis ‘Rooguchi’.  This is one of that very short list of plants that it’s just not possible to overrate.  For poise and elegance it’s right off the charts.  The flared, bell-shaped flowers hang from long, slender, indigo-stained stems.  Actually, ‘hang’ is not the right word.  When you tilt up the stems, the flowers tilt outwards accordingly, so they’re held rigidly in this position, and only appear to be hanging.

It even veers off the plausibility charts. Each sepal is powerfully ribbed on the outside, the ribs undulating through inky blue colouring of such glossiness that you’d swear they’d been polished. Just over halfway down the bell, the four sepals split apart, and while I can’t figure out how it works, it’s as if the inside surface of the flower continues to expand, so that the split edge, in suede-like pale demin, flares to give a false impression of sepal thickness.  

Damn.  I’m making a mess of this.  I wanted to stay all poetic – to do less is to undersell it – but my description sounds more like a deconstruction.

Like one of its parents, C. integrifolia, C.’Rooguchi’ is a non-climber, and is best scrambling over a shrub, or over a wall.  Mine grows against a home-made trellis with sticks resulting in 15cm openings, something like the size of those in concrete reo, so I just push the stems though the trellis as they grow.  In this year, given the rainfall, it has flowered at 2m tall.  

The only downside with C. ‘Rooguchi’ is that it’s subject to mildew when stressed. The first two years this pretty much ruined its display for me, but this year it has remained clear – so far.  Some authorities say that it’s worst on young plants, but it feels like I’m asking for trouble if I claim mine has grown out of it.

As for its fine pedigree, no one says it better than the writers for – ‘Some (breeders) are technicians, some are gamblers, and some are visionaries, such as the late Kazushige Ozawa. He imagined a superlative bell-shaped flower of nuanced color appropriate to his audience, performers of the Japanese tea ceremony. This ceremony requires a single evocative bloom to enhance the mood of the ceremony. For this purpose he wed Clematis integrifolia to Clematis reticulata to create C. ‘Rooguchi.’

It has been in bloom for months in my garden, and stand and stare as I might, I still can’t quite believe that it’s real.

BTW, I’m quite fond of the common montanas.  They just don’t quite make me heart skip a beat in the same way as the summer-flowering forms do

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