the clematis club

I’m referring to a club in the informal sense, with really only one criterion for membership. And that is to push on past the inevitable early disappointments associated with growing clematis until one is found that will bloom in your garden. Because, let’s face it, apart from the challenges zone 10 offers, the clematis is a flowering vine with a fearsome reputation everywhere for doing unnerving things like wilting in full bloom overnight. With such a temperamental reputation, clematis weave in and out of fashion but will always have a rabid corps of enthusiasts.


A clematis in bloom is a rare sight in zone 10 Southern California. The jackmanii hybrids are faithfully offered for sale at local nurseries, but bringing one of these home is a surefire way to propagate the myth that clematis just will not grow in zone 10. The smaller-flowered viticellas are much more suitable here. Clematis have roughly the same needs as roses as far as nutrients and water consumption, and I’ve been leading the garden in a leaner direction, so it’s been a long time since I’ve had a clematis in bloom. In the past I’ve always kept to the easier viticella varieties like the stalwart ‘Madame Julie Correvon,’ which are much less finicky about growing conditions than the jackmanii hybrids, but I really do prefer the subtle beauty of the viticellas and species clematis in any case. Among the viticellas, ‘Betty Corning’ has a reputation as being one of the easiest and most vigorous. Stunning too.


Care for Clematis viticella varieties involves pruning back to a couple strong buds in January/February leaving about 12-18 inches of vine. Rather than planted directly in my clayey garden soil, ‘Betty Corning’ is growing in a tall, terracotta pot placed directly on the soil adjacent to a climbing rose, which also acts as its trellis, the pot filled with fluffy, nicely aerated potting soil and lots of compost. Growing the clematis in a pot also has the advantage of keeping me focused on a regular watering schedule, like I would any summer container, with the benefit that water runoff goes back into the garden soil, and the clematis roots can wander through the drainage hole to find a deeper root run as the vine matures. I’ve been situating summer containers of tropicals this way, too, directly on garden soil, so there’s no water runoff waste. As with most clematis, it takes at least three years for them to make the leap from cranky malingerer to one of the most elegant flowering vines one can grow. I bought Betty in 2008 when the late, lamented Chalk Hill Clematis had a going-out-of-business sale.


Joy Creek Nursery has a wonderful clematis list, including lots of interesting species, and they currently carry stock of ‘Betty Corning’ as well as many other viticella varieties.

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11 Responses to the clematis club

  1. amy wagner says:

    Brushwood Nursery also has a healthy selection of clematis.

  2. Grace says:

    You had me at Clematis Club or as I like to call them: Clemmies. Betty Corning is awesome. I love all the smaller flowered varieties. My favorite I think is ‘Etoile Rose.’ Very similar in flower as Betty but PINK. I also like the little fluffy double purple flowers on ‘Purpurea Plena Elegans.’ But don’t get me started. They’re all wonderful. Great shots of Betty. I’m glad she likes Zone 10. She’s no fool. 🙂

  3. Laura McG says:

    Maybe I should try again….I have a yard full of natives and drought tolerants. And I was able to kill a NATIVE clematis I got at Tree of Life. Your post may just give me the courage to give it another go.

  4. Scott Weber says:

    I remember back home in Nebraska, they were also very hard to keep alive, but for very different reasons! I love that we can grow so many out here (and that Joy Creek is a quick drive outside of town)!

  5. Kaveh says:

    Clematis X ‘Jackmanii’ IS a viticella hybrid and is actually one of the easiest Clematis to grow. Of course California’s climate brings about all new challenges for growing Clematis but their difficulty is over stated.

    If you fail don’t give up. Try a different variety.

  6. ks says:

    I planted Betty last fall, and hope she will perform up to the standards of the excellent Rooguchi.My only issue is hoping it stops raining long enough for me to paint the arbor she is growing on.

  7. Denise says:

    Amy, thanks for the tip. Out of habit I refer to West Coast nurseries.
    Brushwood Nursery:
    Laura, I think that’s the lesson with clems, try, try again.
    Scott, yes, Nebraska would a challenge, PNW not so much!
    Kaveh, good point, and I should have used “large-flowered hybrids” instead.

  8. Hoov says:

    I have gotten good plants from Silver Star Vinery in WA. Jackmanii is good here. ‘Perle d’Azur’ and ‘Wisley’ even better.

  9. Kaveh says:

    The difficulty in the large flowered hybrids (that are usually crosses and cultivars of C. patens and C. lanuginosa) is that they seem to be more inclined to get Clematis wilt and they generally bloom on old wood so if you have a very cold winter and the buds freeze you lose much of their bloom. We don’t have that particular problem in most of California but I don’t know what impact the heat and dryness has on them. I have seen some of the later smaller flowered Clematis afflicted with powdery mildew in CA which is something I never dealt with back east.

    I should try a few large flowered hybrids here but I grew so many back east I am wanting to spend my money on brand new things that I never grew before. I do have a Rooguci and a C. fremontii that I need to find spots for in my garden.

  10. Denise says:

    Hoov, Perle in full bloom must be quite the sight. Thanks for that nursery tip.
    Kaveh, yes, I like the simplicity of the regimen for cutting back Betty C., thought to be crispa X viticella hybrid. I’ve tried a couple of the New Zealand cartmanii hybrids like ‘Joe’ without success so far, but I think they really should be OK here. I think my biggest problem is dry soil from mature trees and shrubs, another reason I believe the container has been a success.

  11. Georgina says:

    I moved to Southern California from the UK thinking I could grow anything here. I erected a pergola and bought a Jackmani which I planted in a large pot on soil. It grew , a bit , it lingered in a sulk for three years so I planted around it . Last Autumn I resorted to threats , ‘ grow or you are getting ripped out , I’ve had it with you ‘. It bloomed quite well , not profusely , so has bought a reprieve . A viticella which someone gave me similarly planted took off up a drain pipe to the roofline , along the gutters and dangled around the windows . No flowers but healthy foliage.
    I gave it another year , nothing , then I realised I hadn’t been pruning , my bad. Took a machete to it and moved the large pot it was in across the garden. It sulked too , nothing until this week I noticed growth and six little flowers . With a bit of patience , sense , reading advice I seem to have managed to grow them both . Threats and use of machetes not necessary .

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