A winter-flowering clematis
There is a clematis that flowers in winter and there are several named forms. All produce pendant bells (that are best looked up into) in subtle shades of white, cream and green. The insides of the flowers are sometimes (although not always) spotted and the flowers (which can appear from November onwards in some varieties) are highly attractive to bumble bees.
They are all bred from Clematis cirrhosa, a native of Mediterranean areas of Southern Europe and parts of North Africa, so all of these winter-flowering clematis need the shelter of a warm, south-facing wall to thrive. The evergreen foliage is often ferny and, in hot summers, this clematis sometimes sheds all its leaves and looks as though it may have died. But it recovers by autumn.
Clematis cirrhosa var. purpurascens ‘Freckles’ AGM
This is the earliest one of all and the creamy flowers are larger and fuller than others. The inside is heavily spotted in red and this freckling gives the plant its name. The foliage is less divided than many and the flowers are not as bell-like. Raised by Raymond Evison of Guernsey Clematis Nursery, from wild seed collected in the Balearic Islands, and named after one of his daughters whose nickname is Freckles, it was introduced in 1989. Popular and prolific, it can flower from early November until late February.
Clematis cirrhosa var. balearica
This is my personal favourite, because the green-tinted white flowers are subtly spotted in maroon. The foliage is almost-black and exceptionally ferny - setting off the slender, dainty flowers well. Usually starts in late January.
Clematis 'Jingle Bells'
Smaller white bells and neat, glossy foliage on a resilient, taller plant. Good for a cool planting scheme. Seedling from Wisley from 'Freckles' (early 90s) Gives a good display. Thought to be better than 'Wisley Cream' by many.
Clematis 'Wisley Cream' AGM
Green-tinged, green-white unspotted flowers set against shiny green foliage. The boss of stamens at the centre is a cool lime-green. Simple yet stunning and goes on for months.
Clematis 'Ourika Valley'
This wispy-flowered, prolific form has longer petals and a straggly set of stamens. The toothed foliage is glossy and green and the flowers are pale lemon-white. (early 2000)
Clematis 'Lansdowne Gem'
A red form. A sport of 'Freckles' discovered in 1995, but it can revert and produce spotted pale flowers.
How to grow
This type of clematis is best grown in the ground somewhere sheltered and warm. A south-facing wall is ideal because the winter sunshine promotes earlier flowering.
These clematis form leggy plants and are vigorous once established. But they will not cover huge expanses like montana clematis. They are useful round porches and over windows, with some companions to hide the bare stems at the bottom. They can also be gown flopping over a warmly-sited low wall.
The best month to plant is September. However a well-grown containerised clematis could be planted throughout the year.
Plant at least two feet away from the wall and water in the first growing season.
These tender clematis can be tidied after flowering and restricted slightly to keep them in position. I do not advocate hard pruning because the pendant flowers need to be looked into. The flowers appear on old wood.
The legs of these clematis tend to look bare so it’s best to position one behind another wall shrub. This could be another tender evergreen plant like a myrtle (Myrtus communis), or you could clip a choisya, or use variegated box (Buxus sempervirens 'Aureovariegata').
All clematis prefer a cool root run and you could plant a winter-flowering iris, Iris unguicularis, to shield the roots. The foliage tends to be untidy, so groom this plant well in autumn and late spring and enjoy the blue or purple flowers from November until March. 'Mary Barnard' is a good form.
Where do I get them?
Thorncroft Clematis Nursery - www.thorncroftclematis.co.uk