When Two Heads are Better than One:

Growing Clematis with Shrubs.

Willingness to compromise with others’ ways of living and cooperation
in common tasks, these make living happy and fruitful.

-Sri Sathya Sai Baba

One of the amazing things about clematis is that not only do they love to climb, but that they can be coaxed into climbing almost anywhere. This trait has encouraged gardeners to plant clematis with anything that will support them, including shrubs. By choosing clematis that bloom at different times than their partners, they can greatly extend the bloom season for that particular patch of earth! In return, the shrub provides support and balance.

Our nearly constant quest for yet more places to plant clematis has led us to experiment with lots of clematis-shrub combinations. In the process, we've learned lots! (That's a polite way of saying, "Wow! Have we ever made a lot of mistakes!") In the fall of 2006, we planted a dozen young clematis on a hedge of mature lilacs in our yard, using all we've learned. We're very pleased with the results and expect to be even happier as the clematis mature.

Here's what the area looked like before we started. The lilacs are nearly 20 years old; these are just the 'garden variety' light purple type. The nutrient needs for clematis are similar to that of lilacs (and roses), so they make especially nice companions.

We removed the grass in front of the lilacs. Planting clematis on the north side of shrubs in order to convince them to grow toward the sun on the south side tends to slow their growth a lot. Instead, we planted them a on the south side, where they get lots of sun, right from the beginning.

We planted the young plants at the lilacs' drip line, at the outer edge of the lilac foliage. They responded brilliantly, growing quickly during the next year. They needed very little coaxing to cling to and climb the lilac branches.

Nine of the twelve clematis gave us at least one bloom during Summer 2007. This is Blue Angel, one of the first to flower. As you can see from all the buds, it did a very credible job during it's first summer!

Blue Belle didn't bloom at all - until late in the summer. She had been busy growing - all the way to the very top of the lilacs! Amazing growth for sun a young plant!

We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly,
we shall all hang separately.

-Benjamin Franklin
These plants are hanging together nicely!

A few that didn't work!

It is not a good idea to plant a clematis and a young shrub at the same time with the intent that they will 'grow up together'. Ask us how we know....Although clematis are not known as fast growing plants, they will grow faster than most shrubs and a combination that looks well balanced when planted will very often be 'clematis-heavy' within a year or two.

Once, we planted a Hagley Hybrid and a purple sand cherry together. It seemed a perfect match - Hagley's anthers are the same color as the sand cherry's foliage and her pink petals contrast well with the purple. However, within a year she had swamped the sandcherry. You can see just a few purple sandcherry leaves in the center!

This clematis was planted on a large, white rugosa rose, which promptly winter-killed almost to the ground. Although the rose was large enough when the clematis was planted, it didn't recover quickly from the winter damage and westruggled for a couple of years to keep the clematis from swamping it while it got back on its feet.

A Happy Ending

Luckily, rugoas roses are tough as nails. Here's ours in 2009, happily cohabiting with its clematis. The rose is upright and the clematis climbs through it and into the next shrub.

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Hummingbird Farm
Brian and Cindy Tibbetts
202 Bean Street  Turner, Maine 04282
(207) 224-8220   hummingbird@megalink.net
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