There's a clematis for every gardener: Real Dirt | Toronto Star

There is, alas, an awful lot of snobbery in gardening — and it’s most obvious in the way we pronounce the name of one popular vine.That is, clematis.Gardeners “in-the-know” call it CLEMM-uh-tiss, accenting the first syllable. But...

There's a clematis for every gardener: Real Dirt | Toronto Star

There is, alas, an awful lot of snobbery in gardening — and it’s most obvious in the way we pronounce the name of one popular vine.

That is, clematis.

Gardeners “in-the-know” call it CLEMM-uh-tiss, accenting the first syllable. But if you dare to commit the faux-pas of saying “Cluh-MATE-iss (a fate which initially befalls most of us, because it rolls more easily off the tongue than the correct version), one of the snotty folks I call hoity horts will dismiss you as a rube.

But who cares? Whatever our pronunciation, clematis captivates both beginners and pros, and it’s often the climbing vine we aspire to first, when acquiring a garden. Yet there are drawbacks. This is a thoroughly confusing species, with more varieties than Heinz on offer — and each type has prescribed pruning peculiarities that might baffle even a rocket scientist.

When are you supposed to prune the macropetala kind of clematis? Can I get my Comtesse de Bouchard to bloom twice in a season? Is it safe to whack back a tangutica type that’s getting out of Onwin control? What pruning group does the purple texensis belong to? Should I cut my upright bush type down to the ground in spring?

If you’ve ever got mired in clematis conundrums like these, then be sure to attend an upcoming talk by an obsessed American “clematarian” named Deborah Hardwick — because she’ll undoubtedly have the answers at her fingertips.

In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to call this extraordinary gardener North America’s “Queen of Clematis.” Here’s why:

Although Hardwick claims no professional horticultural credentials (and actually spends her days working as a beauty consultant), she has become so knowledgable about this infinitely complex species that even famous plant breeders like Szczepan Marczynski (who created the gorgeous new clematis cultivar “Polish Spirit”) seek her out.

And they certainly find plenty to examine when they arrive in her garden. Hardwick lives in a rural area north of Columbus, Ohio. Over the past 15 years, she has amassed, at her two-acre spread, an astounding collection of 1,300 different clematis — registered hybrids, species kinds and a few North American rarities found only in the wild.

She isn’t really interested in growing much else — which begs the obvious question: Why?

“The challenge,” she says. “Someone told me once that clematis were hard to grow, and I thought: Right, I’m going to go for it. I want to learn everything there possibly is know about this genus — the myths and the truths.”

Along the way, she’s explored every aspect — the kind of soil clematis prefer, the planting, the pruning and the age-old belief that they must be positioned with “feet in the shade and head in the sun.”

For beginner gardeners, she recommends a knockout called Perle d’Azur (“a free-flowering violet blue climber that never disappoints”) and some of the summer-blooming hybrids. But she professes to have no real favourite herself.

“I love watching anything new grow and bloom, so those are always on my radar,” she says.

The unusual native American Vioma species types are getting her particular attention now, and she points out that the majority are hardy in Canada.

If you want to know more, Hardwick is giving four talks in the GTA shortly — and they’re all different: Here’s the lineup:

  • Toronto Botanical Garden: Thursday, March 9. 7:30 p.m. Topic: Clematis: the genus of diversity.

Members free. Public $15. torontobotanicalgarden.ca

  • Royal Botanical Gardens, Burlington. Friday, March 10, 7 p.m. Topic: Myths & truths about clematis. Members: $5. Public $15. (Limit: 150 people.) rbg.ca

  • Ontario Rock Garden & Hardy Plant Society, Toronto Botanical Garden, Sunday March 12. Two talks: 11 a.m. Topic: The virtuous Viorna. 1 p.m: The productive Viorna. Free to guests of ORGS members. onrockgarden.com

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