Clematis is leafing out

>> Sunday, April 1, 2007

I love Clematis, it is one of my all-time favorites. I have not been able to grow it and have killed more than one plant. This year looked to be no exception.

The first time we lived in Utah we were in a apartment building and there was a little plot of land that was available to us to grow what we wanted. No one else in the building was interested so I had the place to myself. I planted tomatoes, peas, clematis, Jacob's Ladder, columbine as well as a few others. The clematis is the only plant that did not survive the first winter.

After moving to California I thought I should try again. You would think that with weather as nice as it gets in San Diego that I should be able to grow anything. But that is not the case. By the second year I had managed to kill yet another clematis.

We moved into the current house three years ago and I was determined to not fail again. I was in the process of building up several perennial beds with compost to combat our clay soil, and thought I would plant a Clematis 'Hania' (pictured above) right in the full sun, just as they like it. I watered it carefully, I mulched it carefully. I fed it carefully. It struggled. Perhaps the clay was too much.

The next Spring, 2006, came and I kept a close watch to see if it would come back. It looked like it would by the fact that I saw a couple of green leaves sprouting from the bottom. Within a couple of weeks it too had succumbed to my ineptitude. It seemed I was doomed to never grow the one plant that I wanted so much to grow.

Then I saw a Clematis Jackmanii' in a Bluestone Perennials catalog. The phrase that stood out most was 'it is the easiest clematis to grow'. That is pretty powerful bait to someone who wants so desperately to have a Clematis. Then I thought that statement was made without me in mind. It looked too inviting to pass up with its big blue flowers. I fell for it again and ordered one.

This time I was going to try something a bit different. I know they like their 'feet in the shade and their head in the sun' so I decided to take care to create a space just for this plant. I put it on the other side of my raspberry plants where not only its feet are in the shade but about half of its height would be in shade. I also placed a couple of rocks around its base to provide extra coolness. Then I placed one of those pre-made trellis (the kind with the criss-cross wooden slats that you see everywhere) against the shed and stapled some garden netting on it for the vine to attach to.

The first year there was one lonely, but beautiful, five inch, deep dark blue flower. It looked all the more beautiful because it was the only bloom. But, I could not consider this a success because I have been here before. The real test (the scary part) was yet to come.

I read from someone's blog that they used Tomato Plant food every couple of weeks throughout the growing season and so I gave that a try. I had also read about other more complicated feeding formulas but thought that I probably wouldn't stick to such a stringent schedule and opted for the Tomato food plan.

I mulched about 4" deep around the base of the plant and waited through the winter.

Spring came and when I looked at the plant my heart sank. It appeared that my legacy was continuing. The stems were all brown, brittle and generally dead-looking. Should I give up hope now? This plant is a 'schedule 3' pruner which means it needs to pruned to about 18"-24" in the Spring. I wasn't sure if it was worth it but I cut it back to 24", pulled back the mulch and sprinkled a handful of bone meal around the base and replaced the mulch. Now here it is April and much to my amazement there is new growth from the base. I'm trying to temper my hopes, because, again, I have been here before. But it sure lightened my heart when I saw that new growth.

They say that it is supposed to produce more and more flowers each year so I have visions of many more flowers than last year. There I go again getting my hopes up. Maybe this year will finally be the year that a Clematis, under my care, will make it. You see, I am tragically optimistic. But it just has to be this year.


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