If you asked a cross section of garden lovers and enthusiasts to name their favourite plant, I’m betting that quite a few of them may well plump for the good ol’ Clematis. But with so many varieties and types to choose from, which particular one would be the most popular? Well, here in the gardens of the Churchill family home we have over 20 different choices of Clematis, but there is one in particular that is blooming like crazy right now, so perhaps Clematis ‘The President’ might be top of the pops for some of you! Found against one of the surrounding stone walls in Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden, it also provides a perfect back-drop to any pictures taken of friends or family sat on the rustic stone bench beneath.
‘The President’ was introduced by Charles Noble in 1876, a nurseryman credited with introducing many Clematis cultivars mainly by crossing C. ‘Standishii’ with C. ‘Fortunei’ and various forms of C. patens. Born in 1817, Noble followed in his father’s horticultural footsteps and set up a nursery with John Standish in Bagshot, Surrey. Noble also forged links with celebrated plant hunter Robert Fortune, selling some of the plants he brought back from his trips to China for the first time in the UK. Little is known of him after he retired in 1989 but ‘The President’ still holds its own among many modern varieties and is the holder of the Royal Horticultural Society’s prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM) since 1993. So popular is ‘The President’ that it is often used by breeders as a base for creating newer varieties today.
This Clematis can tolerate full sun or partial shade, is fully hardy and likes a well-drained soil, preferably alkaline but either heavy or light in structure. It can grow to 3m in height with a spread of around 1m. This relatively compact habit makes it ideal for smaller gardens or borders or even in a container. One of the big plus points of ‘The President’ is that the impressively=sized blooms can last from late Spring right up to early Autumn in ideal conditions.
Not as many people as you might think actually grow Clematis in their own gardens, partly due to the fact that there is an air of mystery surrounding their pruning. It is true that Clematis fall into three pruning groups but the process is relatively simple as long as you know your particular variety:
Pruning Group 1 consists of early-blooming clematis that flower on shoots produced the previous season. They require little regular pruning except for the deadheading of faded flowers. In later years some training and perhaps thinning might be necessary. If renovation is required, plants can be cut back to 15cm from the base after flowering, although this will affect flowering and should not be carried out again within three years. Prune mid to late spring, after flowering and once the risk of frost has passed.
Pruning Group 2 (which includes our C. ‘The President) comprises the large-flowered cultivars that flower from May to June or beyond on short shoots developing from the previous year’s growth. Some (such as our subject in this blog) flower again in late Summer on new growth. Prune dead or weak stems in February and remove flower heads, back to a large growth bud immediately below the flower, as soon as the first flush of flowers is over in early Summer. They can also, if preferred, be left un-pruned except for the removal of dead shoots in Spring.
Pruning Group 3. This group comprises clematis that flower from mid to late Summer on the ends of the current year’s growth. If this type is left un-pruned growth will continue from where it ended the previous season, resulting in a tangled mass of growth, flowering well above eye level with stems bare at the base. These late-flowering clematis are best pruned back hard in February each year to the lowest pair of buds.
So whether you have a Clematis of your own; you think you might chose a Clematis as your fave plant; or whether you just want to see the the loveliness of ours in close up with your own eyes, get yourselves down to Chartwell again soon and swear horticultural allegiance to ‘The President’!