Ever the fool for simple flowers, I’m drawn to clematis time and again – and time and again, my selections have not succeeded in my small garden. This has nothing to do with the plants themselves, and everything to do with poor soil, challenging light conditions and a gardener with even less impulse control than skill.
I’ve tried my hand at several climbing clematis, to no avail. I don’t want to hear how easy they are to grow; some things just don’t work. I can bake just about anything, but pies? Not in my DNA.
So when I found Clematis integrifolia, I was hooked. And, much to my delight, this bushy, sometimes rambling plant has been very happy in its place for more than a dozen years now.
Name: Clematis integrifolia
Common name: Solitary clematis, bush clematis
Hardiness: Zones 3 to 7
Mature height: Up to 3 feet
Mature spread: 2 to 3 feet
Classification: Woody based, herbaceous perennial
Landscape use: Small focal points; mixed perennial gardens, borders; best in sunny locations
Ornamental characteristics: Medium-green, 5-inch-long, ovate leaves feature deep veining that provides an interesting texture; each very slender stalk is topped by a single, nodding, blue flower, often with sepals that appear to twist and curl; showy, silvery, feathered seed heads follow bloom and last through late fall
This shrubby clematis forms a dense mound of long, thin “branches” that reach 12 to 24 inches tall (sometimes up to 3 feet) and support medium-green, opposite, entire, lanceolate leaves. Each of these is about 3 to 5 inches long, and each is incised with delicate veining that provides a subtle pattern and texture. In fall (or in late summer, if the plant is stressed), the foliage is painted with a bronze to purplish tint, beginning at the margins and gradually filling in, emphasizing the veins.
The flowers are exquisite, especially for those of us who appreciate subtlety in a bloom. Held atop a slender, 8- to 10-inch-long stalk, each blue to blue-purple flower is presented singly and simply. Nodding bells appear in spring to early summer, then open to reveal four elongated, somewhat curled or twisted sepals. On some flowers, they appear to be recurved; on others, the sepals seem to swirl around the cream to soft yellow anther like a pinwheel. Occasionally there’s a slight hint of lighter blue striation, but the effect works more to soften the color than to add definitive stripes.
Bloom time normally lasts through July, but may continue sporadically through August and even into September.
C. integrifolia reliably provides exceptional ornamental interest into fall, when the feathery seed heads typical of other Clematis species appear. They’re a bit smaller than that of, say, a jackmanii, but the silver to silvery buff poofs soften the waning foliage and lend a whimsical air.
Solitary clematis is happy in full sun to part shade; mine is located on the east side of the house, where it receives at least 6 hours of direct sun each day. It thrives in fertile soils with medium moisture, but it’s important that the soil also be well-drained and the roots are not waterlogged.
And about that habit: It’s been my experience that solitary clematis often will flop and ramble with advanced age, but that’s how I first saw it, and that’s how I purchased it. I was eager to fill a spot with an unusual groundcover, and this selection has more than performed. In some seasons, I’ve held up the plant with a round wire support; this is neatly hidden among the foliage and helps to hold the stems erect in a more shrublike habit. I’ve enjoyed it either way, but I tend to favor its tendency to ramble in my garden. The flowers still are held aloft, up to nearly a foot, but the foliage spreads across the ground.
Kept uniformly moist (but not wet), the plant holds itself upright; if allowed to dry, the plant may ramble. Stems die back to the woody base after frost, but because the flowers bloom on the current year’s growth, I cut back the stems to about 4 inches very early each spring.
The nursery from which I purchased my plant is home to several black walnut trees, and this clematis happily covers the ground beneath them. It’s also said to be deer resistant, and while I have no experience with deer in my suburban yard, I do have plenty of rabbits, none of whom seem the least interested.
Upright or rambling, Clematis integrifolia is a lovely, versatile and often entertaining plant. “What’s that?” visitors will ask. “Clematis.” “No. No, it can’t be.”
Oh, but it is, and it’s a must have for good gardeners as well as the rest of us.