I was grateful that my turn to speak came before clematis breeder Raymond Evison's when we were on a Horticulture magazine tour together last winter.

Share story

I was grateful that my turn to speak came before Raymond Evison’s when we were on a Horticulture magazine tour together last winter. This charming British clematis breeder rocked his audience with the kind of ardent enthusiasm you’d expect at a revival meeting.

All this excitement for the “queen of vines” comes with a price. These days Evison spends most of his time away from his beloved island of Guernsey. He travels the world convincing gardeners there’s no longer any reason to be intimidated by these classic beauties. That’s in large part because his Guernsey Clematis Nursery Ltd. is producing millions of new, smaller, easy-care clematis. The finest are described in his latest book, “Clematis for Small Spaces: 150 High-Performance Plants for Patio, Decks, Balconies and Borders” (Timber Press, $34.95).

The rest of us on the tour were as charmed by Evison as his audiences were. On days we traveled between cities, we wore comfortably rumpled jeans and parkas, but Evison always showed up wearing a tie and striped shirt that looked freshly starched, often paired with wide-wale corduroy trousers of a rich color he called “claret.” In his elegant accent, Evison told stories of renovating his 14th-century stone house and of the lovely custom of walking from garden to garden to enjoy long, lovely, alfresco luncheons. Guernsey is one of the balmy Channel Islands just 18 miles off the coast of France. Long known for its fawn-and-white-colored cattle, Guernsey will be equally famous for its clematis, if Evison has anything to say about it. His 8.5 acres of glass houses and team of 90 staff produce more than 4 million clematis every year for worldwide markets.

Here’s why Evison’s clematis are such a hit: Many are downscaled for containers and smaller gardens, growing only to 3 or 4 feet. Yet their flowers are full-sized with big, fluffy anthers for that luxuriant clematis look even on the most diminutive of plants. Flowers are produced the length of the stems, they repeat bloom during most of the summer and respond well to one easy method of pruning, which greatly reduces the confusion on how to care for them.

I’ll never forget Evison explaining “the ponytail cut,” which works on any of the clematis in his new “Boulevard Series,” including the sassy pink ‘Ooh La La.’ When the crocus come into bloom in March, all you need do is “grab the clematis by the scruff of its neck and just chop it off at 12 inches,” he explained. The clematis in this series all should be available in local nurseries.

While these new, smaller clematis grow happily in pots, a couple of them are so dwarf they’re ideal for hanging baskets or even ground cover. ‘Bijou’ and ‘Filigree’ have big, fluffy flowers over a long season. ‘Bijou’ is purple; ‘Filigree’ pale violet with a pink bar, and both grow naturally into foot-high mounds.

Evison advises that the ideal container for clematis is at least 18 inches across with good drainage. No plastic allowed because it doesn’t adequately insulate clematis from extremes of hot and cold. Many of his clematis grow well in partial shade, and because they bloom on both old and new wood the vines are smothered in flowers.

Even though Evison has been besotted with clematis since the age of 16, he’s still looking to the future. He plans to produce many more dwarf kinds and colors. He’s also hard at work on creating the first fragrant, large-flowering clematis.

Just introduced at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show in May ’08 was a stunning party-dress-red clematis named ‘Rebecca’ after Evison’s eldest daughter. I’ve planted one to grow up my golden locust. I’m expecting that every time I see its velvety wine-red flowers glowing against the tree’s sunny foliage, it’ll remind me of Evison’s claret-colored pants.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is valeaston@comcast.net.