Clematis for winter flowers

Cheer up a dull or bare spot with one of these winter wonders


Any plant that flowers in winter is to be valued, but climbers that decorate bare, vertical spaces are especially welcome. Recent years have seen a number of introductions selected from winter-flowering, parsley-leaved Clematis cirrhosa. This species, from the Eastern Mediterranean, is an evergreen climber that clambers over shrubs and rocky places. Reaching 2.5m (8ft 2in) it’s ideal for training up a trellis and over an archway in a sunny, sheltered position, in any well-drained soil, where it’ll produce clusters of cream-green, maroon-freckled, scented flowers on a previous year’s growth from December onwards. The freckling is variable and coloured forms have been selected, spanning those devoid of flecking to ‘Lansdowne Gem’, which is maroon throughout.

After fading, spent heads produce silky seed tufts that last through spring. As the growth scrambles you need to keep it trained and tied in. Although it doesn’t need annual pruning keep it in check with a light shear after flowering finishes.

Other species that fill the winter gap are Clematis urophylla, another evergreen, this time from China, but one with a more expansive tendency, producing long shoots amply clad in bold leaves. Stems are hung with clusters of thick-petalled, lightly fragrant, white flowers. It prefers a sheltered position protected from the worst of the winter weather. If you’ve a sheltered, sunny nook try deciduous C. napaulensis, which produces clusters of green and purple, scented flowers, before dying back in spring, becoming dormant over summer, and starting into growth again in autumn.