We in the nursery industry
usually encourage the use of botanical nomenclature, or “scientific
names”, for our plants. The idea is that there is only one
botanical name for each plant while there can be many common names.
However - as with any rule - there are exceptions.
Visitors to the Farm this
week will admire the cloudlike abundance of
frothy white flowers borne on the vigorous twining perennial vine
that cloaks the entryway to the shop and rambles along the split
rail fence by the parking area.
When they ask us its name
we will answer with its common name, Sweet Autumn Clematis. This is
because taxonomists have changed the botanical name of this plant
three times in the past decade; from Clematis paniculata to the
unpronounceable Clematis maximonowicziana and most recently to
Clematis terniflora. So to us it will remain, for the time being,
simply Sweet Autumn Clematis.
By any name, though, it is
a great plant. It is among the most vigorous of Clematis so for
those who have struggled growing the daintier forms we recommend
that you try again with this robust performer. It is also the most
shade tolerant of the group and will happily grow in conditions
ranging from full sun to significant shade. It is a very rapid
grower and its twining stems can grow to 20’ in a single season. It
blooms with a profusion of highly fragrant small white star-like
flowers in September that bring a freshness to the declining autumn
garden. While it is far too rambunctious for a small trellis, it is
ideal for growing along fences or over pergolas or arbors.
Pruning is not necessary
with Sweet Autumn Clematis but, since it blooms on new wood, pruning
can be performed prior to new growth beginning in spring if desired.
Some gardeners choose to cut the plant back in early spring
to gain a more refined and less twiggy appearance. We leave ours unpruned and enjoy the birds nesting in it in the spring as well as
the massive clouds of flowers in the autumn. After blooming the
plant is covered in Seuss-like twirling puffy seedheads.*
*It should be noted that,
while we have never seen any problems with this plant here in Zone
5, it can become problematic in more southern areas if it is allowed
to go to seed. For that reason it is recommended that the plant be
cut to the ground prior to setting seed in zones 6 and above.