Clematis is a gorgeous, vining flower. Everyone loves it – even boys who look to be 8 years old. Proof: Our garden offers a shortcut from a major subdivision in Cape Elizabeth to the local schools. One day this spring, I saw a school boy using his phone to take a picture of our huge, purple clematis.

Which, to my mind, means that everyone likes clematis.

Clematis lovers in Maine will want to know about Hummingbird Farms in Turner, one of Maine’s premiere clematis growers and dealers. The nursery has recently expanded its offerings – thanks to an Oregon nursery that closed – and has begun propagating more of its own plants.

When Joy Creek Nursery, a major Oregon clematis retailer, went out of business, it gave its stock to Rogerson Clematis Garden, also in Oregon. Rogerson, in turn, gave a lot of it away.

“I got the stuff that likes cold weather,” Hummingbird owner Cindy Tibbetts said, stuff she wants to propagate and sell.

But there’s another reason Tibbetts is propagating her own clematis. A lot of wholesale clematis growers are going out of business, and she’s finding she can no longer get many of the rarer varieties she likes. There are some 2,000 varieties of clematis, Tibbetts said, among them the eastern U.S. native Clematis virginiana. It grows wild all the way to Baxter State Park!” she said. “I carry it nearly every year, but am sold out for this year.”

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Back to suppliers: “One of my biggest suppliers stopped growing clematis and instead created a hemp farm,” she said. “Let’s just say I’m not real pleased with the marijuana industry.”

To ensure her own supplies – especially of clematis with smaller flowers – she has started creating her own seedlings through tissue culture. “It’s been a pretty wonderful learning curve,” she said about the process, which, coincidentally, I wrote about in a recent column, as it’s practiced at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

Tissue culture is complicated, though. Home gardeners can create new clematis plants, which are perennials, in a much simpler way, using a method called layering. The process involves taking a long stem of a clematis plant, bending it down without breaking it off, placing it on a clear patch of ground, and holding it down. Tibbetts uses bobby pins to hold the stems down. If you want your new clematis to grow in a different location, use the same method, but tack the stem down in a pot you’ve filled with soil.

“The first time I did this, I was so afraid I was going to kill (the new plant) that I waited too long before cutting it off from the original plant,” Tibbetts said. “The roots went out through the drainage hole something like 10 feet into the ground.”

I think she was exaggerating.

In any case, the trick is to pin the stem to the pot, make sure the pot doesn’t dry out, and walk away, she said. Come back a few weeks later, and you’ll have a new clematis.

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A clematis vine grows up the corner of a building. Even small boys are taken with the beauty of the flower. Shutterstock/Noemi S Rivera

Big roots are important for clematis. A clematis I bought from Tibbetts recently came in a pot unlike anything I had seen before – 14 inches tall but only a few inches wide at the top. When I planted the clematis, I noticed that the roots reached all the way to the bottom of the pot. Most clematis are sold in shorter, wider 7-inch pots. But letting the root go deeper is healthier for the plant, Tibbetts said. On the practical side, it saves Hummingbird space.

Some people shy away from growing clematis because they are afraid to prune it. To counter the anxiety, Tibbetts has developed the Frozen North Pruning System. Don’t prune clematis that begin to bloom in May or early June. The cold winter will kill a lot of the stems; when leaves begin to emerge in the spring, just remove the dead parts. Some clematis die right to the ground, but don’t panic, they will regrow.

For clematis that bloom first in late June or later, prune severely in late March or early April. Cut back all of the stems to 12 to 18 inches above the ground. They will be brittle and easily pulled of the support on which they are growing. Come summer, the blooms will be better than ever!

There is no need to dread-head clematis, although some people say you can get a second round of blossoms if you do. If you ask me, the spent blooms, with their silvery whorls, look pretty good. I like them.

Business spiked during height of the pandemic. It has dropped a bit since, Tibbetts said, but is still better than before the pandemic. About 80 percent of her sales are online, but she has been doing more in-person events this year. Visits to the farm are by appointment only.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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