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Brenda's Garden
by Brenda Beust Smith

Monday, April 13, 2009

Never say never, even for clematis, in Brenda's Garden
Clematis 'Henryi' is one of the most spectacular of blooms.  Flowers can reach six inches or more wide.

“Nature has a place for the wild clematis as well as for the cabbage.”
-- Henry David Thoreau.

DEAR BRENDA:  I just read your comments on (the clematis) Henryi I just purchased one and the box said zone 4 to 10. I guess I need to return it. does the jackmanii do well in zone 9? I guess I should not believe the container it comes in right?  Yvonne, Bacliff Texas

DEAR YVONNE:  My experience with clematis is pretty slim.  Although they are sold in nurseries, you seldom see them blooming around Houston.  Two major exceptions: our Aunt Carolee had a gorgeous purple one and I had, are  you ready for this?, great success for a while with a 'Henryi.'

Absolutely do not send it back!  First of all, I think "zones" are the biggest bunch of bunk ever foisted on gardeners.  There is so much variation, especially when you get down here and especially when you take in the changes due to global warming.

Years ago, I bought a Henryi clematis.  I saw it blooming near the ceiling of the very old Silver Leaf Nursery.  The flower was so spectacular, I had to have it.  But I had to literally hand-over-hand trace the stalk back down into hundreds of potted plants to find the rooted pot.

I brought it home and asked my mentor, Sally Squire (the Houston Bulb Lady) what do do with it.  She said it wanted its feet in cool shade and its head in sun.

Out in front of our house, we had a tree with a huge hole next to it.  I'm not sure where the hole came from.  But since I had so much stalk, I threw the roroot ballown the hole.  Then I tossed in a whole huge bag of potting soil down the hole and tied top of the stalk to the tree.

There it stayed, alive, growing but not blooming, for about 5  years.  Then one day, I looked out and I had a huge white flower.  Then, suddenly it seemed, I had dozens of huge white flowers.  People passing in cars stopped to ask what it was.  It bloomed like that for about 5 years in a row.

Unfortunately the tree died.  I don't think the clematis killed it.  Probably  A hole next to a tree is not a good sign.  Means there's something going on with the root system.  May mean the tree is rotting from the inside out.

The tree had to be taken down.  I prayed and prayed the clematis would come back.  It never did.

So, give it a try!  Just don't overwater it. 

Did you know there's an American Clematis Society ( ?  I didn't until I started searching for a quotation with "clematis" in it.

In the meantime, has anyone else had any experience with non-native clematis in the southern Greater Houston area?

On the subject of native clematis, and more in keeping with Thoreau's quote, I have had for decades a nodding clematis, which is found along the top ridges of ditches around the Greater Houston area.  This is a small (two-inch max) bell-shaped flower.  I transplanted mine from the woods around AldAl dined they've thrived ever since. 

The stalks die back in winter and return every spring.  They don't get very high (two- to three-foot max in my yard) and they bloom in March and April.  So they should be used close to your door or window where you can truly enjoy them.

Sweet autumn clematis, pictured here, is another native one.  It's an extremely fragrant, albeit vigorous, vine that blooms in fall.

Both these natives have very small flowers, however.

DEAR BRENDA:  What happened to your Saturday Lazy Gardener column?  My Saturday morning ritual for decades, it seems, has been to grab the (Houston Chronicle) Star section, a cup of coffee and to curl up for a wonderful time to myself.  Now its gone?  Where to?  K.T.

DEAR K.T.:  It's gone to cyberspace.  My print Saturday Lazy Gardener column felt one of many axes that have fallen at the Chronicle in recent days.  However, "Brenda's Garden" is still onlinon lineou can see here at  

And I am still posting a Houston Chronicle "Lazy Gardener's Blog" at

I hope you'll log onto both, as well as to the Chronicle's great garden website:   Comments on all three are greatly appreciated!

Brenda BeustBesth  (Features > Brenda's Garden)


"THE LAZY GARDENER'S GUIDE ON CD" — a gardening book on CD offers gardening tips plus 12 pre-designed gardens for butterflies, hummers, sun, shade and more. Monthly what-to-do reminders for Greater Houston/Gulf Coast gardens. $20 each. Make checks payable to Brenda B. Smith & mail to: Lazy Gardener's Guide on CD, 14011 Greenranch, Houston, TX 77039-2103.

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