Clematis Combos

They love! They share!
They share and love and share!
Love, love, love!
Share, share, share!

– The Itchy and Scratchy Show

When we bought Chez D’oh, the only desirable plants in the garden were two clematis vines on the side of the garage. They reminded the Kev of a clem that grew alongside his workshop in England — it would creep inside the building, with different coloured blooms inside than out. We’ve grown several varieties — they are low maintenance and lovely hardy vines, and give us a way to use vertical surfaces as part of the garden.

You know what’s better than one clematis? Two clematis…es. Clematii?

Niobe (red) and Viola (purple) clematis on a shared trellis

Niobe (red) and Viola (purple) clematis on a shared trellis

I’ve heard “clematis” pronounced a bunch of ways. In the states, you hear both cle-MAT-is and CLE-mat-is. Both are considered proper. The Kev says cle-MAY-tis, which is how I usually hear it in northern England (so it’s not just Kevin). You can avoid all this potential confusion by just calling them clems.

"Clem" could also refer to a friendly demon featured on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

“Clem” could also refer to a friendly demon featured on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (shown here expressing his enthusiasm for clematis).

Clematis will live quite happily side by side, assuming enough light and water. The two above are planted about 18 inches apart, on either side of the fan trellis base. They climb opposite sides, but then wind around each other. Niobe is naturally shorter, so Viola is the headliner, but I love those red flowers. Viola compensates for Niobe’s shorter bloom time by pushing out lots of purple flowers and showy seed heads (which I believe are sterile, but they are still pretty).

Clems are also great with other vines. I love purple and orange together, and clems can sure do purple. We have Jackmanii clematis and Mandarin honeysuckle vine in a corner, but the bloom overlap is short and loves to evade photography! To extend the length of the purple-orange bloom period, I planted orange day lilies in front of the clems.


Mandarin honeysuckle being shy on the top of the fence on the right.

I love these orange day lilies (hemerocallis fulva), which are often called “ditch lilies” because they do, in fact, freely grow in ditches. Some people won’t have them because they’re so common, but I love their exuberant orangeness.

Combining plants is sometimes about perspective. Here’s the bed immediately behind the house.


That firepit grate is protecting a columbine from the bloody rabbits.

But when you first come around the side of the house, the purple clem growing on the back of the house (via nylon netting) and the ditch lilies…um…align (for lack of a less cosmological term).

Ditch lilies peeking from behind Polish Spirit clematis

Ditch lilies peeking from behind Polish Spirit clematis (there’s one little bit of Mandarin honeysuckle blooming above the tallest day lily).

While you can plant fairly mature plants, I usually don’t (I’m cheap), so these combos don’t happen overnight. Here’s one I didn’t make earlier:


Zephirine Drouhin climbing rose (on left) and Hagley Hybrid clematis (on the trellis)

A mature Zeph rose

A mature Zeph rose

This planting borders what we call the “breakfast patio” — a small patio tucked outside the kitchen door. I’ve been trying to put this pink clematis with another climber for years now. It’s a slightly tricky spot, and requires some shade tolerance. The Hagley Hybrid clematis has done terrifically here, but I can’t seem to find it a friend. A climbing hydrangea didn’t thrive, so I swapped it for this rose a couple of years ago, but rabbits (or something) promptly ate it down to the stems. It’s recovering.

Gardening is an exercise in patience!

Clems are not just about going vertical. One of my favorites is Rooguchi, which is a scrambler rather than a climber. It blooms forever with nodding flowers instead of the open blooms seen on most other clems. You could tie Rooguchi to a trellis and make it act like a climber, but they are wonderful running amok over and through other plants.


Rooguchi clematis with strawberries and Shasta daisies

Our garden is cottage style (otherwise known as “PLANT ALL THE PLANTS TOGETHER, PLANT THEM NOW!” style). But layering and combining clematis with other vines and flowering plants works for a range of garden designs to lengthen bloom times and add impact. Plus, I never met a clematis I didn’t like in any context! Give these friendly flowers a go.

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