Clematis is queen of the vines in the Lowcountry

betsjukofsky@aol.comSeptember 2, 2012 

The sweet scented autumn clematis flowers in late August and perfumes the air for weeks.


When visiting gardens in the coastal Lowcountry, I've come away thinking, "I've got to get back to growing flowering vines." Whether supported on a trellis, climbing up a wall or weaving their way around a large shrub or tree, vines have caught the eye of local gardeners, who have discovered the color pop and drama of red, blue, yellow and orange flowers that begin to bloom as early as May and continue through September.

And the queen of them all? No contest. It's the clematis vine by a landslide. Everybody loves clematis for its beauty of form and profusion of color. If you've seen but not yet grown a clematis, let me assure you, given proper care, full sun for the vine, shade for the roots, food and water; your clematis will flower throughout the summer and fall.

The large number of clematis species tells a lot about its popularity. There are vines for cold regions and, for us, many varieties to choose that grow in warm regions. The most popular variety here over the past few years has been C. Jackmanii with rich purple blooms from mid- to late summer. It's a vigorous grower that must be pruned after flowering, as flowers are produced on new growth.

White Flower Farm and Plants Delight Nursery offer a new variety that sounds like a "must have" for clematis growers. C. Morning Star has star-shaped blossoms with pale white petals veined in purple and edged in lavender and pink.

Let's not forget the clematis flowering in my front yard as I write. It's the autumn clematis, C. paniculata, the Sweet Autumn clematis. Go out our front door, and you'll see and smell the flowers as the vines climb over a gardenia tree and a native azalea tree. This vine is more then 30 years old. Yes, it is happily invasive, giving me the offshoots to pass along to garden friends who've admired it.

Enough about the queen. There's a surge of interest here in "the natives," and this includes a long list of native vines.


The showy orange-red flowered trumpet vine that hummingbirds adore is the Carolina Jessamine. It shows bright yellow, sweetly fragrant flowers about the same time that your budded daffodils open. It's versatile too; it can climb trees and poles or be used as a handsome ground cover. A fast and vigorous grower that will climb on strings, stakes, posts, wires, trellises or over a garden wall is the cypress vine. It climbs by twining and needs sun, water and good drainage. The flowers are scarlet, the leaves a glossy green.

The Southeastern-native wisteria frutescens, was once seen often in our wooded areas. Its scented mauve or lavender flowers are showy, and I plan to contact Woodlanders Nursery in early spring to see if they might have it. Many native vines can be grown from seed sown in late winter.

I've seeded moonflower vine; it's grown primarily for its nighttime sweet-scented blooms that cover the vine. A Southern tradition found the moonflower growing on porches so as to be enjoyed at night.

Cypress vine is easy to start from seed; it's a versatile native that can be grown in hanging baskets and window boxes, as well as on a trellis or wall. The handsome twining vines have shiny green leaves and scarlet blossoms.


Early spring in the Lowcountry is often defined by flowering daffodils. But as sophisticated bulb growers know, it takes the right bulb to make a flower. Two years ago the Hilton Head Island Garden Council did the research and ordered the narcissus bulbs best suited to our warm winter climate. They ordered a thousand, sold them to fellow gardeners, and waited for results. The bulbs bloomed on schedule; some varieties more profusely then others. Again, they waited; would the bulbs come up and flower the next year? That would be this past February and March, and most of them did rebloom.

This fall the Garden Council will hold a repeat sale, offering those bulbs for Southern gardens that do best in our climate. There are three varieties for sale: Pink Charm, Grand Primo and Yellow Cheerfulness. I've grown these in the ground and in containers. The bulbs that showed and flowered best the repeat year, were grown in large pots.

To find out more about the narcissus bulb sale, contact Diane Middleton at 843-342-5884.

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