Vines are often neglected in the landscape. Frequently misunderstood as rampant or weedy, many are not. Instead, climbing and twining vines are actually amazing creatures. With their ability to climb vertical surfaces and cover horizontal spans, vines are capable of transforming the commonplace landscape into a spectacular, multi-dimensional garden. There are hundreds and hundreds of wonderful, gardenworthy vines. Chief among those are the many species of showy-flowered Clematis, of which there are hundreds of species and hybrids alone. But even among the many Clematis, Clematis armandii, the Armand Clematis, stands out as an exceptional flowering vine.
Armand Clematis is an evergreen, climbing vine native to China. Its dark, leathery leaves are very large and handsome. Individual leaves are oval or somewhat heart-shaped and can be 6 inches long and 2 inches wide. The foliage drapes from the woody, twining stems all year and keeps good color throughout the winter. In early to mid spring, the vine is covered with charming, white, almost translucent flowers that age to a very light pinkish color. Unlike the blooms of the more common, large-flowered Clematis hybrids, individual flowers of Armand Clematis are not exceptionally large, usually about 2 inches across. While their individual size is demure, since many flowers are in bloom at the same time, they create a lacy floral quilt that covers the vine with delicate beauty.
The individual flowers, though, are quite lovely by themselves. The showy part of the Clematis flower is actually a different botanical part of the flower from the colorful part of most flowers-which are called petals. The showiest part of a Clematis flower is the 'sepal' which is more often an insignificant, lower layer on the flowers of other plants whose 'petals' are the stars.
The fruit of Clematis are also interesting. Brown, very small seed 'pods' with long, soft hairs develop through the summer. While these wonderfully silky pods are not especially eye-catching from a distance, they are an attractive reward for the attentive gardener in the fall.
Culture of Armand Clematis is not difficult but does require more awareness than some plants. Clematis in general prefer, cool, moist, well-drained, loamy soils with the option to climb up into a warm, sunny perch for the foliage. These conditions will result in the best flowering. However, less than perfect sites can also give very good results with a little work to keep the roots cool by planting the vine in a partially shaded area, and perhaps using a light mulch. Partial shade is also helpful for this evergreen in preventing sunscorch on the leaves in winter. At The NCSU Arboretum (now the JC Raulston Arboretum), Armand Clematis has done very well in just such a position, even when planted in clay soils.
Clematis can be propagated from seed, which requires a long, chilling pre-treatment, or from softwood cuttings taken in the summer and rooted under mist. Armand Clematis will be reliably hardy throughout the Piedmont and coastal areas of the southeast but will be less reliable in the mountains with damage likely in severe winters. Temperatures below -5F may completely kill the plant.
Armand Clematis is a rather uncommon plant but it is well worth a bit of hunting. There are some named cultivars, including a rare, true-pink flowered selection. 'Apple Blossom' has pink-tinted flowers and bronzy new foliage. 'Snowdrift' has especially clear white blooms. 'Farquhariana' has pink blooms while 'Early Spring' is an early bloomer with pale pink flowers. Armand Clematis will cover a trellis, a fencepost, or bannister with a graceful blanket of delicate floral beauty in the spring, and handsome, dark green leaves throughout the year. Look for this lovely vine in specialty nurseries so that you can bring its unique charm into your own garden. br>