Anna Naeser: Anna’s Garden
August 23, 2008
While giving my editor Cindy Hirschfeld a tour of the garden this summer, I was so excited to see a very pretty clematis flowering for the first time, that Cindy exclaimed, “I see a column in the making!” or words to that effect. Editors have a nose for this sort of thing.
I planted Clematis x triternata “Rubromarginata” (sorry, no common name) at the feet of an ornamental grape vine (Vitis coignetiae) in 2005. This does have a fine common name, which I hope it will live up to, the crimson glory vine. At the time, the afternoon sun was beating on the newly exposed west side of the house, previously shaded by three overgrown junipers that had to be cut down. Now there were three stumps in a narrow planter filled with more rocks than dirt. Digging them up was not an option. What could possibly thrive there?
I settled on mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus) a beautiful native shrub of dry, rocky hillsides, such as Basalt Mountain. I planted two between the juniper stumps. They have dark green wedge-shaped leaves and conspicuous seedheads in fall. They also grow slowly, so I looked for a vine to quickly cover the wall behind them while they were getting established. When I read that the color of the glory vine “intensifies in slightly dry soil where roots are somewhat restricted” and that it is vigorous to the point of being rampant, I knew I had found my vine. Introduced from its native Japan and Korea in 1875, it has dramatically large, heart-shaped leaves and magnificent, blazing fall color. Gerry attached a section of heavy-duty wire fencing with big eyebolts that keep the vine away from the siding and give its tendrils something to cling to.
The clematis was a less obvious choice. There are a huge number of beguiling clematis cultivars, which I mentally classify with border perennials that require rich, moist soil and special care. Several have done well for me anyway. Since they are said to like their heads in the sun and their feet in the shade, they seem like ideal companions for both woody and herbaceous plants, adding another layer to a planting. Transplanting one near a mature woody plant is well nigh impossible without damage to existing roots, so the best thing to do is to plant them at the same time. I have even put them in the same planting hole, albeit an enlarged one. If I had paired a clematis vine with every shrub, tree, vine, or berry bush I have planted, I would now have a comprehensive clematis collection, but it took me a while to figure that out.
I chose Clematis “Rubromarginata” because I thought the fine texture of its leaves and delicate starry blossoms would look great scrambling through the coarse grape leaves. The rosy violet flush edging the small white blooms would highlight the reddish leaf petioles of the grape. That this hybrid has also been cultivated since the 19th century, like the Vitis coignetiae, appealed to me too.
With the demise of the junipers, a few old lilies and daylilies that had been languishing in their shade got a new lease on life. A couple of volunteer columbines, having migrated from the border, where they have been declining, have filled the rest of the bed to overflowing with their progeny. In spring, the late lily-flowered tulip “Red Shine” glows among the new foliage, for this bed happens to be inside the perimeter of the deer fence. Altogether a successful garden bed.
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After Cindy left, I got my camera to snap a few pictures. My pride was tempered because I had unaccountably failed to anticipate that all the plants would incline towards the sun, not the wall, so that instead of intertwining with the crimson glory vine, the clematis draped itself over the mountain mahoganies, which have begun to lean toward the path, just like the junipers. Still, it was lovely and I was pleased.
Recently I went to have another look. To my dismay, the clematis vine has completely withered. I have no idea what happened to it ” over watering, under watering, crowding, stem rot disease? Something I did, or something I have no control over? The crimson glory vine, mountain mahogany and the perennials all look healthy enough …
Every year, the garden has its success stories, as well as its failures. Sometimes they are one and the same.