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Greece to Giverny- a flower with diva qualities

Greece to Giverny- a flower with diva qualities

Gardens are exciting ever changing eco-systems that never look the same two days in a row. Within this there are some plants in the garden that look good at most times of the year. Take for example Rosemary, the shrub gives valuable green to a winter space and looks pretty striking even when not in flower. These plants are not the ones that are the stars of the show, the wow-factor plants. The most striking flowers in the garden have their moment in the limelight and then fade away for another year. Think of the Cherry Blossom, the Peony and the Clematis.

These are what I call the Diva plants. There is nothing subtle about these plants, they either have strikingly large and showy bursts of colour like the stunning, ruffled heads of the Peony or create their showy effect by simply producing masses of flowers which merge to become one dress like the Clematis montana whose floriferous nature makes it almost look like it’s wearing a soft pink wedding dress.

The Clematis is an understated diva, perhaps more Maria Callas than Maria Carey and even when covered in blossom still manages to convey a sense of elegance and calm.

For most of the year, the flower which is also known as ‘Old man’s beard’ looks relatively unimpressive. Curling, beige coloured branches, pretty but not so noticeable, are bare in the Winter months and when not in flower, carry subtle foliage which can be lime green, deep green or rich red-green in some cases.

The name of the plant comes from the Ancient Greek clématis, which means ‘a climbing plant’ and the chosen plant this week certainly lives up to its name. The Clematis montana var. rubens ‘Pink Perfection’ is a stunning rambling dream that can grow up to 7 metres high and spread 3 metres wide.

Clematis plants can be divided into three groups Group 1, group 2 and group 3 and each has different characteristics and needs.  Group 1 which the wonderful specimen pictured here comes from, are a relatively easy group to plant. They take very little pruning and in the right place can be left to scramble at its will quickly covering large areas.

Group 2 are the large flowering hybrids which flower in May and June and need pruning in late winter or early Spring and after their first flowering in early Summer. The beautiful two tone ‘Nelly Moser’ is one of these stunners, as is the rosette like flowering filled group 2 variety ‘Belle of Woking’.

Clematis vareities from Group 3 are ones that flower on the current season’s growth and  flower in late Summer. They are also slightly more difficult to prune than group 2 clematis and most need to be pruned back in late Winter-early Spring to the lowest pair of healthy buds. The rich purple ‘Polish Spirit and the fluffy ‘Aljonushka’ with its cascading flowers are examples of flowers from group 3.

Wild clematis varieties are native to China and these exotic species came to Europe through Japan, where they were grown in Japanese Gardens in the 17th century.

These plants are fantastic for covering fences, arches and unsightly walls but do need a little support as they like to curl around a trellis or mesh. This variety is also scented and when in full bloom the scent is incredible. A friend of mine Karen has a wonderful wall covered in this climber and every year in May the wall is one big ocean of pink blooms, a perfect excuse to have her annual Clematis party!

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Perfect Companions for the Clematis Montana


Ceanothus Skylark -Californian Lilac 

With the Clematis being so seasonal in flower the garden where this flowers can often do with a little structure to keep it from looking bare in the Winter months. This lovely bushy evergreen shrub will keep the garden from looking too bare in the Winter months and has the added bonus of having a stunning clusters of intensely blue flowers from May to June. This shrub does best on a South or West facing border.


Clematis ‘Polish Spirit’ 

I used the beautiful ‘Polish Spirit’ in my Bloom in the Park Show garden in 2012 (pictured) and I can’t believe how many people commented on this lovely rich purple flower. It was great to soften the backdrop of the wall we built around the sides of the garden and even though I had been warned that climbers seldom work at Show gardens, due to their tricky tendency to take time to look natural, they ended up working really well. These are from the Group 2 clematis so in your won garden you would need to prune them at the start of the year. They will look fab popping up here and there in the middle of the pink sea of Montana.


Rosa ‘Veilchenblau’

This rose is another absolute stunner and is not only pretty but also deliciously scented. These rambling roses can each up to 3 metres in height and spread to about 2 metres. The flowers are borne in large clusters and have an amazing orange like scent. They like a spot  in sunshine or even dappled shade and flower slightly later than the Clematis which means you have something to look forward to in June and July. The name ‘Veilchenblau’ means Violet blue and this is due to the colour of the roses having a light blue tint. As they mature they turn into a slightly more mauve-lilac and then lilac-grey. A lovely combination with the pinks and blues of the other companions.


The garden created by Claude Monet in Giverny in France is a stunning space so reminiscent of the artists work. Here you have explosions of colour and scent and the whole space has a dreamlike quality to it, almost too beautiful to be true.  The garden is basically divided into two spaces, one is the flower garden which is called ‘Clos Normand’ and is located to the front of the house and the second, a Japanese style water garden which is across the road. The land in the flower garden is divided into flower beds which have a stunning mix of varying heights.

It can be said that in a way Monet was a fan of the ‘naturalized’ style of gardens-he disliked too much order and wanted to make the garden look as though it had always been there. True to his artist style, he planted flowers which had complimentary colours and left them to grow freely. From the famous water lily pond which inspired his Water Lily paintings, to masses of roses, climbing, bush and creeping in all colours this garden is a true gem. The garden is open everyday from march 25th to November 1st from 9.30 AM to 6.00 PM.

Getting there: Ryanair has two daily flights to Paris and from there you can get a train to the nearby Vernon. Taxi’s from the station to the gardens are about €15.

To book tickets or find out more go to:


Leonie Loves 

When it comes to choosing a trellis or frame for your Clematis or climbers there are so many options. There are plenty of panels available to buy from most stores but sometimes it’s cool to try something a little different. For a project I created for some very lovely clients, Jane and Miles Lamberth of Shells SurfCafe in Sligo, I used a material that is not normally used for this type of project but yet works so well. Concrete wire mesh is normally used to pour concrete and it is a cheap material that is available at most hardware stores. We used it here together with black timber as a subtle privacy screen which allows climbers to grown through it without feeling too solid. Interestingly, we chose the material also because the location of the site had the constraint that it was close to the wild Atlantic Coast so most materials would not be able to cope with the salt laden air. The rusty look was exactly what we wanted so why fight it if it works? Check out more fab pictures of my garden and lots of delicious recipes by the Surf Cafe in their book SurfCafe Living. For more go to:

Thanks to Woodie’s for the beautiful Clematis montana and terracotta pots which we customised with Painter’s Touch. Thanks also to Melissa Lyras of Cuprinol and Dulux Ireland for the Garden Shades -featuring Raspberry Sorbet.

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