Clematis do well here in Portugal, and there is even one that is native to both Portugal and western Spain, Clematis campaniflora - it has dainty little bluey-white bell-shaped flowers with curved petals. This one is surely worthy of space in your garden!
Clematis is a popular plant that produces masses of flowers in a variety of shapes and colours, from herbaceous types for a border, to climbers for a wall, fence or pergola, so first decide which one you want.
Herbaceous varieties grow between 75cm and 1.5m high with a spread of less than 1m, but climbers will grow vigorously, and will soon fill a wall, reaching around 3m high, and will need something to cling onto – twine or wire at least 2.5cm from the wall will work well.
Clematis are all about flowers, so it makes sense to choose one that works well with the rest of your garden. Do you want large, showy blooms, striped or double, or something more subtle and delicate? What about colour? Scented flowers? Decorative seed heads after flowering? One to flower at a particular time of year? Decisions, decisions!
Most clematis grow best in a sunny or part-shaded position, but there are plants available to suit most aspects. Pick your spot in the garden and choose a plant that will thrive there, maybe a shady wall or a particularly hot and sunny one - and if you prefer an evergreen one, remember that these will need a sunny sheltered spot.
Perhaps you have a theme in mind, so colour might be important.
Clematis flammula is a large, vigorous deciduous climber with masses of small fragrant star-shaped creamy white flowers with glossy green leaves. The blooms appear in late-summer and autumn, followed by fluffy seed heads.
Cirrhosa Clematis Freckles has bell-shaped creamy-yellow flowers, sometimes delicately spotted red inside, that reach up to 6.5cm across and are borne from late winter into early spring and followed by silky seedheads.
Clematis Viticella or Italian Clematis as it is sometimes known, has purple flowers and is a great climber for along a fence, rock wall, or other vertical space. It can spread on the ground in a woodland area, spill out of a container placed on a patio, or provide a backdrop to a cottage or traditional garden. There are so many to pick from, and many are widely sold in garden centres. If you have a particular preference, I am sure they will give advice about availability.
Popular ones are often available year-round, while more unusual types may only be available at certain times of the year. In garden centres, this is often just before flowering, when plants are in bud. Clematis are usually sold container-grown, with climbers growing up a tripod of canes or a small trellis for support.
Look for healthy looking plants with more than one stem growing from the base and with growth that covers most of its support – roots should be visible through the base of the pot, indicating that it is a well-established plant. When you get your plant home, remember clematis in containers need their roots kept cool, so top-dress the pot with a layer of pebbles, plant low-growing plants in the same container, or position other planted containers on the sunward side.
Try to avoid placing your clematis right up against the base of a wall or fence, especially where there is guttering or an overhanging roof, as it can be very dry. Instead position around 30cm away, or site in a more open spot, which will also give growing space.
Clematis prefer soil that is moist and well-drained, neutral to slightly alkaline in pH. If your soil is acidic, sweeten it periodically with limestone or a little wood ash. Dig a good hole when planting, working in lots of compost and some granular organic fertiliser, and allow enough space for your plant to grow into – some clematis are vigorous climbers and will quickly become a nuisance in too small a space.
Every flower gardener should know the pleasure of growing clematis. If you already have one, you're probably plotting about how to squeeze in another!
Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.