Valentine’s Day Massacre

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At last – some sunshine! The perfect day to go out and cut back the late-flowering clematis to twelve inches or so above the ground. My father always maintains this job should be done on Valentine’s Day, so two days later isn’t too bad given the recent appalling weather. These are clematis which flower in the latter half of the summer, so the viticella and texensis types – mine include Etoile Violette, Mme Julia Correvon, Multiblue, Kermesina, Niobe and Black Prince, to name just a few. Prolific, late-flowering blooms, but they need cutting back now so they can put their strength into the roots and produce all that new growth by the end of the summer. There will undoubtedly be new green shoots higher up in the old growth, but just cut low down regardless – they’ll soon take off again!

Don’t whatever you do, get scissor-happy and snip off early-summer flowering clematis, as they flower on the previous year’s growth, or species varieties such as montana, alpina and macropetala which flower in late spring and just need tidying up when they start to get out of hand. I once made the BIG mistake of snipping merrily through the stem of my clematis armandii, that beautifully-scented early spring-flowering evergreen clematis, thinking I was cutting back the Multiblue growing close by. I only realised when the deed was done and lost of all my flowers for that year… No lasting harm done though and the shed it grows up and around is now smothered in clematis – so much so that I probably should cut it hard back after flowering this spring: it’s starting to impede my whirligig washing line and opening the shed door is becoming ever so slightly tricky….

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Sheds with bonnets are obviously my weakness: the allotment shed too is wreathed in a lacy topknot of rosy clematis montana, the deep-purple Etoile Violette and a delicate pale pink clematis alpina Willy. It’s certainly a sight to behold in flower; as to whether it played a part in camouflaging the shed in last year’s spate of allotment shed break-ins, I really can’t be sure. There’s certainly nothing of value in my shed (just second-hand tools picked up from the local dump, a little Calor gas stove for those essential cups of tea down on the plot, and all the flotsam and jetsam of netting, fleece and plant labels that goes with vegetable-growing), but it was one of the few that wasn’t broken into, so maybe its living overcoat did help a little….

Here’s hoping that’s just the first of many days out in the garden over the coming year. So much better to feel the sun on your face and your hands in the soil – or on the secateurs at least!

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