What's in a name? For most of us, clematis names are a fun part of purchasing a plant, especially when they are easy to remember for one reason or another. The name "Elly Elisabeth" resonated with me immediately, as my daughter's name includes Elisabeth and my grand daughter's name is Ella.
I obtained C. 'Elly Elisabeth' at Böttcher Nursery in Belgium in 2011. The I.Cl.S. group arrived at the nursery en masse, and there was a frenzy of shopping from the wonderful and plentiful selections of clematis. One of the tables caught my eye as it was marked as NEW. There were only a few of each variety on the table. I quickly put aside some plants from this table without even doing a quick reference on them. Clematis 'Elly Elisabeth' was among those.
It was planted out within a couple of months of arrival, and it has never looked back in terms of growth and vigor. As I got to know the plant, the classification as an Integrifolia group clematis was surprising to me, but I'll come back to this point later.
Let's start with the plant. While the plant habit is primarily non-vining and the flower is nodding there was little other similarity to Integrifolia group plants. Wim Snoeijer is one of the botanical gurus that I can count on to answer my layman's questions, and by now I had several about this cultivar. Most dramatically, the flowers are borne from dichasial cymes. I liked his explanation of "side flowers with side flowers", which was clear and easy to remember.
Dichasial cymes are uncommon, to say the least, in the Integrifolia group where leaves are without petioles. Dichasial cymes are noted more often, but not as a rule, in the plants that might be placed in the Diversifolia group, and might indicate Viticella parentage. After my initial pondering in which group C. 'Elly Elisabeth' might really be best placed, I just began referring to the plant as unknown classification, as it really did not matter to me. Of more importance was what a fantastic and unique garden plant it was.
The plant is vigorous, and does sometimes demonstrate a weak ability to climb. It is close to being self supporting, and quite easy to train into a gorgeous display. Height is documented as 1.5 to 2 m in the registration, which is right on target to the height of my plant. It grows from many stems, making a knockout display in the garden. The plant is easy to maintain in good health, with attractive leaves (entire margins on pinnate foliage and ternate basal leaflets). I grow C. 'Elly Elisabeth' up against a weeping spruce where it makes a beautiful display that is always noticed by garden visitors.
In comparing the flower itself to a few of the larger and similar sized, pink flowered, non vining plants in my garden (C. × diversifolia 'Heather Herschell', C. 'Alionushka', C. 'Pamiat Serdtsa', and C. 'Pangbourne Pink'), I find that the quality and form is also unique. Color ranges from ballet pink to a clear, rosy pink. The basic flower form is simple, with minimal twists to the sepals, which separate from very near the base. This gives a distinguishing, wide open flare to the consistently nodding flowers. The flowers are almost always sterile. Very rarely near the end of the main bloom span I might see one or two seeds. So far I have resisted the temptation to germinate any of those. Attempts at crossing other pollen to C. 'Elly Elisabeth' have failed. As the multitude of spent flowers result in neither plumose or persistent fruit, deadheading does keep the plant in more attractive condition, especially through the latter part of the bloom span.
When I contacted Wim to ask about the plant and the confusion that I saw with the Integrifolia placement, he offered to relook at their photographs of the plant and of the herbarium he had prepared. In that communication, he also noted that he had placed it in the Diversifolia group at the time his book was published.
The talented Willem Straver, who has bred interesting and coveted plants within the genus, raised C. 'Elly Elisabeth'. The excursion to Böttcher Nursery was a lucky day for me, as that I obtained a handful of Straver cultivars that are not in distribution in the United States.
Other Straver favorites of mine include C. 'Ada Moon', C. 'Gratia', C. 'Dark Eyes', C. 'Fay', C. 'Flip', C. 'Rasputin', C. 'Queen Mother', C. 'Rosamunde' , C. 'Varenne', and C. 'Whoopie'.
Here's hoping Willem Straver will again be actively breeding clematis and that some of his past introductions will get wider distribution and more recognition for being such unique, garden worthy clematis.
Today, after this article was finished, I had a message from Wim that made my heart sing... "Looking again at the pictures of the plant and of the herbarium specimen, I think I would not mind if you would classify C. 'Elly Elisabeth' in the Viticella Group. It really is somewhere between the Diversifolia and Viticella Group ....".
Thank you Wim for taking the time to do this, and thank you Willem Straver for the fabulous C. 'Elly Elisabeth'!
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