It is October near London in the UK as I write this article and I still have some flowers on Clematis 'Vostok'. I had been planning to write about this plant next year but seeing the late blooms I was inspired to share with you now what an excellent garden plant this is.
C. 'Vostok' has reddish purple flowers with 4 to 6 sepals, a reddish bar and a lovely golden centre. The flowers are 4-5 inches or 10-15 cm across. The sepals are generally pointed with wavy edges and do not tend to overlap although they can be variable, and some flowers may be rounded with the tepals overlapping slightly. The buds hang downwards and as the flowers open they turn up to face you. The foliage is a lighter shade of green which sets off the flowers nicely, especially when they first open.
The flowers start darker and then fade slightly as they open. The flower colour varies depending on the sun and weather conditions, sometimes the flowers look more purple and at others redder and do not show a bar. I have many photos of the same plant and in some of them the bar down the centre of the flower is not noticeable and the flower looks very similar to C 'Ernest Markham'.
In my garden it never gets above 5 feet which is less than 2 meters. I think of it as a compact plant through I notice that the descriptions in plant books and on line say 2.5 to 3 meters.
I prune C. 'Vostok' back to about 12 inches or 30 cm from the ground every year and it flowers very early in my garden. I do not prune it back to the ground as it is planted next to a low wall and slugs and snails love to hide there and eat the new clematis shoots.
It is always one of the first clematis to flower, usually in June. I talk to clematis friends in the USA who tell me that they have several flushes of clematis flowers every year and they hard prune their clematis between flowering. I have concerns that my garden in England is too shady to have a second flowering but I have been experimenting. Last year I pruned mid-year and got some flowers later in the year but not many. This year C. 'Vostok' had almost finished flowering at the very beginning of July because the weather was so hot in May so I pruned the plant hard then. It has now had a second flowering and still has some flowers at the end of October. I shall be doing more summer hard pruning next year.
C. 'Vostok' second flowering, October 2017
C. 'Vostok' was bred by Mikhail Ivanovich Orlov (see left) who raised it in 1963. Orlov raised many new clematis while working at the Kiev Botanical Gardens in the Ukraine after the Second World War. He was trying to produce hardy clematis, according to Clematis on the Web. In 1959 he did a lot of hand pollination work using pollen from violet clematis and from some 3,000 seeds collected he managed to grow 2,000 seedlings. I understand that these were planted in the ground and flowered in 1961 or 1962. I would speculate that C. 'Vostok' was one of these or from a subsequent year. Orlov was also the author of about 40 scientific works the majority of which were dedicated to clematis.
For more information about the work that Orlov did in the Ukraine and his career I.Cl.S. Members should read the interesting article by Tamara and Valera Bubliy in Clematis International 2008 page 117.
Vostok actually means 'Orient' or 'East' but according to The International Clematis Register and Checklist 2002 the clematis was named after the first Russian space rocket. The Vostok programme was a Soviet human spaceflight project to put the first Soviet citizens into a low Earth orbit and return them safely. It competed with the United States Mercury Project and succeeded in placing the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space, in a single orbit in Vostok 1 on April 12 1961.
Looking at our clematis photo records I see that our first photos of C. 'Vostok' were actually taken in 2000 at the British Clematis Society (BCS) Trial Grounds at St Albans, UK. From memory I would have thought that I had seen it earlier on one of the International Clematis Society visits to Estonia, but obviously not.
C. 'Vostok' did very well in the BCS Trials from 1997 to 2000 and was awarded in 2000 both the Valarasan-Toomey Medal and the BCS Certificate of Merit. The BCS Certificate of Merit is awarded where a plant is assessed by a team of judges and achieves a high score for growth, number of blooms and length of flowering over a 3 year trial period. The Valarasan-Toomey Award was for the best cultivar that year.
The photo below, taken in 2000, really shows how many flowers this wonderful cultivar can produce after just 3 years, from 2 or 3 plants, creating a wonderful display.
C. 'Vostok' is definitely a worthwhile plant for the garden. Sadly it is not as widely available from clematis nurseries as it once was.
C. 'Vostok' in the BCS Trial Ground, St Albans, UK, 2000