Late in 2014, I received Clematis 'Kotkas' from Roseville Farms in a batch with other Clematis that I would be test growing. Recognizing it as a Kivistik Clematis, I was assured at least of the hardiness and I looked forward to seeing it in flower. I must admit, at that time, I did not do any additional research on the plant I just grew it on in a deep tree pot see Note 1, then planting it out in 2015. I did see a flower in 2014 and a few in 2015, which enabled me to verify that it was tagged correctly. By coincidence, in 2016, a friend and I had been discussing white Clematis with red centers and how striking they were. During that conversation, C. 'Kotkas' did not come to my mind, so clearly it was not on my radar of plants I was taking a special interest in. That same day when walking in the gardens and checking plants, my eye was caught by C. 'Kotkas' – standing erect, the upright buds had unfurled and the flowers were breathtaking. It was my first major flowering of the plant and it did not disappoint in any way. I hurriedly messaged my friend and sent a photo, saying here is a fantastic white with a red center that is largely ignored and may never have been sold in the USA. Bred in 1983, with first flowering in 1986, the plant was not named until 1990 and only registered in 2000. The long sequences of years from the Kivistik family first seeing the plant flower until deciding to name and register it intrigued me. I had the opportunity to communicate with Agnes Kivistik as I was writing this article and I asked her for any insight on those time gaps. She explained that the timing was after Estonian freedom from the USSR was achieved. Before Estonian freedom the borders were closed to trade outside of the USSR, so there was little motivation or need to register plants internationally. In researching the plethora of Clematis raised by the Kivistiks see Note 2, and noting the dates, the early 80's was indeed a prolific period and there were other plants from that period that were registered much later. If you take the time to look at the dates, (and you will also notice so very many plants that we have not yet had the opportunity to grow in the EU or the USA), one can only imagine all the wonderful germplasm that they must have been nurturing at that time and probably still are. Speaking of wonderful germplasm, it would not be a surprise to those that study Clematis genetics that C. 'Kotkas' is one of the (Est) 20 Kivistik plants documented on COTW that hail from 'Hagley Hybrid' (PINK CHIFFON) × unknown or mixed pollen. Has any breeding house done more with one plant and achieved such a range of colors in reliable, hardy and beautiful garden performers than the Kivistik family has done with 'Hagley Hybrid'? The International Clematis Register and Checklist describes the flower with 6 to 8 sepals, white with a pale pink central bar, that are broadly elliptic, long pointed, overlapping and having a crinkly margin. White-ish filaments and purple red connectives complete the description. Here in my garden, I have not seen the pale pink bar manifest and the 'purplish red' connectives show up as a distinctive bright red center. In fact, it is so white here, I was surprised to see the reference to, and some photos showing, the pale pink nuance. I do not think I would like it any less if it showed that coloration, but I am happy to consider it a fantastic performing white Clematis. It's a medium sized plant, which for me tops out at about 6 feet (2 metres). Not huge, but large enough to hold its own in a row of Clematis and a rather tidy appearance at that size.
Registered as "late large flowered", C. 'Kotkas' can certainly take a hard pruning. However, if some vines are intact and healthily budded come spring, it will flower a little earlier and very well on those vines, and it will then continue flowering thru the season. Here, the plant demonstrated the longest bloom span of any large white flower in the Hardwick Hall Clematis Collection. It is really a stand out with the striking red center, easy to grow and in my opinion, it would help gardeners have more success with Clematis were it more widely available. The name in Estonian, Kotkas, translates to eagle. Agnes explained that the name was chosen for the eagle being one of the largest birds, because the flower for them has measured up to 28cm. Here the eagle also represents freedom, so a fitting name indeed.
Note 1: Described in the article by Deborah Hardwick titled "Cone-tainer growing", on page 44 of Clematis International 2016.
Note 2: The website, Clematis on the Web, lists 167 Kivistik bred plants.