Clematis 'Ascotiensis'
Clematis 'Ascotiensis'©K.Woolfenden

Clematis of the Month for February 2005

This is a late-flowering clematis with a nice shaped flower more reminiscent of a large early flowering hybrid than a Group 3 type that grows in one season and flowers from July through to September (in the Northern Hemisphere). The flower with 4-6 tepals is big for a late-flowering variety but perhaps a bit small when compared with an early-flowering type being about 12 cm (5 inches) across. The blue is not 'light' blue like C. 'Perle d'Azur' or C. 'Prince Charles' but a deeper shade with a hint of mauve that 'glows' initially and then fades to a mid-blue in the sun. This initial 'glow' is often described as a 'metal lustre'.

The general consensus is that the best way to grow this clematis is with a yellow rose such as 'Golden Showers' so that the clematis uses the rose as a natural host to scramble up to a height of about 3 metres (8 to 10 feet). This is a combination that I have enjoyed for a number of years. Raymond Evison suggests a different colour scheme by growing it with a red rose or pink flowering shrub. Since this hybrid, being a Group 3 type, should be pruned each year in early spring then there is an obvious advantage of growing it in a natural way through host plants where it can complement the hosts' flowers or leaves or it can provide an extended flowering season for when the host shrub has finished flowering. The yearly pruning ensures that the host has some time to grow itself before it again supports the clematis with perhaps a late-season trim to get rid of unsightly dead leaves. C. 'Ascotiensis' is also recommended for pots as it tends to flower most of the way up the stem as opposed to just at the top like many other late-flowering varieties. Some experts even believe that it has a scent but I've not noticed one.

Clematis 'Ascotiensis'©K.WoolfendenC. 'Ascotiensis' is a strange name; sounding a little oriental. However, it appears that the plant was named after the place where it was raised: the small town of Ascot in Berkshire, England where the raiser John Standish had his nursery. Perhaps he too wanted the plant to sound a little oriental by adding the suffix.

John Standish lived from 1814 to 1875. He raised C. 'Ascotiensis' in 1871 and introduced it in 1874 and although it got a mention in the Royal Horticultural Society's periodical 'The Garden' in 1876 it was not until 1993 when the plant's excellent qualities were recognized and it was awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM).

Presumably Robert Fortune triggered John Standish's interest in clematis by sending him two Clematis patens plants from Japan around 1860 to 1863. Robert Fortune was a plant hunter who sent back plants to John Standish. The two clematis plants, that were called C. 'Fortunei' and C. 'Standishii', were sent to John Standish and his partner Charles Noble. C. 'Standishii', a lilac-purple colour, was found growing in the neighbourhood of Tokyo and Yedo while C. 'Fortunei', a pale double described as a mix of green/white/pink and smelling of orange blossom, was found in a garden. These two varieties were subsequently used in plant development by a number of breeders. Indeed Charles Noble crossed them with each other to produce two early flowering hybrids that survive today: C. 'Lady Londesborough' and C. 'Miss Bateman'.

The parentage of C. 'Ascotiensis' is unknown although it is generally listed as a large late-flowering or jackmanii type, which would be a cross between C. viticella and C. lanuginosa. I would have thought that it would be more likely that C. 'Ascotiensis' has one or more of the two original Clematis patens as a parent or grand-parent than C. lanuginosa. The other side of the family is C. viticella, which makes it a late flowering hybrid. Ernest Markham in his book published in the 1930's concludes that it is a viticella hybrid as "it rarely becomes troubled with the wilt or die-back disease".

The 'Royal Nursery' in Ascot was active from 1863 to 1875 but no other clematis raised by John Standish exists today. The other varieties that we believe that he raised have been lost over time. Interestingly they are all people's names so C. 'Ascotiensis' stands out here as different as well.

All in all, C. 'Ascotiensis' is justifiably a reliable favourite that has been around for many years.

Fiona Woolfenden Fiona Woolfenden

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