Clematis 'Étoile Violette'
Clematis 'Etoile Violette'

Clematis of the Month for October 1997

We have not yet taken notice of one of the most appealing sections of our genus, the small-flowered 'summer' clematis called viticellas. Though they may be about to give out now for gardeners in our colder climates, for others there can still be a month or more to go before the tops die back and we advance on them with the pruning shears. So perhaps it is not too late to feature one of them.

C. viticella itself is worth its space in a garden, and yields seedlings that can vary interestingly among themselves, but a dozen or so of its popular descendants are usually easier to find in nurseries -- such cultivars as 'Alba Luxurians,' 'Mme. Julia Corrévon,' 'Minuet,' and 'Venosa Violacea'. More viticellas are coming on, as breeders add to the list almost year by year. The reasons are not far to seek. These are strong vines, easy to grow, amenable to training early in the season, abundant in flower over a long period, and remarkably easy to clean up when the bloom has gone by.

'Étoile Violette' (bred by Morel around 1885) is one of the long-established favorites. Like the others mentioned, it can reach 10' to 15' depending on local conditions, and will flower by midsummer, mostly on the upper half of the new wood. This habit makes the plant highly suitable for growing into trees or tall shrubs, and for arbors. Fortunately it can also be used to advantage in a relatively small plot; when the stems grow beyond whatever is supporting them, they must bend (forward, if one pays a little attention) and trail their flowers downward over the base. 'Étoile Violette' and its peers can also be grown virtually as a groundcover, in the company of low-growing plants that give the flowers a slight lift off the surface.

In the photograph we can see the flower in three stages, first of course in bud, then newly open -- a conspicuously neat circlet of brownish purple with a yellow eye -- and then fully expanded, with the margins irregularly tucked back, looking much like a smaller version of C. x Jackmanii. Sometimes, especially late in the year, it can surprise us with the same streaks or highlights of red that appear off and on in late blossoms of Jackmanii. The foliage of 'Étoile Violette' is perfectly presentable viticella foliage of a fresh green that darkens through the season, but we see very little of it once the plant gets into bloom, so great is the outpouring of purple flowers.

There is a Japanese species familiarly called the 'October Clematis' -- more formally C. apiifolia. Members of the Society who made the trip to Japan last May met with specimens of it halfway up Mount Fuji. C. apiifolia could have been chosen as our Clematis of the Month, but at present it is so uncommon in our gardens, and so unlikely to bloom well at low elevations, that we would have had no photograph of it to put here. Perhaps next October.

Brewster Rogerson

C. 'Etoile Violette'Editors Note

Couldn't resist adding this one to the page. One of my favourites, it's C. 'Étoile Violette' trying to take over a wooden bench in our garden. The combination of weathered wood with the velvety purple of Étoile looks great. Try it for yourself.
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