Clematis 'Duchess of Albany' has been pleasing gardeners for over one hundred years. George Jackman & Son, a nursery located in Woking, Great Britain introduced her in 1894. Christopher Lloyd wrote in his book 'Clematis':
"In his notes for the revision of Moore and Jackman, A. G. Jackman penciled in: 'In the summer of 1890 another interesting new type was raised at the Woking Nurseries by crossing 'Star of India' with pollen from the American species C. coccinea (this is what texensis was named), which resulted in the introduction of the pretty campanulate hybrids, 'Countess of Onslow, 'Duchess of Albany', 'Duchess of York', 'Grace Darling', 'Sir Trevor Lawrence' and 'Admiration', showing great variety in shades of colours not previously obtained in Clematis, intermediate in sizes between the two parents, of more open campanulate form than C. coccinea, but partaking very closely to it in the substance of the sepals and foliage and also in the character of the growth, being of a sub-shrubby habit.'
These clematis became known as the Wokingensis hybrids. Only 'Duchess of Albany' and 'Sir Trevor Lawrence' remain certainly with us."
Mr. Lloyd also notes that 'Many clematis in those days were named after titled patrons of the said nurseries.' It is believed the royal designation is in honor of the new bride of the youngest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Prince Leopold George Duncan Albert of Great Britain and Ireland, the Duke of Albany, married Princess Helena Frederica of Waldeck and Prymont. When they married in 1882 she became HRH The Duchess of Albany. She lived at Claremont, Esher, Surrey, which is not far from Woking, Surrey.
The C. 'Duchess of Albany' has been such a successful cultivar that the Royal Horticultural Society gave her the Award of Merit in 1897 and the Award of Garden Merit in 1993.
This charmer combines a deep rose pink middle bar surrounded by lilac pink margins on 5 cm (2") sepals that slightly recurve displaying a sharp tip. The overall presentation is similar to a lily shaped tulip, facing upright. The thick fleshy 4 to 6 sepals surround the yellow anthers, which have deep mauve connective. The outsides of the sepals are silvery white to having a mottled pink appearance with deeper pink striations. The buds are cone shaped. The seedheads are a significant asset as the vine appears to be covered in hundreds of golden pinwheels. The leaves reflect the texensis heritage. They are midgreen, either ternate (three leaflets) or pinnate (five leaflets). The thick pedicels (flower stem) make C. 'Duchess of Albany' a perfect candidate for a cut flower.
C. 'Duchess of Albany' can grow to 4 m (12') in a single season. The International Clematis Register and Checklist lists her height as 1.8 to 4 meters (6' to 12'). Even though it is semi-herbaceous and should be pruned each winter, it can become quite lush over time. The Duchess holds her blooms upright and can be grown effectively on large climbing roses such as Rosa 'New Dawn'. With the lavender undertones to her pink blooms she makes a nice partner to any large shrub with blue flowers such as hydrangeas, buddleia, and ceanothus. Another possibility is to grow her over prostrate conifers. In England she typically will bloom from July through October. In warmer climates like Atlanta, Georgia, the Duchess blooms form April through October. A pruning after the first early flush of blooms will encourage later blooming. Good drainage is essential and a gravelly soil mixture is appreciated. One potential problem is mildew. If this occurs, treat early with a fungicide.
In 1935 Ernest Markham wrote in his book 'Clematis' that C. 'Duchess of Albany' was the best of the hybrids. Seventy years later and hundreds of hybrids later, Clematis 'Duchess of Albany' remains one of the best.
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