Clematis 'Dark Dancer'

Clematis of the Month for March 2019

described by Linda Beutler

C. 'Dark Dancer'©Linda Beutler

C. 'Dark Dancer' at the Rogerson Clematis Garden in July 2018

Those of us lucky enough to live within an hour's drive of Joy Creek Nursery have had the pleasure to watch this handsome clematis develop from intriguing seedling (first noticed in 1997) to eminently garden-worthy named cultivar in 2012. C. 'Dark Dancer' had some interesting trial names along the way—including one involving dark-scaled reptiles if memory serves—but the name settled upon suits it admirably.

The flowers are variable in color (depending on the chill in the spring nights), but are generally intensely to deeply violet, and as advertised, they do nod and sway in the breeze, just as the original plant did on the windy hillside at the nursery where it arose.

Joy Creek Nursery partner Maurice Horn's theory is, at the time C. 'Dark Dancer' was first noticed, the Atragene subgenus were grown near each other in the Joy Creek clematis trial area. The parents were presumed to be C. 'Jan Lindmark' × C. alpina 'Pamela Jackman', but when the plant hits its stride in mid-April, some of the largest blossoms are more reminiscent of C. 'Blue Dancer' in shape, just darker in color. The many growing seasons proved the mysterious seedling to be a sturdy and reliable vine to 8 feet tall (2.5 meters), usually producing two waves of bloom, the second being from June into July. In the 15 years between its first bloom and introduction—during which time it developed an impatient fan base of avid gardeners—C. 'Dark Dancer' never waivered, although it does prefer weekly watering during active growth and a mulch of gravel or coarse grit to keep the crown safe from rot in wet winters.

C. 'Dark Dancer' and C. 'Brunette'©Linda Beutler

C. 'Dark Dancer' with C. 'Brunette' in the former Spokane Washington garden of James Earl

In the former Spokane Washington garden of James Earl (USDA Zone 6b), it flowered from mid-April to mid-May, and the cold nights brought out dark colors, as shown here (see immediately above). When the plant reblooms in warmer weather (see top photo, taken at the Rogerson Clematis Garden in July 2018, which was hot), the reddish-violet highlights brighten the flowers. James paired his C. 'Dark Dancer' with its near cousins, such as C. 'Brunette', but at the RCG we give it a light background of Dan Hinkley's C. montana 'Thundering Cave' DJHC796 for the first bloom, followed by a majestic swathe of Geranium ×magnificum at its feet for the second round of flowers in the early summer. The violet veins of the geranium flowers draw the eye to the clematis.

But no matter the partner, C. 'Dark Dancer' presents a rewarding show at every opportunity, and has since its very beginnings!

Linda Beutler Linda Beutler

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