Clematis 'Burford Bell'

Clematis of the Month for October 2021

described by Richard Hodson

C. 'Burford Bell'©Richard Hodson

As a National Collection Holder, I have a responsibility to source, propagate, and make more widely available, some of the older cultivars which could soon become lost forever. One of these, which fits nicely into my Viorna Group Collection is C. 'Burford Bell', a splendid tough, pitcheri hybrid which was introduced by the late John Treasure.

I acquired this cultivar many years ago from Joe Link who had the Haybridge Nurseries, at Cleobury Mortimer, quite close to John Treasures Nursery at Tenbury Wells.

My best example is growing through a 2m (6 ft) open trellis fence in an area of the garden which was flooded quite badly last winter, but C. 'Burford Bell' appears to have benefitted from this soaking, which fortunately only lasted for a couple of weeks. This year the plant has been amazing with lots and lots of deep blue purple bells followed by superb clusters of seedheads.

The foliage is remarkable, very thick and fleshy, expertly described by clematis expert Wim Snoeijer in his British Clematis Society Journal article in 1996. No signs of powdery mildew until very late season when the plant decides to call it a day, and then concentrates its efforts into producing new growth for next year, after I have pruned it almost to the floor in February.

Wim also says that John Treasure raised this cultivar in 1991, but Robin Savill, who had a clematis nursery in Essex and was, for a time, a British Clematis Society Committee Member, says in his Nursery Catalogue 2000 that this plant was gifted to John Treasure.

As is the case with several Viorna Group cultivars, not the easiest plant to propagate, a few cuttings will strike but best by grafting.

A huge plus for anyone growing this remarkable cultivar is the easy germination of the seeds, I have had many different seedlings over the years, still plenty more to flower, but none as good as the parent, C. 'Burford Bell'.

C. 'Burford Bell' - bud©Richard Hodson

C. 'Burford Bell' - bud

C. 'Burford Bell' - young flower developing©Richard Hodson

C. 'Burford Bell' - young flower developing

C. 'Burford Bell' - flower bud ripening©Richard Hodson

C. 'Burford Bell' - flower bud ripening

C. 'Burford Bell' - back of flower©Richard Hodson

C. 'Burford Bell' - back of flower

C. 'Burford Bell' - foliage©Richard Hodson

C. 'Burford Bell' - foliage

C. 'Burford Bell' - seed head©Richard Hodson

C. 'Burford Bell' - seed head

[Editor's note: In his words above, Richard mentions an article written by Wim Snoeijer for the British Clematis Society journal, "The Clematis 1996" and said he'd like to include it here. My thanks to Ken Black, editor for the British Clematis Society, and Wim Snoeijer for giving their permission.

Richard also asked me to include the description from Robin Savill's 2000 clematis catalogue.]

From The Clematis 1996

Clematis 'Burford Bell'

Synonym: Clematis pitcheri ‘Burford Bell’

Origin: Chance seedling from Clematis pitcheri, raised by John Treasure, Burford House, Tenbury Wells, named in 1991. This clematis is probably the last which John named before his death on 19th December 1993. John sent me some dried material for my view on this plant in 1991. I could only conclude that the plant was a hybrid because of the enormous size of the leaflets and the hairy style, but otherwise it is very close to the species itself. During the BCS meeting in September 1992, John showed me this plant, growing on the south side of Burford House. Today (1996) the plant is still alive and plants will be available for sale from the garden centre of Treasures of Tenbury Ltd. in 1997. I have pasted the original dried material John sent me on standard herbarium sheets and is now available at the National Herbarium in Leiden (L).

Habitus: A hardy climber with annual stems up to 4 m long. Internodes 6 ribbed and secondary ribbed, glabrous.

Leaf: compound; pinnate. Leaflets; (3- 5 )7- 9, simple, 3,5- 9cm long, 2 -5(- 8cm when lobed) wide, the terminal reduced, apex obtuse, base obtuse, margin entire but sometimes with one large obtuse lobe, glabrous on both sides, not distinctly reticulate, petiolule articulate. Petiole up to 5cm long.

Inflorescence: axillary solitary flowers on young growing shoots, peduncle 1,5- 3cm long, pedicel 15 -20cm long. Bracts; present, leaf-like but smaller, usually simple with parted or cleft lobes to rarely ternate, apex obtuse and mucronate or acute when lobed, base cordate, margin entire. Petiole 3 -4cm long.

Flower: bisexual, urceolate, fragrant, nodding. Tepals; 4, purple inside, greenish- purple- blue outside, rather thick, up to 3cm long, apex cuspidate and bend outwards but not curled, inside glabrous, outside hairy in the middle with tomentose margin. Stamens; filaments 0,7- 1, 1cm long and hairy, anthers 0,6- 0,7cm long, connective elongated and densely hairy. Pistil; as long as the stamens, ovary hairy, style plumose.

Flowering time: July into October.

Fruit: Achene; rhomboidal elliptic, 0,7- 0,8cm long and 0,5cm wide, margined, hairy. Style; up to 4cm long, appressed plumose near the achene to plumose towards stigma, stigma hairy.

Comments: It will be a great pleasure to have this plant propagated to remember John Treasure for his last named clematis. It is a strong grower which is best planted next to large shrubs to allow the stems to grow through and/or over them.

Extract from Robin Savill's 2000 Clematis Catalogue

'Burford Bell'

Small nodding flowers with fleshy, pale blue-purple tepals which roll-back at the tips. July-October. 8-10'. Hard prune (Group 3). Sun or semi-shade. A beautiful clematis given to John Treasure as C. crispa but now suspected to be derived from C. pitcheri. Named in 1991.     £10.00

Richard Hodson Richard Hodson

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