Clematis 'The First Lady'

Clematis of the Month for July 2023

described by Laura Watson

C. 'The First Lady'©Laura Watson

C. 'The First Lady'

Clematis 'The First Lady' was raised by well-known American clematis nurseryman, Arthur H. Steffen, Jr., of Fairport, New York, in 1978. It was introduced into commerce in the United States in 1989 and in the United Kingdom in 1992. The name presumably refers to Rosalyn Carter, as she was the First Lady of the United States from 1977 to 1981, during which time the clematis was raised. But I think that we can all just choose our own personal favorite First Lady and think of her when we look at the beautiful blossoms.

Because it was a chance seedling, the parentage of C. 'The First Lady' is sadly unknown. This early large-flowered clematis is moderately vigorous, reaching 2.0 – 2.5 meters or about 7-8 feet in height. It is hardy to zones 4 – 9.

Bud about to open©Laura Watson

Bud about to open

A closeup showing hints of pink enlivened by reddish-purple center©Laura Watson

A closeup showing hints of pink enlivened by reddish-purple center

An overlapping pair©Laura Watson

An overlapping pair

A young pair with only six tepals, showing a pink stripe down each tepal©Laura Watson

A young pair with only six tepals, showing a pink stripe down each tepal

The blossoms are an ethereal silvery lavender with ghostly hints of pink and normally, in my experience, have eight tepals. Juvenile flowers sometimes have a pinkish stripe down the middle of each tepal. Color can fade a bit with age or too much sun. The pointed tepals overlap and have ruffled edges. Stamens are prominent with reddish-purple filaments and anthers.
Reverse side of a blossom©Laura Watson

Reverse side of a blossom

A group of blooms©Laura Watson

A group of blooms

The blossoms are quite large. In my garden, C. 'The First Lady' competes each year with C. 'Vancouver Morning Mist' (another North American clematis, this one hailing from Vancouver, Canada) to produce the largest flower in my garden. The only time I actually measured them, they each came in at 28 cm (11 inches)! Given such large flowers, a sheltered position is wise to minimize damage from wind.

Seedhead is typical of early large-flowered clematis©Laura Watson

Seedhead is typical of early large-flowered clematis

C. 'The First Lady' is best grown in the ground to grace shrubs or structures like arbors, trellises, pergolas, fences, and tutors. I grow mine over 1.2 m (4 ft) pieris japonica (Japanese andromeda), though a large part of it has discovered that the nearby fence offers more sun.

Laura Watson Laura Watson



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