It was really a happy choice to plant the showy, velvet-purple Jackmanii clematis up against our gray barn. Especially after watching the two colors snuggle up to each other in the morning light.
Our barn came first, built in the late 1970s from salvaged lumber stripped from a couple of older, abandoned barns in the area – and one maybe 75 miles away.
We took hammers, crowbars, rope and a large amounts of needed enthusiasm and pulled off the thick sheets of old wooden siding one board at a time – some of it rough cut lumber, 12 feet long and an inch thick.
The floor joists came from an old funeral home, the corner poles from a lumber company, the windows salvaged from other buildings. It took three summer months, five good friends – including an actual carpenter, electrician, plumber and roofer – and maybe ten cases of beer to get it built. OK, maybe 12 cases of beer. My Dad helped nail up one side of the barn, too. He preferred whisky.
So there was our barn, perched on a flat spot above a three-acre pasture, first built to hold a small tractor, two head of beef and a loft full of hay. But after a few years the kids had left home, the two head of cattle kept escaping through our porous, barb-wire fence and the whole thing was turned into a plant nursery sales area.
Which led to the velvet-purple Jackmanii clematis. I didn’t know much about it at the time, other than I liked the color and couldn’t wait to see it climbing up against a gray barn in morning sunlight – and that it would need a supporting trellis to get there.
What I subsequently learned was the Jackmanii first showed in the nursery trade up way back in 1862, and was named for a guy named George Jackman of Surrey, England, who did all the cross breeding that made it possible. With its larger flowers and robust ways, it became a plant sensation, quickly making its way around the garden world – although the dreaded clematis wilt came with it.
We don’t think about or even care about such historical plant lineage that much, but we should. An improved cultivar of Jackmanii has since appeared, but the thing has been around since the Civil War, and how many other of our modern garden can claim that?
Our new-old barn also offered the perfect site for growing clematis; about six hours of early sunshine with shaded roots, a universal prescription that, in truth, is almost impossible to achieve at home; the sun doesn’t always co-operate with such a narrow parameter.
So introduce your own shade, place a small shrub or hunk of yard art in front of it, or just mulch the roots. In time, as the plant grows, it can provide its own shade.
There are also now about 300 clematis species and thousands of hybrids and colors that can bloom early, mid-summer or late, and you need to know exactly when to prune which to get the best show.
The Jackmanii keeps all that simple. They improve with age. They can grow to 15 to 18 feet. Prune it in late winter or early spring; those velvet-purple flowers will show up on new growth. To reinvigorate, you can cut the entire vine back to 1 to 2 feet every few years. Creating the gray-barn background may be a different story.