Roses need garden companions, and few combinations are as romantic as the clematis and the rose.
Inspired by “The Great Gardens of England” DVD series, I fell in love with old-fashioned, fragrant roses. One of my first choices was the heirloom climber “Zephirine Drouhin,” a French Bourbon rose introduced in 1868. Smitten by its deep pink, semi-double and headily scented flowers that bloom in late spring on nearly thornless stems, I couldn’t resist pushing the envelope with a Zone 6 rose.
After cosseting it through the first three years (and thankfully, moderate winters), its canes had grown long enough to fasten onto a trellis. But as Shakespeare wrote, “the course of true love never did run smooth.” One fine spring day, I discovered the rose had been gnawed to the ground by a bunny that broke through the chicken wire cage. I was heartbroken, but the rose and I started over. I replaced the cage and planted a soft lavender clematis vine at her feet.
The rose blooms lightly in late spring and fades away as the clematis begins to bud. A year ago, I tucked in a David Austin “Generous Gardener” climbing rose (Zone 4). It’s still young, but it has bloomed and hopefully, will be more consistent.
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Clematis vines have beautiful flowers and unusual seed heads. They need at least six hours of sunshine — head in the sun, roots in the shade. Most roses require six to eight hours of sunlight in a well-drained location. Roses can adapt to various soil types and pH levels; clematis does best with neutral pH.
Plant clematis about 1 foot away from the rose with the crown 3 to 4 inches below the soil level. Trim to a pair of low clematis buds to encourage branching.
Fertilize both in early spring. Fertilize roses again after the first bloom and repeat in late July or early August. Snip off faded blooms to the first set of leaflets to encourage more flowers.
Don’t prune either rose or clematis until spring. Remove damaged or dead canes from roses, or to redirect rampant growth.
For clematis, check the plant label for pruning group: Group I flowers in spring on growth from previous season. Prune in summer after blooms are gone, if at all. Group II flowers on short stems from last year’s wood and can be pruned in early spring, but seldom need it. Group III flowers late in the season on new wood. Prune old growth in early spring to 12 inches from the ground. Leave a good pair of buds.