The Black Prince and I
As her garden thrives, our columnist reveals her love affair with ‘Black Prince’… and all her other clematis plants
Some gardeners are constantly out there snipping and clipping and tying in and generally exercising iron discipline over their gardens. I confess that with an allotment and a garden and a busy life to juggle, I’m more of a laissez-faire gardener, although I do like to have an underlying structure that I can rein the garden back to when the mood and energy strike.
The garden is more than usually unruly this summer – trees and shrubs seem to have doubled in size, and the clematis have run riot. Two in particular at the moment are gladdening the eye, one scrambling through the white climbing rose ‘Sombreuil’ on the old brick wall at the southern end of the garden, and the other, climbing vigorously up and around the pergola that I look down on from my study window. Both are from the smallflowered viticella group, tough and robust and unlikely to succumb to the dreaded clematis wilt.
Viticella clematis love to strike a path up and through trees and shrubs, and their single flowers, with four to six sepals (much more elegant and better for the bees than the fussy double kind), on short, erect stems are set off to great advantage by the foliage of their host.
‘Black Prince’ is the cultivar that I grow on the pergola. It belongs to pruning group 3, so is cut down to a couple of strong leaf buds, about 12in to 18in from the ground just as buds emerge in February or March. It then bursts into growth, achieving 8ft to 10ft or more by the end of the summer. Last year, ‘Black Prince’ was so vigorous it managed to fall off the pergola in a gale; this year I have been tying it in more regularly and it is a handsome sight. It is making a determined advance across the pergola towards a gorgeous little rambler rose, ‘Open Arms’, which has small, almost single, pale-pink flowers produced continuously through the summer and into autumn. Purple clematis and pink roses are a bit of a cliché but never fail to thrill.
The flowers of ‘Black Prince’ are of a lustrous purple, with outward-curving sepals that have a paler stripe down the centre and lime-green stamens. They nod delectably in the slightest wind. I have a specimen in a little Victorian vase in front of me, and next to it a flower of ‘Etoile Violette’, which has six deep-purple sepals and a small boss of cream stamens. It looks beautiful against faded brick and the old rose blooms of ‘Sombreuil’. A few shoots have sped off into the neighbouring Amelanchier lamarckii, which looks as if it has produced purple flowers in mid summer.
Another viticella I crave is ‘Alba Luxurians’, which has single, flat, nodding, blueish-white flowers, tipped with green, set off by dark-green foliage. This is a tall plant – 10ft to 12ft – striking and covetable. There is simply no space in the garden, but maybe it would fit in my minute front garden growing up an obelisk in a pot.
All the clematis in my garden came from Taylors Clematis, a family-run nursery established in 1982. It has stands at the major flower shows, is a RHS gold medallist and offers quantities of valuable advice on planting, pruning and cultivation on its website and in its print catalogue. Its staff are also cheerful purveyors of information and advice on the telephone, an added bonus.
But what makes Taylors irresistible is its all-year-round, next-day delivery service. Delivery days are Tuesdays to Fridays. Clematis are sent out as two-year-old plants in 2-3ltr pots with 3ft canes, immaculately packed in stout cardboard boxes. Prices range from £8 to £15; postage and packing are £7.95 for one to two plants, £9.95 for three to 15. Order one day and plant the next – what bliss.
Taylors Clematis: 01302-700716; www.taylorsclematis.co.uk
Courgette fritters, anyone?
Every summer I look forward with the masochist’s mixed horror and delight to the challenges of the courgette glut. This year it has been late in arriving, but the spindly plants that initially failed to thrive are now cropping incontinently. This is a great recipe for courgette fritters for two.
Take 4 small or 2 medium courgettes (about 350g), 1 shallot or 2 spring onions, finely chopped, 1 or 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped, 2 eggs, beaten, 1tbsp plain flour, 1tbsp finely chopped herbs (I use thyme and flat leaf parsley), sea salt and pepper.
Grate the courgettes coarsely, and place in a clean tea towel. Twist and wring out the tea towel – large quantities of green water will emerge. Beat the eggs in a bowl, whisk in the flour and add all the other ingredients, including the courgettes.
Heat 1tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan. When hot, take heaped tablespoons of courgette mixture and add to the pan, flattening each fritter gently with the back of the spoon. Turn them over when the underside is brown (but not before or they will break up), and when cooked, drain on kitchen paper
Plant of the week
‘Album’ has slender, tapering spires of white flowers above masses of dark-green leaves. It’s a magnificent latesummer perennial that doesn’t need staking and adds height to a sunny or partially shaded border. £7.99: www.crocus.co.uk
Daily tip from the lady archive
"DEEPLY-ROOTED is the idea that men are indifferent to dress, while the ladies, God bless them, think of nothing else"The Lady, With Prejudice, 8th January, 1942