“You know clematis, those eye-popping, almost-but-not-completely-over-the-top perennial flowering vines that produce blooms the size of dinner plates, right? I know clematis, and I have to admit I was weak in the knees, standing there surrounded by thousands — no make that millions — of lusty little clematis plants. The location was Roseville Farms, a huge clematis nursery smack-dab in the middle of the state of Florida. It is most likely that every clematis you might have growing in your yard or those for sale at any given nursery in your neck of the woods was conceived at this facility.
Never mind that few Floridians ever grow or even get to see a beautiful clematis in full bloom, because clematis is a perennial vine that needs an extended period of cold-induced dormancy to grow and bloom properly. Even so Roseville Farms is the place for clematis, where each spring more than a hundred varieties (40 of which are patented) of clematis (some four million plants in four-inch pots) are shipped to nurseries all over the country to be potted up in gallon containers and grown for local gardens.
I knew that local nurseries got many of their plants (not only clematis) from large farms in Florida, and wanted to see how they were grown and in the case of clematis, find out why they are grown there.
Recently Roseville Farms’ vice president of sales and marketing, Dan Webber, took me on a tour of the amazing nursery. He explained that Roseville Farms is the “largest and most reliable source for U.S.-grown clematis vines with over 35 exclusive varieties.” And what a place it is, situated in the rolling hills near Apopka, on 40-plus acres with 12 acres of greenhouses, including a series of “cold houses” kept at 38 degrees F where plants are given the requisite days of dormancy that sunny Florida simply cannot provide.
But while it lacks the terms of sustained cold weather, the locale more than makes up for that minor detail in terms of getting a clematis vine off to a great start.
“We can grow everything here three times faster than we could elsewhere,” Webber said, explaining how a big clematis nursery ended up in sub-tropical Florida, with dependable sunshine and moderate temperatures being the key factors. As for the cold that clematis requires, it is supplied by six weeks in those refrigerated buildings that Webber calls “coolers.”
“We try to mimic Mother Nature, and by September, they (the plants) just want to shut down. Come December it’s not very interesting in here,” said Webber of when the plants get the cold treatment in the “coolers.” But by springtime, the greenhouses are a’bloom with stunning plants ready to ship out.
Roseville’s clematis plants start out as cuttings. No tissue culture here, no sir. Old fashioned cuttings are the only basis for their plants, and Roseville has perfected the art of rooting clematis cuttings, Webber explained. Each year more varieties are added to the nursery collection, but only after years (usually at least three or four) of trial where the varieties are tested out for everything from their ability to be rooted from cuttings to the reliability of their blooms. A rigorous list of requirements must be met before any clematis newcomer becomes part of the collection.
Roseville has branched out recently into the cut flower business as well, with clematis blooms grown and shipped from their greenhouses. We all know and love those long-lasting flowers, but the concept of them as cut flowers for the florist trade is something entirely novel. So new and such a cutting-edge concept that Roseville’s cut clematis flowers were featured by Martha Stewart on her television program this spring. There’s little doubt now we’ll all be seeing more clematis, more often from now on.
The high-end product is labor intensive to say the least. All produced in the greenhouses, the potted plants are grown with special nutrients to ensure bright green foliage; are pruned to a single leader that is hand-staked; and when the time is right — a critical factor in the process — the blooms are harvested. The 34-inch stems which usually display a single bloom, are hand trimmed and packed in bunches that are labeled by variety, not color because those familiar with clematis know how many different “blues” or “pinks” or “whites” there are in clematis. Webber pointed out how one variety, Little Ibi for example, starts out with a bluish-tint and evolves into pure white as the blooms “mature,” a process that continues even once the stems are cut.
“It is amazing how much water the stems can take up,” Webber remarked. The blooms are cut when they just begin to open and not later. “If the flowers are too big when we ship them, they can get bruised.” He said shelf life for the flowers is a week to 10 days, and even 12 days to two weeks “…easily if you change the water regularly.”
No doubt many of you will adapt that idea of clematis in a floral arrangement, and run with it once the clematis comes into bloom this summer. It’s a whole new way to look at this “Queen of Vines,” and a fresh take on this garden favorite. Such a trendsetter you will be!
For homegrown clematis in Zone 5, Webber offered these recommendations for reliable varieties color-by-color:
• Pinks: Proteus and Patricia Anne Fretwell
• Whites: Snow Queen, Comtesse de Bouchard
• Blue: H.F. Young
• Reds: Niobe, Ruutel
For a handy pruning chart from Roseville Farms — listed by category and variety — and growing tips for the Queen of Vines, visit my blog entry on a Clematis planting and pruning guide at: http://gardeningonthego.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/clematis-planting-and-pruning-guide.”
“Lynette L. Walther is the recipient of the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award and the Florida Magazine Association’s Silver Award of Writing Excellence. She is a member of the Garden Writers Association. She gardens in Camden.”