In general, almost all Clematis species make good cuts in terms of vase life, they just don’t make good cutting—most of them being climbers, they form tendrils that grab every available stick, stake, or neighboring stem, so require more patience than the usual grab-and-cut method used for other flowers.
A number of Clematis, however, grow shorter and more bush-like, and while most still need staking these respond to quicker harvesting and a little more roughhousing. First on the list comes Clematis Recta, a vigorous grower we sometimes bunch cut three times a year that yields 30 dollars in sales per running foot. Net and stake Recta, raise the net as it grows (pay close attention, as it’s very quick on the draw), grab a bunch of stems at the base when its white, star-like flowers either bud—for long term holding in the cooler—or form flowers—for immediate sales or use. It grows about three feet tall here, so you may not need the entire stem, but harvest deep to make the second harvest stems longer and easier to cut. Designers can substitute Recta for Jasmine, and its long vase life makes even traditional florists open to using it.
Clematis Recta Purpurea has dark leaves like Physocarpos Diablo or Lysimachia Firecracker, flowers just like the species Recta, but doesn’t yield much of a second crop, being less vigorous. It too needs staking, reaching three feet tall. Serious Black is one of its cultivars.
Clematis Mandshurica’s blooms, which look just like Recta’s, come about two weeks later. We’re trialing this somewhat taller species this year, hoping for equal success.
The Integrifolia Clematis yield a number of useful species. Durandii may be the queen, its four-inch, silver-blue flowers lasting ten days to two weeks in a vase. It’s a spindly plant that doesn’t interwine and requires double layers of net, but its three foot stems reward the grower and designer with multiple harvests through the summer, almost as if it were an annual.
Durandii’s sister Integrifolias include a mauve and white variety generally sold as a mixed bag. The white, according to propagators, is less vigorous, which explains why it’s hard to find. Since every designer wants white for weddings, if you can find a source for white integrifolia, jump at the chance to purchase. Both mauve and white integrifolia grow much shorter than Durandii, requiring only one layer of netting, and can be cut in bud or with its bell-shaped bloom fully open. You can cut a stem at a time, but we like to bunch cut to the ground, thereby pruning and harvesting at the same time and preparing for a second and even third harvest. If you tire of the flowers, let it go to seed, as it forms a swirling, nebula-like head that many designers find irresistible.
Roguchi, another integrifolia, poses more of a trellising nightmare than its siblings. We treat it like sweet peas, using vertical netting with T-posts and adding layers of twine to keep its rampant vines upright. Roguchi blooms prolifically, with purple bells that keep coming all summer. You’ll need a number of clients to keep up with even ten or fifteen plants.
Of the Clematis we raise, Heracleiflora grows unusually slow, yielding flowers only in the third year but generously after that. Its silver-periwinkle bloom comes late in the summer and should be harvested in fairly tight bud. It too needs to be staked, but only barely, its stems being much stiffer than any other clematis we know of. The leaves are attractive enough to use alone as foliage, though on our farm they tend to get the desert-blight that comes after a summer of sun and wind.
The integrifolias and rectas grow in full sun, while the Heracleiflora requires a little shade, according to recommendations.
Two vigorous species with small, white star-like blossoms bookend the clematis season. Neither are short by any means, autumn clematis (Clematis Ternifolia) flowering in September here and Paul Farges in late May and early June—later if pruned severely to delay bloom. Both grow and bloom prolifically, require innovative trellising and patience when cutting, but both work equally well in arches or vases—just pick your length of stem. Paul Farges is said to grow up to fifty feet over time, but we cut ours back considerably in the spring and it still runs ten to twenty feet. You can’t be afraid when harvesting its intertwined stems. Cut, pull, and when you hear tearing sounds just keep pulling. You may damage some of the plant but there’ll be enough to go around, I assure you. You can harvest in bud or in bloom, depending on when it’s going to be used, and you can take four feet or ten, depending on how comfortable you are transporting it.
There are a number of other species that work as cuts—Jouinana, hexapetala, Integrifolia Arabella, those listed here being a fraction of the possibilities. Use your imagination, turn your horizontal farm into a vertical one with clematis. You’ll be pleased with the results at sales time, though perhaps a bit petulant as you harvest.