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The Humble Gardener

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A Series of Strange but Fortunate Events

One of the best things about gardening, for me, is always getting to learn something new, sometimes from surprising sources. This is the story of a new house, a new truck, and a desired plant.

My daughter and her family moved into a house in Oak Park in late summer and I got to help them move. When I walked into their backyard, I stood, stunned, unable to move. As I approached their back deck, a Nelly Moser clematis caught my eye. Next to Nelly, wrapping itself around the supports of the landing and falling almost to the ground, bloomed the most incredible vine. Its white flowers were shaped in a cross, the abundant blooms almost obliterating the green leaves of the vine itself. Some of the plant was still in bud while other flowers were in full bloom. A mild fragrance coming from the hundreds of blooming flowers convinced me that I had to have this plant. One small problem: I wondered how to find out the name!

Forward to the following fall. Chip and I went to look at a truck at a fellow's house. While he and Chip discussed the truck for what seemed like forever, the wife and I chatted. Finally, out of topics of conversation, she asked if I would like to visit her garden. Out we went. As I closed the door behind me, I looked up to find the same vine that had graced my daughter's deck, in glorious full bloom. "Do you know the name of this?" I demanded of the wife. Looking slightly taken aback, she said, "Yes, it's a Sweet Autumn Clematis." I was in Heaven. Finally, my search was finished.

I spent the winter months looking in catalogs and online, determined to find the plant. I don't like to spend $20-$30 for a plant. I couldn't find the plant for under that price. Chip suggested that I get a start from Megan's plant on my next visit. Sounded like a plan.

In the spring, I went to the Knox County Nursing Home in Knoxville for the annual plant sale held every Mothers' Day weekend. This is always a lot of work but the folks who work the sale, Master Gardeners from the area, have become friends over the years and it is always fun to not only check out the plants but learn about new ones from knowledgeable people. Plus the prices are incredibly low for freshly dug plants that transplant easily and thrive in my gardens. All proceeds benefit the residents so I can feel altruistic while getting inexpensive plants. Plus Chip always grows extra herbs and vegetables specifically for the sale so we feel good about donating those.

We were set up, waiting for customers, when a woman drove up with a pickup full of plants. This is not unusual. People are incredibly generous in donating to the sale. We are not rigid about delivery deadlines. If someone comes with donations while the sale is ongoing, there are enough folks available to unload, price, and arrange new donations. I was helping to unload when I saw several containers with green vines trailing down the side. Curious, I asked the woman what the plants were. I almost choked when she replied, "Sweet Autumn Clematis." I didn't have to travel to Oak Park! My much-desired plant had found me! After we finished unloading, I picked the woman's brain to find out as much as I could about the plant.

Clematis are interesting plants because there is so much variety among them. Colors, bloom times, and ease of care make these vines a special addition in a garden. Because it blooms in August and September, when most other plants are fading, Sweet Autumn Clematis is especially intriguing. It can go crazy invasive if it isn't pruned hard in spring. "Pruned hard" means in late winter/early spring, you find a pair of buds 6 to 12 inches from the ground and cut the dried vine. Bear in mind that this is kind of scary because the vine could be 30 feet long. Gather the dried vine and either compost it or recycle it with other yard waste. You aren't going to kill the plant by cutting the vine so drastically, I promise!

An old gardening adage "Love their feet in the shade and their faces in the sun" applies to this clematis. Be sure the plant has moist feet by mulching heavily and watering frequently so the roots don't dry out. Provide adequate support because this vine will get crazy tall. The fragrance and glorious display far outweigh the rambunctious growth as other plants' summer blooms fade in your garden just as this clematis begins its display. Please plant this.



Today's post was written by Sandra DePalma-Odell. Sandra is a Certified Master Gardener serving Henderson, Knox, McDonough & Warren Counties. A former English Teacher of 27 years, she writes about everyday life as a gardener learning as she grows. In addition to gardening, she loves to read, cook, and hang out with her two grandkids.

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