Today is the autumnal equinox, that celestial event that officially marks the end of summer. But it was just after Labor Day, which for many people is really summer’s grand finale, that I started noticing the fluffy white blooms of sweet autumn clematis around my neighborhood. Here it is clambering around a white picket fence in a suburban front yard.
Sweet autumn clematis is aptly named — the plentiful white flowers put out a sweet, clean scent that perfumes the air without becoming overpowering. This is a naturally occurring species, not one of the large-flowered, hybrid clematis varieties that you see growing on mailbox posts everywhere. And of course, the taxonomists can’t agree on what to actually call this species, so I’ve given up on trying to follow their peculiar logic and now rely on just the common name (at various times this fragrant vine has been known as Clematis terniflora, C. paniculata, and the oh-so-unpronounceable C. maximowicziana).
This clematis is an ambitious grower, not well suited for the mailbox — instead, plant it on fences, arbors, trellises, or tall shrubs. Even when cut back hard (to within 12 inches of the ground) in late winter or early spring, it can put out 20 feet or more of new growth in a single season. In fact, this kind of drastic pruning is recommended, not only to keep the plant under control, but to encourage heavy flowering.
During a warm fall, the flowering season can go on and on. Flowers are followed by fluffy, silver seedheads — and if you don’t want little baby clematis springing up all over your yard, you can shear the vine before the seeds ripen and float off in the wind. Alternatively, you can just pull out stray seedlings when you do your spring weeding. Either toss them on the compost heap, or give them away to gardening friends.
Sweet autumn clematis grows well in zones 5 through 10. In warmer climates, it’s sometimes considered invasive, but I find it’s very easy to keep this vine restrained — it’s not at all like wisteria or trumpet vine (Campsis radicans), which are true thugs indeed.