Early Snowfall


So here’s a truly beautiful sight: the tumbles of white are what most of us would call Clematis paniculata,  formerly C. maximowicziana and now C. terniflora. This plant, first discovered by famous Swedish botanist Carl Thurnberg (1743-1828), was originally christened by him C. paniculata. Unfortunately, it turned out this name had already been taken by a New Zealand species, so the plant was renamed C. maximowicziana, to honor Russian botanist Carl Ivanovich Maximowicziana. I’m guessing that this simply proved too much of a mouthful, and the plant was again renamed Clematis ternifolia, which hardly anyone uses, preferring the original Latin name or the even more simple Sweet Autumn Clematis. This aggressive climber, native to Japan, performs on and off for me, some years almost entirely disappearing, and in others, producing a show like you see above. (Interestingly, the scent is also variable from year to year; this season’s mountain of blossom barely has a trace. I suspect this occurs because the plant occasionally reseeds itself – moving wildly up and down the fence line from its originally planting site – and subsequent kin don’t necessarily share the same genetic makeup.)  While this early snowfall of clematis is truly lovely to the eyes, it’s far less so for the grape vines it has buried beneath, though I can’t say I feel too badly for the grapes – the crop all rotted on the vine this year, so the flowers are really the only harvest I’ll have. The just visible arbor and double bench, by the way, were built as a birthday present by my father a few years back, working from a 1920’s Colonial Revival design. I never pass it without a quick “Thanks Dad,” especially since my father’s health has recently declined to the point where he now can no longer undertake outdoor construction like this. It seems almost impossible that I won’t be seeing my father, with his broad grin, signature shock of red hair, and tool belt always at the ready, rumbling about the shrubberies anymore, and that this seat will be the last in a long Indian summer of projects we did together.  But that’s the wonderful thing about gardens, especially when they’re built working with someone you love. They become not so much a collection of living plants, as a collection of living memories.


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