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Green Acre #396: Spread Gently, Sweet Clematis

Over the past 30 years, this abundant Sweet Autumn Clematis has voluntarily swept across the Cavanaugh alley fence, affording fall flowers and privacy in a tight neighborhood. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

THE SWEET Autumn Clematis that has spent the summer sending its green tentacles rambling along the top of our  9-foot-tall alley fence, has popped into bloom.

A volunteer, this plant. Appearing maybe 30 years ago in a far corner, lofting into the wisteria that straddles the garage roof, streaking a white blizzard across the green, lasting several gorgeous weeks and—poof!—gone. 


It’s said not to mind some shade, but this one is in that rare position (for us) where it enjoys a southeast exposure, basking in the sun most of the day. It’s said that it can grow 30 feet in a season. That is correct. It blooms when other varieties of clematis don’t, from late August into September. That is correct. It’s also said to have a sweet smell (hence the name), but unless you stick a branch in a paper bag, insert your head to condense the fragrance, and inhale, there’s not much of that to carry on about. 

Where our clematis came from I don’t know. I see the vines here and there in the neighborhood, muffling chainlink, climbing porch pillars, but none grow near enough to make a leap, or creep, into our garden. Seeds must have been stowaways in a long-ago-purchased pot of something. 

For some reason, willful thing that it is, several years ago it began to grow in the opposite direction, away from the garage (cunningly disguised as a cottage) and toward the house. It begins somewhere behind the purple Rose of Sharon, and scrambles along the fence line to the porch, climbing up the drainpipe for a pretty frill—like a peek at the hem of a lacy petticoat. 

One might think this was by design. As if it’s doing what I might intend it to do, for once. I do not pat myself on the back. It does what it does.

As it happens, the neighbors across the alley from time to time relax on their upper porch, giving them an unwelcome view of our private space. My Prince installed an elaborate screen, made up of lattice and screens, blocking the view. The clematis has stretched to tangle in the fencing, a wall of white flowers appearing each year around now. A pretty sight for them, privacy for us. 

Such serendipity.   


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One thought on “Green Acre #396: Spread Gently, Sweet Clematis

  1. Nancy P says:

    I love my volunteer clemmatis on my deck, too.

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