Flower was privileged to meet renowned clematis expert Raymond Evison at the 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show. The legendary horticulturist, who is a member of the Order of the British Empire and a Victoria Medal of Honour awardee, is the founder and former president of the International Clematis Society. Now owner of The Guernsey Clematis Nursery, Evison to date has personally introduced more varieties of clematis than anyone else worldwide.
FLOWER: How did you develop an interest in horticulture?
RAYMOND EVISON: My father was a gardener and hard taskmaster, who trained in the Victorian, old-fashioned way to grow plant material. I followed him around from the time I was four or five. I did not receive any formal horticultural training, but I learned by exposure while working at Burford House & Gardens in Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire, where I trimmed lawns and borders, and at Treasures of Tenbury Ltd., where I became managing director at age 23. Eventually I grew and catalogued over two and a half thousand trees, roses, and clematis, and hunted all over the world to find interesting new plant material in the wild.
“A favorite container cultivar is ‘Ice Blue.’ Another is ‘Rebecca,’ a dramatic red clematis named for one of my daughters.” –Raymond Evison
You live and work on the island of Guernsey, a Channel Island of the coast of France. Why did you relocate there?
The weather was and is the main factor. In 1980-81 the U.K. had a severe winter, which resulted in our loss of 80,000 clematis plants. So I looked at alternative sites on the south coast before settling on Guernsey, with a consistently milder climate. I found plenty of abandoned glass houses there, because business had dramatically shifted from tomato and flower production to finance. In 1984 I bought an acre of glass houses, and a year later produced 150,000 plants. I moved there in 1987, and today have five acres of state-of-the-art glass houses. Guernsey Clematis Nursery employs around 60 people, and propagates, grows, and ships three million plants annually, which is a quarter of the world’s market.
Living on Guernsey sounds idyllic.
Guernsey measures only 25 square miles. The 35-foot tides are dramatic, but it’s all about the peacefulness. It’s great to wake up at 5 a.m. on a June morning with the sun shining and pollution very low. I live in an old farmhouse whose kitchen dates from 1350. It is situated on 15 acres of woods and scrubland, which is wonderful because my passion is conservation. We have three wet meadows as well as orchids, strawberries, and primroses. We leave the grass long purposely because bumblebees go down into it, and we prune carefully with hand tools such as scythes and use French hooks for the hedges.
You are deeply involved with the Royal Horticultural Society and have exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show at least 50 times.
I was fortunate to be invited to the show when I was 16, by Percy Picton, the famous horticulturist who focused on clematis and asters. I became enchanted, and have been heavily involved since then. I’m currently a Vice President of the Royal Horticultural Society, a former member of the Council, and have been a judge for many years.
Is it possible to have continuous bloom from spring through fall with diferent types of clematis?
You can definitely enjoy continuous bloom with a nice variety. Many of our new clematis flower from late spring/early summer until fall, and would do well in most parts of the USA. Start with C. alpina, which is a showy early bloomer, and then continue with the small-flowered C. montana. As for the large-flowered singles, I suggest ‘Rebecca,’ which is the best and longest-flowering red clematis. ‘Cezanne’ is a very compact, free-flowering pale blue, which is ideal for growing in pots, and ‘Diana’s Delight’ is a stunning midblue that is great for small gardens. Very effective doubles and semidoubles include the dramatic purple ‘Franziska Maria,’ ‘Arctic Queen,’ ‘Josephine,’ and ‘Crystal Fountain.’ In midseason, ‘Jackmanii’ is a popular purple bloomer, and I use C. viticella to grow up into apple or pear trees. Finish the season with C. tangutica and tiny, aromatic white-flowered C. ternifora.
What types of containers work best?
You want the flowers to look good as long as possible, so soak the pot they come in for 20 minutes, then use good potting compost. Forget that shapely urn—you’ll never get the roots out. And don’t use plastic, as they heat up too much in the summer. Choose something terra-cotta with good drainage. Clematis does not like cold, wet feet, so bring the pot inside if there is a freeze of more than a week, and put the pot on bricks or pebbles so it’s not standing on the ground. Always remember a support system so it can climb and cling. A favorite container cultivar is ‘Ice Blue.’ Another is ‘Rebecca,’ a dramatic red clematis named for one of my daughters.
Where can gardeners purchase your plants?
We have 10 growers and 800 garden centers in North America who stock our plants. A complete list can be found on my website, www.raymondevisonclematis.com.
BY MARION LAFFEY FOX
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANDREW CROWLEY/TELEGRAPH/CAMERA PRESS REDUX