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Delightful transatlantic clematis – which may (or may not) be scented

Clematis 'Betty Corning'. Images ©GardenPhotos.com

Last year, we ordered some clematis from Donahue’s Greenhouse. Most have done well and one of the most appealing has been one of the less flamboyant varieties.

‘Betty Corning’ has scrambled up a black wire trellis, its two-tone, lavender-blue flowers dancing above the border perennials below. The combination of the coloring and shape of the flowers themselves, the elegance of their presentation on long stems and the neat foliage makes this a really lovely plant. Flowering began with a burst from late June, and is still continuing at a lesser intensity.

Each flower is like a lavender-blue bell split into four reflexed lobes with, on the inside, a paler stripe through the middle of each lobe. The first flowers did not set any seed, but it looks as if the more recent blooms may develop seed heads.

‘Betty Corning’ is an unusual hybrid between an American and a European clematis. The American native Clematis crispa, which grows across much of the southeastern United States and is known by the rather discouraging common name of Swamp Leather Flower is one parent. The other parent is Clematis viticella, from Southern Europe. It's sometimes listed under Clematis viticella, but it's definitely a hybrid.

The hybrid between the two was found in 1932 by Elizabeth Corning, wife of Erastus Corning II who was Mayor of Albany, NY for forty years from 1942.

But there’s an odd thing about this plant. The most comprehensive source of clematis info, Clematis On The Web, reports that plants of ‘Betty Corning’ in Britain are well known as sweetly scented, but plants grown in North America are not. The flowers on our plant have have a faint, sharp-sweet scent, but other American reports around the web mention the “sweet scent” or don't mention scent at all. More startling, perhaps, is the variety of colors seen in an image search; some are quite pink.

Anyway, scent or no, this is a lovely plant and much hardier than the origins of its parents might indicate.

In North America, Clematis ‘Betty Corning’ is available from Donahue’s Greenhouse (who don’t mention scent)
In Britain, Clematis ‘Betty Corning’ is available from Thorncroft Clematis (who say it has a “delicate scent”)


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The native Clematis crispa has an interesting fragrance. I used to pick the flowers and smell them when I was growing up. It's no Gardenia, but it was better than no fragrance at all.

Graham Rice

I'm sure, Clint, that hybrids like this could be selected for their fragrance. And with both parents plants (C. crispa and C. viticella) coming a range of colors, crossing different forms could lead to some lovely new varieties - with a stronger scent.


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