It's always nice when a planting idea starts to really work. That's part of the fun of bedding and annuals: you can dream up a scheme and a matter of weeks or a couple of months later see how it turns out. Woody plants and climbers can keep you guessing for rather longer before you see whether it was a good idea. The eighteenth century landscapers and their clients never saw many of their remodelled estates in their full glory, even if Capability Brown did move the odd mature oak.
The current success which pleases me each time I go into our bedroom and look out into the wood is a Clematis montana 'Broughton Star' which has been laboriously making its way up a holly tree in the end of the wood for the past five years. It is a pink semi-double, with a ruff of small petals inside an outer ring of larger, more open petals, and a prominent boss of pale greenish-yellow stamens. The individual flowers are not huge, but there are a lot of them, nicely spaced out over the stems so that the holly appears studded in individual pink stars, the name 'Broughton Star' being entirely apt.
I bought my plant as a teeny tiny thing in a little pot, because that was all the plant centre could get. I potted it on into a deep two litre pot, where it continued to look small and sad and made very little growth. It may have been the victim of a rogue bag of compost, as a couple of other things did inexplicably badly in their pots and picked up rapidly once in desperation planted out or repotted. The clematis went into the end of the wood, just under the outer canopy of the holly and well away from the trunk, where it would get some light. Then I waited to see if it would start growing, and if so whether it would have the energy to climb up until it got a proper amount of light. The land drops away sharply from the house at that end, so anything starting at ground level is in the first instance shaded by the bank as well as the house.
'Broughton Star' began to grow, not quickly but doggedly. It flowered so I knew I had the right thing, only it did not make much of an impact. I stared out at it in the depths of winter trying to work out how far it had got, and as it came into leaf this spring I saw the answer was, quite a long way, at last. That was a relief, since after planting it I read some descriptions that said it was not so vigorous as the other montanas, and I began to worry that it would not manage to get far enough up the tree to make a show. The young foliage had a bronze tint which looked good against the dark green of the holly. And then the flowers came out. It was all highly satisfactory.
The holly tree is not so beautiful as it was, though I hope and believe its scruffiness is down to middle age rather than the first signs of a terminal decline. Last spring I planted the rose 'Albertine' on its other side, a rooted cutting that was a present from a friend. 'Albertine' also detested life in a pot, but has leaped into life since being put in the soil. Give it another five years and the rose should be ready to take up flowering in the tree just as the clematis flowers are fading. I like growing things up trees, though it doesn't always work. Vitis coignetiae suddenly died just as it was making decent progress up a self seeded birch, and the Vitis amurensis I bought to replace it, planting it in nicer soil to grow up an alder, quietly died at some point during its first winter, while I killed two perfectly good rambling roses planting them downhill of the deck where they could not cope with the almost permanent shade. Their replacements are now romping along in very large pots outside the greenhouse, where I hope to get a good six feet of top growth this summer so that when I plant them out in the autumn they will already be peeping above the level of the deck.