Armandii. The Queen of Spring.
Armandii. The Queen of Spring.
This is the story of a plant, a priest and a love affair.
Back in 1986, Bobby saw his first Clematis Armandii. The first time, that is, he knew its name. Draped over a disused shed at Highdown Gardens near Worthing in Sussex, it wasn’t even in the main garden, but hidden in a working area. Its rampant glory, and sweet scented cascades of flowers, were unforgettable. Returning to the garden a few weeks ago, there was no sign of the shed or its veil.
He forgot that plant for many years. In the meantime becoming one part of the greatest love affair… (in his life). In a whirlwind, he soon walked into Laurel Cottage. The new man of the house. Diddley was already there. And I took up a position of honour on the front room couch. Not forgetting that it had just been me and him for a few years. He had vowed to “do up” Laurel Cottage and transform its small gardens. What followed was three years of manic activity and a burst of energy quite unbefitting a chap approaching 60. True to his nature, the garden came first. Much smaller than he was used to, he built upwards. Partly to create cover from the outside world, and also hide that useful but intrusive garden room. Tons of wood arrived from Ryall and Edwards. Timber merchants.
Here is the start and completion of the first project. The plan being to cover the arch and pergola with climbing plants. Honeysuckle. Clematis of different varieties. Actinidia Kolomitka. Ivy. Tied against the wall was a scruffy, tired looking evergreen. “Don’t dig that up!” declared Diddley. “It’s an Armandii. One day, it could be beautiful.” And so, it survived, and was tied to the arch.
As the years passed, it grew a little, a little more and then a lot. Suddenly, it was rampant, and Bobby started restraining it a little. And then, the few flowers it had produced became profusion. The scent was overwhelming. Armandii was once an ugly duckling. Now, it was the Queen of the spring garden. Two years ago, it reached its peak of magnificence. Left the arch and climbed the sycamore tree. Spread over next door’s garage.
As soon as the flowers were over, it started dying. Or that was how it seemed. Stem after stem. Tendril after tendril. The glossy, evergreen leaves went brown and brittle and fell to the ground. Bobby was so upset. But not enough for him to forget what he had learned in his years of gardening. Nothing is lost. There is always tomorrow. But, urgent action was needed, and he brutalised that magnificent Armandii. Everything dead was cut off. Everything beyond the arch was cut off. Eventually less than a third was left, and four dustbins of Armandii went to the dump. It looked pretty awful.
A few weeks later, Bobby noticed that one or two new shoots had appeared. Delicate. Fresh. Heading for heaven. More and more appeared. Armandii was recovering.
Last year, the growth came back, but not the flowers. This year, we have watched the flower buds developing for weeks. Hoping they would make it. They did and, this year, Armandii is totally magnificent again. Enough to write this story and share some pictures below. And, also, do some research.
Which brings us to our priest. Taken from Wikipedia, this is one fantastic man, who brought so much to the world.
Father Armand David
Within all this, he brought back the Clematis that now immortalises his name.
This celebration belies the fact that Armandii does not often enhance gardens the way it has done at Laurel Cottage. We went to the library at Wisley Gardens, which confirms that not one single example is growing there. They had a few on sale in their garden centre. Very expensive.
We finally chatted to the top horticulturalist at a local nursery. She told us that it had a reputation for “being difficult”. Took years to establish, which is not commercially viable in the “kiss me quick” world of instant gardening. It can become too rampant. It can also be decimated by late frosts. When asked if it might die back again, her reply is worth noting for all life.
“By luck or judgement, it has found a situation that it likes. I would enjoy what you have now and not worry about next year.”
If you have an Armandii, we would love to know.
Lighting a Candle for Diddley.
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