The ‘sweet clematis’, also known in Victorian times as ‘Traveller’s Joy’ and ‘Virgin’s Bower’, was a common sight in England’s roadside hedgerows (thus the Traveller’s Joy) where it was considered something of a weed. Kent and Buckinghamshire were the counties where the roadside clematis flowered at its most glorious where it wove fantastic garlands about thorn trees and blackberry bushes when it wasn’t rioting through the hedgerows. Field mice were said to love the soft, silky down of its seed cases.
the common clematis could generally withstand the British winters, although severe frost might kill it. Overall it liked moist, cool soil for its roots and sunshine for its leaves and flowers.
Victorians loved to plant clematis so that it rambled over potting sheds, trellises and arbors, but they also liked to have it as a bedding plant, especially in rockeries.
By the late Victorian age new hybrid varieties were coming out with huge brightly coloured and striped flowers, the Jackmanni being the most widely known variety.
Gardeners were advised to cut clematis down to a few feet above the ground after a few years to promote new and vigorous growth. Clematis ‘ran out’ after about 10-20 years, and then it was advisable to dig them out, refresh the soil, and start with a new plant.
One of the best showings of clematis was to be found at the entrance to the nurseries of Mr Richard Smith, St John’s, Worcester. “here, amidst the richest green of coniferous trees, grass lawns and banks of ivy,, we behold a great hemisphere of the richest violet-blue which may be likened to the mighty shield of a war-like wanderer from Olympus.”
Information and image taken from F. Edward Hulme and Shirley Hibberd, Familiar Garden Flowers (Cassell, Peter, Galpin and Co.: London: c. 1890), 5 vols.