Clematis Is Not a Sexually Transmitted Disease

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At some point during college, I walked into a Planned Parenthood, signed in, sat down, and looked around. My eyes came to rest on a booklet that said in ominous all-caps: CHLAMYDIA IS NOT A FLOWER.

I began to giggle inside. That’s a great title for a pamphlet about venereal disease, because I never forgot it. Whoever thought of that, I owe you a lifetime of high-fives. To this day, if STDs are mentioned in a conversation, I am forced by the power of that Planned Parenthood pamphlet to say, “Hey! Did you know that chlamydia is not a flower?”

I have to say it, you see. Even when it’s insensitive and tacky of me. I can’t help it. Because over the course of my life, “chlamydia is not a flower” has become a verbal tic of sorts, one of those odd personal jokes between me, myself, and I. So be forewarned: if you mention chlamydia in my presence, I’m gonna have to remind you that chlamydia isn’t a flower, and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it except roll your eyes and wait for me to stop snickering like a thirteen-year-old boy.

Cut to: ten years later (*cough*Fifteen! Liar!*cough*), and I’m no longer a young college girl on the go. I’m a wife and mother. Now, rather than getting drunk at keggers and puking into my own shoes for a good time, I like to plant flowers and garden. My life is different now. (Well, okay, except for the getting drunk part. I still do that occasionally. But my shoes are totally puke-free, I swear.)

One of my favorite flowers to plant, in this brave new world called adulthood, is clematis. Clematis is an easy to grow, beautiful flowering vine. But best part of all: “clematis” kind of sounds like “chlamydia.” And clematis IS a flower.

So if, like me, you decide to share your personal inside joke with your dear husband… you remember the joke, right? The one in which you ask, “Did you know that chlamydia is not a flower?” That joke? Well, the good man you married will quite possibly run with your not-really-that-funny chlamydia/clematis joke. Pretty soon he might call the clematis you’ve planted all over your yard “chlamydia,” and you will gleefully join him.

This sounds entertaining, yes? But be forewarned, it may get so bad that you will actually find yourself calling it only chlamydia because you’ve forgotten the actual name of the plant. You may even accidentally call it “chlamydia” when discussing it with employees in your local nursery or gardening center, and you will blush hot in the face with shame and embarrassment. So if, in your mushy mommy brain, you have started to lose your words and are now resorting to describing things with adjective-riddled paragraphs like I often do, you may want to skip the funny nickname for this plant, because soon, chlamydia is all you will have.

Yes, you, too, will have chlamydia.

I have chlamydia-clematis plants all over my yard. I love them because they are hardy, which in my part of the world (Tulsa, Oklahoma) means they can tolerate soil that contains so much clay I get to recreate that cheesy scene from the movie Ghost every time I plant something. (Except there’s no hunky Patrick Swayze-type hugging me from behind while I work the clay, and instead of throwing a sexy new pot on that cool spinny thing, I’m throwing out my tired old back.) Clematis is also a perennial vine, which means that once you plant it, it will grow back every year, even after a cold winter, saving you money (and future back strain).

I have clematis in five different areas of my yard, both front and back. This is because the Lowe’s home and garden store down the road from my house had them on clearance a few years ago. It was early summer and the planting season for these lovelies was over, so they were selling them at $2 a pop. I bought 12 clematis vines and hurried home to get them into the ground before the storm presently brewing in the skies above opened up full throttle.

With thunder rumbling over me, I hurried to get these babies planted:

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The raindrops had just started to speckle my face while I frantically got them into the earth, and within minutes of finishing, I watched from inside as the summer thunderstorm gave my new clematis a free post-planting soaking. Perfect.

I have done nothing for the clematis since planting them, and they have continued to thrive. Every spring, they come back bigger and stronger, with more blooms than the year before. It took me thirty hurried-by-threat-of-lightning minutes to slam them into the ground, and these selfless little flowers reward me every year for my haphazard gardening approach with so much purple goodness. I can even call them a name reserved for a ghastly disease, and they still come back pretty for me.

Contrary to some of the things you’ll read about clematis, they do not need full sun. I have clematis planted in partial, and even full shade (I have a north-facing front yard), and they do fine. The only thing I’ve noticed about my shady clematis is that they bloom later than the sunnier placements, but I like the staggering of the flowers. It gives me the bright colors I love for a longer time, rather than all at once.

Another thing I’ve noticed about my clematis plants is that they are not an aggressively clingy, vining plant, in that they don’t necessarily stick to everything I plant them under. I’ve had to use jute/garden rope, and even twisty-ties to hold the plants onto the trellises and drain spouts to encourage clinging. Once they’re growing where you want them, you’re golden, but they may need a little help getting there. (You can do it. You’re supportive, nurturing, and helpful, I can just feel it.)

Different types of clematis bloom at different times, so if you buy and plant them appropriately, you can have constant blooms in your yard. Or you can be like me and buy a bunch of clearance plants that are $2 each because they don’t have labels, put them in the ground, and enjoy the surprise of seeing what pops up. It’s your decision. I would recommend with all new plantings that you amend the dirt in your planting holes by mixing a bit of good store-bought potting soil in with the present soil as you plant. This will raise the nutrient content of your soil, and increase the drainage for the roots of the plant, which are both good things.

Remember to mulch your clematis after planting to hold moisture in, and water them once a week for the first year, or until they seem well-established. Pruning schedules for clematis are different depending on which type you have, but in general, clematis that blooms on this year’s growth should be pruned in the early spring, and clematis that blooms on last year’s growth should be pruned back after blooming.

More than anything, don’t stress out. Just give it a try: flowers are tougher than you think. Remember what we learned from Jurassic Park – nature finds a way – so put it in the ground, water it, and get ready for some pretty.

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