Plants bloom in steady order, irises before lilies, sunflowers before chrysanthemums, but there is enough leeway to drive a gardener to drink.
One trouble is our glorious spring, in which endless plants are held back by winter cold, then burst into bloom at once, forced by sudden warm or hot weather.
One year the garden had camellias, daffodils, some roses and tulips all in bloom together.
Roses alone are deceitful creatures, and any American gardener who has consulted English bloom dates for various roses (or anything else, for that matter) knows how worthless they are for us.
I have a tall yew beside an iron arch along a walk. In front of the yew is the reddish violet rose, 'Hansa,' and on the other side is the white rambler rose, 'Seagull.' Growing up the arch and into everything is the small deep-lavender clematis, 'Venosa Violacaea,' and in my master plan they all bloom together.
Regrettably, none of these plants is good at reading charts. The red rose blooms first, then the white one, then the clematis. I do have about a week in which they bloom together, but only halfheartedly, as some are going out and some are coming in.
Maybe a good word should be said about the biscuit-size deep purple clematis with pale stamens, 'Etoile Violette.' It is one of those well-behaved children of Clematis viticella, growing easily to 15 feet. It is pretty only against a white wall, as otherwise its deep tones make it invisible. It is in fairly showy bloom for a good five weeks, from the time the Kurume azaleas are beginning to wane until early or mid-June.
Another word should be said about those early clematis of the montana family. The one usually grown is C. montana rubens, and there are a number of varieties of it, differing slightly in depth of color and fragrance. Visually similar is the hybrid variously called 'Spooneri rosea' and 'vedrariensis.' It may be a trifle handsomer than the others, but there is really not much to choose among the lot of them. It would be unwarranted for the gardener to kill himself because he has a plain rubens. The thing to note about all of them is that as they bloom early, in mid-April or thereabouts, they are susceptible to frost damage, and this can sometimes be so severe as to cut the plant nearly to the ground.
Mine grows up a post on the front porch, swags across eight feet to the next post and goes on from there. It can be vigorous -- all these early pink clematis are madly exuberant. When covered with dead leaves in the winter (and all of them hang on) and when frozen in the spring, they are not ornamental. Mine had a total of four flowers this year.
But the reward, in most years, is a mass of flowers so dense no leaves can be seen. I mention this susceptibility to March freezes in case you were thinking of planting one in a conspicuous site, as I have done. No doubt in a bad year when all is ruined, you will take it better than I. 'Etoile Violette,' on a nearby post, has never flowered so well. Sometimes one wonders if plants are deliberately perverse and like to show up their neighbors.
I am not sure the summer-blooming herbaceous clematis are any treasure. They die to the ground in winter, then shoot up luxuriantly to flower in really hot weather. The one I grow is C. heracleifolia davidiana, often called C. davidiana. Gardeners like to mutter about which varieties are best. The one called 'Wyevale' has deeper blue flowers, somewhat larger than davidiana. All of them have blooms the size of the florets of spring hyacinths, and the fragrance varies. The great authority Christopher Lloyd compares the scent to "hair oil," which of course is more a damnation than a description, as I suppose hair oils vary in glory.
What the gardener may not comprehend in advance (I did not) is that this clematis flops forth in seven-foot stems that naturally get into anything within range. My idea was for it to grow around the somewhat inadequate cheap pedestal holding a bronze Siamese lion of ferocious aspect, and perhaps to fringe further to the four-foot raised water basin in front of it. But as it has turned out, it completely covers the basin if not redirected and restrained. The leaves, composed of three leaflets, are a nice deep green but are considerably larger than a hand. They remind me, on bad days, of poison ivy that has gained strength enough to make a romp up a tree trunk.
I had no just complaint last year when someone filled a large trash bag with this clematis, shortly before its blooming time. Disappointed, yes. But I had to admit that anything in the garden that grows so contentedly without bugs, blotches or second thoughts is almost certainly a weed. The thing to be wary of is that "coarse" simply means large-leaved, but can also mean simply coarse. Surely its bloom this year will justify it.
(In a pig's eye, probably).