Clematis alpina ‘Blue Dancer’

So it’s come to this. Any of you who have been following my Confessions of a Clematis Serial Killer will know that my compost heap consist of 99% clematis remains. Literally, if forensics were to investigate, they’d find skeletons of the clematis-kind that would make the antics in Arsenic and Old Lace seem like a tea party.(Anybody else in this pickle? Or is it just me?) Indeed, the only clematis that I haven’t managed to summarily dispatch (yet) is ‘Betty Corning’. The windowsill is my last resort.

That’s right, I’m growing clematis in my south-facing window. But before you feel too sorry for me, I’ve got to tell you — a few clematis flowers on a windowsill in February are worth a whole garden of Eden in midsummer. For a couple of weeks now — starting before Valentine’s Day, in fact — Clematis alpina ‘Blue Dancer’ began blooming. Even before that, I witnessed the intrigue of the swelling bud. I mean, I was rapt. After all, how many times have I attempted ‘Blue Dancer’ outdoors? Enough to make enough compost for the herb garden.

‘Blue Dancer’ is just the right size for containing. And as recently as 4 weeks ago, it was looking suspiciously like all the other sacrificial clematises. I was two steps away from hauling it down to the official clematis burying ground when I noticed the slightest sign of green. Snatching at straws-r-us as far as clematis is concerned. So I postponed the funeral. And I sat vigil. Sure enough, it sent out eyes and then leaves. Then it started up its mini-trellis and now the little sweetie is on its third flower. Think of it. All is forgiven!

Sure, it’s got a drinking habit that would sink a sailor. Absolutely, it’s not a shadow of the outdoor version. But can beggars be choosy? Can someone with a clematis criminal record like mine turn their luck around? This is probably as good as it gets for me. I’m reformed. I’ve got several catalogs open and the wallet is equally unplugged. This could mean trouble…Stay tuned for The Revenge of the Clematis…

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15 Responses to Clematis alpina ‘Blue Dancer’

  1. Lisa from PA says:

    Very hard to believe you have killed a clematis. The green on your thumbs speak otherwise. Since you’ve brought up the subject of bringing an otherwise hardy perennial indoors and potting it up, I’d like to chat about doing the same with a terrarium in mind. In your book “The New Terrarium”, you do mention experimenting with different perennials to encase in glass indoors. There is a saxifraga I purchased a few years ago that does well in my zone 5/6 outdoor beds that I think is so fairy garden size, it would be perfect for a lidded clear glass vessel I just purchased. I think it’s ‘Purple Robe’ and I can buy them at a nursery about 90 minutes from me for under $2. I was thinking small plant, small vessel- would only use one plant. What do you think?

    • Tovah Martin says:

      First of all, when was the last time I saw a perennial for $2.00? I’m coming to your neighborhood with an empty station wagon. I grow Saxifraga stolonifera in terrariums, and it does great. That said, I never experimented with rock garden types. According to what I’m reading, the moss-types of saxifragas can tolerate indirect light and a moist, humusy soil. So I say it’s worth a try. For $2.00, it wouldn’t be a huge gamble. However, if you kept the lid off, it would stand a better chance, I feel. Report back!

  2. Lisa from PA says:

    Actually, it’s $1.89 each or a tray of 32 plants for $35 and they call them starter perennials. You’d go nuts there. My garden friends and I usually go every spring (when we’re very hungry and have lots of money). We take two SUV’s, 3-4 people each, and set up the back of each vehicle with a shelving system so when we buy 5 or 6 trays of starter perennials, we can just load them in. The larger plants and shrubs go on either side, and anything bigger goes on the floor in between your feet! Check out It’s in Middleburg, PA and worth the 90 minute drive for us. I’ll let you know how the saxifraga works out- I’ll leave the lid off for sure.

    • Tovah Martin says:

      WOW! You know, Lisa, I always gripe about buying newly potted quarts in spring. After all, you’re just buying excess soil and paying a premium. I’d go your route in a blink. Obviously they have some cool, out of the ordinary plants. Only problem is that I’d hog the whole car. I’d be strapping someone to the roof and filling their seat with plants. Don’t you think great nurseries are worth the trip? I try to drive the 5 hours up to Cady’s Falls Nursery every other year. Are you getting this wind storm?

  3. Lisa from PA says:

    Great nurseries are always worth the trip! Yes, the wind is battering the house and my weeping cherry out front like crazy and yet the sun is out. My tulips are coming up and my snowdrops are in bloom. What a crazy winter. Keeping fingers crossed for clear weather the week of Phila Flower Show. I’m going on Monday March 5th with my garden club. I know you’re speaking there on the 10th. If I can get down there again to come and listen to your presentation, I will try.

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Yep, I’m lecturing on the 10th at the Phila Flower Show and I’d LOVE to see you, Lisa. Really would. Actually, I’m also going on the Friday before it opens for the set-up date. I’m doing a story for a British newspaper. So I’m going twice. I’ll give you the preview…

  4. Lisa from PA says:

    Great! Looking forward to it! 🙂

  5. So happy to see a clematis here….I meant to grow one inside this year got caught up with so many other garden chores that I forgot and my envy is so palpablei t is probably emanating through the screen. What a beauty. I have heard of some new varieties bred for indoor ( and outdoor ) conatiner growing , they are the Garland Collection from Ray Envison( a c.florida cross) but have had no success finding a source yet.
    As for your newly aquired enthusiasm for trying more outdoors, I will advise you to try other vitacellas ( the group BettyC belongs to) ….Etoille Violet, Purpurea Plena Elegans, Kermesina …..all easy no fuss varieties that are wilt resistant. Also , our native texensis has many embarrassingly easy to grow cultivars ..Princess Diana, Gravetye Beauty ( my fav), and Duchess of Albany…all striking reds but in need of full sun. Dan at Brushwood Nursery has great plants and so does Hummingbird Farm in ME.
    ps my achilles heel plant is cyclamen, dies upon arrival here yet I try and try .

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Aahhh, unrequited love. Where would we be without it? (probably much much wealthier, in my case.) I’m a BIG Brushwood fan. He comes to Trade Secrets every year and I go home with passion flowers and other little treasures that become big treasures. All except clematis. I’ve tried Ray Evison’s clematis in the ground and they go the clematis wilt route, alas. Had a GORGEOUS ‘Mrs. Robert Bryden’ that was my pride and joy and my only face-saving effort in the clematis arena. You guessed it. Gone last year. But if I give a list of all the clematis I’ve sent to their Maker, we’ll be here all night. Just checked out a map and Turner, Maine (Hummingbird Farm) is very, very far from me. Thank goodness. Because they’ve got the best collection I’ve seen on the East Coast.
      On the cyclamen — try potting into clay, it makes all the difference. I keep mine beside the sink, for obvious reasons. But I tried some in an open terrarium last year and that was the charm. No wilting/overwatering trauma.

  6. Alyce Jacobs says:

    Sad about your death count with clematis. I live in Ft. Worth, Texas and have three of them that my husband gave me for my birthday 4 years ago. The first year they survived in pots, because I didn’t know where to plant them. We solved that problem by planting them on the north side of a six foot high privacy fence along our driveway.
    They are watered twice a day, three times a week and even with the heat and the drought last summer they managed several blooms on each one. I read that they “like their heads in the sun and their feet in the shade” and that’s what we gave them. Can’t wait to see if they survived. Fingers crossed. BTW I love your book on terrariums and am planning a class for my shop to teach the basics. I will be referring to you often and recommending your book, too. Thanks and good luck with future clematis projects.

    • Tovah Martin says:

      You know, from reading your comment, Alyce, I’m thinking that water might be the secret. Twice a day is frequent service, and I haven’t been so generous. Plus I’m noticing that my indoor clematis are just about the thirstiest plants in the house now that they’re really growing full speed ahead. I have heard that they like shady roots and I actually put a broken pot over the root systems to keep them “cool” (don’t ask how I have such a collection of broken pots on hand). And thank you so much for all the kind words about the terrarium book. I’m especially thrilled to hear that you’re teaching others how to plant terrariums = if everyone would grow a plant by their side, there would be no war anymore. Pass it along…

  7. Paula says:


    I am impressed with your indoor gifts, or should I say envious? That said, for the great outdoors, we are crazy for Clematis x texensis ‘Duchess of Albany’, which we found at Uncanoonuc Mtn. Perennials. It is stunning and profuse with flowers, best one we have ever grown. As for the burial grounds, have had a few duds and sadly I will never buy another ‘Sweet Autumn’.

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Surely the sweet autumn clematis killed you before you killed it. They have a manifest destiny urge like I’ve never seen before. Of course, I managed to kill mine. But it took talent. I’ve encountered massive ‘Duchess of Albany’s, but alas, not within close proximity to my front door. Update: ‘Blue Dancer’ just produced another flower. And my ‘Rooguchi’ came back from the dead in a pot. I’d almost given up and removed its trellis. Always thinking ahead, I planted a selaginella in the base figuring that I’d just save face by claiming it was always just a moss pot…Got snowdrops up there yet?

  8. Jackie says:


    I’ve just found your blog while putting the finishing touches on the postcards and posters for our terrarium workshop. I love it! Looking forward to reading more posts and seeing you at the gallery in April.

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Hey Jackie! Looking forward to seeing you (and the gallery) again for the terrarium workshop. It’s always so inspirational to make terrariums in an art gallery setting. Everyone pulls from a unique place in their psyche when nature meets art.

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