On the stand it was paired with Clematis ‘Artic Queen‘ and the combination of the red and white intertwined large flowers was breathtaking. I returned home determined to grow the two climbers together and to create a flowerbed which also showcased other red and white flower combinations.
In 2010 I finally bought a house with a garden big enough to have a flowerbed and work started on creating a red and white border. I also created a space for clematis to climb up the pole which supports my apple espaliers. I bought ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Marie Boisselot’ (a large single flowered variety) as I couldn’t source an ‘Artic Queen’.
We enjoyed these lovely plants for a couple of years – and then the ‘Marie Boisselot’ disappeared and ‘Rebecca’ was left alone.
I visited our local nursery and bought a clematis labelled ‘Snow Queen’ which is another large single flowered variety. When it flowered later that year I was surprised to find the white flowers had a mauve flush and were fully double, not at all what I was expecting.
I didn’t think much of it – I assumed the ‘Snow Queen’ was a mislabelled ‘Artic Queen’ (which has double flowers) and ignored the mauve flush. Then this year I visited Chelsea again and when I was enjoying the display at the Raymond Evison Clematis stand (always one of my first ports of call in the Great Pavilion) I noticed the ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Artic Queen’ combination and my odd clematis came to mind.
I turned to ask someone about my clematis and by chance Raymond Evison was standing behind me. I explained how I’d bought the clematis and what it looked like. I also had a few pictures I’d taken that week on my phone (always full of images of flowers and cabbages!) He suggested it might be a sport of ‘Artic Queen’ and offered to take a look if I sent him some more photos after the show.
The following week I sent lots of images of the buds, flowers and foliage. Raymond was kind enough to study the images and identify the plant as Clematis ‘Belle of Woking’. He was working during the week on his former clematis collection, which is now curated by The Guernsey Group of Plant Heritage and which contain some specimens of ‘Belle of Woking’. The identification was a surprise, however, because he didn’t think that this cultivar was still in commercial production. Quite how it arrived at the nursery remains a mystery.
A Rare Chance
Clematis ‘Belle of Woking’ was raised by Jackman’s of Woking in 1875 and is reported to have been raised by crossing Clematis lanuginosa ‘Candida’ with ‘Fortunei’. ‘Candida’ is very rare these days but a plant is flowering at present in Guernsey at the Saumarez Park Walled Kitchen Garden (Raymond gave this plant to the garden some years ago). ‘Fortunei’ was thought to be a species from China although it is listed as a cultivar.
Raymond also sent me some excerpts from Dr Magnus Johnson’s book The Genus Clematis explaining that Dr Johnson’s description of ‘Belle of Woking’ fitted his understanding of the plant and the way it looked when he visited the clematis collection a couple of weeks ago.
Extracts from The Genus Clematis
Although this chance meeting and spur of the moment question hasn’t uncovered a new sport, it has been a fascinating investigation into the history of an unusual clematis. I’ve enjoyed learning about the different cultivars and hopefully I’ll be able to treasure my old, rare ‘Belle of Woking’ for many years to come.
Some of the red and white plants in my flowerbed inspired by the Rebecca/Arctic Queen combination
If you have come across a ‘Belle of Woking’, or have any red or white clematis to recommend, or any comments on your own clematis experiences I’d be interested to hear. Please leave me a comment and/or subscribe to my blog to follow my plant explorations in future…