As privileges go, it doesn’t get much better than a personal guided tour around Guernsey Clematis by the great Raymond Evison himself.
I have met Raymond on lots of occasions at Chelsea: he is a true gentleman, of the unfailingly courteous kind, and his air of urbane charm rather disguises the fact that he is a sharp and very savvy businessman. He has succeeded in keeping his world-beating clematis nursery not only going but wildly successful, while keeping it on its home island of Guernsey.
It’s a feat many good plantsmen haven’t been able to pull off, and Raymond himself admits it hasn’t been easy, but any business that supplies 25% of the world’s – yes, the world’s – clematis supply is a success by anyone’s standards.
It was fascinating to see how you go about producing millions and millions of top-quality plants, while also running a commercial breeding operation which is about the only one at the moment producing new clematis anywhere. And all from an island nine miles by five miles with an erratic ferry service. Respect.
Here’s how he does it:
I did get a little look at the breeding operation too, but I’m afraid Raymond would have to shoot me if I revealed what he’s up to. A few facts and figures though:
• 2,500 crosses a year, done via hand pollination with paintbrushes
• from which 25,000-35,000 seeds sown – about a third germinate
• About 6,000-8,000 new seedlings are grown on and assessed for several years (it takes 8-10 years to produce a new clematis variety)
• qualities which are prized include ability to flower up the stem (rather than just at the top), compact, with a ‘pick me up and buy me’ quality: clematis have to flower within the first 60cm or they won’t sell in garden centres
• Current breeding goals are better reds, truer blues, as many doubles as possible, and a new strain of late-flowering, small-flowered clematis which bloom earlier in the season too
What I can say is that he’s releasing two new varieties at Chelsea this year: Volunteer, a container clematis in delicate mauve streaked plum purple; and Tekla, a deep pinky-red with deep red anthers and a late spring flowerer with a second flush in mid to late summer. It grows to 1.5m (5ft) and like all Raymond’s clematis is smothered in flowers from top to bottom.
Both will be on the Guernsey Clematis Chelsea stand: and do look out for the plant support Raymond has the Volunteer growing through. It’s not often I get excited about a plant support, but this one is a work of art and a thing of beauty. That’s all I’m saying.