Clematis (Clematis spp.) plants are flowering vines prized for their versatility and showy display of blooms. Although some grow more like shrubs, most climb easily and will zip right up a sunny wall if given a bit of support. Young children will delight in the colorful blooms, but keep little hands away from the vines -- all parts of the plant are toxic, according to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension.
Clematis plants in general are cold-hardy and thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 8, but this varies by species. Some are only cold-hardy to USDA zone 5, so be sure to choose one that will survive winters in your area. The plants love sun on their flowers and cool shade on their roots, so they are often planted near or even under another plant that will cast shade over the lower portion of the vine. Cool, moist soil is best, so cover the planting area with a 2-inch-thick layer of straw or mulch. An inch of water per week is ideal. The vines climb with the help of twining leaf stems, which curl around the twigs of other plants, the bark of a tree, or a lattice or other support system.
Clematis vines will grow up a wall if you install a support system on the wall. This can be something as simple as wire mesh inserted into the ground at the base of the wall and then attached with nails or screws further up the wall. Bend it out from the wall a bit to allow some ventilation to reach the back side of the vine. The leaf petioles are small and thin, so the support structure must be thin in design also, or else the stems won't be able to wrap securely around it.
3. Selected Species
Sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora) is a good choice if you are looking for a strong, fast-growing climber. The small white flowers aren't as showy as other species, but they do give off a sweet scent, and the plant will grow to heights of 30 feet if you let it -- perfect for very high walls. Sweet autumn clematis is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8. Clematis viticella, or Italian clematis, is a large group of vines that feature flowers in shades of purple, red and cream. Easy to grow, these clematis tolerate hotter temperatures than many others, and as a bonus, they blooms all summer long. One of the most popular cultivars in this group is "Blue Angel," which features bluish-purple flowers with yellow centers. This cultivar is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9.
Touch a clematis plant with your bare skin, and you may end up with a minor rash and skin irritation. More seriously, any part of the plant placed in the mouth will cause severe pain, according to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension. For these reasons, teach your children to enjoy clematis with their eyes and not their hands. The plant is equally toxic to dogs, cats and horses when consumed. Symptoms in animals include excess saliva and vomiting.