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Clematis cultivation and breeding

FassadenGrün sells climbing plants from the tree nursery Sachs (Saxony / Germany), such as large-flowered clematis hybrids created there. On the occasion of a visit in autumn 2015, I had the chance to interview Mr Sachs and his daughter Mrs Tolksdorf. The interview is published here.

From left to right: Mr. Taraba / FassadenGrün, Mrs. Tolksdorf and Mr. Sachs / Sachs Nursery

Mr. Sachs, you have been cultivating mainly roses and peaches in your nursery during GDR times and in 1993 you switched to climbing plants. Where do you sell your plants?

Mr Sachs: We sell directly from the nursery and on plant markets, but we also supply wholesalers and garden centres. There is information on our homepage about the next market dates and about online shipping.


You've also been working on new clematis hybrids for years. But there are thousands already - what motivates you to breed more?

Mr. Sachs: Well, I'm a member of the International Clematis Society and I've been around half the world, looking around and seeing clematis everywhere. Of course the topic is interesting to me and i always thought: In this or that direction you could breed something else! And then you try, there's ambition involved. The breakthrough came at the Bundesgartenschau 2005 in Munich where we got a medal for our new varieties and suddenly the demand was there. We were supposed to deliver thousands of plants and were hardly up to the onslaught!


How are clematis bred? Is it possible to formulate breeding goals that you pursue?

Mr. Sachs: The starting point is always an already existing variety which you want to develop by breeding. You take away the pollen of the plant to make it a mother plant. Pollen dust from another plant is then applied by a brush (the "father" variety).

Mrs. Tolksdorf: ... the procedure can also be less purposeful by letting nature do its thing. The mother plant without pollen is put in the neighborhood of other clematis, and pollen dust will already come from somebody, by wind or bee....

Mr. Sachs: .... Yes, unclear fatherhood is also possible, just as in real life!

Mrs. Tolksdorf: The mother plant produces seeds which are then sown. After 2 years the small seedlings are sorted according to their growth behavior. The weak ones are sorted out and are composted, while the stronger ones get to grow on. Some will reveal themselves to be prone to disease and will also be sorted out. A year later, the remaining plants will flower the first time, which is the third selection moment with the question: What looks interesting and new? Is there something here that has never been seen before in clematis hybrids? The ultimate yellow clematis, longed for by all breeders? Only some special plants are cultivated further, all others are composted, such as those that only have 4 instead of 6 or 8 petals and aren't looking full and round...

Mr. Sachs: We kept a clematis in it just because my granddaughter wanted it, and it even got a name. Sometimes there are only useless things, then everything goes to the compost and the work was for nothing... The selected clematis are watched for years: Does the flower color remain constant or does it change? That would be a no-go. Do the plants get mildew? It is also important for us that the new varieties are suitable for container culture, that the flowers form low and not somewhere on long shoots far above the trellis. Only after 10 years, when the abundance and duration of the flowers have been thoroughly tested, should the breeder go public with a new variety and register it in England.


Sounds like a lot of work and little time off. Can you confirm that?

Mr. Sachs: That's right, we never really have much time in the nursery. That's why we do the breeding on the side. But it is always exciting when beautiful new varieties are created.


The climate here in Saxony is harsh, how is that for the clematis?

Mrs. Tolksdorf: Clematis naturally thrive better in mild coastal climates, on the German Baltic Sea or in Estonia. But Saxony as a breeding place also has its advantages for breeding: Plants that come through our local selection have known real winters. They are robust and hardened!


Who breeds new Clematis in Germany? besides you?

Mr. Sachs: There is only one company, Westphal, that I am aware of. In England, Estonia and Holland there is a lot more breeding being done.


It is well known that roses and vines are often sold under fantasy names in the garden markets. They are then called "Paradise Rose", "Yellow Table Grape" or something else funny to conceal their origin. Is this also possible with your clematis? Is it possible that a customer buys a Sachs Clematis and does not know the true variety name?

Mr. Sachs: Yes that sometimes happens. We are more than happy when retailers sell the varieties we have bred under their real names!


You are cultivating many well-known clematis and climbing plants in addition to your own. What about the plant soil, when peat is so scarce and its extraction is ecologically questionable?

Mr. Sachs: That is hardly a concern, because we produce our own soil from compost and with as little peat as possible! The soil is steamed on the farm to kill the weed seeds.


How do your customers choose a clematis?

Mrs. Tolksdorf: It depends. Many ask for advice, some see a particular flower, and this is the plant they want. Others look for the ultimate, miracle clematis: large, multicolored, filled, permanently blooming, top-healthy and evergreen - of course, there is no such thing. Some also do not want to deal with the pruning, for them we recommend our easy-care perennial clematis.


Is this a new trend?

Mr. Sachs: Yes, in addition to the clematis hybrids there is an increase in demand for the small-flowered varieties. Those are interesting for exposed, warm facades, where the large-flowered hybrids hardly stand a chance. Perennial clematis, on the other hand, are ideal as neighbors for climbing roses!


Mr. Sachs, a look into the future: You are 77 years old - how do you see the future of your company?

Mr. Sachs: The market environment for small tree-nurseries is difficult and its not getting easier. We remain a family business - my daughter took over and I am now "retired"!


We wish you the best and thank you for the interview!

Sales from gardening markets
Plant sales
Logo from the tree nursery Baumschule Sachs with two clematis flowers
Baumschule Sachs Logo
Shaded cultivation area
Cultivation of climbing plants
Multiplying clematis from minuscule cuttings
Multiplying clematis
The Sachs tree nursery has won many awards for their exceptional clematis
Akebia fruit are harvested for their seeds.
Fruits of the akebia
Young aristolochia