(Originally published in The Plantsman, June 2005)
Spreading inland from a four mile stretch of beautiful Black Sea coastline, close to the Crimean town of Yalta, The State Nikitsky Botanic Gardens, founded in 1812, by the Swedish born botanist, Christian Steven, cover an area of 1100 hectares and contain 50,000 species and cultivated plants from around the world.
It is here that the history of clematis breeding in the Ukraine, and in fact the whole of the Soviet Union, begins.
In 1951, following two years’ service in the Soviet Army, a young man by the name of Alexander Nikolayevitch Volosenko-Valenis walked through the gates to begin his first day as a gardener. Born in the ancient Belo-Russian city of Polotsk in 1928, Volosenko-Valenis was soon to embark on a clematis breeding and selection programme intended to produce a new generation of clematis cultivars tailored to suit the Crimean conditions.
Far from being unique, these conditions were the testing, and to many British gardeners the all too familiar, combination of a heavy clay soil and summer drought. The susceptibility of cultivars to fungal problems, in the form of clematis wilt and mildew, was another problem at Yalta and one which Volosenko-Valenis was determined to address in his breeding work. Cultivars belonging to the late large-flowered Group (formerly known as the Jackmanii Group) offered the highest levels of resistance to disease and drought in Yalta, so these formed the basis for initial hybridisation, along with other dependable English and French cultivars from the 19th Century.
In 1957 and 1958, whilst still working in the gardens, Volosenko-Valenis introduced five new clematis cultivars, all open pollinated seedlings of C. ‘Jackmanii’. ‘Metamorfoza’, deep brownish purple fading to bluish violet, ‘Kapriz’ (Caprice), deep blue edged in brownish purple, ‘Lunnyi Svet’ (meaning Moonlight) with its lavender blue flowers, ‘Nezhdannyi’ (Unexpected), pale violet, and ‘Sirenevaia Zvezda’ (Lilac Star) were to start a chain reaction that would change the face of clematis across the world, forever.
In 1959 Volosenko-Valenis moved on to the Dendrology and Ornamental Plant Department as a junior assistant and the following year saw the introduction of the pale blue, ‘Vesenee Oblako’ (Spring Cloud) as well as the sixth of his ‘Jackmanii’ seedlings. ‘Nikitskii Lazurnyi’ (Nikita’s Azure), with large violet flowers, fading to Prussian blue, was the last open pollinated seedling to be selected, the move towards deliberate hybridisation having been made in 1958.
This move coincided with a ground-breaking collaboration between Volosenko-Valenis and Margarita Alekseyevna Beskaravainaya. Although records suggest that Professor Beskaravainaya, a graduate of Voronezh State University, began working at The State Nikitsky Botanic Gardens in 1963, research indicates that she was, in actual fact, working alongside Volosenko-Valenis in the raising and selection of ‘Nezhdannyi’, which dates their relationship to pre 1958.
In 1961, the second introduction from the Volosenko-Valenis/Beskaravainaya partnership was unveiled in the form of ‘Dymchatyi’ (Smoky). This was the result of probably the ultimate clematis pedigree, namely ‘Jackmanii’ × ‘Nelly Moser’, and produced a free flowering cultivar with pale, smoky blue flowers from May to September. Flowering for the first time in 1961 and named the following year, Clematis ‘Anastasiia Anisimova’ (in honour of a work colleague) was a Volosenko-Valenis cultivar in pale violet blue, derived from ‘Candida’ × C. × durandii. This interesting cross (which was to be repeated in subsequent years) combined the large flowers of C. ‘Candida’, raised by Lemoine of Nancy in 1862 (C. lanuginosa × C. patens), with the shorter semi-herbaceous habit of C. × durandii (C. integrifolia × C. lanuginosa, from Durand Frères of Lyon circa 1870).
Once again, in 1965, the latest Volosenko-Valenis/Beskaravainaya introduction, ‘Nikitskii Rozovyi’ (Nikita’s Pink), featured ‘Candida’ as the seed parent, this time with ‘Ville de Lyon’ (Morel of Lyon, 1899) supplying the pollen.
1966 saw three new introductions, ‘Sinee Plamia’ (Blue Flame) from ‘Gipsy Queen’ × ‘Candida’, ‘Luther Burbank’ (named in honour of the world renowned plant selectionist from the USA), the result of ‘Jackmanii’ treated to a cocktail of pollen from C. texensis, C. montana and ‘Candida’, and ‘Iadviga Valenis’ (named in memory of Volosenko- Valenis’ mother), ‘Candida’ × ‘Ville de Lyon’. These were raised by Volosenko-Valenis in 1958, 1959 and 1961 respectively and were to mark the end of an era for the State Nikitsky Botanic Gardens.
Alexander Volosenko-Valenis died on June 22nd 1967, aged just 38.
Professor Beskaravainaya, who later wrote that, “Alexander Volosenko-Valenis was an outstanding researcher and inspired scientist, a unique personality and gifted selectionist who laid the base for all subsequent clematis studies in the Soviet Union”, was to devote the rest of her life to carrying on his work. Many cultivars raised by Volosenko-Valenis between 1959 and 1963 had flowered and been selected but not named at the time of his death.
Over the next four years Professor Beskaravainaya named and introduced most of those outstanding, beginning in 1967, with ‘Elegiia’ (Meaning Elegy), a deep purple cultivar resulting from ‘Candida’ × ‘Jackmanii’ in 1960, and named in memory of Volosenko-Valenis. Also in 1967 another cultivar resulting from ‘Jackmanii’ × ‘Nelly Moser’, raised five years previously was given the name ‘Nikolai Rubtsov’, in honour of a Russian Professor of Botany. This remains one of my favourite Nikitsky introductions, having large flowers of silvery pink edged in brighter pink. The beauty of this cultivar is its ability to act like either parent depending on how it is pruned. If pruned hard each spring, it will act like ‘Jackmanii’, flowering abundantly from July to September in the UK. If left unpruned, however, it will produce a flush of larger flowers as early as May, before settling down to flower through the summer.
Heterosis (hybrid vigour) was studied in great detail, over many years at Yalta, with the interesting conclusion that the most marked increase in vigour came through crossing species that originated in different geographical locations. Examples of this phenomenon included excellent results from combining Asian species with those from Europe.
One such cultivar is clematis × jouiniana ‘Bryzgi Moria’, one of only two interspecific hybrids raised during Volosenko-Valenis’ time at Yalta, that were destined to be introduced. A hybrid of C. tubulosa × C. vitalba, the beautifully named, ‘Bryzgi Moria’ (Sea Spray), raised in 1963, bears masses of small white flowers, tinged with blue and was named by Beskaravainaya in 1968. In this example, heterosis was noted in the new cultivar’s ability to produce far more flowers than either parent, rather than its ability to outgrow C. vitalba in terms of height and spread.
Although introductions from interspecific hybridisation were rare at Yalta, it was a subject that was comprehensively studied and documented. Volosenko-Valenis discovered that clematis could be divided into three groups according to the structure of the root system and seeds, and the way in which new shoots are produced. These groups were then divided into subgroups according to the morphology of their flowers and foliage.
This work, carried on by Beskaravainaya, proved that the best results were obtained by concentrating on the combination of species with similar shoot formation. During these experiments, over 500 pairings took place, more than 300 of which provided favourable results. The best of these were found to have been produced by combining plants which shared the same type of shoot development. The biological resemblance of parents, in terms of shoot production, combined with differing geographical origins became the formula for success for future introductions. ‘Vechernii Zvon’ (Evening Bells, named after a Russian folk song), is an example of this theory in practice. This cultivar was the result of C. fusca (from the coastal areas surrounding the Sea of Okhotsk) × C. lanuginosa (China). Both belong to the same biological group, whilst their native environments are quite different.
The same cross that had earlier produced ‘Anastasiia Anisimova’, C. ‘Candida’ × C. × durandii, this time produced an intense blue cultivar which fades to a bronzey grey. ‘Fantaziia’ raised in 1959 was named by Beskaravainaya ten years later. Whilst most hybridisers tend to raise a lot of new cultivars using their own selections as parents, the modest Volosenko-Valenis and Beskaravainaya only did so on two occasions during more than 30 years of breeding work at Yalta. One such cultivar has become their most well-known introduction. Raised by Volosenko-Valenis in 1961, ‘Alionushka’ (originally transliterated incorrectly as ‘Aljonushka’) was the result of crossing the herbaceous C. integrifolia with the 1958 Nikitsky cultivar ‘Nezhdannyi’. Named by Beskaravainaya in 1969, to commemorate her daughter’s 30th birthday, the appeal of this clematis is, I am certain, the fact that it is as unusual as it is beautiful. ‘Alionushka’ is herbaceous in habit and has inherited its inability to climb from C. integrifolia. The shape of the flowers which are nodding, rather fleshy, flared bells is also mainly derived from the seed parent. What it gets from ‘Nezhdannyi’ (a seedling of ‘Jackmanii’) is its vigour and flower size, and it is the combination of the large, pale pink nodding flowers on a vigorous scrambling plant that makes it one of those clematis that you just must have. Endorsing its suitability as a garden plant in the UK, ‘Alionushka’ was awarded a British Clematis Society Certificate of Merit in 1998, following a three year trial. In my garden ‘Alionushka’ has always performed faultlessly without signs of clematis wilt or mildew. This is no accident.
Possibly the most important discovery made at State Nikitsky Botanic Gardens was made in collaboration with the Department of Plant Biochemistry and published in the paper, “Antifungal Substances of Representatives of the Family of Ranunculaceae and the New Areas of Using Them” in 1989. Professor Beskaravainaya, working alongside L.P. Davidiuk and G.F. Vshivkova, concluded that many clematis species are fungicidally active, making them extremely resistant to fungal attack and that fungal resistance is passed on to their progeny.
Most of the species in groups 1 and 2 of their biological classification proved to be fungicidally active whilst the members of group 3 showed a low level of activity, or no activity at all. During their in-depth studies it was found that resistance levels were highest in cultivars whose seed parent was a species. Further tests proved this point by confirming that hybrids from C. integrifolia × ‘Candida’, were fungicidally active, as opposed to those raised from ‘Candida’ × C. integrifolia which were not.
Mildew had always been a problem to clematis at Yalta, mainly due to its climate being similar to that of The Algarve, and this led to extreme testing for resistance to the causal fungus. In an area known as the “immunity test grounds”, new selections were subjected to deliberate infection from the worst affected cultivars and species, such as C. viorna and C. texensis. The valuable research into fungicidal activity and its inheritance allowed over 50 clematis with high mildew resistance or immunity to be selected for introduction or use in future breeding.
Following the 1969 introduction of the double flowered Beskaravainaya cultivar ‘Makhrovyi’ (which actually means Double), and ‘Iunost’ (meaning Youth) in 1970, three more of Volosenko-Valenis’ selections from 1962 and 1963 were named by Beskaravainaya. The introduction, in 1970, of ‘Iubileinyi-70’, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Lenin’s birth (‘Blue Gem’ × ‘Jackmanii’), ‘Kosmicheskaia Melodiia’, meaning Cosmic Melody, in celebration of the first cosmonauts (‘Gipsy Queen’ × ‘Jackmanii Alba’) and ‘Balerina’ (‘Candida’ × ‘Jackmanii Alba’) left only two Volosenko-Valenis cultivars yet to be introduced.
In the meantime, Beskaravainaya introduced a barrage of new cultivars, raised by her since Volosenko-Valenis’ death in 1967. ‘Nadezhda’ (‘Candida’ & ‘Lawsoniana’ × ‘Nelly Moser’), a beautiful two-tone pink cultivar, was named after Beskaravainaya’s sister in 1971. Also named that year were ‘Biriuzinka’ (Turquoise) and ‘Saluit Pobedy’ (Salute to Victory), both the result of ‘Jackmanii’ × a mixture of pollen from ‘Nelly Moser’ and ‘Lawsoniana’, with an additional dash of ‘Candida’ in the case of ‘Biriuzinka’.
‘Lesnaia Opera’ (Forest Opera) named in 1972 was the result of ‘Ville de Lyon’ × ‘Candida’, with the reverse of that cross being responsible for ‘Aleksandrit’ and the pure white ‘Rassvet’ (Daybreak). Named for the Russian spelling of the gem alexandrite, some say that ‘Aleksandrit’ has a double meaning, also honouring the late Alexander Volosenko-Valenis. ‘Ville de Lyon’ was, once again, used as the pollen parent of Beskaravainaya’s next offering, ‘Ai-Nor’, named after the heroine from N.Z. Biriukov’s “The Waters of Naryn”. A home grown hybrid of ‘Candida’ × ‘Jackmanii Alba’ was recorded as being the seed parent.
The free flowering ‘Bal Tsvetov’, bearing pale blue flowers with a subtle mauve bar, was introduced in 1972 and named after ‘the ball of the flowers’ from Tchaikovsky’s ballet, The Nutcracker. This cultivar was the result of pre-treating seed from ‘Lawsoniana’ with, the extremely hazardous, mutagenous chemical agent known as colchicine. This use of mutagenesis was a radical departure from the more traditional breeding methods employed at Yalta and was to be repeated in later years, in collaboration with the head of the Department of Radiation Biology, N.G. Chemarin. At this time, the remaining, jointly raised, cultivars of Volosenko-Valenis and Beskaravinaya were named and introduced. ‘Krymskaia Volna’ (Crimean Wave), the result of ‘Lunnyi Svet’ × (‘Nelly Moser’ × ‘Lawsoniana’), was named for its two-tone blue flowers, and the immensely vigorous white flowered hybrid of C. potaninii × C. vitalba; ‘Paul Farges’ (originally named C. × fargesioides), named in honour of the French missionary and plant collector. This cultivar has become very popular throughout Europe. It has the informal charm possessed by clematis species such as C. vitalba with much larger, more garden-worthy flowers.
‘Pamiat Serdtsa’ (Memory of the Heart), although raised in 1967, was not introduced until 1973. This stunning plant has slowly followed in the footsteps of ‘Alionushka’, gaining the recognition it deserves as a truly superb garden plant. The flowers are of a similar shape to those of ‘Alionushka’, but the colour is a deeper, purplish lilac. The flowers have a satin texture and are produced very freely from June to September. Such are the similarities between these two cultivars that one might suspect that they resulted from the same cross. This is not the case although, if we break down the parentage of each we can see that they do share the presence of C. integrifolia, C. lanuginosa and (probably) C. viticella in their make-up. ‘Alionushka’, from C. integrifolia × ‘Nezhdannyi’, can be broken down into: C. integrifolia × ((‘Atrorubens’ × C. lanuginosa) × ?), ‘Atrorubens’ belonging to the Viticella Group. ‘Pamiat Serdtsa’ is the result of ‘Intermedia Rosea’ ×‘Candida’, which equates to; ((C. integrifolia × C. viticella) × ?) × (C. lanuginosa × C. patens).
‘Olimpiada-80’, raised in 1968, was named in 1973 to commemorate the forthcoming 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics. This free flowering cultivar with pinkish red flowers, originated from ‘Madame Van Houtte’ × mixed pollen from ‘Madame Édouard André & ‘Candida’. The reddish purple ‘Slava’ of unrecorded parentage also saw its introduction in 1973.
In 1974, the treatment of C. angustifolia (formerly C. hexapetala) seeds with ethyleneimine solution produced C. angustifolia ‘Zagadka’ (Enigma). This mutant cultivar, which was the first chemically induced cultivar to be raised in the Soviet Union, is strikingly different from the white flowered species, being much more vigorous and with much larger flowers in shades of blue and purple.
In 1975, three more of Beskaravainaya’s cultivars were to be introduced. ‘Sadko’ (the name of a Russian fairy tale) with red flowers, deeper along the centre of the sepals, and ‘Priznanie’ (Acknowledgement) both being of unknown parentage. The third, ‘Christian Steven’, was a 1969 raised hybrid of ‘Gipsy Queen’ × ‘Lawsoniana’ and was named to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the founder and first director of the State Nikitsky Botanic Gardens. Its large flowers of deep lavender blue, tinged red along the centre of the sepals, are freely produced and fade pleasantly as they mature.
The ‘Jackmanii’ × ‘Nelly Moser’ combination that had previously resulted in ‘Dymchatyi’ and ‘Nikolai Rubtsov’ was repeated in 1968 and 1970 to produce two more excellent cultivars for introduction in 1976 and 1977. ‘Zolotoi Iubilei’, (Golden Jubilee) celebrating the golden wedding anniversary of Professor Beskaravainaya’s parents, produces pale mauve pink flowers, which are quite often semi-double. ‘Ialtinskii Etiud’ (Yalta Study) has the same combination of colours as ‘Nikolai Rubtsov’ but in reverse, silvery pink edging the deeper mauve pink sepals.
Two more ‘Candida’ seedlings feature among the introductions of 1977. ‘Chaika’ (Seagull), with beautiful deeply furrowed white flowers was the result of pollination with a mixture of pollen from ‘Jackmanii Alba’ & ‘Hybrida Sieboldii’ and was named in honour of Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova, the first female cosmonaut and pilot of Vostok 6 in 1963. ‘Alpinist’ (Mountaineer) bearing beautiful pale blue flowers resulted from ‘Candida’ × mixed pollen from ‘Jackmanii’ and C. viticella. With me, ‘Alpinist’ really lives up to its name, climbing high very quickly each spring before bursting into a wall of flowers that last all summer long. The third introduction that year was ‘Legenda Gor’ (Mountain Legend), a seedling of unknown parentage with greyish-violet flowers which fade to smoky blue as they mature.
1978 witnessed a further four introductions. ‘Kozetta’ (‘Candida’ × C. integrifolia), raised 10 years earlier and named after a Victor Hugo character, has violet blue flowers with a paler bar and recurving tips to each sepal. ‘Kamennyi Tsvetok’ (‘Barbara Jackman’ and ‘Nelly Moser’ × ‘The President’, raised in 1973), meaning Stone Flower, and the title of a Prokofiev ballet, bears bluish purple flowers with a red bar. ‘Serenada Kryma’ (‘Lawsoniana’ × mixed pollen of ‘Jackmanii’, ‘Biriuzinka’ & ‘Candida’, 1973), meaning Crimean Serenade, produces masses of mid-blue flowers with a silvery blue bar. ‘Aliosha’, of unknown parentage, produces large flowers with violet sepals that fade to silvery blue at the base and was named after Professor Beskaravainaya’s father and grandson.
The 1959 combination of ‘Candida’ × C. × durandii that resulted in the introduction of ‘Anastasiia Anisimova’ in 1962 and ‘Fantaziia’ in 1969, was repeated by Beskaravainaya in 1967 to produce the gorgeous ‘Sizaia Ptitsa’ (meaning Blue Bird), which was introduced in 1979. The large, semi-nodding flowers of this herbaceous clematis are deep violet purple, with twisted sepals surrounding the prominent greyish-purple anthers. A great addition to any garden, I am sure this cultivar will become extremely popular as it becomes better known in the UK.
Another herbaceous cultivar, ‘Sinii Dozhd’ (meaning, and often sold under the tradename of, BLUE RAIN), was also introduced in 1979. Although its parentage is not recorded, it closely resembles members of the Diversifolia Group (cultivars derived from C. integrifolia × C. viticella), producing semi-herbaceous growth and nodding flowers which are intermediate, in shape, between the two parents. In the case of ‘Sinii Dozhd’, the flowers are a good deep blue in colour and have a lovely scent (adding again to the suspicion of C. integrifolia involvement). Flowering freely throughout the summer, this is an ideal choice for scrambling through shrubs or perennials in the border.
The early 1980s saw the introduction of ‘Polskaia Varshavianka’ (Warsaw Lady), which had been raised in 1977 from ‘Gipsy Queen × ‘Jackmanii’, ‘Belyi Tanets’ (C. angustifolia × C. recta) raised in 1983, ‘Chekhonte’ (named in honour of Chekov), lilac-pink, of unknown parentage, as was the claret; ‘Vechnyi Zov’ (Eternal Mission) and the inky-blue; ‘Iuzhnaia Noch’ (Southern Night).
1982 saw the collaboration of Professor Beskaravainaya with V.D. Rabotiagov and E.A. Doniushkina resulting in the introduction of ‘Zvezdograd’ (City of Stars). Like the 1969 introduction C. angustifolia ‘Zagadka’, this cultivar was the result of mutagenic techniques. Raised from treated seed of C. ispahanica (usually bearing cream flowers), C. ispahanica ‘Zvezdograd’ produces yellow flowers with yellow stamens and pale mauve flowers with matching stamens on the same plant.
Further work with Doniushkina produced several new introductions prior to Beskaravainaya’s retirement in 1988. ‘Gnomik’ (Integrifolia Group), raised in 1980, bears small greyish-blue flowers edged in blue, and Pesni Kol’tsova’, raised in 1983 has purplish-blue sepals, edged in lilac-blue with violet veining. ‘Karadag’, raised in 1984 shares its name with the Karadag Reserve (situated on the coastline, close to Yalta and containing stunning natural features dating back to the Jurassic period) and produces small purple-violet flowers. ‘Zvezda Krima’ (Crimean Star) from 1985, has semi-nodding flowers of purple, suffused with red at the edges.
Continuing the work of Beskaravainaya, after her retirement, Doniushkina introduced the large purple-violet flowered ‘Lebedianaia Pesnia’ in 1989.
Sadly, on July 12th 2003, following a long illness, Professor Beskaravainaya passed away, leaving behind her, a wealth of new cultivars, scientifically raised and lovingly named. Her vast knowledge has been shared with clematis enthusiasts and breeders the world over, through her many books (in her native language) and articles translated into English and published in the journals of The British Clematis Society and The International Clematis Society.
The effects of this shared knowledge will last for ever, inspiring future generations of breeders and amateur enthusiasts to infuse reliability and disease resistance into future cultivars. The work started by Alexander Volosenko-Valenis and Margarita Beskaravainaya, at the State Nikitsky Botanic Gardens, continues to this day, breeding and selecting cultivars suited to The Crimea and the rest of the world.
The International Clematis Register & Checklist 2002.
The International Clematis Register & Checklist 2002, First Supplement 2004.
Clematis On The Web, http://www.clematis.hull.ac.uk
The Clematis, journal of The British Clematis Society. 1991-Present day.
Clematis International, journal of The International Clematis Society. 1988-Present day.
The Genus Clematis, Magnus Johnson. 2001. (Eng. Translation of Släktet Klematis, 1997.)
The Effect of Heterosis of the Interspecific Hybrids of Clematis. Beskaravainaya, M.A.,
Shakhbasov, V.G. Proceedings of the Nikitsky Botanic Garden, Yalta. 1984. 92. Pp 62-70.
The Selection of Clematis in Crimea. Volosenko-Valenis, A.N.
Proceedings of the Nikitsky Botanic Garden, Yalta. 1971. 44. Pp. 127-151.
Antifungal Substances of Representatives of the Family of Ranunculaceae and the New Areas of Using Them. Davidiuk, L.P., Beskaravainaya, M.A., Hort, T.P., Vshivkova, G.F. Proceedings of the State Nikitsky Botanic Garden, Yalta. 1989. 109. Pp 53-62.
Clematis Breeders & Their Clematis – A.N. Volosenko-Valenis. Beskaravainaya, M.A. Clematis International 2002. p. 13
The author would like to thank Ken Woolfenden.