The Scent of Sweet Autumn Clematis

The Heavenly Scent of Sweet Autumn Clematis

What is that lovely scent floating in the late summer air?

It is that time of year in Ohio when the Sweet Autumn Clematis ( Clematis terniflora) begins to explode with its clouds of white blossoms tumbling over fences and arbors. I adore this plant. So many memories of Sweet Autumn scenting the air, romantic times and joyous times. Both of my children were born at this time of year and I think the timing of its blossoming reminds me of the most joyful times of my life.

My children were born in August and September and that scent reminds me of the joy of my first and second born. For what it’s worth, I was an infertility patient and never thought I would have a child, but with the miracles available to us at the time, I had my baby girl.  And much to my surprise, eight years later without any intervention at all, I had my son.

Sweet Autumn Clematis

So I will always associate that scent with my happiness from that time. Isn’t it wonderful how your mind stores up memories associated with scents. I remember going to my Mother-in-law’s house and the scent of home-made biscuits as you woke up. Mixed with the smell of coffee!

What about the scent of your baby nestled in your arms? The scent of baby powder and the funny sweet odor of breast milk.  Yes, the scent of so many things trickle through your memories.

Climbing Out of the Garden - Sweet Autumn Clematis

Sweet Autumn Clematis- A Lasting Treasure

As for this particular plant, I bought it as a potted plant for this house about sixteen years ago.  We had moved here and there were no gardens so I had to start from scratch. I knew I wanted Clematis and I have several types but the Sweet Autumn is a favorite.  I originally planted it at this same fence area after buying a potted one from the local garden center. They are relatively expensive to me since a small quart pot can cost about $15. But it might be different in your area.

Bee Magnet - Sweet Autumn Clematis

This plant is easy to grow and its foliage is pretty all year. It doesn’t seem to ever look ratty or eaten up by critters.  It will grow in sun or shade ( but not deep shade).  My SA Clematis is on the East side of the house so it gets morning sun and afternoon shade since the house casts a shadow there.  The flowers show up in August and last into September in Ohio. I think I get a lot of pleasure with almost no work on this plant.

Little sprouts will grow in your garden and can be given as gifts to friends. It can climb anything or weave through a border or hillside if you have problems getting something to grow. After frost causes it to die back, you can trim it all off and start fresh the next spring.  If you are in a zone where it doesn’t die down ( it is deciduous in Ohio ), then you may want to be cautious since it can grow rampantly.

Bees and wasps and other buzzers love this plant. It is buzzing all the time!  So I feel that I am providing nectar to my little garden pals. Birds like it too. They will nest in it if it has a good underlying structure. When I had it on an arbor behind our pool, we had pigeons nesting there each year. I like to think it was the same couple! If you leave the vine up all winter, the snow is caught in the thick branches and creates a shelter for the birds.

By the way, sweet autumn clematis will forgive you anything. I dug it up so many times and put it somewhere else. I guess I am always looking to change things. I had it on the front fence, then moved it to the back arbor, then moved it again to the front fence. But it’s just a Trooper, it keeps on coming and brings its beauty every year. It might take a year or two to get huge like this one, but it is so worth the wait!

Mother in the Sweet Autumn Clematis(1)

Sweet Autumn Clematis also reminds me of my Mother. This was one of my favorite photos of her. She always walked carefully out to the garden and urged me to come inside and rest. “You are working too hard,” she’d say. But I would explain to her that I was doing what I felt relaxed me. All gardeners know what I mean. It is just what you love to do….dig, move, prune. And plant those new ones you just brought home! 

Previously, I worked in my garden on weekends and evenings after working all day. Once I retired in 2011, I had all day to do what I wanted. But I had no idea, as we never do, that I wasn’t to be home with my Mom. I left work in April and she died suddenly in July.  She was 84 years old.  But I know she is still with me in the garden. I hear her tell me to rest. And I do.

I am not as young as I used to be!  Thanks for letting me reminisce.

UPDATE: As you know, I have moved away from this house last spring 2018 and I did not bring any of the sweet autumn clematis with me. We sold in March and it was dormant at the time, so I have no Sweet Autumn for the new house at this time. Maybe someday!


  1. Anonymous says:

    who would know why my sweet autum clematis lost it’s fragrants?

    1. The fragrance is supposed to be strongest in early morning. Have you checked different times of the day? Maybe it’s just fleeting and living near it, you just don’t notice the scent sometimes. No other ideas, sorry.

  2. Carolyn Hoyum says:

    I loved the comment “Written from the heart.” A true gardener! I am going to try pruning right now as it has finished blooming! Thanks

  3. Hi Kim,
    I have a problem with my SA Clematis and was searching on the net for a solution when chanced upon your site. Liked reading your piece on the plant, could related to it. Written from the heart. Perhaps you can help me with my problem. Its flowers have lost their scent!! After buying a SA Clematis plant I repotted it, changed the soil to a mix of cocopeat, sand and compost. The plant was damaged a bit during repotting because its stems are so delicate. It lost most of its leaves and looked bare for days. But took care of it, watered and fertilised it and it regrew its leaves but come monsoon, it was attacked by pests. The leaves had black spots and turned kind of white. Neem oil and some pesticide finally helped me get rid of the pests. Now it has grown and is full of buds but guess what those that bloom do not have any scent. Do you have any idea what could be the matter? Initially I thought maybe dry soil causes the scent to evaporate but even watering the plant does not bring the scent back. Any help will be welcome. Thanks.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. Wish I had more to offer for your problem. The only thing I might consider is that the plant is too young? Do you have much growth at all such as yards and yards of blooming branches? Also they say the fragrance is strongest in the morning and fades by evening. Have you tested different times of the day? Is it a true Sweet Autumn clematis. Some other similar clematis look almost the same but don’t have scent. Such as Clematis virginiana or Clematis vitalba. Maybe it was incorrectly labeled as SA?

      1. Hi, Kim. I have a 2 year old plant I got from a local garden store. It’s beautiful and healthy, but has no fragrance at all. Do you know of any reason for this? Thanks for any help, as I’m so disappointed about it.

        1. Does it bloom a lot? It seems like the fragrance is in the air when it blooms. Maybe it is just getting into its prime.

  4. Anna Arthur says:

    I your share your love for sweet autumn clematis, I loved the one I had but unfortunately here in middle Georgia it becomes very invasive. I got rid of my main plant 3 years ago and I still have them come up in several places in my yard. They will even reseed into grassy areas. If you want me to send you one I’ll be happy to dig one up for you.

    1. I love them too. And it is so sweet of you too offer to send me one, but that’s not necessary. I have found some from a neighbor and have planted it across a rail fence. Let’s hope it takes off!

  5. My mother-in-law has a huge one growing on a telephone pole and I’ve always meant to plant one for myself. Thanks for the reminder! The scent is heavenly, like you say, and so welcome at a time when not much else is blooming. Except for ragweed, of course.

    1. Thanks and you should plant one. In no time, you can have a huge wonderful specimen.

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