There are a few clematis that flower in the winter or very early spring – Clematis cirrhosa and C. armandii come to mind. But there’s another, not often seen, C. napaulensis.
Strictly speaking, it comes from North India and southwest China as well as Nepal, and needs a sheltered spot in sun or part shade. A scrambler rather than a climber, it needs a solid host such as a large shrub or small tree as the stems quickly turn woody. The foliage is slightly reminiscent of a fern, starting light green and turning darker as the season progresses.
The flowers, which appear in late winter and early spring, are creamy white with prominent stamens and purple red anthers – at first glace they remind me of a fuchsia. They are also lightly scented.
There are two things to note with this plant. Firstly, it can get big. Some websites will claim a height of around ten feet; it can easily reach three times that. It is not a fan of heavy pruning, but any cutting back, should be immediately after the flowers fade although this will prevent you from seeing the fluffy seedheads. Perhaps cutting back only one third of the shoots each year is a happy compromise.
The second fact you should know is that this clematis goes dormant in the summer. Within a week, it suddenly sheds all its leaves and does a good impression of being dead. Do not despair, wait, and in autumn new foliage will start to appear.
As with many climbers, a good soil, roots in the shade and head in the sun suit it best. A mulch of garden compost in early spring is also beneficial, leading to a good flower display in January.