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October 10, 2006 > Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle

by Pat Kite

If you have a fence you can't stand looking at, consider honeysuckle.   This climbing plant will eventually clamber around and over anything in its path. You'll have to work to keep it off the ground, but once it starts up, upward it goes.  Sun is its friend.  As a fence cover, you will either love it, or wonder why you started it in the first place.

There are about 180 honeysuckle or Lonicera species, or types.  We usually see L. Halliana, or Japanese honeysuckle more commonly called "Hall's honeysuckle.  But there are also Italian, Etruscan, Chinese, "late Dutch," goldflame, and scarlet honeysuckles.  Less commonly seen are the honeysuckle shrubs ranging in height from 4 feet to 15 feet high.

Honeysuckles have the most marvelous scent, particularly in the evening. But the profuse small flowers, whose shape was compared by long-ago botanist Gerard to "the nose of an elephant," are open all day and eve.  They attract hummingbirds, honeybees and butterflies galore.   Flower color can be ivory, yellow and white, pink or coral-pink.  Flowers are followed by black, dark blue, red or scarlet berries good for winter bird snacks.

Hall's honeysuckle sprigs first entered the United States in 1862, courtesy of an American physician, Dr. George Hall.  Hall was famous for opening a Hospital for Seamen in Shanghai, China. Upon arrival, this enthusiastic vine was very carefully nurtured, and considered a treasure to be prized.  After it spread a bit much, the prize aspect pooped.  But the scent is still fantastic.  The term "honeysuckle" came from the ancient belief that bees sucked honey from the flowers.   They visit to collect pollen for the hive, a good enough activity.

Honeysuckle was once called "woodbine." In long-ago Elizabethan gardens it was used as a shade for covered walks and paths.  When it became thick enough, lovers would find shelter and hiding places among the thick twining leaves.  Honeysuckle, or woodbine, is still considered an emblem of affection and faithfulness.  In "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Shakespeare wrote so prettily:  "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows.  Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, With sweet musk-roses and with Eglantine."  Doesn't it just make you want to rush over there and saunter along in the canopied shade?

What do you need to grow honeysuckle?  Not much besides mostly sun, average soil, enough water to get it started, and clipping back once in a while. Since there are evergreen and deciduous varieties, i.e. those where the leaves meander off during the winter, check the label when you buy.  You can, so I've read, grow them from seed in the fall.  Should you see a variety you like at a friend's garden, you can take cuttings now.

If you are a fan of Civil War history, as so many are, you may know that honeysuckle, or woodbine, was placed on the graves of valiant soldiers.  An 1870 song went:  "There go where the woodbine twineth/When spring is bright and fair,/And to the soldier's resting place/Some little tribute bear."

If you love plants, as I do, they carry a history lesson with every leaf and flower into your pretty garden.

 
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