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September 13, 2011 > Pat Kite's Garden: Honeysuckle caution

Pat Kite's Garden: Honeysuckle caution

By Pat Kite

Honeysuckle scent is so lovely and romantic. But when Lonicera takes over your fence and decides on being a groundcover too, sometimes it is practical to reconsider its occupation. There are 180 different honeysuckle species, with about eight somewhat findable in this area. Goldflame, Trumpet, Redgold, Woodbine and Mandarin honeysuckle get to 15 feet high, perhaps more. Henry's, Japanese and Giant Burmese honeysuckle will meander enthusiastically to 30 feet, up, down and sidewise. Shorter, but still vigorous is the Privet honeysuckle, which only goes to three feet tall, but will extend to eight feet wide and then some.

Noted botanist John Parkinson, wrote in about 1629, that he liked honeysuckle in the wild, "yet doe I not bring it into my garden, but let it rest in his owne place, to serve the senses that travell by it or have no garden." Charles Darwin noted that honeysuckle could climb to that top of a young oak, coiling around it so tightly that the vine makes a deep indentation in the bark of the tree. Honeysuckle got its Latin moniker from Adam Lonitzer or Lonicer, a German botanist who, in 1557, published a text on natural history.

How did the honeysuckle moniker come about? At one time people believed that bees were able to get honey directly from flowers. They certainly do visit the fragrant varieties, as do hummingbirds. Be aware, however, that not all varieties have the renowned sweet aroma; some are evergreen and some deciduous, losing their leaves in winter. Your vibrant green-covered fence can therefore be a dull brown vine cascade during the winter months.

Evergreens include Henry's, Giant Burmese, Japanese, Trumpet and often Woodbine. To grow successfully, most honeysuckles like their roots in shade but otherwise are quite sun lovers. However Henry's [L. henryi], privet [L. pileata] and Redgold [L. x telllmanniana] tolerate partial shade well. You do have to water semi-regularly and you have to give the climbers something quite sturdy to climb on if you want them to grow upward. Expect to shear them back when they get too enthusiastic.

In more modern times, botanical editor Diana Wells wrote, "Japanese honeysuckle is a menace, but on the banks of busy highways its scent even overwhelms the stench of exhaust." I normally don't go into the difficulties that can be expected from a plant, but I keep seeing good folk buying the young vines at garden centers because of the darling white, pink, yellow or red fragrant tubular flowers. Many years ago, I had to rip mine out several times as they kept springing back.

For a more serene viewpoint, garden author Alan Lacy wrote that children, and some grownups too, "find the mere scent of honeysuckle enough to make them happy, to glow with a sense of well being and of belonging to the world." Honeysuckle is the birthday flower for 25 November and symbolizes the bond of love, faithfulness and domestic happiness."

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