Honeysuckle – Lonicera

These are the honeysuckles of which there are shrubby as well as climbing varieties. One of the bushy kinds, Lonicera nitida, is a popular hedge-making shrub with little rounded evergreen leaves giving somewhat the appearance of box. It stands clipping well, but because of its rather thin, flexible stems is not suitable for hedges above 5 ft. in height. There is also an excellent yellow-leaved variety named Baggessen’s Gold.

Also useful are the winter-flowering shrubby honeysuckles, such as Lonicera fragrantissima, L. standishii and the hybrid between them, L. purpusii, all of which make medium-sized, open-branched shrubs with small, sweetly scented, white or cream flowers from December to March.

The climbing honeysuckles are all vigorous twiners, suitable for growing over arches, pergolas and screens. All like fairly rich soils that do not dry out seriously in summer, and most will grow in sun or shade, but the scarlet trumpet honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, is best in a sunny, warm place. Its orange-scarlet flowers are very showy but not scented, and it is semi-evergreen. So is L. japonica, usually planted in one or other of two varieties, halliana, with creamy, intensely scented flowers in summer, and aureo-reticulata, grown primarily for its gold-netted leaves.

The most popular climbing honeysuckle is the woodbine, Lonicera periclymenum, though again it is one of its varieties rather than the true species that is usually planted. The two best are belgica, known as Dutch honeysuckle, and serotina, known as late red honeysuckle. Both have handsome, reddish-purple and yellow flowers in summer, but serotina is to be preferred because of its longer flowering season.

Growth of the climbing honeysuckles is usually so intertwined that pruning is difficult, but excessive growth can be clipped after flowering or some of the older stems can be cut out.

The genus includes a range of honeysuckles, which includes Britain’s native wild plant. All climb by twining, but not all are fragrant. L. periclymenum, our wild variety, is usually grown as its cultivated varieties, which give a longer flowering period – ‘Belgica’ (or early Dutch honeysuckle) and ‘Serotina’ (or late Dutch). By planting these two you can have flowers from May to October. They are deciduous, and grow to about 4.6 m (15 ft). L. x brownii (scarlet trumpet honeysuckle) grows to about 3.6m (12 ft), and flowers from June to October.

It is evergreen in mild winter conditions, and is available in a number of striking named varieties, but it has no scent. L. caprzfolium (goat-leaved honeysuckle) is similar to our native honeysuckle, but is more vigorous, growing up to 6m (20 ft), and more heavily scented. It is sometimes found naturalized in the south. L. japonica (Japanese honeysuckle) is the most vigorous species of all, climbing sometimes to 9m (30 ft). It is evergreen, and produces fragrant flowers, but they are not as attractive as those of most of the other honeysuckles.

The Japanese honeysuckle is available in a number of named varieties. It is not as hardy as the rest, and needs a sheltered position to flower well.

Honeysuckle - Lonicera

General care: Plant deciduous climbers in the winter, evergreens in April. Honeysuckles need a good soil, with plenty of humus. They prefer light shade and, like clematis, need to have their roots well shaded. Prune only lightly – just enough to remove old wood and tidy the plant up. Too-heavy pruning will stop the plant from flowering.

Propagation: Can be raised from seed, but you have to wait years for the plants to come into flower. Better to raise from cuttings taken in the autumn, or by layering shoots bent down in October, which can be severed and planted out a year later.

Pests and diseases: Aphids can stop the plant from flowering. Spray with malathion or a systemic insecticide. Powdery mildew should be dusted with sulphur.

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