Species: L. fragrantissima
Type: Deciduous shrub
Propagation: Seed, greenwood cuttings in summer or hardwood cuttings in autumn
Native to: China
This plant of the month is not particularly spectacular, nor is it colourful or unusual. But as I lay convalescing from surgery on my feet (both at the same time, that’s pretty awkward and there is a slight possibility that I didn’t think this through) in the back bedroom overlooking the garden, the honeysuckle is displaying its tiny bell flowers at the right height for me to see. And it is not only the flowers that I can see: the whole climbing bush is buzzing with life. Apparently the bees didn’t get the memo about the winter being here. They have altogether forgotten to hibernate. It has been so mild… But on this sunny early February day, food is still scarce. The winter honeysuckle is a godsend for these insomniacs. As the winters are growing milder, the winter flowering plants in our gardens are becoming more useful and even necessary to the survival of some of our wild residents.
And it is not only the insects who like it. Only within a couple of hours it has been visited and visibly enjoyed by some grooming Blue Tits, a pair of courting pigeons, a lonely dove, a sunbathing blackbird, a wren pretending to be a little mouse and a few sparrows who were just hanging around. Perhaps they feel safe in the bushy tangle of slender, spreading branches or perhaps they really enjoy the strong fragrance that comes from the tiny flowers.
Lonicera fragrantissima is supposed to be a bush but this one forgot its job description. Perhaps under the bad influence of two climbing honeysuckles planted in the same bed, it has grown beyond the bush state and is sprawling up and over the pergola, happily mixing with its climbing buddies, not only the two honeysuckles (‘Sweet Sue’ and ‘Mint Crisp’), but also two passionflowers (caerulea and ‘Lavender Lady’) as well as three roses: the beautifully delicate and elegant ‘Jasmina’, the stripy flamboyant ‘Calypso’ and a small nameless wild thing that planted itself without permission and covers the pergola, the wall and the arch with small white roses followed by thousands of bright red hips. The main stem (trunk?) is rooted in a crack in the concrete path and the whole installation comes from this minuscule opportunist seed. It shows such enthusiasm in its cheerful invasion that we never had the heart to get rid of it. The sunbathing blackbird I saw today was from time to time stretching his neck to gobble up one of the rosehips.
If your winter garden lacks flowers, this is a very good candidate for these difficult spots snubbed by fussier plants. The birds and bees will be grateful and they will reward you with hours of entertainment should you find yourself in need of cheering up…