I Love You, Honey (suckle)
By Dan Milhollin, Sonoma County Master Gardener
I can never pass by either of my two honeysuckle plants without pausing to utter, “Oh, what fragrance! What color!” These two bushes/vines -- Lonicera in botanical terms -- anchor the west-facing corners of my house. Planted between these honeysuckles are several yellow roses of different varieties that complete ‘Fragrance Row’, my main path around the house. One honeysuckle is Lonicera japonica ’Halliana’ (or Halls, the most common), a vine; the other is L. americana, a bush. Because each is limited in house-to-path ground space, I have staked these vigorous plants to iron fence rods, with wires attaching the twisted trunks to the rods. The sweet-smelling yellow and white tubular blossoms adorn the Hall’s variety -- with a pale green, very tender leaf -- from early spring to frost while L. americana, less fragrant but showier in color, demands more visual attention with larger coral and yellow-hued finger-like blossoms and a darker green, more rounded leaf. As Mother used to say, “I love all my children equally.”
Lonicera, commonly known as honeysuckle, is a part of the Caprifoliaceae, or honeysuckle family, and has many varieties. All are vines or shrubs, with the vines needing sturdy support. Most are vigorous growers with varying needs so search for the right plant for the right location. You will find that it is decidedly worth it with years of honey-ed fragrant, superb flowers that attract bees and hummingbirds for the nectar while other birds come for the berries in late summer, autumn. All of us critters just love that honeysuckle!
Both varieties in my yard are hardy in winter’s sometimes 18 degrees (on occasion) in my eastern Sonoma County location and they are evergreen, though needing a “haircut” at least every other year at my house. I Crawl beneath Hall’s to cut out undergrowth in early spring, which permits this plant to remain slim and attractive. Within a week or so of the haircut the three-feet long shoots of new growth with soon-to-follow blossoms force me to pause in awe of its honeyed fragrance.“ Yes, dear. Tonight for sure.” L. Americana’s open growth is less aggressive as this bush doesn’t tangle around itself; though because it’s cornering the house, she invites snips more frequently and is more inviting to companion plants while Hall’s likes to hog the whole space -- without a haircut, that is. Naughty but nice.
Loniceras are basically sprawling plants that, with their fragrant blossoms and attractive foliage, easily conceal less desirable landscape features such as wire fences, concrete or brick walls, hillsides susceptible to erosion, weed-laden fields and …the biggie, neighbors. Adorning large trellis structures (preferably iron or other sturdy materials) Lonicera can transform the mundane into stunning garden specimens. As a background to statuary -- perhaps the Goddess of Love or an oversized vase -- these trellised Loniceras romance formality as well as practicality. Laid back or formal, the garden planted with Loniceras is richer and more sensuous. Neglected in the spacious garden and tolerating poor soil and very little irrigation (well-established), hardy Loniceras survive the challenges. When well irrigated, though, these beauties remain sexy and rival Chanel N°5 in fragrance. They want full sun and please pass on the fertilizer – they don’t need it!
In full blossom the Hall’s variety’s long streamers can be snipped easily for powerfully fragrant “filler” for an indoor bouquet; and while only a few streamers will perfume a flower arrangement, they -- like many romances -- last only a few days. Oh, honey(suckle), let me count the ways…