Monday, February 18, 2008

Winter Honeysuckle

{{{This post was written for my website A Southern Garden}}}


Winter Honeysuckle
Lonicera fragrantissima

Mature Height: 6-8 ft.
Growth Rate: Fast
Soil: Average, well-drained
Light Requirements: Sun/partial shade
Foliage: 1"-3" yellow-green leaves appear after flowers, darkening with age, semi-evergreen in milder climates
Flower/Fruit: Small, creamy white flowers appear in late winter. Red berries appear in spring.
Fragrance: Intense
Hardy to Zone 4

Imagine this - you are walking through a cold, barren, winter landscape and all of a sudden the air is filled with a strong lemony fragrance. You have discovered winter honeysuckle, a delightful old-fashioned shrub that has the distinct characteristic of blooming when most plants are dormant.

I first became aware of this shrub at the university where I work. There is a large hedge of them planted on campus and one day, just like I described above, I noticed the fragrance before knowing where it originated.

A sprawling and leggy shrub, it is quite indistinct until the powerful fragrance commands attention in January and February. Even the tiny flowers are not that noticeable in appearance but the fragrance can be detected from long distances.

Winter honeysuckle is very easy to grow in average well-drained soil. Like most plants, it will not tolerate wet conditions. It performs well in either full sun or partial shade. It grows rapidly and quickly attains a mature height. It can be invasive in optimal conditions so be aware of this. This is a good shrub for woodland gardens and makes a good hedge. The budded branches can be cut and brought inside for winter arrangements.

16 comments:

  1. How wonderful to be hit in mid winter with a sweet fragrance. It will be added to the 'want' list.

    Frances at Faire Garden

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  2. Philip
    We seem to admire the same shrubs! I am now waiting for the Star Magnolia to bloom (if it survived the drought). We are new to the south so I am still in awe of how early some of these things bloom and what I can grow.
    Kate

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  3. Katy, I have a star magnolia and it is hit-and-miss with me. Some years the frost gets it but when it does bloom, it is beautiful!

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  4. OOoh, I could use some winter fragrance right about now--the houseplants I have are all unscented, it seems, but their flowers are helping to keep me cheerful most days. Mostly, I need some serious dirt therapy, so thanks for this Phillip.
    There's one advantage to my climate; here, Magnolia stellata always does fine, because the coolness keeps it from trying to bloom too early, and the frost has never gotten it in the few years it's been planted. Hopefully that will be the same for the lovely 'Anna' I put in last year.

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  5. I was at the Bham botanical gardens earlier this week for a class. People came in talking about how good the winter honeysuckle smelled just outside the door. After class was over, I went out to sniff it... I could barely smell it at all! I'm not sure if it diminishes late in the day, or if that's just a scent my nose can't pick up.

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  6. Because of this post, I bought this shrub today. I found it at a nursery that has just reopened for the spring. You are right - the fragrance is wonderful. I can't wait for this to grow and have more flowers. Thanks for bringing this plant to our attention.

    Jan Always Growing

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  7. You started a new blog?

    Congratulations on the magazine story!

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  8. Jan, I hope you like it! I think you will.

    Chuck, it's not a new blog. That is my old website that I've had since 1997!

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  9. Hi, First time visitor to your blog. Anything blog with dirt and therapy in the name has to be visited.

    It is a lovely fragrance and my neighbor has a few bushes so we get
    to borrow them.

    Gail
    clayandlimestone

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  10. ps. I don't mean anything blog, I mean any blog!

    Gail

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  11. Hi Phillip,

    Henry Mitchell talked about this shrub years ago. It sounded interesting when I lived in Illinois and your post makes winter honeysuckle sound like a great plant. With no 'inconspicuous part' to this small yard and no edge-of-woodland available, I may have to find someone else who grows it and just visit ;-]
    My sweet olives are still blooming so I do have some fragrance.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

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  12. Hi Phillip,

    Is the Winter Honeysuckle also know as Kiss Me At The Gate?

    Liz

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  13. Liz,
    Yes, the old common name for winter honeysuckle is "Kiss Me At The Gate." Mine just happens to be in this location. In mid-winter the scent is captivating. Birds love this plant; the ones that visit my garden use it as a hiding place from predators and as a perch to check out food spots. My plant gets a few hours of light shade and does well. The ones I've planted in full sun here in Georgia have yellowier leaves, but denser foliage (maybe I need to feed them), and the ones in part to full shade look much scragglier.

    Heather

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  14. Thanks for explaining what this plant is. I'm a literature club facilitator for classical book and we are reading The Great Gatsby. When the gate to Gatsby's house is approached, Kiss Me at the Gate is mentioned. I wanted to know if it is real or imaginary. Now I know thanks to you and if I can buy a shrub, it will serve as a reminder of the this book club selection. Thanks:)
    Ali

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  15. Very interesting! I've seen other plants mentioned as possibilities for Kiss Me At the Gate, including Centranthus ruber, but winter honeysuckle fits so much better. In the book the lilacs are bare and jonquils are appearing, so a late-winter bloomer seems just right.

    Annie

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