I began to grow native honeysuckles several years ago after falling in love with the Asiatic varieties but disliking their invasive habits in our American soil. I have found them to be drought tolerant and easy plants to grow. Casual gardeners frequently ask what they are - isnít it nice to know that such an interesting plant can be native to our habitat?
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 11, 2007)
When I moved to Atlanta, I had few gardening neighbors. Most of the people in this community (including the women that owned our properties) used found plants to adorn their landscape. So quickly they would learn that the plants abundant in the area, that seemed fairly easy to transplant were very invasive, and the properties were covered with non-native, rampant growing plant materials. Slowly I began to change the landscape, and during this time, the neighborhood began to change and other gardeners moved in. One such couple had the most beautiful cascading vine adorn their fence. It grew quickly but stayed a manageable size with pruning, and bloomed almost all year long. I was stumped! What was this fantastic vine?
Another gardening neighbor, who is a landscape designer by trade, was able to identify it as a cultivar of a native honeysuckle. Soon I was out to discover more about these plants. They had everything I was looking for! A climber, and in this climate almost evergreen. Many flower almost constantly here and even in winter (and under frost). Many are drought tolerant, and take pruning well, don’t mind being tied up a few times a year and seem relatively healthy. I needed them!
My first was a hybrid Lonicera x heckrottii 'Gold Flame' which is a cross between Lonicera L. sempervirens (American) and Lonicera Americana (a European variety). It climbs up a 4x4 pole with an old bicycle wheel attached to the top to form an umbrella like structure. A fragrance in this vine is often noted, but I do not find mine particularly fragrant – however, it does bloom almost all year long! The only time “gold flame” is out of bloom is when it gets an attack of powdery mildew. Then it becomes naked and rather unattractive. To counteract this problem, I grow a VERY tall Kelvin Floodlight dahlia through it and an antique climbing rose. The combination is charming.
After telling a garden friend in Virginia about my new honeysuckle, she promptly send me a “sucker” from her 'Blanche Sandman' (Lonicera sempervirens, hardy zone 4-10). This vine was found in South Carolina, and has shown excellent drought, moisture and disease tolerance here in heat and humidity. It climbs a telephone pole outside my house. I love that it takes pruning with ease. Perhaps the only time Blanche is out of bloom is just after pruning. But within two weeks she is smothered again. All winter long she continues, as everything else is barren and brown, her reddish orange flowers just glow.
Lonicera 'John Clayton' (a sempervirens, hardy from zone 4-10) was the next addition to our garden. He was pretty tiny when he arrived, and took a good year to begin healthy vigorous growth. In the spring John is FANTASTIC, just stunning. However, as the summer wears on, he tends to loose leaves and is not as drought tolerant as the other honeysuckles. However, I would not trade those gorgeous yellow blossoms that begin early, and carry on to June for anything. Takes to pruning well but is more vigorous in my garden than any other native honeysuckle. (pictured at the very top of page)
My last purchase has been most disappointing. While at Calloway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia a friend and I spied this KNOCKOUT bright, pure red honeysuckle cascading over a cement wall. I had no idea of the name, but I looked and looked for one and after a year or two found one! I was so thrilled. Unfortunately, although this plant stays barely alive in the garden, it has NEVER grown, NEVER bloomed, and is pathetic. Perhaps it enjoyed a shadier disposition with plenty of woodland type soil? I have no idea. Someday I may move it. Every spring I swear to treat it better, and still it stays. I have no heart to rid of it, yet no place yet in which to move it.
However, I'll be more careful with my next purchase of Lonicera 'flava' - a local native plant which is now hard to find in urban areas where I live. The lovely red seed berries attract birds, and are beautiful in themselves. It will be a wonderful addition to our back yard.
Loniceras are mostly easy, rewarding vines for even the newest of gardeners. They can be trained to poles, trellises and arbors although they tend to form woody stems, which are not very pliable after aging, and can get heavy. Plan to have a sturdy support for your vine, and you can enjoy honeysuckle almost anywhere in the country!
Music, color and gardening - the three go hand in hand in my Electric Garden. I enjoy gardening organically for 12 months of the year in the South and am garden speaker and educator, coach and designer. I write about rock'n roll, vintage fashion and of course, gardening.