Make no bones about it, Lonicera fragrantissima is a rubbish shrub. The winter honeysuckle is a bulky, unwieldy thing with a branching structure that takes angularity to a degree of ugliness you’d not previously imagined possible, and remains indecisive about whether to be comfortingly solid or airily sparse, so is neither, and whether to be evergreen or deciduous, so fires right down the middle.
The only possible reason you’d want it is for it’s truly heavenly-scented small white flowers throughout the winter. And want it I do. I’ve just planted one, having wanted it for at least thirty years.
Back in the late eighties a gardening friend was living in the cottage at the entrance to Bolobek, Victoria, and I dropped in on him about this time of year. In the corner of that charming, dark cottage was a charming dark circular table, upon which was a round glass vase holding a great tangle of winter honeysuckle (all leaves removed – flowers only) supporting a smattering of paper white narcissus. It’s quite possible that the aching beauty of the thing has grown with each passing year, but there’s never been a time since when I haven’t wanted a winter honeysuckle, in order to one day re-live the moment.
About eight years ago I took a cutting from one on the main path of my son’s primary school. The resultant plant has languished in a pot ever since, as I’ve fretted over where to plant it. Because you really don’t want to see the thing. It’s never, ever a visual asset.
I admit that I’ve long since harboured a secret conviction that if it was pruned properly every year, I could make something of this shrub, and prevent it looking like 2m+ ball of steel wool with the odd leaf and flower here and there. I reckon if I annually took all the old wood out of it, so none was more than about three years old, it could be kept fresh and buoyant. But the least believable part of any of that is that I could stick with such a plan for more than a year or two. I’d likely forget it for a decade or more, then have to attend to it with a chainsaw.
But some recent removals have opened up a perfect ‘down-the-back’ spot. It’s in the ground. Now to get hold of some paper whites, and the perfect spherical vase.
Have you ever managed to keep Lonicera fragrantissima looking good? Please tell us how!