The hon­ey­suckle’s heady scent of sum­mer

En­twined through­out the gar­den, the spindly trum­pet heads of climb­ing hon­ey­suckle ex­hale the scent of sum­mer

Landscape (UK) - - Contents - Words: Greg Loades

“I sat me down to watch upon a bank With ivy canopies and in­ter­wove With flaunt­ing hon­ey­suckle”

The sweet smell of hon­ey­suckle per­vad­ing the sum­mer air is as syn­ony­mous with the sea­son as straw­ber­ries and cream. In full flower, a ma­ture plant clothes walls, gates and arches with a shower of honey-scented blos­som. Ro­man­tic and charm­ing, the arch­ing shrub is both fra­grant and dec­o­ra­tive. As roses un­furl their sec­ond flush of flow­ers, de­pend­able hon­ey­suck­les are in full bloom. To­gether, they bring the per­fume and soft colour that make an English coun­try gar­den such an en­vi­able place to be on a sum­mer’s day. And as evening falls, the scent of the hon­ey­suckle in­ten­si­fies even fur­ther. Lon­icera per­icly­menum, the com­mon climb­ing hon­ey­suckle of these heady, hal­cyon days, is a British na­tive. It can be found grow­ing wild, its dainty creamy-yel­low flow­ers adorn­ing wood­land and hedgerows. They are pol­li­nated by moths drawn at night by the strong fra­grance, in­clud­ing the Hum­ming­bird Hawk­moth, which can de­tect their scent from up to a quar­ter of a mile away. The plant also at­tracts pol­li­nat­ing bum­ble­bees as well as but­ter­flies, in­clud­ing the White Ad­mi­ral. It uses hon­ey­suckle as its sole food plant, fly­ing into ar­eas of semi shade to lay its eggs on the leaves.

Vig­or­ous climbers

The cream-to-buff-coloured tubu­lar flow­ers of com­mon hon­ey­suckle curl up at their trum­pet-like ends to re­veal two ‘lips’, the up­per hav­ing four lobes. The leaves are no­table in that they are al­most stalk­less, with new growth sprout­ing from old wood at the end of win­ter, as if it has been ar­ti­fi­cially at­tached to the stems. Smooth and oval-shaped, the leaves are grey­ish-green or, as with ‘Red Gables’, bronze-flushed when young, be­com­ing darker in time.

John mil­ton, Co­mus

Com­mon hon­ey­suckle climbs by twin­ing around its hosts in a clock­wise di­rec­tion. In the wild, it winds around trees and shrubs and can choke other plants. Shrubby wood­land plants, such as holly, are more at risk here. Care, there­fore, needs to be taken when grow­ing hon­ey­suckle in a mixed area, al­though it makes an ideal part­ner for vig­or­ous ram­bling roses over a large arch. Wher­ever it is grown in the gar­den, as much space as pos­si­ble should be al­lowed for the climber to ma­ture. Com­mon hon­ey­suckle can grow up to 20ft (7m) tall. Other va­ri­eties are not quite as vig­or­ous, such as ‘Fra­grant Cloud’, which is more com­pact than the na­tive species, grow­ing up to 10ft (3m) in height. Its flow­ers are a mix of dark and light pink, and cream. Reach­ing ap­prox­i­mately

the same height is ‘Scent­sa­tion’, bear­ing white and daf­fodil-yel­low flow­ers. Their vig­or­ous twin­ing habit makes hon­ey­suckle plants suit­able for grow­ing up pil­lars and obelisks. Grow­ing them to hor­i­zon­tal struc­tures, such as walls and fences, re­quires the fix­ing of stems to wires, re­sult­ing in a more forced dis­play. Al­low­ing the plants to grow nat­u­rally up­wards or to cas­cade over walls re­sults in a par­tic­u­larly at­trac­tive gar­den fea­ture. ‘Rhubarb and Cus­tard’ is suit­able for a shorter sup­port within a con­tainer of soil-based John Innes com­post, grow­ing to a very man­age­able 7ft (2m) tall. As the name sug­gests, the flow­ers of this va­ri­ety are in shades of flushed pink and but­tery yel­low.

Forms of colour

Closer to the colour and size of com­mon hon­ey­suckle is the va­ri­ety ‘Gra­ham Thomas’, which starts off with white flow­ers with a green-tinged tube, be­fore age­ing to a more

fa­mil­iar creamy yel­low all over. It was dis­cov­ered grow­ing in a hedgerow near War­wick, by leg­endary plants­man Gra­ham Stu­art Thomas. If yel­low proves too much of a clash with the other colours in the gar­den, ‘Red Gables’ is a vivid form which shows off deep red tubes on its flow­ers, edged with pink and cream lips. It grows ap­prox­i­mately 20ft (7m) tall. When the flow­ers of na­tive hon­ey­suckle even­tu­ally fade, there is still colour to come in its clus­ters of translu­cent red berries. They are not ed­i­ble for hu­mans, but can pro­vide au­tumn food for song­birds, such as thrushes, war­blers and bullfinches.


Com­mon hon­ey­suckle prefers soil that stays moist but does not be­come wa­ter­logged. It will grow on clay or sandy soil, and the ad­di­tion of or­ganic mat­ter, such as well-rot­ted com­post or leaf mould, en­cour­ages strong, dis­ease-free growth. A sunny or semi-shaded po­si­tion can be ear­marked for these plants, ide­ally with their roots in the shade, to mimic wood­land con­di­tions. The best time to plant a hon­ey­suckle is in early spring, when new growth is just start­ing to ap­pear. How­ever, it can also be planted in sum­mer. Sum­mer-planted hon­ey­suck­les re­quire a buck­et­ful of wa­ter af­ter plant­ing and ad­di­tional wa­ter­ing ev­ery two or three weeks dur­ing dry, warm spells. Ap­ply­ing a 2in (5cm) thick mulch around the base of the plant is es­sen­tial in or­der to help con­serve enough mois­ture.

Pests and dis­eases

New growth on hon­ey­suck­les can be prone to aphid at­tack, but if tack­led early, there is no cause for alarm. The aphids can be blasted off the stems by spray­ing them with a jet of wa­ter from a hosepipe or wiped off the shoots us­ing a damp cloth. The fun­gal dis­ease mildew can be a prob­lem in dry spells to­wards the end of sum­mer. There is noth­ing that can be done once the pow­dery white cov­er­ing on the up­per sides of the leaves has been iden­ti­fied. The best way to pre­vent mildew is to keep the base of the plant moist through­out the grow­ing sea­son. Ap­ply­ing a mulch of well-rot­ted or multi-pur­pose com­post in spring, af­ter wa­ter­ing well, will re­duce the risk of the fun­gus. With just a lit­tle care, the hon­ey­suckle will tum­ble through the sum­mer gar­den with its creamy, spindly blooms. Bob­bing along flex­i­ble twist­ing stems, the pro­fu­sion of these dis­tinc­tive flow­ers, ac­com­pa­nied by the gen­tle hum of vis­it­ing bees, is a sig­nal that sum­mer has reached its glo­ri­ous best.

New leaves grow close to the old wood, ap­pear­ing as if they do not have stalks (top). Reddy-brown flushed leaves peep out from the woody stems, which have a clock­wise twin­ing habit (above).

Pol­li­na­tors, the Hum­ming­bird Hawk­moth and White Ad­mi­ral are drawn to the hon­ey­suckle.

Bushy clumps of hon­ey­suckle tum­ble over an al­lot­ment shed, pro­vid­ing nat­u­ral cover for a wa­ter butt.

‘Red Gables’ pro­duces masses of flushed flow­ers in rasp­berry and cream colours dur­ing the sum­mer, es­pe­cially loved by bees.

Pow­er­fully sweet-smelling ‘Scent­sa­tion’, with its ivory-yel­low blooms, flow­ers from mid­sum­mer to Septem­ber.

Ruby-red berries add drops of colour from the end of sum­mer. In most species they are mildly poi­sonous to hu­mans, but are at­trac­tive to wildlife.

The va­ri­ety ‘Serotina’, also known as late Dutch hon­ey­suckle, has a long flow­er­ing sea­son.

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