I know Wisteria is considered the king of climbers by many gardeners but surely honeysuckle must be the crown prince. The fragrance is nothing short of heavenly. It grows wild in a wood near my home and the scent stops walkers in their tracks whenever they come across it.
Honeysuckle stems emerge from the ground and grow slowly upwards until they find something around which to twine. At this point they romp away, scrambling up frameworks or trees decorating them with spidery flowers and showering the air with that heady scent on warm summer evenings.
The most common complaint I get about honeysuckle is ‘failure to thrive’. People buy one, plant it and it struggles on for a couple of years before it turns up it’s toes and keels over. ‘Why did that happen?’ they ask imploringly. Mostly it happens because although they are undemanding once established, honeysuckles are quite fussy about their situation. Honeysuckle prefers its roots in damp soil, not too heavy, and enriched with plenty of leaf mould. This makes perfect sense if you think about the forest floor where it grows wild. And it likes its head in the sun to encourage prolific flowering.
I grow it like clematis – I place a couple of bits of paving over the soil that surrounds the roots to provide the cool shade they require.
Honeysuckle is not at all fussy about the support it needs. I have some growing over a pergola, and some over a wigwam in a border near a bench, just so I can get the benefit of the scent when I sit there. I’m trying to establish one over the porch too. As it’s against a wall I am having to make sure that it receives enough water.
My father had one growing over an old tree in his garden. If you want to do the same I’d advise planting it near the extremity of the branch canopy rather than near the trunk where root – competition will be fierce. Train the stems upwards along some garden twine into the branches and the result will be breathtaking.
There are lots of varieties to choose from. Our native honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum has early and late-flowering varieties and for scent they are difficult to beat. I do have a lovely Italian honeysuckle, Lonicera caprifolium, which was recommended to me by Alan Titchmarsh at a Gardeners World event many years ago. I wanted summer fragrance and I have not been disappointed with the great Mr. T’s suggestion.
Now is actually a good time to buy a honeysuckle as you can conduct a scent test at the garden centre. Happy sniffing!