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Winter flowering honeysuckle

I love nature. Even on the darkest, dampest December day it can still produce something to make me smile, which is why winter flowering honeysuckle is my plant of the moment.

On the way to the shed today I noticed my winter flowering honeysuckle was indeed flowering. I got quite excited looking around the plant to see if there were any suitable branches to pick for the house.

I’ll admit as plants go it doesn’t have a lot going for it. Its leaves are a non-descript green and a plain oval shape. The plant itself grows into a fairly straggly shape and for most of the year it sits there contributing very little to the garden. But from December to March it produces flowers with the most amazing perfume. The flowers are small, like miniature honeysuckle blooms but they certainly pack a punch. The scent is heady like Philadelphus or citrus blossom and is very much welcome at this time of year.

My own plant was grown from a sucker that was taken from my local horticulture college. I was a student at the time, I don’t just randomly raid their grounds for plants I hasten to add. It has established well and this is the first year it has been big enough for me to pick branches from it.

There are 2 types of winter flowering honeysuckle – Lonicera fragrantissima and Lonicera x purpusii. Purpusii is a hybrid of fragrantissima. Both are deciduous or semi-evergreen depending on the weather and microclimate. Both grow to about 3 metres by 2 metres and both produce creamy white flowers with yellow anthers in winter and early spring. I’m not sure which one mine is but it doesn’t matter too much since they are so similar.

We visited Colesbourne Park in Gloucestershire in February to see its famous display of snowdrops, which were impressive but I was most taken by their collection of winter flowering honeysuckles that were dotted about the grounds. I haven’t seen so many in one place.

The gardens were packed with galanthophiles and gardeners desperate for their first signs of spring after such a long winter but I didn’t see anyone stop to smell the amazing winter honeysuckles. Their branches covered in tiny white flowers may not have looked as impressive as the snowdrops but they missed a real treat.

For nurseries stocking winter flowering honeysuckles take a look at the RHS plant finder.

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