When we left our previous garden, one of the plants we managed to take with us was a honeysuckle. New to the (old) garden with about a season in the ground, Lonicera similis var. Delavayi is a semi-evergreen, sweetly fragrant, honeysuckle with delicate tubular white flowers that fade to yellow.
Of course, it looked nothing like the description in wet and cold February when I took a pair of secateurs to the stems and a spade to the roots. After wincing with every cut I finally managed to extract what looked to be a loose bunch of sticks with a lump of mud on one end. It was tentatively potted up and made the journey with us. At the time it looked to be a waste of effort.
Initially I was going to leave the honeysuckle behind, but after seeing it flower and smelling its sweet heady fragrance, I realised I would really miss it if it stayed. A quick search on the internet revealed that honeysuckle responds well to hard pruning and can be moved when young. I took a chance on this advice and that’s how it came to be part of the nomadic patio pot collection at the new house.
At first I checked quite often for signs of life but discovered none. As is the way of things, it was only when I stopped paying so much attention to it that one day I suddenly noticed it had started to re-grow. Initial joy turned into anxiety as I became aware that a honeysuckle is not going to be happy bound in a pot and a small one at that. It needed frequent watering and also needed another plant to twine around and clamber up.
I looked around the garden for a place it could go and came up with the perfect spot. It couldn’t have been a better match. It was as if the tree was planted just for the honeysuckle to come along years later.
The ornamental blossom tree – sometimes with the pair of chairs underneath – should make the perfect host. It’s sturdy enough to take the honeysuckle’s eventual adult size of up to 8 metres and the canopy is open, allowing lots of light in for it. The honeysuckle flowers a few months after the blossom has finished and adds interest to what would be a boring tree for much of the year.
To get started I first strung the tree up with twine by loosely looping it around the lower branches and criss-crossing it down the trunk. The idea is to give the honeysuckle a helping hand climbing up the tree by twisting leading stems round the twine as it grows, a bit like training tomatoes. By the time the honeysuckle has grown to reach and wrap around the lower branches, the twine will have withered away and the honeysuckle will be on its own to scramble the rest of the way through the canopy.
For planting, I chose a spot about a foot away from the base of the trunk and gently began digging. There is no prepared border around the tree yet so I had to first get in with a lawn edger and peel back the turf. Luckily I managed to get away without being foiled by large tree roots but only just. I couldn’t dig down as deep as I wanted and so the plant does sit a little proud, but that’s OK.
The ends of the twine at the base of the trunk were tied around a wire staple and pegged into the side of the planting hole to secure them. Compost and fertiliser were dug into the hole, the honeysuckle planted, watered and the hole backfilled. As a final touch, the turves dug out from the planting hole were upturned and set around the base to act as a sort of mulch.
The flailing stems were guided towards the tree and the twine twisted around them to gently secure them in place. A thorough watering later and that’s another job done, one less patio pot to worry about and another load off my mind.
The honeysuckle was on the verge of flowering when it was planted and I was worried that the shock of transplanting would affect the flowers; not so, just a few days later they all opened and once again, I was able to smell that rich sweet perfume; the whole reason I brought the plant with us in the first place. The idea is to train the honeysuckle up into the tree where it will cascade down through the canopy and above a seating area I have planned.
Five years from now, imagine sitting under the tree on a warm summer evening when the honeysuckle is dripping from the branches and every stem hanging down is in flower. Imagine being surrounded by the intoxicating scent as you hear the thrum of the first hawk moths coming to investigate. I really hope it will become another piece of magic for the newly emerging garden.