Recent breeding has transformed this much-loved British native climber.
Walk along any woodland or hedgerow and you’ll spy our native honeysuckle or woodbine, Lonicera periclymenum clambering over twiggy obstructions to dangle its clusters of creamy-yellow sweetly-scented blooms in the summer sun.
Honeysuckle is one of the delights of the countryside experience, so it’s no wonder this deciduous to semi- evergreen twiner has long been grown in our gardens, where its distinctive two-lipped snap-dragon-like flowers entrance and delight.
In recent years its usefulness to wildlife has also been realised, seducing moths and long-tongued bees with sugary nectar, and birds with the juicy, red berries it produces in autumn. It’s quite variable over its European, Mediterranean and East European range so its unsurprising a number of natural variants have been introduced over the years, such as rhubarb pink-flushed Early Dutch honeysuckle ‘Belgica’, and deeper pink-flushed Late Dutch honeysuckle ‘Serotina’, pale yellow ’Graham Thomas’ and ‘Sweet Sue’.
Recent years has seen various attempts to improve honeysuckles garden worthiness in terms of compactness, so they can be used in smaller gardens, pots or even used as ground cover or informal dwarf hedges. These dwarf forms need less training, simply a light clip to keep them neat and under control after they have flowered, the time when most honeysuckles are ideally pruned.
Clambering honeysuckles prefer to have their roots in cooler, moisture-retentive soil, but their heads in sun or dappled shade. In drier conditions or if stressed, they tend to attract mildew diseases, which can cause them to drop leaves prematurely. These more recent forms are more disease resistant and more adaptable in terms of positioning, so there’s no reason not to give them a try!