HONEYSUCKLE, if I remember right, is a word that entered our language with Alfred the Great and has remained the same through all those centuries, though it used to mean the clover and not the honeysuckle, but by the reign of Elizabeth it was applied to the honeysuckle as we know it.
I can't think of many things that so improve a new house as a honeysuckle over the door. Often the front door fairly cried out for a set of little posts and a canopy -- to keep you dry while fumbling for the key -- and on those posts few plants are a happier choice than a honeysuckle. Maybe with a big hefty sweet rose (the old alba, 'Celeste' is a flawless choice) to one side.
Now sometimes I think garden nuts, including all garden writers, dream up obscure plants to recommend, but on the matter of honeysuckles I can recommend one that is a severe pest of hedgerows in the Middle Atlantic States, the white and gold Hall's variety of the Japanese honeysuckle.
It is one of the very few true aristocrats of gardens that can be acquired simply by pulling some up off the side of the road or a back alley.
It can be a fierce pest in the garden, as in the pasture, but when it is kept in bounds it is a very beautiful thing -- far greater quality than most plants you see in Washington gardens.
But of course there are other honeysuckles, and I am more than slightly pleased to notice the great general-gardening catalogue of Wayside Gardens this year lists a native honeysuckle, Lonicera flava.
As almost any gardening authority will tell you, it is very rare and very beautiful. It has leaves smooth on top and glaucous beneath, with whorls of soft bright yellow trumpets at the tips of its growth. The length of the tube is sometimes given as one inch, sometimes as two inches, and you think, "Well, that does not sound very showy or very pretty."
It is, however, a vine to treasure, and you will not find it offered for sale very many times in a lifetime, so if I can collect myself to semd the outrageous sum demanded -- about $9 -- I shall myself have a vine I have always wanted.
You must not think I have any special affection for this nursery. Over 40 years I have frequently been angry with them for one reason or another, but increasingly they list outstanding woody plants hard to find elsewhere.
One of the finest honeysuckles is L. heckrottii, of hybrid origin, and to speak the truth I think nobody knows what its parentage is. They also sell that one.
When I got this new garden six years ago, one of my concerns was to find L. heckrottii, which I finally got from Spring Hill Nursery in Ohio, which puts out an inelegant catalogue with some good things in it.
The honeysuckle is rose madder or vaguely pinkish wine in the trumpet, and inside it is soft yellow. It blooms in cluster throughout the warm weather. It has a good smell, but only at night.
So often, what we really need to know is whether a plant is first-rate, not what its dimensions are, and I can conceive of no garden too fine for L. heckrottii.
The yellow Chinese L. tragophylla has long yellow trumpets, not scented, and I know of no source for it, but if you see it listed, you may acquire it with every assurance you will like it.
Two hybrids, L. tellemaniana and L. brownii, are, presumably worth growing. Telleman's is much like heckrotti, and Brown's is much like the wild native scarlet honeysuckle, L. sempervirens.
The wild one, sempervirens, is as beautiful (I sometimes think) as any plant in cultivation. The hybrids, in their best forms, merely capture its loveliness. Why the wild plant is so rarely sold I cannot say -- it is hardy, easy to grow, and altogether desirable. L. brownii may be equally good, though I have learned to be suspicious of hybrids that are "just as beautiful" as their wild parents.
A year or so ago I was complaining here that American nurseries did not grow such clematis as C. vedrariensis and that they ought to get off their green duffs and provide it.
Not in response to my outrage, I suspect, but due to gradually waking up, a couple of nurseries have begun offering it, under the name of C. sponneri rosea.
It blooms in spring, with blue Chinese wisteria, in the tulip season. Its flowers are no larger than a silver dollar, as I remember them, but borne so freely as to make the leaves invisible. They are a pinkish rose -- a good bit of blue -- or rosy mauve, that looks quite pink in the garden.
There is a celebrated Irish garden in which a massive cold gray stone staircase is bowered with this clematis and the wisteria and the yellow Banksian rose, all in great tumbles together. Glorious.
At Kew, in London, I saw a number of clematis of this general type (C. montana rubens, C. chrysochoma, C. 'Elizabeth,' C. 'Pink Perfection,' and so on, and there is not as much difference among them as you might think, but if pressed, I would choose C. vedrariensis).
At some effort, I got vedrariensis and 'Elizabeth' from England, and both plants appear to have died, though by now I know enough to leave the sites alone and see if they do not pop up this spring.
It is much safer to order them from an American nursery, of course. I shall replace vedrariensis, God willing, from Wayside. As I remember it, there is no scent at all.
You must not suppose the wild C. montana rubens is greatly inferior to the other spring-blooming pink clematis. It is a first-class plant.
E.H. 'Chinese' Wilson, the great plantsman who introduced montana rubens from Western China about 1900, considered it one of the very greatest gifts to American gardens. An especially nice thing about it si the foliage, green touched with reddish bronze when young. Also montana rubens is often (not always) fragrant, an additional bonus.
All these pink creatures grow 20 feet or more, and are fine on tall walls or when grown into trees. They are perfectly hardy, sometimes troublesome to establish (that is, they drop dead) and they like leaf mould and, later, rotted manure, and a nice mulch.
Like all clematis they abhor you, if you have a spading fork in your hand and think you will just dig a bit just here. No. No. Stay away from them.
I have a porch post with the dark violet clematis, 'Etoile Violette' on it.
Would it not be fine to have the yellow honeysuckly (flava) on the next post? I have learned not to expect dandy ideas to work out, but I'll try it.
On still another post I have the wild C. paniculata from Japan, the one with inch-wide flowers in great almond-scented masses around Labor Day. It is terribly common, often found in Washington alleys, but one of the greatest and most elegant vines that can be grown in a garden.
The mere fact it is common and relatively despised, therefore, does not blind me to the fact it is a great treasure. And I like to think the great rarity of the yellow L. flava and the pink C. vedrariensis, do not blind me either. One test of a superlative garden plant is whether you would insist on growing it if they sold it a Hechinger's. Hall's honeysuckle, the bane of Virginia woodlands, and the Japanese clematis, an equal weed, are both in the first rank of aristocratic plants -- plants of unspeakable beauty and garden worth. And so are the rare honeysuckle and the rare clematis. They are all worth any effort to get, even if two of them can be got in any weed patch.