Wednesday, February 21, 2007
I love the sweet smell of Honeysuckle. It is ambrosia. It conjures pleasant thoughts and is bound to put me in a happy mood. Yet, a more willfully exuberant plant would be hard to find.
Seven or eight years ago I parted with $35, what seemed like a particularly irrational expenditure for a plant, and brought home Lonicera Japonica Halliana, Hall's Honeysuckle.
I installed a trellis outside my back door and planted HH up against the house. It has a southern exposure, for maximum sunlight in the northern hemisphere, and seems to like the location and the moderate climate here in the Seattle area.
HH quickly grew up the trellis to the roof. When it reached the top of the trellis gravity caused the vines to cascade back toward the ground. Otherwise it would be growing up over the roof.
Vines have grown up under the shingle siding and I have even found vines in my utility room. Runners have turned the corner of the house and sprinted up the side yard. Those vines root themselves every so often and send up vertical shoots.
In another irrational moment I thought of propagating those shoots and giving them to friends and family or possibly even selling them. There may not be anyone else willing to part with $35 for such a rampant weed, but maybe I could get $15.
Unfortunately, none of the shoots I potted took.
The Sunset New Western Garden Book says HH grows to 15 feet and will cover 150 square feet. I think the plant they measured was immature. I swear some of the vines on my plant are over 25 feet long and as thick as my thumb. It is a sturdy plant.
Tarzan would have no qualms about swinging from the roof of the house to the roof of the garage, some 25 feet away, on one of these vines.
All summer long HH is covered with white and yellow tubular flowers. Their scent is heavenly. Any small breeze carries that perfume all over the back yard. A time or two I even thought I could catch that scent while standing on the other side of the house.
Those tubular flowers seem perfectly designed for the hummingbird's dining pleasure. Or maybe the hummingbird's long thin beak adapted to best extract the honeysuckle's delicious nectar.
All sorts of birds and bees are attracted to HH.
We had a huge wind storm in mid December that dislodged the trellis from the side of the house, which left HH lying face down in the mud.
For two months I debated with myself what to do. The plant really isn't appropriate to grow up the side (and through the siding) of a house. One vine had willfully pried its way between the gutter and the roof and actually bloomed up there where the sunlight was brightest.
At some point I may be inclined to do some exterior painting. If Sunset is correct, there may be 150 square feet of siding inaccessible to the paint brush.
That isn't a crucial issue. As the December wind has demonstrated, HH is such a hardy plant it can be toppled without the slightest damage to its thick but supple vines. It would be a chore to decouple plant from house in order to paint, but it could be done.
Ideally, HH should be rambling along a rustic pasture fence. In fact, I believe my introduction to Hall's Honeysuckle was walking along a fence on an urban residential street. The entire fence was draped with green leaves and white and yellow tubular flowers. It was a beautiful sight. But it was the sweet scent that stopped me in my tracks.
I don't have a pasture fence. And HH is long past transplanting.
So on a chilly February afternoon I pruned off the longest runners and much of the dead wood that never saw the light of day sandwiched between the house and the rest of the plant's luxuriant foliage.
I found a bird's nest wedged inside HH made entirely of strips of paper thin honeysuckle bark. If I were a bird, I'd consider this prime real estate.
It was quite heavy, but I managed to get the plant upright again and wired the trellis to hooks screwed into the eaves. I replaced the bird's nest. It is exposed now but, when summer begins, it should be well hidden behind a screen of green foliage and fragrant white and yellow flowers.
Pruning shears should keep HH under control.
I fantasize that one day I may die in my sleep. No one will miss me. The vines will grow, with no gardener to tame them, and I shall be encased in a honeysuckle tomb.
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