Rick Shory

Offering a little something you might not otherwise have

close-up of two winter jasmine flowers, one with five petals one with six

Garden idea: Fake your forsythia

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This has already fooled two experienced gardeners. It looks like forsythia. It is forsythia. But wait! This is still January. Way too early for a forsythia bush to be blooming! What gives?

winter bare forsythia bush with winter jasmine growing in it

Forsythia?

Ok, Ok. The little yellow flowers are really winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum). That plant is growing up through the still-bare branches of the forsythia (Forsythia × intermedia).

I’ve always liked winter jasmine. The bright yellow flowers are a cheery reminder of sunshine for our gray winter landscapes. But how do your grow the plant, with any sort of grace?

If you let it sprawl, it gets all over into everything, with the grass coming up through it. I’ve seen it trimmed into a low mounding hedge, but that’s a lot of trimming. At the Chinese Gardens downtown, they use it effectively, overhanging the edge of a pool, with the sight of it reflected in the pond surface. But I don’t have any water features. You can train it up a trellis. But then you have nothing but nondescript green viny twigs there all the rest of the year.

I got the idea for this from a friend’s house, where he did have his winter jasmine trained up a sort of columnar trellis. Nice, I thought, but a lot of work. Let’s do double duty. The other part of the idea came when someone mistook winter jasmine for forsythia.

This would never have occurred to me. To a botanist’s eye, of course, forsythia and winter jasmine look nothing alike. The winter jasmine has green twigs while those of forsythia are brown. Winter jasmine flowers are five- or six-petaled, while forsythia has four. This was a revelation. That, to the public, these two plants could be mixed up with each other.

close-up of two winter jasmine flowers, one with five petals one with six

Winter jasmine

Well, I thought, if they see them as the same, let’s work with that. I trained the winter jasmine to grow up through the forsythia. This was easy — just drape the drooping jasmine twigs up through the forsythia branches, once or twice a year. Chop off any extras that get too much.

So, now we get to enjoy this forsythia bush “blooming” two months early.

By the way, I decided I did not care to have my forsythias as big wild things, taking over acres of landscape, as they try to do. So, I have trained them to be trees. When they were starting, I did not allow any growth below a certain height, about a foot off the ground. This established a trunk. Now, I just break off any shoots that try to come up from ground level. I can use the space below them for other things, like spring bulbs. And maybe a few stray branches of winter jasmine.

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