FORSYTHIA MADNESS (GOING FOR THE GOLD)
I hate to gush – ok, I don’t hate to gush – only giving fair warning that paragraphs are about to be spent swooning over the forsythia. It’s spectacular in the Hudson Valley, friends tell me the same is (was) true at least as far south as Pennsylvania and if the buds are any indication; it’s going to be amazing in Maine, any minute now.
Every spring is wonderful – how can a plant be so blindingly sunny – but I think this is the best I’ve ever seen it… seems like every single bud came through the winter unscathed.
Forsythia as a plant is tough, but the buds often get frozen; that’s why after a hard winter you often see bushes with only a skirt of flowers, all the color close to the ground where it was protected by snow.
Common Forsythia (F. x intermedia), unknown cultivar from a friend
In theory, forsythia can be attacked by bugs and diseases, but the only problem I’ve ever seen is age. Best bloom comes on 2nd, 3rd and 4th year stems , so when the bush is choked with ancient trunks that can’t manage much in the way of new sprouts, total bloom begins to decline. The standard rule is to prune yearly, after the 4th year, by removing the oldest stems at the base, but I’ve never been that fanatical. It’s easier to just look at the bush and see what’s blooming well and what’s not. Unbranched young shoots won’t be flowering, but their youth is obvious, so there’s not much chance of making mistakes.
There is, however, a chance to make a great many more plants: common forsythia is as easy to propagate as willow. Just keep the stems in water – changing it every week or so – until root initials form along the submerged part.
Forsythia spreads like a weed, and a lot of ’em ARE weedy, but there are at least seven species and more than 40 cultivars, including many dwarf types, several that are variegated, and one : Forsythia viridissima var koreana ‘Kumson,’ that has white veins in its dark green leaves and looks like a real stunner. It’s rated hardy to zone 6, so it ought to be ok in the mid and lower Hudson Valley, and I intend to give it a try in Maine, too…
The widest choice is by mail-order , from sources like Rare Find Nursery and Forestfarm, but the more alert local nurseries also offer good selections, and many of them will special order if you ask, especially if you ask when they aren’t crazy-busy. Wholesalers sell far more
goodies than retailers have room to display
Department of Just in Case You Were Wondering: There is a European species (from the Balkans), but most forsythias are native to Asia. Plant hunter Robert Fortune is credited with bringing them to the West, in 1844, but the botanical name honors Scottish botanist William Forsyth (1737-1804), a major player in British horticulture who ran the Chelsea physic garden, started an international seed and plant exchange, and wound up as King George 3rd’s chief superintendent of the royal gardens at Kensington and St James’s.