Honeysuckle: the Beauty and the Beast

Japanese honesuckle (Lonicera japonica 'Hall's')

Japanese honesuckle (Lonicera japonica ‘Hall’s’)

Honeysuckle is a blessing or a curse, depending on why and where you plant it and which type you plant.
Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is the species most commonly seen. Japanese honeysuckle famously produces white flowers that turn yellow, so two colors greet your eye when you gaze upon this strong vining plant, which flowers throughout spring and early summer, if not beyond.
Japanese honeysuckle exemplifies the adage that it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Imagine sheets of fragrant flowers that attract bees and birds — honeybees to pollinate your fruit trees and vegetable crops, and hummingbirds, thrushes, mockingbirds, robins and waxwings to munch on and naturally control insect pests. The problem with Japanese honeysuckle is that it can quickly grow out of bounds and completely engulf a small garden. Yet, if you have a long stretch of chain-link fence and want to quickly cover it with a sweet-smelling garland of flowers, Japanese honeysuckle is probably the right candidate for the job.
‘Gold Flame’ (Lonicera heckrottii), although less widely planted, is not invasive like Japanese honeysuckle. ‘Gold Flame’ has flower petals that appear in white, pink and orange buff — all on the same plant, all in the same flower. California native honeysuckles, such as the pink Lonicera hispidula, are also noninvasive.
Miniature fuchsia
I recently saw some miniature fuchsia plants that deserve wider recognition and use. Miniature fuchsias, generically referred to as Encliandras, include many species and dozens of cultivars. You occasionally see fuchsia thymifolia in nurseries but there are a large tribe of other Encliandra miniatures to plant.
There are several advantages miniature fuchsias enjoy as compared to the more conventional, gaudier fuchsia types. First and most important is their resistance to diseases and insect pests. Gall mites are the scourge of larger and fancier fuchsias. Although they are evergreen perennials that can persist for a decade or more, it is rare to encounter fuchsia plants in the San Fernando Valley that are more than a few years old since they are nearly always decimated by gall mites, whose presence is revealed by puckered and contorted leaves.
This is not the case with Encliandra miniatures, which appear to be impervious to gall mites. In addition, miniature fuchsias are quite cold hardy, surviving temperatures down to 20 degrees. Finally, miniature fuchsias have a bushy growth habit, and are as amenable to garden planting as they are to confinement in hanging baskets, patio pots or bonsai dishes.
Tiny begonia
Not long ago I made acquaintance with a diminutively flowered begonia, too. Actually, the begonia plant I am speaking of is the same size as ordinary bedding begonias, reaching around 1 foot in height. The difference is in the flowers’ shape and size. They resemble tiny pink roses.
Upon investigation, I learned that what I discovered was most likely Begonia Cocoa ‘Puff Pink.’ As an indoor plant, ‘Puff Pink’ flowers continuously and, in a flower bed, will bloom from the beginning of spring until summer’s end. ‘Puff Pink’ is to be distinguished from Rieger begonias, possessing much larger roselike flowers in every color except blue. Rieger begonias are hybrids between tuberous and bedding begonias.
In a similar vein, ‘Wonderful’ is a pomegranate cultivar with unexpected roselike flowers. If you saw it from a distance, you would think you were looking at an oversized rosebush with fiery orange blooms. ‘Wonderful’ flowers eventually give way to deep burgundy pomegranates, which are highly desirable for their juice.
The ‘Wonderful’ tree grows no taller than 12 feet and, like all pomegranate trees (Punica granatum), is highly drought tolerant.
Flowering purslanes are among the most misunderstood spring and summer bloomers. Two types are typically seen: moss-rose purslane (Portulaca grandiflora) and wingpod purslane (Portulaca grandiflora ‘Yubi’ or Portulaca umbraticola).
Both types have near cactuslike water requirements. You cannot go an entire summer without watering them, but soaking them once or twice a month will be sufficient. Soil should be fast draining or root rot may result. Moss-rose purslane has roselike flowers in a kaleidoscopic spectrum of colors, while wingpod purslane has fewer flower colors to choose from but is faster growing than moss-rose and, therefore, especially suitable for covering the ground in chronically dry garden patches.

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