Honeysuckle, anyone?

GARDENING

Honeysuckle, anyone?

If you are planning to grow some pretty plants in your garden, but don’t have enough space or time, then Rashmi Shrinivas has some tips for you.

While plants are great mood elevators and many of us want to have at least a plant or two in our homes, our busy city schedules leave us with no time to do so. Even if we own a plant or two, the only time we can spend with our plants, is after dark.

In such a circumstance, sturdy, perennial, fast growing night blooming climbers are an ideal choice. White flowers look great both during day and night and if they also have a fragrance, it is an additional advantage. Japanese honeysuckle perfectly fits the bill in such a case.

Though there are quite a few varieties of our own fragrant jasmine, honeysuckle is relatively uncommon and more over, the flowers are not sold in the market, unlike jasmine.

As re-iterated, climbers occupy little ground space and are convenient to plant in metropolitan cities where space is often a constraint. Since it is perennial, you need not plant a new climber every three months. Since it is sturdy, it survives adverse conditions and needs very little maintenance.

It grows well in any type of well drained soil and the fact that it is disease resistant, makes it a most sought-after climber. Botanically known as lonicera japonica, it belongs to the caprifoliaceae family. Though originally from Japan, it is now common in India too. It is named after the renaissance botanist, Lonicera. It is also known as Madhumathi. The plant’s oval rich foliage and attractive nocturnal flowers with heady fragrance make it a much sought-after climber for pergolas in most garden restaurants and arches of public/private garden.

Easy to grow

I have grown a honeysuckle sapling in my narrow gardening strip adjacent to the compound wall. But I could provide very little space for this climber, since the space was already overcrowded with other plants like caesalpinea (ratnagandhi), flame vine (pyrostegia venusta), money plant, tinosporia chordifolia (amritaballi) etc, and my gardening strip got very little sunlight, due to paucity of ample open space. Still, not only did the climber survive, but also grew luxuriantly within a short span of time and I had to provide suitable support to it to grow upward.

So, I provided support from my TV antenna on the terrace on the third floor to this creeper, vertically down. When in due course, it flowered, it was a delightful moment for us. The bi-lobed white flower with stamens protruding, gave an appearance of the flowers of labiateae family.

The nocturnal flowers spread heady fragrance in my house from the window of my daughter’s room which is on the second floor. By morning, the colour of the flower turned to pale yellow. The next day again two more white flowers bloomed. My husband, a perfumer by profession, too impressed by the pleasant fragrance, created an exact replica of this perfume in this laboratory.

I wish I had enough space to have a pergola of this luxuriantly grown creeper with fragrant flowers. Can anything match sipping a cup of coffee sitting underneath a honeysuckle pergola at home, after a tiresome day? Its thick foliage with oval leaves gives excellent virtual curtain too and provides privacy to some extent. It is used in Chinese folk medicine too.

It is ideal for virtual partitions, compounds, walls and fences. But it is so strong that it can even smother the host tree and cause the death of the tree by cutting down the main phloem and xylem tissues in it, thus stopping supply of food and water to different parts of the host tree. Advance planning and providing a suitable support is necessary. Some countries consider this creeper as invasive and have banned it.

But in India, it is slowly finding place in public gardens, garden restaurants, apartment complexes and private gardens as well. It can be propagated by cuttings.

Other options

Another climber that can be grown is our own shankhapushpa, which is equally sturdy and perennial like the former. Its botanical name is clitoria ternatea and it belongs to the leguminaceae family and papilionaceae sub-family (pea family). In Sanskrit, it is known as gokarna (cow’s ear), girikarnika, shankhapushpa (conch flower) etc.

It bears beautiful solitary flowers in white, blue and other shades of blue with its characteristic petal arrangement.  Central yellowish white pattern in the dark blue/white large petal is a feast to the eyes. Another variety, with curled petals, looks equally attractive.

And after a tiresome week of hectic work, the shankhapushpa can provide much needed peace and calm with its elegant blue/white flowers. If there are religious minded elders at home, they will be too happy to have this creeper at home since these flowers are considered sacred and offered to lord Ganesha, along with 20 other varieties of flowers.

These flowers are not sold in the market, probably due to their short shelf life. They grow well in any type of soil and need no maintenance though their rich foliage of compound leaves with three or five oval leaflets make for an excellent pseudo-curtain! The flowers are also medicinal.

Shankhapushpi, the well-known remedial medicine for memory enhancement, is extracted from this plant. Also, the nodules present in its roots help in nitrogen fixation of the soil, thereby enriching the soil-fertility. The plant bears pods with five to eight seeds in it and can be propagated easily by seeds.

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