THE first flowers on forsythia appeared before the end of January this year, which is remarkably early for a shrub that normally flowers in March.
Flowering in a haze of bright yellow flowers on bare branches in spring, it is very widely grown.
Native to China, the forsythia is a member of the olive family, along with the common ash, privet and lilac. It flowers in shades of bright yellow, depending on variety.
It has only been grown in European gardens for a little over a century and yet it is very widespread.
Apart from the undoubted beauty of its magnificent show of yellow flowers, the popularity of forsythia is partly due to its ease of propagation.
It is very easy to root. Indeed, older plants often produce tufts of aerial roots more than 30cm above ground level. Forsythia prunings that fall on the ground sometimes take root if they are walked on and pressed into contact with the soil.
Small branches cut and taken into a warm room indoors and stood in a vase of water will flower after 10 days or so due to the warmth. As might be expected, any shrub so easy to root would be passed on as 'slips' and it was widely grown in cottage gardens and town gardens as a result.
There are various species and varieties of forsythia. The usual kind seen is Forsythia intermedia, especially the variety 'Lynwood', a hybrid of two Chinese species that arose in an Irish garden. It makes a bush to about three metres tall and as broad. But it can be pruned immediately after flowering, removing some of the older branches and shortening others.
The variety 'Spectabilis' has deeper yellow flowers. The other common forsythia is Forsythia suspensa, and this is the one seen in older gardens. It is a semi-climbing, scrambling bush with long arching branches.
Sometimes it sends a rangy branch up through a neighbouring tree and pops out to flower three or four metres above ground.
Very showy in flower, especially when partnered with daffodils, yellow or white, forsythia is not very good after flowering.
The leaves appear on the branches as the flowers begin to go over and it is best kept at the back of a border. This is a robust plant, good in any soil, completely hardy and not affected by frost except perhaps some of the open flowers, but then a new set of flowers opens within days.