Frightful forsythia

by James Alexander-Sinclair

Spring is in the air. Birds are tweeting. Comfortable nests are being flung together [...] There is however one big fat buzzing fly in the ointment.

Forsythia and ribes flowers and foliageSpring is in the air. Birds are tweeting. Comfortable nests are being flung together. Plants are sprouting. Frogs are croaking lasciviously. Daffodils are flowering away with nothing less than gusto and the gloom of February fades into distant memory.

There is however one big fat buzzing fly in the ointment. A plant that I have come to dislike with an almost irrational fervour. A plant that glares forth from innumerable gardens throughout the land. A plant whose impact is the equivalent of being socked hard round both ears with a large salami. A plant which sets my teeth on edge and sucks the joys of spring right out of my soul.

I have confessed to this before and have tried to work on this character defect, but to no avail. I think that forsythia (no matter how beautifully photographed) is just about the most horrible shrub in the world. There. I've said it.

It is not just the flowers which are a particularly unforgiving, almost violent shade of yellow but the timing. We are awash with daffodils in an almost unquenchable variety of shapes and colours, almost all of them shades of yellow. Given the joys of this or this or this or (almost) any one of the 20,000 available varieties, why choose a forsythia for your spring hit of yellow?

It also tends to ruin anything it is planted with, particularly the pink Ribes sanguineum. This is another large shrub which may not be perfect (apart from anything its leaves smell of cat pee) but the poor thing is completely ruined when teamed with a forsythia.

It is a big shrub that grows quickly with the result that it is often clipped hard in order that it should not take over the world. Sometimes this results in tightly branched specimens in unusual contorted shapes that look as uncomfortable as vicars in a strip club. Sometimes this is passed off as an attempt at topiary, but not often.

The flowers do not last long (which is a mixed blessing) and are succeeded by really, really, really boring foliage.

I will, if pushed, 'hug a hoodie' or even 'snuggle a snail' but I just cannot learn to 'love a forsythia'.

Please dig them out and plant something else. If you must have a yellow shrub flowering now, then try Chimonanthus praecox; it bears pale, lemon meringue-yellow flowers and a scent that reminds one of tumbling humming birds, pearl satin and freshly crushed melon.

Discuss this blog post

Talkback: Frightful forsythia
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 31/03/2009 at 15:44

I dug up my forsythia bush about 15 years ago and haven't regreted it or missed it.

Gardeners' World Web User 31/03/2009 at 16:18

I think you are wrong, Forsythia is a beautiful shrub.

Gardeners' World Web User 31/03/2009 at 17:47

Oh man, a nice Forsythia surrounded by red, red mulch? Nightmares.

Gardeners' World Web User 31/03/2009 at 18:16

I mistakenly bought a variegated form thinking it would extend the seasonal interest. It didn't. Syringa 'Palibin' is replacing it very soon.

Gardeners' World Web User 31/03/2009 at 19:29

Forsythia is a necessary evil in cold climates such as mine, where the average winter will whack a Chimonanthus on its horticultural hynie. That said, I can't agree with you more about the visually assault badly pruned Forsythia makes on the eyes nearly everywhere one turns. Do people actually believe Forsythia are supposed to be square?

See more comments...