Defending Forsythia

In the front garden at our old house we had a very large and rather old Forsythia shrub which had never been pruned properly. It was a magnificent sight and outshone all the other specimens in our street!

But not only that. I observed every year how it would be covered in tiny insects, hungry for pollen for several days after it had opened.

Hmmm. I was always led to believe how useless it is to pollinators! I know the tiny yellow flowers do not contain as much pollen as certain native flowering shrubs. But at this time of year there is hardly anything else in flower here. So does Forsythia offer emergency food in a time of scarcity? The tiny flies and a type of wasp I watched scrambling for some sweetness in the cool spring sunshine didn’t seem to mind fighting over the early snack. Can you see some flying insects on this photo?

Let’s be honest; there are probably other flowers in our gardens that are not very beneficial to insects. If it’s a favourite of ours, we will no doubt find some good reason for growing it nonetheless. For example, Geraniums (well, actually Pelargoniums). I have always grown them as summer annuals in my yard. They are also of little interest to pollinators, but attract them. They will then find the Lavender or the Violas planted around them.Β (And I love Pelargoniums. πŸ˜‰)

Having read many times that we should consider planting other shrubs instead of Forsythia I do understand, but can only go along with that to a certain extent. If there is only space for one or two early flowering shrubs, then yes. I would grow something more valuable. Like Mahonia…

Or Ribes…

But I am fortunate to have plenty of space, so why not grow what gives me and my fellow human beings the most pleasure. After all, it is the first big splash of colour in the spring garden here, and everyone I know says how cheerful it is.

All of this made me think about the benefits of Forsythia on the whole, and not just in spring.Β After flowering, the leaves will appear and by mid-May will produce a dense, moist and shady refuge for birds. The shade the young Forsythia in this garden provides is still not much, but helps ground-cover plants that are bee-friendly to grow beneath it. And in autumn it retains itsΒ leaves until late October. The nearest shrub on the end of The ‘Edge bed here is my still young specimen in October last year…

18th October 2022

And now it is flowering once again in March 2023…

I haven’t seen any flies or bees on this one yet, I must admit…

But I still do not consider it a waste of space…

And at the end of the day, we are all growing a garden for our own enjoyment as well as that of the creatures that visit. So next time you see a Forsythia, perhaps you will smile and think of my defence of this shrub considered so often to beΒ ‘of little value to wildlife’. We can count ourselves as wildlife too, can’t we?πŸ˜‰

Let me know what you think about Forsythia!




56 thoughts on “Defending Forsythia

  1. I think forsythia got its bad reputation when it was seen as a common garden shrub and boring for most of the year, but there is no denying that it is a fabulous splash of colour in early spring and looks delightful used as a hedge.

  2. I like your defense of forsythia. Kourosh would agree with you as we have kept some in our hedge. It does provide cheering colour at this often dull time of year and we appreciate the healthy green foliage that follows to block the sight of our hives from the road. It must be pretty drought tolerant too as it survived our dry, hot summer last year without watering. Amelia

    • Thanks Automatic Gardener (I don’t actually know your name!). Yes, I have plenty for the insects here I think, and we already have bumble bees visiting the willow catkins even in the rain. πŸ˜ƒ

  3. I think you make a good case all around for Forsythia’s value in the garden, Cathy. It’s early flowering, general cheerfulness and provision of a roost for birds would be enough for me, assuming I could grow it in my climate. I find people are often too ready to dismiss “common” plants. In my area, Agapanthus are often dismissed for that very reason, even though gardeners in other areas where they’re hard or impossible to grow (much less maintain year-round) extol their virtues πŸ˜‰

    • Thanks for the support Kris! I understand that some people simply don’t like it, which is fine. I personally don’t like Impatiens much, but realise some people love it. I suppose we all have plants we would not give space to! πŸ˜ƒ

  4. I love forsythia. They provide the first big splashes of color at a time when we’re all ready. I usually can’t wait and bring a few cuttings in early to force some spring-like blooms. And the birds seem to enjoy hanging out there for shade (I presume) on hot summer afternoons.

    • Absolutely. And that is definitely another point in its favour, that it can be forced for indoor blooming when we yearn for winter colour! I appreciate your support in my defence of this spring cheer!

  5. I do love the cheerfulness of forsythia, esp. after a long, snowy winter. And don’t forget the cheer they give when brought inside to force in mid-winter when we really need it!

    • That is another reason to love it Eliza. I think I have had three sprigs indoors this year before it actually flowered outside! πŸ˜ƒ

  6. Forsythia gets my vote too. Not just for the nostalgic reminder of my childhood when every front garden had a forsythia, it is also a reliable early splash of sunshine in the early spring. Plants have lots of virtues and we have to look at their all round wildlife values as well as their importance for pollinators. Thank you for championing their merit.

    • Thanks for your vote! I am beginning to wonder if I imagined it is so frowned upon. In any case, our bees seem happy with the willow catkins at the moment, so I don’t need to feel guilty. πŸ˜ƒ

  7. I love what it represents, the beginning of spring and new hope as shrubs start blossoming. However I’m not overfond of the colour and yet I love daffodils. At the same time as our forsythia starts to bloom we have several prunus pissardii showing the delicate colours of their beautiful flowers and I adore them ! Having said that we do have two forsythias in our garden so I’m a bit of a contradiction here !

    • You are right, they not only bring colour but are also symbolic for the start of spring. I always think of the season beginning properly when the Forsythia opens.

  8. A great post and you make some very good points. We have some dwarf Forsythias here that were in the garden decades ago when we moved in. As others have mentioned, they sure to cheer things up after a long, cold winter. Thanks for this post. πŸ™‚

  9. Forsythia at this time of year always brings a smile, particularly in the rainy days. I say bring it on. Take more cuttings and enjoy it’s Spring offering πŸ’–

  10. I honestly think that the beauty Forsythia adds to the garden is reason enough to value its place in your landscape! And I would have a hard time thinking that any growing plant or flower doesn’t have some value, even if we can’t always be certain of its purpose. How wonderful that you have so much space and don’t have to really worry about the economy of one plant over another. It’s beautiful. And you’ve convinced me! It stays! πŸ™‚

    • Thank you Debra! Another vote for Forsythia. It is heartwarming to hear so many people do love it – I was led to believe (by gardening magazines?) that it is unworthy if not helping pollinators. But the bees are currently enjoying the willow catkins and hellbores anyway. πŸ˜ƒ

  11. Forsythia is not nearly as common here as it is in regions with cooler winter weather. Therefore, it lacks the stigma of a common species. However, what I dislike about it is that no one prunes it properly, and so-called ‘gardeners’ shear it so that it looks nasty while defoliated. It really can be spectacular if pruned properly, even if only pruned every few years or so.

    • Oh yes, I thoroughly agree. Some people here have garden services prune their shrubs, albeit only once a year and usually in autumn! What’s more, most of the people who do the work are not gardeners themselves and have no training. We have a word here to describe it: ‘Hausmeisterschnitt’ – the ‘caretaker’s cut’! 😜

      • We know them as ‘mow, blow and go’. It is discouraging that anyone who flunks out at any other industry can get into ‘gardening’. Most (seriously, most!) of the problems that I encounter while inspecting landscapes were caused by those involved with assembling or maintaining the landscapes. I know of someone here who was recently hired into the crew that maintains the parks and public landscapes of a nearby town. He sometimes asks me about horticultural issues. I do not mind because I am aware of his degree of experience and education. What I DO mind is that NO ONE with whom he works knows any more about horticulture than he does! They do not even know what a London plane is, even though it is among the most common of trees within their landscapes!

        • We were the sad victims of ‘landscapers’ advising us when we moved here. Never again! I should have trusted my own instincts and asserted myself. I know much more than they did!

          • While delivering material from the farm years ago, I observed some of the work that our clients were doing. Good jobs were very rare. The biggest were the worst. One client used our big and very old field grown rhododendrons and annuals at a home that no one lived in. He purchased and installed them just prior to bloom, and then cut them down after bloom. Only he and his crew and perhaps a few others who worked at the home saw them while they bloomed. He simply ordered more for the following year. It cost tens of thousands of dollars just for the material, but he did not care how he spent his clients money or profited from such expenditure. Another client who did deplorable work told me that he had been a chiropractor, but disliked all the stress and unhappy patients, so became a landscaper. I got annoyed, so told him that I dislike driving the delivery truck until we find a delivery driver, and that I am considering a career change to something less demanding and requiring less education. I told him that I might become a chiropractor.

  12. Oh I had to smile as I read your post, Cathy, as I have always been a bit ‘snooty’ about ‘common’ forsythia and its brash yellowness, but not have not been above snipping bits from a neighbour’s forsythia to put in a vase. However, I have recently found myself admitting just how much of an impact it makes in an early spring garden (like the equally yellow daffodils) and have this week used Mothers Day garden vouchers to buy the compact Forsythia ‘Mikado’ … make of that what you will…!

    • πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘ I am so glad you have succumbed to its charm Cathy! I am sure you will be using it in the odd vase or two next spring! πŸ˜‰

      • It is a secent size specinen too as my girls combined to get the voucher. Not sure if I want to cut it yet but, who knows, perhaps I will sneak a stem of it into a vase one of these Mondays… πŸ˜‰

  13. Pingback: In a Vase on Monday: Respecting my Elders | Words and Herbs

  14. Bravo to your gentle and wise plea for the humble forsythia, Cathy. I’m sometimes irritated by how snobbish gardeners can be. And then of course, a lot seem to hate yellow which is bizarre as it’s one of the most important colours for insects. Come to think of it, spring is all about yellow really. I love it, and until last year I actually had 3 forsythias in the garden, one with a beautiful weeping habit. You may have noticed in my last video that apart from the lizard there were also lots of insects, mostly flies, on ours. A lot of people love Hamamelis, myself included, although it doesn’t do much for wildlife. In a small garden it’s better to choose a plant with a longer season of interest but a bigger plot certainly gives you more freedom.

    • Hi Annette. I have to admit to being a bit snobbish myself in the past, spurning Impatiens and Zinnias and even Dahlias. But I would never criticize anyone for growing them! It has been too cold for anything except a few bees this spring so far, but the bumble bees have been visiting the pussy willow even in the rain. I have never seen anything visiting my Hamamelis, and it didn’t smell at all this year, but the Wintersweet was fabulous and lasted so long. My dwarf cherry is just starting to open – we are a bit behind but expect we will soon catch up!

      • Wintersweet is a fab shrub, I just adore the scent. I hope it won’t get too hot too quickly so that the roses last longer. I’ll open the garden beginning of June so fingers crossed.

  15. I love Forsythia and remember all the insects enjoying it when I had one in the garden (too far south now) I am growing weary of the native plant material guilt trip. It occurred to me about 80 percent of the natives I planted passed on and my pollinators are enjoying the salvias and other things just fine.

    • I agree with you on the ‘grow natives’ thing and how we are supposed to feel guilty about what we grow or don’t grow. Here it is more about growing things ‘for the bees’, but sadly many plants on sale for this purpose have been cultivated with the use of pesticides, excessive fertilizers and are flowering too early when put on sale, thus having gone over by the time any poor unsuspecting insect comes along! Hoorah for the Salvias though! My latest ones have arrived and are being cosseted indoors until it warms up. πŸ˜‰

  16. Forsythia never fails to cheer when it’s in flower especially on dull days. I don’t grow it though Cathy but have an excellent view of our neighbour’s shrub πŸ˜‚

    • I love seeing it growing in all the gardens around here, and am happy to see that more and more people are pruning it correctly too! πŸ˜ƒ

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