My mother called it First Breath of Spring. It was planted at every farmhouse near the back door, so on warm winter days its sweet fragrance met you every time you went in or out of the house. (Folks rarely used the front door back then.) A single cut stem tucked in a vase would perfume a whole room. Nowadays you are hard pressed to find it anywhere, which is a shame.
Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima – doesn’t that just roll off the tongue) is a large mounding semi evergreen shrub, which can reach 8 feet or more if left unpruned. Its small creamy white flowers begin blooming in January and continue through March. The fragrance, which reminds some of candy or bubblegum, is noticed more after the sun has warmed the flowers and is strongest in the afternoon.
Winter honeysuckle is not particular about sun or soil conditions and will grow happily in full sun to shade and doesn’t mind our red clay as long as it is not planted in standing water. Its natural arching shape is best if lightly pruned, so give it some room. Mind you, this is not a front yard shrub. Its habit of clinging to its old leaves makes it a bit scruffy in the winter and when you see it in a nursery pot you will wonder what all the fuss is about. It looks best in a natural area, screening a fence or next to the deck, where its fragrance can be enjoyed. It is also wonderful bird habitat, producing small red berries in summer that birds love. Mine was home to a cardinal for some years, who picked fights with his reflection in the bathroom window every spring.
So give it a try. It will brighten your winter days with its sweetness and give you a connection to days long past, when the first breath of spring promised warmer days to come.