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Forsythia, a Fountain of Golden Bells

Each day my garden wakens a bit more, and the colors of spring — green, blue, orange, pink, and yellow — are beginning to show. Last week my forsythias had only gray branches, and now golden bells are coming out all along their arching stems. Here are some photos, as they are beginning to bloom:

Forsythia is a common shrub which grows in hardiness zones 4-9. Its golden bell-shaped flowers appear all along the stems prior to the fresh green leaves in early spring. It is a tough, reliable plant which does best in sun to part shade and well drained, acid soil. My plants are a form of forsythia suspensa. These are large shrubs, growing up to eight feet tall and wider than that. They have a weeping habit, and older plants can look quite wild, with branches growing willy-nilly in all directions. There are many cultivars, with those of forsythia intermedia being smaller and more upright in habit. These also tend to have more strongly colored flowers than the cultivars of forsythia suspensa

All of my forsythias are ancient, and I prune them every few years to maintain their vigor. Pruning should be done after flowering, as they bloom on old wood. I haven't done a thing to mine in years, and I think this year I should prune and fertilize them. Earlier this week I spent all of one day pulling vines and cutting dead branches out of my oldest forsythia. It looks much neater and healthier, and I am sure it will bloom better now.

Old forsythias which are blooming poorly can be rejuvenated by drastically cutting back to the ground, so that vigorous new growth begins. It will take a few years for the plant to reach its full glory, so I would do this as a last resort. I have never cut mine back that severely; though when I prune them, I do usually cut about a third of the oldest stems back to the base. 

Forsythias will form suckers, and branches will take root where they touch the ground. These can be cut and transplanted to other locations. All of my forsythias came from the same mother plant, the old one I spoke of above.

I don't think forsythia is the most beautiful plant, but I do like its graceful habit and its cheerful flowers that come in with spring. I have a sentimental attachment as well. The mother plant was blooming shortly after my third son was born. My memories of his early infancy include rocking him while gazing out the large living room windows and watching a family of red birds nesting in its branches. I always think of that special time when I see it blooming.

My neighbor Betty recently gave me an old birdhouse. It is well made of cedar, and I painted it and hung it in the woodland garden near the mother forsythia. I don't know if the red birds, or any birds, will be interested. But it is  a pretty bird house, and they are welcome.

I have been busy weeding, raking, planting, and transplanting this week. And most important, relaxing. I regularly spend time soaking in the sights and sounds and smells of my garden. What is the point of my garden, if I don't watch the birds or appreciate forsythia's fountain of golden bells?

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Reader Comments (15)

I'm very fond of forsythia. My parents had a lovely giant shrub in the back garden when I was a child, and it was always the first thing to bloom in the garden. Although it might not have been giant...I was much smaller then! I loved it though, and for little me it would cast just enough shade for me in summer. I love your bird house, and the lovely colors you painted it. I hope your birds appreciate it too!

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

I know forsythia aren't flashy like so many wonderful spring bloomers, but I have a great affection for the "yellow bells," as we called them growing up. Seeing your lovely photos has made me a bit nostalgic. I do not like them pruned harshly or in geometric shapes, though. There is one in the yard of the next-door rental, and it's a horrible box shape.

My parents had a single one that went on to produce four others and they grow pretty wild in their woodland setting, with great fountain-like shapes, very natural looking and full of golden blooms probably in a week or two. Maybe I'll get to see them in bloom when I visit for Easter. :)

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMeredith

I'm also very fond of forsythia, which normally won't start to bloom here for a few more weeks. But I have a few sprigs in a vase here in my office, and I expect blooms to open in the next day or two. Forsythia is like this huge round of applause from nature, that winter is finally behind us, and they make me smile. I've never grown the white ones, because I figure other than snowdrops and some white daffs, I've had enough of white by spring and I want sunny yellow!

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjodi (bloomingwriter)

I look forward to forsythia here in Connecticut - it's really the first color we look forward too in spring, and happily appreciated along with the daffodils.

March 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCyndy

Dear Deborah, I have to confess that Forsythia would not rank in my Top Ten of favourite shrubs but maybe that is because it is a fairly common and noticeable sight at this time of year. I sometimes wonder if there is a London garden without some form or other of it. Having said that, it is really cheerful to have after the bleak, colourless winter months and so I can well see why it has widespread appeal.

Your 'new' bird house is lovely. I do hope that it becomes occupied before too long.

March 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEdith Hope

I share your appreciation for the golden bells of Forsythia Deb! I have to watch out for it though as it is taking over my front garden... I just may let it and move all the plants for the country road is there. I love the golden yellow brush strokes that fill the front when they are all abloom. I love the photo of your birdhouse... and enjoy all your sights, smells and sounds in the garden! Lucky you... but our snow is melting and today the rain will wash away more! ;>)

March 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

You're ahead of us here in the north, so it's a treat to see your forsythia ready to burst out. Makes me eager to see ours. Like the other commenters here, I feel a kind of a guilty pleasure admiring forsythia... it's too common and too rangy, but it really is a delight to see!

March 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

It is always wonderful to see the brilliant yellow blooms of forsythia's in the spring. I hope we here escape the ' three more snows after the forsythia blooms ' lore. This is a busy time in the gardens now with green plants rising and the birds returning to make their nests. Your forsythia and daffodils are so pretty.

March 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLona

I am quite envious of your advanced spring, but mine's coming along! Bulbs are popping up everywhere, but no blooms yet. I keep wondering what will show up first, since they are all newly planted. Snowdrops, hellebores, crocus, which will it be?

March 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobinL

I love my forsythia, as its one of first blooms in spring. I don’t think that it would be noticeable that much if it would flower is summer, when there is so much color and flowers around...

March 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commentervrtlaricaana

Deb ! Thanks for visiting my blog : )
You have a beautiful one here .. I wish I could create my own background (one day during the winter I might hatch the idea ? LOL)
Great information on this shrub .. that amazing yellow when it blooms, screams SPRING IS HERE !!! LOL

March 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoy

I do have a love for forsythia as well. It is quite common, on every farm in the neighbourhood, where I grew up. I especially love forcing the branches. Where else could I get 4 foot branches of gold for my house?

Deb, I really like Forsythia, both for the bright yellow colour, and it's announcement of Spring's arrival!
My mom had a beautiful specimen growing in our yard while I was growing up. Would love to add one to my garden.
Lovely blog. : ) Happy Spring!

Lovely forsythia photos I am not quite sure how but we lost two mature bushes from my garden I can only think they got too dry one summer as they are usually such hardy bushes and were so well established.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne

I love forsythia. It truly does herald in Springtime. When we lived in Nashville, I had an elderly neighbor who used to call me every Spring to come see her forsythia in bloom. She had huge shrubs. She told me that all but one were from cuttings she took from the first and that she had just stuck the cuttings in the ground and they rooted. I never see a forsythia in bloom that I don't think of her. Thanks for sharing yours with us.

March 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris

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