Wednesday Weed – Forsythia

Every Wednesday, I hope to find a new ‘weed’ to investigate. My only criterion will be that I will not have deliberately planted the subject of our inquiry. Who knows what we will find…..

Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia)

Dear Readers, at this time of year the gardens of East Finchley are graced with great bursts of gaudy custard-yellow flowers, borne on bare stems. This is forsythia, the early-flowering shrub of choice in large areas of London, because of its reliability and its love for the capital’s claggy clay soil. It can be pruned into a neat shrub, allowed to grow into a tree 3-4 metres high, or  can be cut into a bush. It is tolerant of more or less anything. Viewed from my upstairs window, it looks as if there are little patches of sunshine breaking out everywhere. I welcome forsythia’s  boisterous good spirits at this time of year, but it is a plant that seems to polarise people: here, for example, is a piece by James Alexander Sinclair on the Gardeners’ World website. It seems he doesn’t like it much (and there is some British understatement for you):

Spring 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…….

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’.

Well, now we all know where Mr Alexander Sinclair stands. What do you think?

Forsythia on the left, mimosa on the right

Forsythia is a member of the Olearaceae or Olive family, and the hybrid that is most grown in British gardens was discovered in the Gottingen Botanical Gardens in Germany in 1898. The plant is sometimes found naturalised in the UK, and spreads by creating new plants when the roots touch the ground.

By 4028mdk09 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Forsythia growing in the wild in Heidelberg, Germany (Photo One – see credit below)

Forsythia was named after the Scottish botanist William Forsyth, who created the first rock garden in England and who is also the great grandfather of Bruce Forsyth, formerly host of The Generation Game and latterly Strictly Come Dancing. The Generation Game was a Saturday evening must-see when I was growing up, and featured two families doing battle via using a potter’s wheel, Irish dancing or some other talent. At the end, the winning family would get everything that they could remember from a parade of consumer goods that passed them on a conveyor belt in 30 seconds. It always included a ‘cuddly toy’. What innocent days!  I can never get over the strange alleyways through which this blog leads me.

William Forsyth (Public Domain)

By SqueakBox at English Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5,

Bruce Forsyth (Photo Two – see credit below)

I was rather surprised to discover that the pretty flowers of forsythia have been used in a variety of culinary ways: here, for example, is a recipe for forsythia syrup from the Pure Traditions website. As I can detect almost no scent from the plant, and a nibble at the petals doesn’t reveal any particular flavour, I wonder what the syrup tastes of? If you make some, do let me know.

And even though this is not a cat blog I couldn’t resist the picture below, mainly because the picture reminds me of Felix, one of my very favourite foster cats. You’re welcome, cat lovers.

Forsythia and a very fine cat indeed (Public Domain)


One story that I have been chasing round and round the internets is a belief that forsythia flowers contain lactose. This would be most unusual, as this is normally only found in milk, but there seem to be several studies that suggest that the pollen of the plant does contain up to 25% lactose, or at least the component parts of the sugar. It’s thought that the sugars might play a part in protecting the buds of the plant from frost damage. On the other hand, there are several other studies which have failed to isolate the chemical. The whole discussion is making my head hurt, so I will just leave it here. In Chinese medicine, Forsythia suspensa, a close relative of our forsythia,  is used to treat problems of ‘mammary welling-abscesses’, and is generally thought to be useful for problems around breast-feeding.

You might be interested to know that we have just missed the 2017 Forsythia Festival, held in Forsyth, Georgia, in the second week of March. I particularly regret missing the Retro Eighties Night, and the visit from Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits. As we couldn’t be there, here’s a taste of what we missed (though I imagine that Mr Noone looks a bit older these days)

As my regular readers know, I love to finish off a piece with a painting or a poem, and this week I’ve found two! First up  is American poet Billy Collins, one of my very favourite poets. It’s taken from the Poem A Day blog.

Forsythia – Billy Collins 
It caught my eye a while ago, lit up
against the gloom of the woods
in the corner of a wild field,
the pulsing color of caution.
And now that I have spent a little time
on this stone wall watching its fire
flare out of the earth
I begin to think about the long chronicle of forsythia
how these same flowers have blazed
through the centuries,
roused from the ground by the churning of spring.
I would rather not look around the next
corner of the year to see how this will die,
its lights going out,
its bare, arcing branches
waving like whips in the bitter wind.
So I sit facing the past,
letting my feet dangle over the wall,
beating time against stone with my heels
as the long gray clouds roll over me.
Remember how Arnold by the Channel
thought of Sophocles who must have heard
the same shore-sounds long ago,
walking by the edge of the Aegean?
Well, I am holding in the palm of my thoughts
all the others who once were stopped,
like me, by this brightness,
this sulfuric cry for help:
women in tunics, women gathered by a well,
men in feathers, men swimming by a river,
all speaking languages I will never know,
saying the different words for its color
as I feel the syllables of yellow form in my mouth
and hear the sound of yellow fill the morning air.


And here, from the The Herald, is ‘Old Woman in a Forsythia Bush’ by the Scottish poet, Vickie Feaver. How this speaks to me now that I’m getting older – ‘the long dark corridors of another winter’ indeed.

Old Woman in a Forsythia Bush

Bright bush of yellow stars

reaching out to me with long

bowed wands, among fields

ringing with blackbird songs;

where lambs, licked into life

by sheep’s rough tongues,

leap like ballet dancers,

impossibly high, as if hung

on strings of a great puppeteer

who dangled me when young,

exciting me to strip of vest

and bra to celebrate spring;

and, now I’m old, whose arms

have dragged me through the long

dark corridors of another winter

to sit on this sunny seat, among

starry stems of forsythia,

buoyant again, as if sprung

from my body and floating

above it, like a seed flung

from the grey head of dandelion.

Photo Credits
Photo One (Wild forsythia ) – By 4028mdk09 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Two (Bruce Forsyth) – By SqueakBox at English Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5,
All other blog content free to use and share non-commercially, but please attribute and link back to the blog, thank you!


8 thoughts on “Wednesday Weed – Forsythia

  1. Sarah Ann Bronkhorst

    A lovely varied (eccentric?) post with poetry to raise my brow and Hermann’s Hermits to lower it. Irresistible joyous pop!

  2. Veronica Cooke

    I love Forsythia and yah boo sucks to Mr. Sinclair! There was a bush of it outside the front door of the first house I ever lived in as a married woman…

    How can you not like it’s wonderfully cheerful colour? I’ve become fonder and fonder of yellow as I age. I look for yellow clothes when I’m charity shopping and yellow accessories and once upon a time I wouldn’t have looked at it.

    Those were two lovely poems.

  3. gertloveday

    You are certainly wide ranging in you interests. I’m not sure how much forsythia grows here in Australia and will check. If there is any it is probably a designated pest. These English plants tend to bolt here.
    Fine cats. Would you say Felix is a Kitler?

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  5. Toffeeapple

    I like it, it cheers up a dismal day no end. I do wish there was some Mimosa growing hereabouts though.

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