Let’s call the whole thing … a really splendid harbinger of spring.
Actually, most people say “fors-i-thia” when we’re talking about Forsythia. But I always see Mr. Forsyth’s surname fossilized in there. He was the royal gardener who introduced this Asian native shrub to the west, around the time when Jane Austen was a girl.
There was a large, unruly forsythia in our garden when we first moved in, two decades ago. It was planted in shade, so rarely bloomed enough to compensate for its size and ragamuffin appearance in all the other seasons. I dug it up (or, rather, got my husband to do it) and gave it away. But I do miss it when I see this blaze of yellow in other gardens.
In the meantime, compact new varieties have become more widely available. Among the many forsythias listed at Humber Nurseries – a really wonderful nursery with a really lousy online catalog – Forsythia ‘Golden Tide’ is purported to grow only a half-metre tall. I might be able to find a sunny corner for that one.
The older cultivars of forsythia are usually fairly statuesque, and need to be kept in check by avid pruning. However, do this only after flowering, preferably immediately after.
In an established and overgrown forsythia, and those do tend to be the rule around Toronto, the best way to prune is to cut the oldest growing stems (as much as one-third of the branches) right down to the ground. Chopping off the stems at the height at which you want to contain the growth only makes the shrub dense and ungainly near the top, and reduces flowering along the stems. They need sunshine to set their buds this year for next year’s flowers.
Of course, you can cheat a little, by pruning at least some of the branches just before they’re about to open and forcing them indoors, to bring all that spring sunshine into the house.