Name: Forsythia is generally known by its correct botanical name, which is forsythia. Golden bell is an American name, not used much here in Ireland.

Botanical name: Forsythia was named in honour of a Scottish-born 18th century superintendent of the Royal Gardens of Kensington Palace, a William Forsyth. It might well have a local Chinese name, but Mr Forsyth holds sway in botanical terms.

Botanical family: Forsythia is a member of the olive family, the Oleaceae, along with ash, privet and lilac. It flowers in shades of bright yellow, some lighter, some darker, depending on variety.

Decorative features

Forsythia is among the most reliable of garden plants, flowering on bare branches with great gusto each spring without fail. If anything, its reliability has led to this plant being taken for granted, rather too common. But the forsythia has long been a favourite of gardeners, any plant that reliably produces masses of colour, and is extremely easy to grow, is bound to find favour. Easy to grow from cuttings, it has been passed around a great deal by gardeners, making it difficult to appreciate that the plant has only been in Europe for a little over a century.

Garden use

There are various species and varieties. The usual kind is Fosythia x intermedia, especially the variety ‘Lynwood’, a hybrid of two Chinese species that arose in an Irish garden. It grows to a twiggy bush of about three metres tall and as broad. This often necessitates its being pruned to keep it to a reasonable size. This pruning should be carried out immediately after flowering and should consist of the complete removal of older branches and the shortening back of others. The variety ‘Spectabilis’ has deeper yellow flowers.

The other common forsythia is Forsythia suspensa, and this is the one seen in older gardens. It is a semi-climbing, scrambling bush with long arching branches. If it meets another large shrub, it sends long, snaking branches through its neighbour and often the branches peep out the other side to flower. This is a very graceful plant with more spidery flowers, and as a true species, it retains much of the wild character of the original.

Site and soil conditions

Although forsythia is quite robust, it does best in a reasonably sheltered place, and better in sunshine where more flowers will be produced. Forsythia can be grown on any soil and it is completely hardy. In mild weather it opens a few flowers even in late winter, but the main show comes in March and April. Cut branches will open the flowers early, which adds to the length of the season to enjoy this lovely shrub.

Kitchen garden: success with French beans

French beans are arguably the best vegetable to grow in the garden. They are relatively easy to grow, need no thinning and are very good at resisting weeds. Besides that, they are best eaten as fresh as possible, and are not particularly cheap in the shops.

There is only one fly in the ointment when it comes to growing French beans and that is the somewhat unpredictable and patchy establishment from seed sown directly outdoors. Better results can be achieved by starting the seeds off in a greenhouse or cold frame or even on the windowsill indoors.

French beans are not French, despite their popularity as “haricots verts”. They actually originated in Central America. Being from those balmy latitudes, it is not surprising that they are prone to frost, and even if not killed, the plants can be severely damaged. French beans like to have a soil temperature of more than 12°C and this is generally not achieved until mid-April or longer.

Sow the seeds individually in small pots of half soil/half riddled garden compost. Watch for mouse damage to the seeds and do not let the seedlings suffer from drought at any stage. Plant about 30cm apart in good soil and warm weather in April or early May. Harden them off, placing them outdoors during the day for seven days, and plant when about 10cm tall.

This week’s reminders


Complete sowing of bedding flower seeds in the coming couple of weeks. If they are late sown, they will flower late and may disappoint. They can be started off in the heat indoors and moved out to the cooler greenhouse. A small heated propagator is a great help.

Fruit, vegetables and herbs

Tidy up herb plants to allow new stems to grow freely. Early varieties of cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, lettuce, peas and onions can still be started in a greenhouse. Pruning of apple and pear trees and blackcurrant bushes should be completed as growth begins.


Apply lawn mosskiller if there is heavy moss growth. Regular mowing should begin soon if not already started, but not during wet weather. Re-make the edges of beds and borders and trim the grass where it meets kerbs. A wildflower lawn should have a tidy up mowing.

Trees, shrubs and roses

Evergreens, both broad-leaved and coniferous, can be planted as the sap rises over the coming month or so. A good watering at planting and two weeks later is usually all they need. Deciduous trees have begun to break bud but pot-grown plants can still be planted.

Greenhouse and house plants

Sow seeds now of tomatoes for greenhouse growing, also sweet peppers and chilli peppers. These are easy to grow and fill the greenhouse during the summer months. Delayed sowing will delay cropping. Pot up begonias and cannas for summer display. Water regularly.