Border Forsythia: Lucky, Hope, New Beginnings

Border Forsythia: Lucky, Hope, New Beginnings

Before a touch of green finds its way up the branches, forsythias always blossoms first with bell-shaped yellow flowers each early spring. This is one of the horticulturists’ favorite shrub species, so widely loved in gardening that it is now a common sight in America and Europe – yet a short 200 years ago, it could only be found in Oriental gardens in the far east.

Forsythia is one of the first Eastern Asian shrubberies to be introduced to the West. How it traveled to the other side of the world unfolds intriguing stories of adventurous explorers, daring specimen hunters and renowned botanists.

William Forsyth

If the scientific name of forsythias has kept you curious, you have noticed the first man forever enshrined with it – William Forsyth, whose name lives in eternity with this genus of plant in honor of his contributions.

Border Forsythia: Lucky, Hope, New Beginnings

The Portrayal of William Forsyth.

William Forsyth was a Scottish botanist, horticulturist, and superintendent of the royal gardens at London St. James’ Palace and Kensington. He also co-founded the famous Royal Horticultural Society with the Royal Society’s President Joseph Banks and the Director of Kew Gardens William Townsend Aiton.

Border Forsythia: Lucky, Hope, New Beginnings

The Royal Horticultural Society’s main building.

Carl Peter Thunberg

Swedish botanist Carl Peter Thunberg was the first Westerner to find a specimen of Forsythia suspensa in a Japanese garden, which was also the first specimen in the Forsythia genus family ever scientifically collected.

Border Forsythia: Lucky, Hope, New Beginnings

The Portrayal of Carl Peter Thunberg

Carl was a surgeon working for the Dutch East India Company stationed on Dejima, a small artificial island off the coast of Nagasaki, which was the only place that allowed Westerners to come into contact with Japanese during Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu’s rule of lockdown. Despite the imposed restriction to move freely in Japan, Carl managed to collect over 800 plant specimens and published his collections in two catalogue masterpieces, Flora Japonica in 1784 and Fauna Japonica in 1833. (Note: Fauna Japonica was finished by Philipp Franz von Siebold after Carl’s death)

Border Forsythia: Lucky, Hope, New Beginnings

Architecture planning on the Dejima back then

Robert Fortune

Forsythia viridissma, another popular gardening specie in the Forsythia genus today, came from China. Its discoverer was the famous Scottish botanic hunter Robert Fortune. Where he found this specie was similar to Thunberg’s story – in a courtyard in Zhoushan, Zhejiang Province of China. Later, Fortune was also successful in collecting wild Forsythia viridissma specimen deep in the Zhoushan mountains.

Border Forsythia: Lucky, Hope, New Beginnings

Flora branch of Forsythia viridissma

A notorious plant hunter, Fortune introduced countless Oriental flora species to Europe. But he was most remembered for smuggling tens of thousand tee trees to India for British East India Company, an operation that broke China’s monopoly on tea production and added Sri Lanka, Darjeeling, and Assam to the list of the world’s most household tea producers.

Border Forsythia: Lucky, Hope, New Beginnings

Assam Tea

Herman Zabel

Compared to the few above, Prussian botanist Herman Zabel was rather unknown. But this Royal Prussian Academy of Forestry-employed botanist in Hannoversch Münden was the first to discover a Forsythia suspensa and F. viridissma hybrid in the Botanical Garden of Göttingen and published this finding in German magazine Gartenspaß. This is the come-about of our beloved Forsythia × intermedia, also known as border forsythia.

Border Forsythia: Lucky, Hope, New Beginnings

Blossoming border forsythia

Border forsythia was introduced to Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University in 1889. From there, generations of horticulturists cultivated several valuable flora species. Nowadays, border forsythia has probably become the most commonly seen forsythia cultivar in parks and gardens, combining the strengths of both Forsythia suspensa and F. viridissma – pruning-durable, adaptable, and excellent in cold-resistance.

Border Forsythia: Lucky, Hope, New Beginnings

Fall in Arnold Arboretum

Can I grow a decent border forsythia?

Forsythia is easy to grow, which is a major reason for its popularity. But there are still a few things you can do to grow it better.

Border Forsythia: Lucky, Hope, New Beginnings

First, forsythias love sunlight. If possible, grow it where sunlight is abundant all day. It could grow fine in a partially shaded environment, but the more sunlight, the more fully its flowers blossom.

Secondly, forsythias favor nutritious soil with good drainage. Keep the air-ventilated through the soil, water the plant regularly, keep the ground soil covered, and the plant will grow into its best form.

Size: 1.5–3m (5–10 ft.) in diameter

Hardiness: USDA Zones 5-8

Sunlight: full sun, partial shade

Soil: fertile, well-drained soil

Bloom Time: early spring