Honeysuckle shrub a great winter find

Many years ago on a cold, sunny February day at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, my nose discovered a new scent. My eyes scanned hungrily for the source without success. How could it be possible to smell such delight without seeing its source? I had to learn which plant smelled of winter paradise.

Furtively glancing about to make sure there were no witnesses, I let my nose lead my feet into a shrub border, hoping to find the source. It is not acceptable to walk in the beds, agreed, but you must know of my secret trespass to understand how wonderfully possessed a fragrance can make you.

And I captured my quarry: a large, 12 feet tall by 10 feet wide shrub with woody stems arching as tendrils. The leaves were rounded, light green, extremely plain Jane, with ivory flowers strung along the length of each tendril. The flowers blended in with the leaves, creating a shrub showier in fragrance than appearance.

Great. This was the source, but what was its name? I rooted and wallowed delicately, upright, completely engulfed, into this confection, searching for a plant tag. It was a botanical garden, after all.

Gloriously, there was a tag, and it was a shocker. The plant was Lonicera fragrantissima. Lonicera is the botanical name for a honeysuckle vine. This shrub could not pass, in the least, for a vine. I scurried carefully out of the bed and told no one of my trespass - until now.

With Lonicera, botanical names are extremely important. Many species of Lonicera become invasive, choking out native plants and destroying habitats for wildlife. Luckily, winter honeysuckle, as it is commonly called, is not one of the invasive types. It tolerates full sun or full shade, blooming best in sun to part-sun.

Depending on the weather, winter honeysuckle will bloom for three to six weeks. In addition to its fragrance, winter honeysuckle, once established, is drought tolerant. Stems with flowers and buds can be broken off and brought into the house. Smash the bottom of the stems with a meat cleaver or hammer to allow water to be absorbed easily.

Winter honeysuckle is chosen for its fragrance, not its looks. Plant one someplace in your backdrop, or behind a garage. Telling you of my transgression in discovering this plant makes me aware of another transgression: I haven't designed winter honeysuckle into nearly enough landscapes. Belated, but a good item to include on a New Year's resolution list: Plant winter honeysuckle.

Stone Mountain resident Tara Dillard designs, installs and writes about gardens. Her most recent books include "Garden Paths and Stepping Stones" and "Perennials for

Georgia." E-mail her at taradillard@agardenview.biz or visit www.agardenview.biz.