Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today


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Plant Profiles

Gold-leaved Forsythia



Spring and forsythia:  It's not easy to have one without the other.  I have four cultivars and species already.  All of them have talents far beyond the flowers.  This one is 'Gold Leaf', and the name says it all.  Long after the flowers are history, the foliage is still glowing.




It emerges as the flowers are peaking, so you're assured of a continuous show of color from early Spring through frost.



Here's how to grow this colorful shrub:

Latin name

Forsythia x intermedia 'Gold Leaf'

Common name

Gold-leaved forsythia


Oleaceae, the Olive family.

What kind of plant is it

Deciduous shrub.


Zones 5 - 8.  The flowerbuds can be winterkilled in Zone 5; see "How to handle it" for strategies to maximize hardiness.


Sprawling, with arching branches that root where they touch the ground.  Without control, a haystack profile will result.

Rate of growth


Size in ten years

Unless controlled, a haystack of ten to twelve feet wide and six to eight feet tall.  See "How to handle it" for strategies for control that result in an attractive look.


Medium.  The leaves and flowers are both fairly small, but also profuse.  Free-range forsythia growth may be chaotic, but it isn't dense. 

Grown for

its foliage:  As the inevitable early-Spring flowers fade, the gold foliage emerges.  Although it mutes over the Summer, it remains distinctly colorful the entire season.


its flowers: Typical for forsythia: Four-petaled in the brightest yellow possible—too bright for most Spring gardens—scattered and bunched up and down the stems.  To my eye, the only use for the flowers is when branches are cut in mid-Winter, and brought into the house to force.  Blooming forsythia stems in a bouquet are charming and even dramatic; blooming forsythia shrubs are usually an eyesore in the landscape.

Flowering season

Early-Spring: in April here in Rhode Island.

Color combinations

The chrome-yellow flowers are almost indigestibly bright, but you could celebrate instead of cringing by adding more of early Spring's other chrome-yellow flowers.  Make the yellow pop even more stridently by backing the bush with dark-leaved evergreens.  Provide some welcome notes of grace by adding white flowers, especially those with yellow parts.  If you site the forsythia near pale-yellow flowers, it can supply just the jangle to save the whole from the curse of peaceful good taste.


Forsythia is so early that there's little color that can be added via the foliage of deciduous shrubs or trees, which means that your further choices will be limited to the foliage of evergreens, the early-Spring flowers of bulbs and other early-flowering deciduousities, and the emerging foliage of eager perennials.  But there are so many plants performing in early Spring that these aren't really limitations at all.


The favored colors to pair with bright yellow—white, blue, and other yellow—are all plentiful in forsythia season.  Alas, so is the ultimate clash of pink.  Forsythia that is within eye-shot of pink magnolias should be exterminated without mercy.  Folks who have painted their houses yellow even though they have a pink magnolia nearby should be befriended, if only so that they'll be receptive to painting the house white even sooner than needed.


See "Partner plants" below.

Partner plants

There are many options with broadleaved and coniferous evergreens.  My 'Gold Leaf' has southern magnolia to one side, and the lighter-but-even-larger leaves of big-leaf bamboo underneath.  Evergreens variegated with white or yellow work, too, such as Ilex x meserveae 'Honeymaid' and Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald and Gold'—but given that 'Gold Leaf' requires some shade, Aucuba cultivars, such as 'Picturata' or 'Mr. Goldstrike' would be even better, provided they can be sited in Zone 7 and warmer.  Variegated cultivars of Elaeagnus, such as 'Eleador' and 'Gilt Edge', tolerate some shade too, but also have the same mild-climate limitation.


There are broadleaved evergreen perennials, too—and, fortunately, the most helpful are both fairly hardy and shade-tolerant.  If you're lucky to be gardening in Zone 7 and warmer, you can revel in the evergreen cousins of Ligularia, whose name is the even more odd-sounding, Farfugium.  Their large and leathery leaves are an exciting contrast with the small 'Gold Leaf' foliage and, even better, there are cultivars whose foliage colors relate to gold with intensity as well as style.  The oversized leaves of 'Giganteum' are conspicuously shiny and deep green; in sheen and color they are the equal of the foliage of southern magnolias.  The medium-green leaves of 'Aureomaculatum' are spotted with gold.


If Farfugium isn't hardy for you, not a problem.  The plants thrive in containers, and can be overwintered as houseplants or in a greenhouse.  Summer pots of Farfugium at the sunny front edge of your 'Gold Leaf':  They are much more tolerant of both heat and light.


Hellebores can be a mainstay of 'Gold Leaf' plantings, and there are species and cultivars every bit as hardy as the forsythia.  Depending on the cultivar and your climate, the foliage can be solidly evergreen, and the flowers can harmonize in yellow, apple green, burgundy, or white.  (And even if the foliage doesn't persist through the Winter, it reappears, along with the flowers themselves, in time for the forsythia's flowering.)  Like Spring bulbs, hellebores tolerate Summer shade from deciduous shrubs and trees in their overstory.  Plant named cultivars so that the flowers are the congenial shades of white, yellow, burgundy, or ebony that will harmonize with the forsythia, and be alert for self-sown seedlings, whose flowers will usually be in clashing shades of pink.


Early flowers and deciduous foliage provide even more possibilities, especially in colder climates.  Daffodils are in bloom with forsythia, and can provide any hue of yellow or white, from virginal to acid.  So are grape hyacinths, which can bring in blue as bright as the forsythia's yellow.  But the challenge is that 'Gold Leaf' needs shade, and few bulbs thrive year-after-year if they don't get Spring sun.  The answer is to grow 'Gold Leaf' and its partners beneath, or on the north side of, large shrubs or trees that are deciduous.   Their foliage will be out by the time the sun is so strong it could scorch 'Gold Leaf'—by which time the bulb foliage will have gone dormant.


Choose such an overstory plant with forsythia-friendly talents, such as yellow or white flowers in early Spring.  Deciduous magnolias are in bloom, and many cultivars are yellow.  Consider Cornus mas and Lindera benzoin, as well.  'Gold Leaf' would also glow contentedly beneath a Japanese maple.  Choose an upright cultivar, not a mounder, that will grow large enough to shade the forsythia comfortably.  The standard purple-leaved uprights, such as 'Bloodgood', are just fine, but the upright cultivars with feathery foliage, in any color, would be a better play of texture.  The burgundy leafets of Acer palmatum 'Beni Otake' foliage, for example, are so narrow the tree has the texture of small-leaved bamboo.


The new foliage of hostas are often chrome yellow, and the sheath that precedes them can be a very showy burgundy.  Both partner well with 'Gold Leaf'.  (I've written about 'Patriot', whose noses are grape; its foliage is green and white, and all three colors can stand up to chrome yellow.) 

Where to use it in your garden

Forsythia 'Gold Leaf' can brighten a garden's shady side.  I grow mine on the north side of my house, in a narrow bed along the driveway.  The shade of a building or wall is solid, not dappled.  This helps the forsythia, but the solid shade limits the partner plants.  Growing 'Gold Leaf' under deciduous species that provide dappled Summer shade lets you partner with a wider range of companions.


Almost any soil with average moisture.  Growth is fastest when the soil is rich in organic matter.  Morning sun or part shade; the foliage will scorch badly in hot sun, especially if the shrub becomes drought-stressed.

How to handle it: The Basics

Plant in Spring or Fall where the shrub will be protected from hot sun.  Let the shrub establish for two or three years, then, immediately after flowering is through, help the shrub's natural arching and wand-like growth build on those tendencies by cutting all stems back drastically.  New growth is prompt, and will lengthen to four to six feet by September, as well as bloom heavily the following Spring.  Early-Spring pruning controls overall size as well as creating a vase-like profile that is handsome year-round.  It also inspires the growth of the long and (mostly) unbranched stems that look the best in bouquets.  

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

You could grow 'Gold Leaf' forsythia on a wall, fanning some main branches to anchors and then, as above, cutting all the secondary branches back to nubs as soon as flowering is through.  Growing the shrub against a wall helps hardiness:  The wall automatically blocks the wind from its backside, which might lessen wind-chill enough to permit bud hardiness.  Better, if you're training to a wall that faces north or northeast, it helps keep stems out of hot sun, which can scorch the foliage even of well-watered shrubs of 'Gold Leaf' to a crisp. 

Any quirks or special cases?

Gold-leaved forsythia isn't solidly bud-hardy in Zone 5, but is stem-hardy even into Zone 4.  You might consider growing the shrub as a die-back, the way we gardeners in Zones 6 and 7 grow figs.  Mound soil onto the base of the shrub in the Fall.  If snow-cover is heavy, you may even get some flowers the following Spring.  Either way, remove the mounded-up soil as soon as you can in Spring, and cut all stems to the ground after flowering.  Whether or not you have many Spring flowers, you'll have a gold-foliaged shrub all Summer long, which is far more than any green-leaved forsythia can say.


The flowers are too bold by half, but they're only a passing show.  By  May, you'll be grateful for the foliage, and you'll remain grateful all season.


There are many cultivars of forsythia, most often bred for increased cold tolerance of the buds.  Given that the green-leaved variants are boring the rest of the year, their usefulness in a garden is minimal.  The culivars with interesting foliage or form, however, are all worth having, provided you can make your peace with their too-bright flowers. 


The veins of the leaves of 'Kumson' are white, and so the leaves have a delicate netted look.  Those of 'Citrus Swizzle' are strongly variegated, changing from cartreuse to near-white.  At 12 - 18 inches high, the shrub is also a dwarf and, for those of us who find forsythia flowers hard to stomach, it rarely flowers.  The leaves of 'Fiesta' are sectioned in gold and green; this is a mid-sized cultivar.  As usual with forsythia, all of these benefit from being cut to the ground annually, producing clear wands of growth with, in these cases, foliage with good-quality variegation that's effective all season.  Instead of the usual tactic of pruning everything right after flowering, you could do the cutting gradually over the Winter, by harvesting all the branches to force indoors.  Or if you'd rather have just the show of the foliage, prune in earliest Spring, before bloom.


The stems of Forsythia suspensa are particularly long and flexible.  This is a shrub to try planting at the top of ledge or a high retaining wall.  My flat terrain offers neither, so I'm going to train several up rebar frames strung with cross-wires, in hopes that they'll grow into weeping panels.  I'll wear sunglasses if the flowering is too intense.




By layering and by cuttings.  Stems root very easily.

Native habitat

Forsythia x intermedia is a hybrid of F. suspensa, native to China, and F. viridissima, also native to China.

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