I bet if you were to make a list of the Latin plant names that were easy to remember, Daphne would be up near the top of the list. Daphne is a name you just don’t forget. Whether it was Fred’s “friend” from Scooby Doo or Marty Crane’s nurse on Frasier, Daphne is commonly associated with being attractive and refined (remember that Daphne on Frasier even had a nice, British accent). I will carry that over to a wonderful family of shrubs named Daphne. This genus of shrubs usually is evergreen, with fragrant spring flowers, and can be perceived as being finicky or short-lived in most cultivated landscapes. It has been my experience that you could have an entire hedgerow of Daphne look wonderful on a Monday, in flower on Wednesday, and a quarter of the plants are dead on Friday. It’s unpredictable nature should be overlooked in my opinion. If you have ever smelled a plant in flower, it will impress upon you that you have to grow it in your garden. The smell is sweet and sublime. Much better than that new car smell which car companies were hoping we would buy into after the Super Bowl. Speaking of cars, if I was a nurseryman, I would sell Daphne like a car salesman.
“Hey, come here, put your nose up to that flower! Can you smell that? I mean, can you smell that? That is better than unicorns and skittles! Am I right? I mean, am I right?” Well, maybe I would not use that much enthusiasm but I would urge you to realize the sublime fragrance of Daphne.
Of all of the Daphne species available on the market, this year I am going to give Daphne x transatlantica a shot. This hybrid of D. caucasica and D. collina comes with high praise but I have yet to grow. Colin Crosbie, who is the Curator of the gardens at RHS Wisley, says that the Eternal Fragrance cultivar of fragrant Daphne is a must for every garden. Daphne x transatlantica is a smaller growing shrub, maturing at around 3 feet in height to 3 feet in width. Fragrant Daphne should be planted into moist, well drained soil and should grow in full sun to part shade. The closer you live to the equator, the more shade I would provide the plants. Planting the plants in a wet spot would be something that I would totally avoid. The plants will struggle in wet sites and eventually die. Also, depending on where you live, fragrant Daphne may be partially evergreen. You have a greater chance of having an evergreen plant from the warmer parts of USDA zone 7 to zone 8. Daphne x transatlantica is reportedly cold hardy down to zone 5.
There are several cultivars available from nurseries including: Eternal Fragrance™ or ‘Blafra’ – a pale pink, flowering selection that blooms from late spring until frost, ‘Jim’s Pride’ – a long-flowering cultivar, which, depending on where you live, can flower from April until frost (almost 6 months!), and ‘Summer Ice’ – a variegated sport of ‘Jim’s Pride’ with white, fragrant flowers all summer. Be sure to check out Charlie Bale’s blog, Seattle Trekker, where he covered ‘Eternal Fragrance’ last year.
We are planting Daphne x transatlantica in a couple of spots in the gardens at CMBG this summer. One location is partially shaded along our entrance walk and the other is in full sun along our great lawn area. I will be sure to report back how they perform in each of these spots. How about you, have you grown any of the fragrant Daphne selections? If so, what do you think about the plants?
Images: Charlie Bale via Seattle Trekker, William Cullina