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 is usually a semi-evergreen shrub with fragrant spring flowers and can be perceived as being finicky or short-lived in most cultivated landscapes.
It is unflattering to say – but 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 Can Be a Tricky Plant – But Grow it Anyway.
Its unpredictable nature should, however, be overlooked, in my opinion.
If you have ever smelled an eternal fragrance of daphne 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.
Growing Daphne x transatlantica
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, and more compact shrub, maturing at around 3 feet in height to 3 feet in width. Fragrant Daphne should be planted into moist soil with good drainage and should grow in full sun to part shade. The closer you live to the equator, the more I would lean into the partial shade rather than the full sun.
Planting the plants in a wet spot would be something that I would totally avoid (opt instead for sandy soils or a rock garden or any place where you have very well-drained soil – you will get better performance). The plants will struggle in wet sites and eventually die. Also, depending on where you live, the dark green foliage of 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 (they are not as good at maintaining their dark green evergreen foliage in places with severe winters). Daphne x transatlantica is reportedly cold hardy down to zone 5.
There are several cultivars available from nurseries, including:
- Eternal Fragrance™ or ‘Blafra’ – grows pale pink flowers; it is a 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!). It won a Gold Medal Plant award from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and it is prized for its clusters of fragrant white tubular flowers.
- ‘Summer Ice’ – a variegated sport of ‘Jim’s Pride’ with fragrant white flowers all summer. Be sure to check out Charlie Bale’s blog, Seattle Trekker, where he covered ‘Eternal Fragrance’ last year.
All daphne grow at a very slow rate. They are naturally rounded shrubs that only require occasional pruning. In fact, they will not respond well to any sort of hard pruning. Their slower growth means that they tend to be smaller plants that can be particularly good choices for small gardens.
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 on how they perform in each spot. How about you? Have you grown any of the fragrant Daphne selections? If so, what do you think about the plants?
Update On Daphne: 2023
Note from Rochelle –
I have grown Daphne x burkwoodii* ‘Carol Mackie’ in a client’s garden in Central Massachusetts for over a decade. This Daphne hybrid has variegated foliage and is a very fine choice in an outdoor landscape if you need variation in leaf texture. Like the transatlantic daphne, it also has tight clusters of fragrant flowers, but it is a variety that was discovered in a garden in New Jersey and is more commonly found and grown in the United States. We are growing these daphne shrubs in light shade (they get full morning sun). Their sweet fragrance is strong and typically a very welcoming harbinger of early spring. If you struggle to grow Transatlantic daphne and you live in colder climates, ‘Carole Mackie’ is a particular variety that might be a better choice than daphne eternal fragrance.