Daphne

Many kinds have richly scented flowers but by no means all are easy to grow and some have a tendency to die suddenly without obvious cause. When planting daphnes, therefore, it is usually wise to have some spares and to be prepared to replace or thin out from time to time. Most do not transplant well and so are best purchased in containers from which they can be moved with a minimum of root disturbance. All succeed best in open, sunny places and in soils that remain moist in summer but do not become waterlogged in winter.

Daphne mezereum, which is deciduous and produces its purple or white flowers on leafless stems in February and March, likes limestone or chalk soils. It has scarlet berries containing seeds that germinate readily when ripe to produce replacement plants. Other good kinds are D. blagayana, creamy white, March—April, prostrate; burkwoodii, pink, May—June, 3 ft., deciduous; cneorum, rose pink, May—June, evergreen, prostrate; collina, reddish purple, May, evergreen, 2 to 3 ft., and odora, reddish purple, February—March, evergreen, 3 to 6 ft., and variety marginata, hardier and with yellow-edged leaves. None requires regular pruning.

Daphne mezereum

D. laureola, spurge laurel, is an evergreen shrub, 40-100 cm tall, which flowers February-March. It has spatulate, shiny green leaves, greenish clusters of flowers which are fragrant in the evening, hidden amongst the foliage, and black berries; suitable for a moist, shady spot. D. mezereum, mezereon, is a deciduous, branching shrub up to 1 m tall, which flowers in February-March. It has narrow, greyish-green leaves, beautifully fragrant, white, pinkish-red or purple clusters of flowers, and red berries; ‘Alba’ has white flowers and yellow berries; ‘Grandiflora’, pink flowers; ‘Ruby Glow’, deep purplish-pink flowers.

D. x napolitana is an evergreen shrub up to 1 m tall, which is sensitive to frost and flowers in February-March. It has shiny green leaves and fragrant, deep pink flowers. D. odor a is an evergreen shrub up to 1 m tall, which is sensitive to frost and flowers in February-March, with fragrant, whitish-pink flowers; ‘Aureomarginata’ is more winter-hardy, with green, yellow-edged leaves, and fragrant, pale pink flowers which are purplish-pink on the outside; place in a sheltered, semi-shaded spot.

D. pontica is a broad shrub up to 1.5 m tall, which flowers in February-March. It has oval, oblong leaves and fragrant, greenish-yellow flowers; suitable for shade and semi-shade.

Daphne is indigenous in Europe and Asia, and comprises about 70 species, of which D. mezereum is the only one which grows wild in this part of the world in open spaces, with lime-rich soil. The juice of a number of species can irritate the skin, while the fruits are often (extremely) poisonous, though this does not prevent birds from eating them.

Daphne does well in semi-shade in moist, but not too wet soil, rich in humus and lime. Cover in winter if necessary. Propagate from seed, by layering (June/July) and from cuttings.

It is a slow-growing, low, evergreen or deciduous shrub, fairly winter-hardy, with oblong leaves, often beautiful, deliciously scented flowers, and berry-like, foul-tasting fruits which are often poisonous. D. blagayana is a broad, loose plant up to 15 cm tall, which flowers April-May, with creamy clusters of 20 or more, beautifully fragrant flowers; suitable for shady spots in the rocker).

D. x burkwoodii is a semi-evergreen, compact, round shrub up to 1 m tall, with pale pink clusters of flowers; Somerset is up to 1.5 m tall, with broader leaves and smaller flowers; suitable for a sunny spot. D. cneorum is an evergreen plant with trailing branches up to 30 cm tall, which flowers in May-June. It has slightly hairy stems, spatulate, shiny green leaves, terminal clusters of fragrant, pink, spherical flowers, and brownish-yellow berries; suitable for the rockery.

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