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Delightful Daphnes: Plant these pretty shrubs and blossom will fill the air

Delightful Daphnes: Plant these pretty shrubs and blossom will fill the air

  • Daphnes are a small but valuable genus of flowering shrubs you can grow in UK
  • They come from Europe, North Africa and Asia with 2 species native to Britain
  • The better known, Daphne mezereum, has fragrant, purple-pink spring flowers 

This week’s weather change was the most abrupt I’ve ever experienced. 

On ­Sunday, snow covered the entire garden. By Monday afternoon, it was gone and crocuses were gaping at the sun.

It was lovely to see them. But what tugged my heartstrings was a gentle fragrance: our native spurge laurel, Daphne laureola, was flowering.

Daphnes are a small but valuable genus of flowering shrubs. They originate from Europe, North Africa and Asia with two species native to Britain. 

The better known, Daphne mezereum, has fragrant, purple-pink spring flowers followed by red berries.

In the wild, it grows in limestone or chalky soils, sometimes even colonising old quarries. In gardens, D. mezereum is themost popular.

Exotic: This Asian Daphne bholua has fragrant flowers that will last until late spring

Staying compact at a metre high, it needs no pruning. There are white-flowered forms, equally fragrant but with yellow berries rather than red.

Both prefer sun or partial shade with free – draining, alkaline or neutral soil. The shrubs are not long-lived but are easy to grow from seed.

Mature D. mezereum plants often self-sow but you can also gather the ripe berries, remove their seeds and sow those in a pot. Germination is slow, so have patience.

SWEETEST PERFUME

Exotic daphnes vary in size and vigour. Most thrive on any free-draining, reasonably fertile soil. A few need acid conditions.

Asian species have the most luscious fragrance. The finest among those, D. bholua, flowers from late winter to mid or late spring. The perfumed flowers are purplish-pink in bud, opening soft white. 

Their cut flowers last in water but be careful to gather small sprigs. Most daphnes dislike being pruned.

Despite coming from the Himalayas, D. bholua varieties vary. Some are vulnerable to deep frosts. One of the hardiest, Gurkha, sheds its leaves each winter, looking forlorn, but from January the bare stems are loaded with fragrant blossom.

The finest bholua variety is  Jacqueline Postill. She is less hardy than Gurkha but thrives in my cold garden. She holds her leaves until spring, when the rosy-budded, white flowers are most abundant. 

Both have the RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Daphnes are a small but valuable genus of flowering shrubs. They originate from Europe, North Africa and Asia with two species native to Britain

Daphnes are a small but valuable genus of flowering shrubs. They originate from Europe, North Africa and Asia with two species native to Britain

LONG-LASTING

For later flowering there are excellent cross-breeds. One of the longest in bloom, Daphne x transatlantica, is a cross-breed, roughly a metre high and equally wide.

Among transatlantica varieties, Eternal Fragrance has pale pink buds opening almost white; Pink Fragrance is deeper in colour. Both flower through to early autumn.

From China, D. retusa is also a fragrant beauty, growing less than a metre high. Masses of purple-red buds open to flushwhite flowers from late spring to midsummer. 

Red berries follow.

For neutral or acidic soil, Daphne odora has luscious fragrance. For greater value, D. odora Aureomarginata is smaller with subtly gold-edged leaves and purple-pink flowers.

Despite its lowliness, never write off our other native species, Daphne laureola — spurge laurel. You’ll often find it in woodland or hedgerows. 

The modest green flowers open in February. Shiny black berries mature in summer and are quickly snaffled by blackbirds.  

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