Star of the season: Daphne
The fragrance and dainty beauty of daphne is enough to make you fling open the doors on a chilly morning so you can breathe it in.
Here Mez Woodward showcases daphne - star of the winter season.
Daphne 'Spring Pink Eternal Fragrance' can be grown as a low informal hedge.
We often field calls on radio from gardeners in despair over daphne dieback. Yet these notoriously picky shrubs offer such an irresistible winter presence in pots or the garden, that it’s worthy persevering to find the right spot in which they will thrive.
There are some 50 different species of daphne, but the one most commonly grown in Australia is Daphne odora, which slowly reaches about a metre high and wide and blooms with pink and white flowers. Daphne is often partnered with camellias, rhododendrons and magnolias for a mid-year picture of beauty, while adding them to a planting of osmanthus and lucullia will offer delicious fragrance from winter through spring.
Easy-to-grow 'Spring Pink Eternal Fragrance' is the candy pink sister of Daphne 'Eternal Fragrance'.
Daphne enjoys the cooler climates of southern Australia and is tolerant of frost. It likes moist, rich, well-drained, slightly acidic soil, in a cool spot in light shade or with morning sun. Excellent drainage is the most important factor for daphne success as it’s prone to root rot. If you notice die-back after periods of heavy rain, spray with Yates Anti Rot or Amgrow RotGuard.
If you can’t achieve excellent drainage in the garden, grow daphne in a container. Planted in an elegant pot (up on pot feet to help with that all-important drainage) on a south or east-facing front veranda, it will always welcome you home. But be careful not to overwater it.
Daphne is also fussy about root disturbance so won’t fancy having its roots tickled at planting time. Also avoid cultivating the soil around it - no underplanting with annuals, as desirable as that might seem - and mulch thickly to suppress weeds instead of hand-weeding.
Picking flower clusters for bedside enjoyment is all the pruning necessary.
A thick mulch will also help keep the roots cool, which is especially important over the warmer months. There’s no need to prune, bar picking little bunches of flowers to scent the house through winter, which will encourage bushy growth. In spring apply a slow-release complete fertiliser such as Yates Blood & Bone with Added Potash or Neutrog Kahoona, and in autumn replenish the mulch with aged cow manure.
‘Eternal Fragrance’ is a relatively new variety, developed by UK plantsman Robin White. In the UK it is resistant to scorching in the sun, though Australian summers offer it more of a challenge. ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and its candy-pink sister ‘Spring Pink Eternal Fragrance’, flower through spring and summer on a dense low-growing shrub 60cm high and 90cm wide, and aren’t fussy about soil pH. If you’ve had no luck with the old-fashioned daphne, these new options may offer an alternative route to that delectable fragrance.
The pure white form, Daphne odora 'Alba'.