Daphnes are not plants you can take lying down. They either inspire awe and admiration, or they invoke wrath and great indignation. Sometimes you buy them, prepare the soil and plant them with loving care. They flower, you gasp, they expire. Your friend, who bought one at the same time, planted his, it flowered, it flourished, and it grew with gusto. You surmise that Daphnes don’t like you.
But that would be unfair. Daphnes can be a little fussy, but with care and attention they will give of their best to you too. Firstly, they are not entirely happy to be kept in a pot for any longer than necessary. It’s important to plant them out as soon as possible: they are especially vulnerable to overwatering or drought.
Perhaps the daphne to begin your odyssey with is D. tangutica. It makes a small, rounded evergreen shrub (about 1m / 3ft in height) that produces lots of pink and white flowers in spring with that typical, orange-blossom sweet scent. And it has a will to live.
Plant it in a soil that drains. D. tangutica is ambivalent about pH but hates being too wet.
Many of the named cultivars of Daphne species are grafted onto the rootstock of D. tangutica, although occasionally some will root as cuttings. However, a few of the species can be grown successfully from seed. It’s always worth hand weeding around Daphnes with added vigilance. Dig up any seedlings carefully and pot them individually taking care not to over-water them. Plant them in their final positions as soon as you can.
Once you are confident that the Daphne curse is lifted, and you are thoroughly hooked on their charms, it’s time to try some more. The secret of success lies in choosing the right Daphne for the right place. Some species such as D. mezereum, grow naturally in stony soil in sun or a little light shade. Others prefer a leafy woodland position. These include some of the most sought-after varieties such as D. jezoensis with scented, yellow flowers in autumn and winter, and the cultivars of D. odora whose name says it all.
Daphne bholua tends to be very hardy. It prefers light shade in alkaline to neutral soil that drains yet is moist. The flowers of D. bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ are deep pink and white with the headiest perfume that carries across the winter garden on a bright, crisp morning. As the flowers fade it tends to shed most of its leaves and looks as though it needs watering. It does not. In its own time it will send up more shoots and start to form next year’s flowers, ready to send you into a spin next spring.
Sally Gregson, March 2020, www.millcottageplants.co.uk
Apologies that this took so long, Bill.