Daphnes - Fabulous Fragrance and More

Clive Mellor, from Charleshurst Farm Nurseries, on these desirable and sought after scented shrubs - 25 March 2016

Wonderful scent is always the first thing that attracts people to Daphnes; not surprising as the best known plants of this family flower in Winter and early Spring and can fill the whole garden with scent. The Daphne family, though, is very diverse and range from species that will grow to more than eight feet to tiny alpine gems growing no more than six inches. Many varieties will flower more than once through the growing season and the profuse flowers range in colour from deep crimson red through pink and mauve to pure white. Some even have strongly variegated foliage giving colour when not in flower.

Whilst Daphnes are famous for their fabulous scent they also have a notoriety for being difficult to grow, but given the right growing conditions success can be achieved and selecting varieties of good health and vigour helps greatly in establishment.

Heavy soil that could waterlog is fatal to Daphnes and free drainage around the roots is essential, but apart from this the larger Daphnes should establish well in most garden soils without extremes of sun or shade. Neutral pH is ideal but slightly acid or slightly alkaline soil would not be a problem; most Daphnes are very frost hardy given free-draining conditions. For the larger Daphnes though,its worth thinking about choosing a position sheltered from strong and cold winds, especially in the case of Daphne bholua which is quite a tall and upright evergreen that could be rather ‘top heavy’ until established. If you have room then the shelter of a house wall could be ideal and better still,  near the door where the full benefit of the fragrance can be appreciated. The smaller Daphnes are mostly native to alpine conditions and rock gardens, troughs or raised beds are ideal for these, indeed raised to a higher level to be more visible and especially closer to your nose would be perfect.

Look at the RHS Plantfinder and you will see hundreds of species,hybrids and varieties listed, but for the purposes of this article I have selected just a few that have proved truly garden worthy. First one or two of the larger Daphnes:-

Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’- Very early flowering, pinky mauve in bud opening to almost white, the rich fragrance fills the air in January and February. Glossy evergreen foliage. A large shrub, usually fairly upright in growth to around 6 to 8 feet (2-2.5m) in height. Its worth mentioning that this is a plant that we find demand exceeds supply, Daphnes are tricky to propagate and this one is particularly difficult  so last year we had about 15-20 plants that came ready intermittently. We are hoping for more supply of this special plant this year.


Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’- In most years Daphne odora would start flowering at the end of February to early March and perhaps continue until the end of April. The crimson-mauve buds open to much paler, richly scented flowers, which show well against the glossy, evergreen, gold edged foliage. A fairly rounded shrub to about 4-5 feet (120-150cm) in height and spread. Recently there have been several very strongly variegated varieties that have been offered for sale, including Daphne odora ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Mai-Jima’.


Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’

Daphne odora and its varieties are susceptible to virus, so always buy a plant that looks healthy in its pot. Its often the case that a plant with virus will survive and flower for a good few years but the virus may well shorten the life of this plant.

Daphne tangutica- A good evergreen Daphne of strong vigour. The mauve-purple buds open almost white. Flowers April-May and will often repeat in flower in midsummer. A good scent but not the intense fragrance of Daphne bholua or Daphne odora. Height and spread around four feet (120 cm).

Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’- Marvellous, relatively recently introduced variety of really good health and vigour. It makes a neat,fairly rounded shrub up to 3-4 feet (90-120cm) in height and spread. The mauve-purple buds open white and the flowers are produced in profusion from April and then continue throughout the growing season with a beautiful fragrance of course. This variety is subject to Plant Breeders Rights so any stock we have is brought in and not propagated on our own nursery; however, apart from this variety, nearly all the Daphnes we supply (and nearly all the other plants we sell) are propagated and grown on our own small nursery.

And a few of the smaller Daphnes:-

Daphne collina- Many of the smaller Daphnes we grow are hybrids and have increased vigour and health due to hybridisation but this is a lovely species worth mentioning. It makes a spreading mound of glossy oval leaves perhaps up to two feet (60cm) in height; the large rich pink flowers are borne in profusion in April and into May and are intensely fragrant.


Daphne collina

Daphne x rolsdorfii ‘Arnold Cilharz’ and ‘Wilhelm Schacht’- Not a lot of difference between these two varieties, a shrub of dense,small glossy green leaves and neat habit up to perhaps eighteen inches (45cm) in height. The flowers which are rich pink in bud and open paler are borne in profusion in April-May and will repeat in the Summer and again in the Autumn. Great scent.


Daphne x rolsdorfii ‘Wilhelm Schacht’

Daphne x schlyteri ‘July Glow’- A real little alpine gem, makes a neat mound of pinnate foliage up to 6 inches (15cm) in height and spread. The almost red flowers will show in April but, as its name suggests, it flowers more profusely in midsummer. Good health and vigour for such a small plant.

Daphne x susannae ‘Cheriton’- Spreading growth of glossy green foliage, the rich pink buds open paler and are borne profusely April/ May and repeat in Summer and Autumn, and are richly scented. Although ‘Cheriton’ fits well into this group of smaller Daphnes it can spread quite vigorously and we have seen established plants with a spread of 4-5 feet (120-150cm), a great sight and a treat for the nose when in full flower.


Daphne x susannae ‘Cheriton’

Daphne x susannae ‘Tichbourne’ – Very similar parentage to ‘Cheriton’ but this plant is more mound-forming. The rich pink flowers cover the neat, dense growth in April/May. Said not to repeat in flower but in our experience often flowers again later in the season but less profusely. Height to perhaps a foot to eighteen inches (30-45cm) and spread perhaps two feet (60cm). Strong fragrance.


Daphne x susannae ‘Tichbourne’

We hope to have most, if not all, of these Daphnes available in the Spring and at Rare Plant Fairs at Evenley Wood Gardens,Northants. Birtley House, Bramley, Surrey and Kingston Bagpuize House Oxfordshire, as well as other varieties too and other interesting and unusual shrubs and small trees grown on our small nursery at Charleshurst Farm.

Clive Mellor owns Charleshurst Farm Nursery in West Sussex, specialising in unusual shrubs, small trees and herbaceous plants. Please visit www.charleshurstplants.co.uk for descriptions, pictures and prices of all the plants they grow.