Winter daphne

My wife is perpetually busy with this and that so that she rarely reads my writings, unless something sparks her fears that I’ve written something about her. She is currently immersed in studies for a midlife career that will hold her over after I keel over dead at my desk one evening, so I’m quite certain she didn’t read a word about the winter daphnes popping into bloom a few days ago.

She hasn’t been through the garden for months, I’m certain, so I was surprised when she told me that she had noticed a strong scent this afternoon that pulled her into the garden to discover where it came from. This afternoon was quite chilly, and she is reluctant to spend any more time outdoors in the cold than it takes to get from the car to the garage door, but she took a few moments to track down the sweet fragrance.

This, of course, emanated from the variegated winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureo-marginata, above) that by good fortune is only a few steps from the garage, so her moments in the cold were brief. Another daphne on the far side of the house resides in deeper shade so it is perhaps a week behind, but when it begins to bloom the first will be in full flower rather than only a third as it is today, so there will be a few weeks of marvelous scents in the front garden.

I’ve enjoyed competing fragrances from several witch hazels, and now sweetbox in the rear garden through most of February, but still I’ve anxiously anticipated the daphnes flowering since the dark pink buds became evident late in December (below). In this oddly warm winter I was quite certain that the daphnes’ buds would burst open in January, then early February, but the buds remained tight until the last few days before the start of March.

I am so disappointed that my poor sense of smell has failed me again. On a still and sunny afternoon I am able to recognize the sweet fragrance of witch hazels and sweetbox if I concentrate to tune out everything else, and thus far the daphne has not been overpowering to the point that I’ve been able to smell it, though I’ve stuck my nose as close as possible. It will come. Soon, there will be days when the sun and the wind are just right, and I’ll savor the daphnes.

Daphnes are supposed to be difficult to transplant and finicky, but I’ve seen none of it. I’ve heard that one will die suddenly for no apparent reason, but a few years ago my son and I were cutting out some of the huge maple and tulip branches that overhang one side of the garden and a large branch fell directly on the ‘Carol Mackie’ daphne (below). The plant was crushed, and a few small branches were broken off, but the daphne lives on, though it’s now skewed to an angle.

I’ve planted container grown and balled and burlapped daphnes, and the container grown adapt easier, but both survive and grow nicely. I wouldn’t recommend pushing daphnes into a situation that is too wet or dry, but in average planting conditions they will be happy. When not in bloom all daphnes are pleasant enough, though the variegated foliage is not overly dramatic. This is one of the great garden plants, and any garden is better with daphne in it.

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