Some shrubs are said to be finicky but worth the trouble, especially when they perfume the late winter air with a jasmine-like scent. Winter Daphne, Daphne odora ‘Aureo-marginata’ has that spotty reputation, so it was with trepidation that it was nestled near the garage wall shortly after that structure was built in the Fairegarden.
Spotted at a big box store before the shelves there were lined with colorful annuals, it was sitting back in the back with the forlorn woody plants that had been neglected since November’s rush to get cut Christmas trees lined up for the holidays. It was the foliage that attracted the eye, shiny dark green with a creamy crisp edge, unaffected by waves of rain, snow and ice that make up winter weather in southeast Tennessee.
We are at the coldest edge of the hardiness zone range for the Winter Daphne, as it is called, but the variegated leaf cultivar is said to be easier to grow and less demanding than the green leaf species. The ever elusive well drained yet moist, humusy soil is a bit of a stretch here, but the good drainage we have in spades on our sloping property, even though the soil is red clay. The little plant was carefully placed in a hole with home made compost mixed in with the clumpy clay, under a young pink dogwood tree that would provide summer shade in years to come. Extra water was given the first season and a large stone was placed near the trunk to prevent heaving and squirrel digging in addition to holding moisture and shading the roots. Then we waited.
Books, magazine and online sources claimed these shrubs are short lived, dying suddenly with no warning just as they were reaching the vision after about four years in ground. Not a good marketing technique to say the least, but some gardeners are stubborn and will take on a challenge with Taurean determination. The search for winter interest required the Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ to be given a chance to enliven the environs here.
Let us count the years, planted lovingly in 2002, this is the ninth birthday for our Daphne, named for a female figure in Greek mythology. Daphne was a nymph who transformed into a plant to escape Apollo’s unwanted advances; hence her reputation of elusiveness. Maybe we were not so aggressive towards her and she is happy to be left undisturbed. In reality, think well before placing your own Daphne, she does not like to be moved at all.
Placement should consider being close enough to enjoy the fragrance and flowers, planting near entryways or close to the edge of pathways. An Eastern exposure to protect from summer sun and winter wind burn is best, but some sun will produce better flowering. Smallish and with a rounded shape, growing to a mound about three by three feet so far, it is said that Daphne can grow a little taller and a lot wider if happy. No pruning is necessary.
The downside, if it can be considered such, is the difficulty I have found in capturing the beauty of the blooms in a photograph. It is always too bright, too dark, too windy for my inadequate talent with the camera. Some years the leaves are spotted and unattractive, allowing only closeups. There are always so many other flowers opening at the same time to showcase on the blog, brilliant daffodils and other early bulbs, the witch hazels and others, so Daphne’s glamour shots get cast to the floor. Not so this time. While the images are less than stellar, this is her moment of fame.
protected sun, partial shade to full shade
slightly acidic, very well drained soil
extra water to establish
all parts are poisonous
This evergreen daphne is wonderfully fragrant, with its sweetness carrying on the air in March and April. It’s also a very pretty shrub, with long, narrow leaves edged in creamy gold. Its flowers are small and waxy-looking, and they emerge from attractive purple buds.
Winter daphne is native to China and has been described in that culture’s literature and pharmacopoeia for a thousand years. It was also depicted on a Japanese scroll in 1309. The plant was named by Thunberg who first saw it in 18th century Japan and described it in his work, Flora Japonica. The plant was first introduced into Britain via Kew in 1771. The genus contains about 50 species.
Flower/Fruit: Rosy purple buds open rose pink; flowers in late winter to early spring; fragrant; seldomly produces red fruit
(ours has not produced berries that we have noticed) Flowers range from pink to white to deep red, and leaves are green edged with gold. Needs fast-draining soil, so use in rock gardens and containers. Grow in borders near walkways or under windows where you can catch their perfume. Since they grow well in full sun or light shade, you can plant them under trees or on the north side of the house. One problem with these plants is that they sometimes die suddenly for no known reason. Mulch to keep roots cool in summer.
Give Daphne odora ‘Aureamarginata’ a go, if your conditions allow, and be sure to treat her with the respect we all deserve.