The best daphne for year-round colour and scent
Daphnes are shrubs that are best known for their scented flowers in winter, but some flower in spring and summer too. Shrub expert Andy McIndoe chooses 12 of the best daphnes to grow. Photography Dianna Jazwinski
Daphnes are flowering shrubs that are much loved for their pretty clusters of flowers, beautiful scent and attractive foliage.
Many daphnes flower in winter, when their strong scent and (usually) evergreen foliage are particularly welcome. Not all daphnes are winter flowering, however – some flower in spring and summer, too.
As daphnes rarely grow very large, they're perfect shrubs for a small garden. Grow in a large pot (although see Andy's comments on growing in containers below) or in light, well-drained soil (some need chalk soil to thrive). They are woodland plants, so do best in dappled shade; if you can, plant them near a door, path or seating area where their scent can be appreciated. Daphnes can take a while to establish.
Where to plant daphne shrubs
Daphnes can prove difficult to grow in some situations. Although hardy they dislike exposed sites and are happiest with shelter from cold, drying winds. They need enough direct light to flower well, but hate hot, sunny conditions. Most are happier on neutral to alkaline soils. Some experts recommend Daphne bholua for acid soils, however, in reality it seems to thrive on fertile soil over chalk. The ideal is a loam-rich soil with good drainage, but sufficient moisture.
Most daphnes resent being grown in containers, this is also an issue for the nurseryman when attempting to produce plants for sale. If attempting to grow in a pot, choose a loam-based growing medium and a large container with good drainage. However, the open ground is always preferable.
Daphnes resent being disturbed, so get the planting position right from the outset. Unlike other shrubs daphnes do not produce a dense, fibrous root system that holds together when they are lifted. Therefore, once out of the pot get them straight into the ground and then leave them alone.
How to prune daphne shrubs
Pruning is only necessary to control shape and size, or to remove dead or damaged wood. Prune cautiously, immediately after flowering, but only if absolutely necessary. Hard pruning of some, notably Daphne bholua, can result in the production of suckers.
How to propagate daphnes
Most daphnes are tricky to propagate, however, semi-hardwood cuttings taken in summer have a chance of success. Rather surprisingly Daphne odora is relatively easy to root from cuttings. It is advisable to root a few as replacement plants regularly.
Daphnes are not long-lived shrubs and often decline in vigour after ten years or so in the garden. This is often because of a virus in the plant, which manifests itself by leaf loss and stunted growth. When this happens the infected plant should be taken out and replaced.
Where to buy daphne shrubs
See below for Andy McIndoe's choice of daphne to grow and where to buy them.
The best winter-flowering daphne shrubs to grow
Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’
An evergreen daphne cultivar with leathery, mid-green leaves that is strong growing once established. Large clusters of mauve-pink flowers cover the shrub for weeks from midwinter into early spring. The plant's fragrance is powerful, sweet and delicious, even on cold days. This daphne was raised at Hillier Nurseries by propagator Alan Postill and named for his wife. Height 1.8m. AGM.
Daphne mezereum f. alba
A rare, deciduous daphne with upright stems and small, narrow green leaves. The starry, highly fragrant flowers cluster on stems in winter before the leaves appear, and are often followed by yellowish berries. This daphne needs chalk soil to thrive. Height 90cm.
Daphne odora Rebecca (= ‘Hewreb’)
A surprisingly robust form of Daphne odora with green leaves, boldly edged with creamy gold. A showy foliage plant, it has the bonus of fragrant winter flowers. A better garden plant than previous cultivars with a similar variegation. Height 1m.
Daphne bholua ‘Darjeeling’
A semi-evergreen shrub with tan-coloured stems and pointed mid-green leaves. Clusters of fragrant, pale-pink flowers, which fade to white, appear from early winter. The original daphne variety was raised at RHS Garden Wisley from seed collected in Darjeeling. Height 1.8m.
Daphne bholua ‘Limpsfield'
This variety blooms from midwinter and is heavily fragrant; the rich purple-pink flower edges merge into white faces. A good evergreen daphne shrub to grow close to the house in a sheltered position. Height 1.8m.
Daphne bholua ‘Peter Smithers’
An evergreen or semi-evergreen daphne. In midwinter, clusters of deep, purple-pink buds open to paler blooms, which then become darker with age. This daphne variety was selected at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew's Wakehurst site from seed collected by Sir Peter Smithers in Nepal. Height 1.8m.
Spring and summer flowering daphnes
A small, deciduous and rare daphne shrub which blooms from late spring well into summer and sometimes into autumn. The clusters of white daphne flowers are fragrant and often followed by yellow fruits. This daphne variety is best grown in dappled shade on moist, acid soil. Height 1.2m.
A small, spreading, evergreen shrub that is happiest under the light shade of trees and tolerant of heavy clay soils. Glossy green leaves show off the large clusters of fragrant, yellow-green flowers that are produced freely all over this daphne in late spring. Height 60cm.
Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Astrid’
A rounded, bushy daphne shrub with narrow, blue-green leaves that are finely edged with creamy yellow. Clusters of fragrant, pink flowers appear from late spring through to midsummer. A good shrub for foliage interest. 60cm.
A dwarf daphne shrub with prostrate branches and narrow evergreen leaves. The large clusters of sweetly fragrant, pink flowers appear in mid to late spring. Often tricky to establish, this daphne variety needs a sheltered, open situation on chalk soil. Height 15cm.
Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Lavenirii’
A cross between Daphne cneorum and Daphne caucasica that was raised in France in 1920. This rare daphne has clusters of extremely fragrant, pale-pink flowers, darker in the centres, from late spring well into summer. A spreading daphne shrub, it grows best on alkaline soil. Height 60cm.
Daphne x rollsdorfii ‘Wilhelm Schacht’
A daphne variety that's bushy and upright in habit with glossy, evergreen leaves. This small shrub has particularly showy clusters of highly fragrant, purple-pink daphne flowers in mid-spring. Grows on alkaline or acid soil. Height 45cm. AGM.
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