January 2, 2009

Winter Daphne for Winter Blooms

Winter Daphne, or daphne odora, is a beautiful, evergreen shrub that few gardeners attempt as it has a reputation for being difficult to grow. I hesitate to even write about daphne for fear of jinxing my luck and "Daphne Death" will strike my garden.

This daphne is planted in filtered shade on the north side of a sweetbay magnolia in the fragrance garden. The garden is located on the east side of the house. I believe the protected location may have a lot to do with the survival of the daphne.

There was a daphne twin on the south side of the magnolia that toasted in the drought of 2007 as there wasn't sufficient shade. I had added a colocasia for quick shade, but the effort was too late.

The garden was created in fall 2006 and the shrub and magnolia were planted at the same time by my son. My son is an archaeologist, so he knows how to dig perfect holes! I'll admit that I was hovering over him making sure that he planted the daphne on top of a volcano-shaped mound of soil for good drainage. He's actually quite knowledgeable about plants and gardening. (Of course, he learned most of it from me.)

Last winter, this daphne bloomed through January and into February. It was so heavily laden with blooms that the shrub started to splay open-- badly. I was worried that it would break, but it held on until it was warm enough in March to do a bit of shaping and pruning. As you can see in both photographs, the ends of the branches quickly leafed out with pretty foliage. I tried to maintain the naturally rounded shape of the daphne.

Daphne is suitable for zones 7-9, is evergreen and does best in filtered shade with well-drained soil. The height and width is around 4 feet. While other plants in my fragrance garden are on drip irrigation, I have never provided supplemental water for the daphne beyond getting it established and little water through the long drought of 2007. I think planting in the fall is better than spring planting to get this shrub established.

My daphne odora is located in the fragrance garden because it is very fragrant! It would be perfect to plant daphne beside a frequently used door to your home. I visit the daphne on sunny winter mornings, but would love to have one where it could be enjoyed more often.

Go ahead and live dangerously -- try a daphne in your garden.

Photos and story by Freda Cameron
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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