Common name: None
One of the best known members of this family is Daphne mezereum which covers itself with fragrant purple-redon bare stems from mid to late winter, a time when any form of colour is very welcome in the garden.
The genus contains approximately 50 species, both evergreen and deciduous. Within their ranks are low-growing, dwarf and small shrubs. Daphnes are particularly noted for their sweet scent.
Popular species and varieties
Daphne mezereum is to be found naturally in Europe. Turkey and other parts of the Middle East. It forms a neat bush which, in mature specimens, can reach 1.8m (5ft). The flowers are followed by scarlet berries — as with all members of the family, these are poisonous.
There is also a white form, Daphne mezereum alba — the berries in this case are yellow. Also flowering early is Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’, a native of China and Japan. It also grows to around 1.8m (5ft) but has a lax habit. The pale green leaves have narrow creamy margins.
One daphne that does not commence flowering until mid-spring is Daphne tangutica ‘Retusa Group’, formerly listed as Daphne retusa. This produces purplish-red blooms on bushes of lax habit. Vivid bright red berries follow.
There are a number of daphnes that are ideal subjects for the rock garden, and among these is the garland flower (Daphne cneorum). This evergreen shrub has a prostrate habit, growing to 15cm (6in) in height with richly scented rose-pink flowers in mid to late spring. One named form is ‘Eximia’ (AGM) — widely regarded as being superior, this grows slightly larger and has very colourful blooms which almost completely hide the plant.
Soil type Most well-drained, humus-rich soils are suitable, including those of an alkaline type.
Planting In autumn or spring. Daphnes are happy in sun or lightly shaded areas.
Maintenance Pruning is not required. Any damaged growth can be removed in late winter.
Propagation Cuttings of around 7cm (3in) in length, with a heel, should be taken in early to mid-summer. Choose non-flowering, semi-ripe shoots. Treat in the usual manner. The young plants should be ready to plant out after their second winter
Pests and diseases Aphids can attack young growth; treat as soon as seen with an insecticide.