Plant of The Month – Daphne odora aureomarginata
If you know Daphne odora Aureomarginata, you’ll probably get a bit twitchy in January and February, as these plants stay stubbornly poised to bloom, just waiting for the weather to break a little. When the buds do burst you smell it before you notice it. Daphne is one of the most fragrant plants in the garden at this time of the year.
Winter daphne is native to China and has been described in that culture’s literature for a thousand years. 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.
Daphne odora marginata is a hardy compact evergreen shrub notoriously difficult to propagate which does make new plants expensive. However, they are well worth every penny. The handsome foliage is narrowly and irregularly edged in gold variegation, making it a good backdrop shrub when out of flower. It is a slow mover and, like all slow movers, resents disturbance. So, think carefully before you plant as there is no moving it once its established. To appreciate the intoxicating scent in the garden Daphne is best planted towards the front of a sunny, sheltered border close to an entrance or path, maybe in a bed or border near to the front or back door of the house.
Daphnes are slightly tender evergreens, surviving best in the south and west of Britain. Soil pH is not important, but all Daphnes dislike heavy clay and winter waterlogging and prefer soil that is free-draining and rich in humus. A leafy annual mulch is beneficial. Its not greatly suited to containers, it will do fine in light shade and grows well in a woodland garden. It is also not suitable for a crowded, mixed border where they can get pushed about by tougher more competitive plants.
I favour planting daphnes as part of an area of mixed scented evergreens in a woodland garden, perhaps with companions like skimmia and sarcococca. This will provide a succession of pleasures to the nose for most of the winter. Its not just a plant for big gardens it works so well in smaller plots too. I have seen Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ romping away in tiny front gardens flowering its socks off. This can only be a delight for all passers-by who catch its sweet fragrance.