Daphnes - a must for every winter garden

Daphne scents - a Christmas present

One of the joys of being a gardener is sharing experiences in the garden. However, the garden is closed through the winter, so special moments can pass by unnoticed.
Right now if I could share one thing with you it would be the scent of a Daphne growing near the path by the arboretum. It’s a non-descript shrub for most of the year, an evergreen column, head-height, with narrow, glossy leaves. Thousands of people walk past it, eyes drawn to more dramatic views. However, this Christmas, a present all for me was the scent of the Daphne, drifting in a mild breeze.  Dartmoor is nowhere near as high as the Himalayas, where Daphnes, also called ‘Nepalese Paper Plant’ herald from. Imagine the knock-out scent of a host of these plants on a high mountain breeze!
You don’t need much space to grow one. Daphnes vary from small bushes at almost ground level, to 2m shrubs. There are a number of varieties. The one I am describing is Daphne ‘bholua’. I think they are relatively expensive to other shrubs, but I forgive them as winter perfume is worth a few extra pounds.
If you can, invest in a taller plant to enjoy scent at nose-height. You’ll need a sheltered spot, but don’t get hung up on that – just avoid wild and windswept! They tolerate most soils; moist and well drained is best, sandy and exposed would be worst. Part shade suits them better than drying out in full sun.
They are easy to look after, very hardy and slow to grow. Bear that in mind as its worth buying the biggest plant you can. Spring planting is best, so your Daphne can get established for a winter display.
I wouldn’t be without one in any garden that has winter interest. And frankly, this Christmas, it was the best present I had!

Nick Haworth, Head Gardener

Nick Haworth