Adding fragrant plants to one’s garden is a popular and worthy pursuit—when you find a plant with a scent that makes you inhale deeply and close your eyes, you MUST have it! While the summer perfume of roses or jasmine evokes feelings of warmth and relaxation, the sweet smell of daphne signals the return of spring and fills our noses with excitement.
Many are familiar with the potently scented Daphne odora, commonly called winter daphne. If you don’t have one in your own garden, surely you have encountered it on a walk in your neighborhood—its fragrance travels on the February wind and is impossible to ignore. Daphne odora has several available cultivars, some with solid green leaves and others with cream or golden variegation. They are considered evergreen, deer resistant, and prefer partial sun/shade; best planted in areas with morning sun and afternoon shade. It is critical that the planting area be very well-draining, as standing water or excessively wet soils can cause fatal root rot. Adding compost or pumice to clay soils can help, and planting slightly above the soil grade may also be a way to improve drainage in challenging conditions.
Choosing the best location for planting is extra important since daphne plants do not transplant well and don’t like to have their roots disturbed—in fact, when planting, do not loosen up or break up the rootball as you might with other plants—just place in the planting hole and backfill firmly with soil. Bloom time is typically mid to late February and can last for several weeks, with pink buds opening to pale pinkish white; late frosts can damage flower buds if not sheltered or protected. Slow to get established, this daphne grows to about 3–4 feet tall and slightly wider. Although sensitive to poor drainage, new plantings require regular watering for the first few years to develop a healthy root system. The best time for pruning is directly after the flowering period, but these plants rarely require it. Winter daphne should be planted near your front door or a busy walkway so it’s wonderful scent can be appreciated in a high-traffic area.
Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’
A lesser known daphne is Daphne transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and is aptly named for its long flowering period and sweet aroma. ‘Eternal Fragrance’ has extra flower power because it blooms on both old wood and new, meaning that it produces pale pink, fragrant flowers in spring, and then repeat blooms in late summer or fall! The flowers are arranged in clusters at the tips of the stems and have a fragrance that is sweet, yet slightly less intense when compared to Daphne odora. This variety is able to grow in full sun or light shade and needs well-draining soil to thrive. It is evergreen or semi-evergreen with a rounded habit to 2–3 feet tall and wide. It’s low maintenance, once established, relatively deer resistant, and attractive to pollinators.
Daphne ‘Summer Ice’
Daphne transatlantica ‘Summer Ice’ is another attractive daphne variety with a long bloom life. It is similar to ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and requires the same planting conditions and care, but features a creamy variegation on the leaf edges. ‘Summer Ice’ grows to 3–4 feet tall and 4–6 feet wide.