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a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

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Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Caucasian Daphne

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No hardy shrub is more faithful in flower, from Spring until hard frost.  Daphne caucasica is nearly as faithful in leaf; here's a tip of the shrub way back in mid-November.  Despite snowfall in January, the foliage looks the same today.  If you grow only one daphne, make sure it has this one in its DNA.

 

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Daphne caucasica is loose but not lazy, and its narrow foliage and gentle wider-than-tall habit complement anything.  I'm letting a few of the milky canes of ghost bramble trail over mine.

 

 

Here's how to grow this elegant and nearly ever-blooming shrub:

Latin Name

Daphne caucasica

Common Name

Caucasian Daphne

Family

Thymelaeaceae, the Thymelaea family, a clan of shrubs native from the Canary Islands to central Asia.  (No, I haven't heard of it before.)

What kind of plant is it?

Semi-evergreen shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 5 - 7, except if drainage is exceptional, where a range of Zones 4 - 8 is possible.

Habit

Typical for a shrubby (as opposed to prostrate) Daphne.  Mounding and multi-branched, eventually wider than tall, with thick branches that are never fully obscured by the foliage.

Rate of Growth

Medium. 

Size in ten years

Two to four feet tall and three to five feet wide. 

Texture

Thanks to the narrow leaves, refined and delicate.  Full but not dense, retaining views into the center of the shrub. 

Grown for

its foliage.  The narrow pointed leaves are blue-green; the look is discrete but never boring.  D. caucasica is only reluctantly deciduous.  The bush is still in full leaf as I write in mid-January; true, it's been a mild Winter. 

 

its flowers.  Small clusters of star-shaped white flowers appear at the tips of the branches all season long.  Although often called "sporadic," the flowers are far more frequent and numerous than that; I'd describe them as ever-present.  My D. caucasica is in flower from May through hard frosts in late October.  The flowers are never so numerous that they do more than ornament the foliage, but they show up well against it.  As is usual for Daphne, they are deliciously fragrant. 

Flowering season

Spring to hard frost.

Color combinations

The blue-blushed foliage isn't so blue that it would be difficult to combine with yellow, but there's no question that if your garden is pink-friendly, Daphne caucasica—indeed, almost all Daphne cultivars and species—will fit in without a nanosecond of hesitation.

 

In addition to pink, burgundy is always welcome near blue and white.  Daphne caucasica offers nothing but blue and white, so it's prime territory for pink and burgundy.

Partner Plants

The appearance of D. caucasica—and of Daphne species and cultivars in general—could never be described as blatant.  Along with their sometimes fussy nature and propensity for premature death—see "Downsides" below—their refinement is one more reason the shrubs are darlings of gardeners who eschew visual flash as they flaunt their prowess at growing often-challenging plants.  Iffy reliability, discrete appearance, fragrant flowers:  The entire Daphne genus is a trifecta of snob appeal.  

 

If your preference is to enhance the reticent beauty of D. caucasica, then partner with the like-minded.  At the front and sides, Sedum 'Frosty Morn', Rosa 'The Fairy', Festuca glauca cultivars, and Ceratostigma plumbaginoides would all be colorful but not disruptive.  At the back, dark foliage is always best:  Yews, please—or, if the site is really hot as well as really well-drained, junipers.

 

If, however, contrast or even iconoclasm would be more interesting, surround D. caucasica with bigger foliage, stronger colors, and sharper textures.  It will never get lost, thanks to the flowers and their fragrance.  I've partnered my own shrub with the chrome-foliaged ghost bramble, R. cockburnianus 'Aureus'.  If your drainage is so speedy that you're comfortable with the greater risk of planting D. caucasica in a group instead of just as a solo, grow a drift of it as the foreground to a purple-leaved smokebush, Cotinus coggygria 'Velvet Cloak', which thrives in the same sunny and well-drained locations.   

Where to use it in your garden

It would be criminal to grow any Daphne so far back in a bed that you couldn't lean over and touch your nose to the flower clusters.  It would be unwise, too, because people will just tramp into the bed as needed.  The gravitational pull of fabulous fragrance just cannot be resisted.  So always locate Daphne near lawn or paving. 

 

Although you could trim a bit if the Daphne becomes too large, it's wiser to plant two feet back from the front edge.  People can lean into the bed that far while the shrub is still growing, and when it's mature it won't be debouching onto the paving (or out into the grass) more than a foot.  Or plant three feet back in the bed—and lay a stepping stone between the plant and the front edge.  As the shrub matures, you can lift the stone.  Full sun is always the best for Daphne, and, conveniently, this is easier to achieve by planting at or near the front of the bed to permit the inevitable deep sniffing.  Don't plant taller neighbors to the West, which would block afternoon sun. 

Culture

Full sun and phenomenal drainage are essential.  Daphne also seems to prefer soil that's a bit sweet or neutral—or at least not really acid. 

How to handle it:  The Basics

As typical for Daphne species and cultivars, D. caucasica usually needs only to be planted in a congenial spot, in Spring, and then left to grow ad libitumDaphne are less happy in containers, so it's better as well as more economical to buy small plants, which have spent less time in the pot.  The shrub doesn't need pruning to enhance shape; if there's a twig or two that didn't make it through the Winter, prune them off in Spring as soon as they become announce themselves by not leafing out.

 

Pay a nod to the shrub's preference for both good drainage and sweet soil by mixing in two or three shovelfuls of marble chips into its planting area.  It's even better if this helps mound up the planting area even more: You can't have too much drainage if you're a daphne.  You can mulch with marble chips, too, although I'd take the curse off of their bright whiteness by adding a thin layer of leaves or bark mulch on top

 

You can clip a sprig or three for a bud vase—the flowers' fragrance is even more penetrating indoors, out of the breezes—but Daphne is not the shrub for substantial pruning.  It's a nosegay indoors, not a hotel-lobby extravaganza.

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

The branches become notably thick; they must be heavy, too, because older shrubs can splay open to reveal them fully.  But you're unlikely to hear of tactics for renovating really old shrubs via drastic pruning, because individuals of Daphne species and cultivars usually don't live long enough.  Enjoy each Daphne shrub on its own terms, embracing the more-open habit of any oldster as the sign of your unusual luck, perfect growing conditions, or both.  Celebrate the shrub instead of trying to make it younger-looking with the nips and snips of horticultural plastic surgery.  If (when) your individual daphne has expired, you can replant with a younger individual.

Quirks or special cases

None.

Downsides

Daphne species and cultivars are all legendary for thriving for years and then dying, seemingly all of a sudden and for no reason.  This humbling experience can befall even expert gardeners, so don't take it personally.  While siting and culture can stack the deck in your favor, you'll never eliminate the suspense. 

Variants

There are many Daphne species and cultivars, all native to North Africa, Europe, and the Near as well as Far East.  All are known for small fragrant flowers and for being very resistant to deer, although rabbits can sometimes develop a taste for them.  Habits range from prostrate or dwarf rock-garden stars to low-to-medium shrubs; foliage can be cleanly deciduous, reluctantly deciduous, or fully evergreen.  These latter tend to be hardy in Zone 7 and warmer.  Other Daphne species and cultivars, such as D. cneorum, are extremely hardy, into Zone 4 or even, with advantageous siting, into Zone 3. 

 

Leaves are narrow, sometimes with delicate or even pronounced variegation.  Daphne species and cultivars typically bloom in early Spring; some that are hardy only as cold as Zone 7 can bloom through much of a Winter that is itself Spring-like.  Others, such as D. caucasica, are famous for blooming sporadically throughout the growing season.  

 

Daphne flowers tend to make up for small size with a penetrating and delicious fragrance.  The plants hybridize readily, so there are always new cultivars to tempt you.

 

D. caucasica lends its long flowering season and—at least for a Daphne—reliability to popular D. x burkwoodii 'Carol Mackie' and D. x transatlantica 'Summer Ice', both of which have narrow foliage narrowly edged with cream. 

Availability

On-line and at retailers.

Propagation

By seed and by cutting.

Native habitat

Daphne caucasica is, indeed, native to the Caucacus. 

 

 
 
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