A Gardening Journal

Must Have: Lilac Daphne

Daphne genkwa fingers better 050815 640

 

What plant lover doesn't love the shock of the new? The plant you didn't know yet, or hadn't yet seen on the hoof. Here, a lavender-flowered daphne, with wands of bloom two and three feet tall on a wildly sprawling bush so weird you have to love it. Upright stems don't branch their first year (or even two). Instead, they concentrate on forming all the buds that burst forth the following Spring.

 

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With the same coloring and starry look as flowers of Spring phlox, Phlox subulata, those of Daphne genkwa have four petals, not five. Despite any first-glance similarities, the two are quite unrelated: Phlox is in the Polemoneaceae family, most familiar to North American gardeners for its many native phloxes. All daphnes are in the Thymelaeaceae family of trees and shrubs, concentrated in the Southern hemisphere and familiar to North American gardeners almost exclusively through its Daphne genus.   

 

Emerging before the leaves, flowers of lilac daphne highlight its unusual branching structure. Upright only in youth, stems eventually bend to the ground, where they can take root while also sending up a fresh crop of upright flowering stems.

 

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As is typical for more popular forms of Daphne, such as 'Carol Mackie', the outward sprawl of lilac daphne eventually reveals the central base of the shrub, where the branches are so old and gnarly that they have splayed nearly horizontally. This openness and, even, awkwardness are not deficits but, rather, badges of august maturity. With Daphne genkwa, a more tidy and compact habit is for wimps—or for those, such as me, whose gardens are already crammed with goodies. To provide the blazing sun this species prefers, I'd have to shuffle a number of other gems out of the way to clear a spot six feet and more in diameter.

 

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Fortunately, shrubs of this daphne's 'Hackenberry Group' are described as more compact. And this peerless nursery lists Daphne genkwa 'John Bieber', which is  both erect and compact, with a full and flattish crown. Is there a cultivar that is smaller scale but that still preserves the species' sprawl? That is, in other words, still open and prostrate but with reduced territorial ambitions. 

 

I'll try to snag 'John Bieber' as background in one of my larger troughs, where this lover of sweet and quick-draining soil should thrive—and, in time, becomes a more prostrate form as foreground in one of the others.

 

I'm looking forward to profiling this sui generis shrub after it's performing well in my own gardens.

 
 
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