NEW Trips to Take!

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.

 
 
 
 

A Gardening Journal

February Daphne Explores the Garden

So-called "February" daphne really is in bloom that month if you encounter it in Seattle or London. Here in New England, February is still too cold for the flowers themselves—but not for their green calyces.

Daphne mezereum f. Alba 020318 driveway 320

In the strange way of these shrubs, my original February daphne thrived for years before dying for no apparent reason. But I still have the species in my garden: These are stems of one of the self-seeded volunteers.

So-called "February" daphne really is in bloom that month if you encounter it in Seattle or London. Here in New England, February is still too cold for the flowers themselves—but not for the green calyces that enclose them to have swollen and pushed aside their protective brown bud scales.

 

In the strange, suspenseful way of many species in the Daphne genus, my original D. mezereum f. alba thrived for years before dying, seemingly, for no apparent reason. In reality, Daphne mezereum is susceptible to several fatal viruses, but direct causation for any given shrub's demise isn't possible to confirm.

 

So it has been a welcome surprise to find that, despite the death of my original shrub, I still have February daphne in my garden: These are stems of one of the self-seeded volunteers that must have already begun colonizing before the mother shrub had become fatally infected. 

 

Daphne mezereum f. Alba 020318 driveway 640

 

The shrub in the picture is one of two that sprouted at the edge of the deep gravel of the driveway right outside the criss-crossing Belgian fence of beeches. Although the volunteer daphnes are near the end of the beeches—and, so, just feet from their mother—they are still far outside her canopy. It isn't possible, then, that they had started when stems of the original remained in close touch with the ground long enough to root. Besides, Daphne mezereum has a distinctly upright habit: Stems just don't come into contact with the ground in the first place.

 

(For daphnes that sprawl with style when mature—and, hence, may self-layer—try Daphne genkwa or Daphne x burkwoodii 'Carol Mackie'.)

 

Daphnes also don't send up suckers from their roots—and certainly not in the far-reaching manner of other of my garden's notorious wanderers such as gold-leaved paper mulberry, rice-paper plant, or trumpet vine.

 

These volunteer February daphnes, then, can only have started from seeds spread by birds. Although flowers of the straight species of Daphne mezereum are pink, the white-flowered form I grow comes true from seed. By April, "February" daphne is in flower here, so I'll be able to confirm this then.

 

Below is more proof of this shrub's ability to naturalize by way of its seeds: the tip of the lead stem of a volunteer that popped up easily fifty feet from the mother shrub. 

 

Daphne mezereum f. Alba 020318 knot fingers 640

 

Below, a portion of a small garden behind tall box hedges, around the corner and across the driveway from the pair of Belgian-fence-adjacent volunteers of February daphne. At the left center is the lone stem of this third volunteer Daphne mezereum, over three feet tall and covered with the typical, striking green flowerbuds. Come April, I'll also confirm the color of its flowers.  

 

Daphne mezereum f. Alba 020318 knot overall 640

 

This volunteer is comically out of place in a circular bed whose perimeter is entirely planted with geometrically-arrayed low shrubs. Last spring, I had its stem in hand, intending to rip it out as a bizarre weed, until I realized what it was.

 

No matter where it chooses to appear, February daphne always is a volunteer—a blessing, if you will—not a weed. Its early-spring flowers are intoxicatingly fragrant, which makes it ever-welcome. Alas, daphne doesn't transplant as a rule, so I can't relocate this one to a more comprehensible location. Wouldn't it have been great to have had all three of these volunteers in a group along the Belgian fence? Just the two there now are a puzzle; three would have been a a critical mass—a tiny grove, even.

 

But given this shrub's modest ability to self-seed, I needn't bother with transplanting anyway. Someday, all of my current February daphne volunteers will likely have died but, as current experience shows, a favored few seeds do lead to new plants. In years to come, won't still more volunteers keep emerging?

 

The shrub is reported as having naturalized in all states in New England, plus Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. But its presence in Nature everywhere is sporadic. Given that Daphne mezereum was introduced to North America in the 18th Century (the shrub is native to Asia, but found its way first into European horticulture before being brought across the Atlantic), this is only modest penetration in over three centuries. A few more volunteers in my garden—or anywhere in the state—would, indeed, be a blessing.

 

 

Here's a video of February daphne in bloom, plus how to grow it.

 

Here's my original February daphne, since deceased, which was backed (thrillingly) by Bracken's Brown Beauty magnolia.

 
 
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