The sweet smell that wafts through the air in February and March can be attributed to only a few plants, one of them being Daphne.
An old garden favorite, Daphne odora, or Winter Daphne is a plant no yard should be without. While Winter Daphne is justly famous, she has a few sisters you should get to know.
Pink buds in January open to light pink flowers in February and March. The scent is so thick that on warmer days it can envelop a neighborhood. Leaves are evergreen & leathery. There are many varieties of Daphne odora and all of them have the same beautifully scented flowers. The main difference is the leaf color, and there may be a slight difference in size as well - here are some of our favorites:
‘Marginata’ has a slight cream-colored edge to the leaves. The new growth is heavy, so when it rains (as it does a lot in Portland) the branches splay a bit and lay down, which results in a plant that is very wide. A mature plant is 3-4' x 4-6'.
'Maijima' is a new introduction with thick creamy edges on the leaves. Reportedly it's a bit smaller - 3-4' x 3-4'.
‘Zuiko Nishiki’ has solid green leaves, and stiffer branching, so it's less likely to droop like 'Marginata'. Grows 4' x 4'.
All Winter Daphnes grow best in morning or dappled sun. It's enough light to produce good flowering but not so much that their leaves burn. In hot afternoon sun leaves look horrendous! Z7-9
This little Daphne just gives and gives. Fragrant, purple/mauve flower clusters bloom from spring thru fall once the plant is established. Leaves are evergreen and narrow, about 1-2” long. The plant is a nice little shrubby thing growing only to 12”x12”. It is the perfect addition to a rock garden or container. Adequate drainage in the soil is essential to survival, so allow for it and don't over-water.
Sun, part shade – zones 6-9
We may have saved the best for last. This is group of easy Daphnes! We carry several varieties of D. transatlantica - all have pale pink buds and white flowers that bloom several times each year, from April-October. They are semi-evergreen, so in warm winters they hold most of the leaves, but in harsher NW winters they'll shed part of the foliage. Some variation occurs in the leaves and growth habits - here's a synopsis.
Leaves are deep glossy green, 2" and convex. Flowers are a bit larger than other D. transatlanticas. Grows 2-3'x2-3'.
This variety can be hard to come by, but is worth listing. 'Jim's Pride' can be a little persnickety while getting established, but those who persevere are rewarded with flowers for six months, blue-green leaves and an easy-care plant that's around 4' x 4'.
Leaves have a creamy edge, adding to the frosty look year round. Blooms its heart out! Grows to about 3-4’ tall and wide.
Sun or part shade, appreciates improved drainage like any Daphne but thrives with a bit of neglect. Hardy in zones 5-9.
Read up on some of our favorite shrubs and remember, this is only a smattering of the variety of shrubs we carry all year long! Note: Viewing a Native Plant will take you into our Native Plant section.