Tag Archives: Daphne bholua

Winter whites

Ripples on the ice formed on a farm trough

Ripples on the ice formed on a farm trough

July is our bleakest winter month here. We feel the cold, especially this week with three sharp frosts in a row which is unusual for us, but the daytime temperatures rarely drop below double figures (Celsius). The ice photo is from a water trough on the coldest part of the property. Mark was very taken with the patterns.

Early Pearly - the loveliest of sasanqua camellia flower forms

Early Pearly – the loveliest of sasanqua camellia flower forms

But cold is a relative thing and a winter here in Taranaki remains full of flowers. I was playing around with white camellia blooms because I had been reminded of our love affair with white flowers in this country. The ‘any colour is fine as long as it is white” syndrome, perhaps. I am sure gardeners in parts of the world which spend many weeks or months or under snow might find this national obsession with white flowers puzzling. I suspect it may derive from a sense of social envy – Sissinghurst’s white garden has a lot to answer for here in the antipodes.

As I progressed on my white flower assemblages, often having to pick the flowers because it has been raining or windy, I began to feel positively bridal despite the winter chill.
The Montanoa bipinnatifida has passed over and the monarch butterflies have moved onto an obscure michelias species that is flowering. The frosts have dealt to the Dahlia imperialis alba this week and Luculia ‘Fragrant Pearl’ is passing over, but there is plenty of white in evidence. Yes, it is a dead harrier hawk above – killed on the road but passed on to a Maori weaver to use the feathers. In the basket starting at the back is one of the gordonias. They have been particularly good this season. Then the small flowers are Camellia transnokoensis  which we rate highly as a small leaved, miniature flowered species which we are using as hedging. We replaced some buxus hedging with this camellia. For, Mark reasoned, how much better to have a hedge that has pretty flowers which make a contribution to the ecosystem by feeding birds and insects. Next is another species, Camellia gauchowensis, Camellia sasanqua Mine No Yuki, Early Pearly and at the front Camellia drupifera. 

Camellia transnokoensis

Camellia transnokoensis

Picked in the rain today

Picked in the rain today

Daphne bholua

Daphne bholua

At the top we have Mark’s new Daphne Perfume Princess – not pure white by any manner of means but the overall display is more white than coloured. Next to it is one of our favourite species, Camellia yuhsienensis, whose flowers are like the michelias of the camellia world. Below is the Himalayan daphne,  Daphne bholua  , which has the sweetest perfume of any daphne we know but suffers from scruffy growth and badly behaved habits of suckering and seeding. Next is Rose Flower Carpet White (does it ever stop blooming?) and then the pretty bloom of Superstar – another white camellia which we rate highly on garden performance and weather hardiness – at least when compared to most larger flowered whites.


Galanthus - the winter snowdrops
We may not get a long season from the galanthus and they certainly don’t peek through the snow here, but the simple charm is constant. Galanthus elwesii and Galanthus ‘S Arnott’ are the most reliable performers in our conditions. Although we grow some other varieties, these two are our mainstay.

067Finally today, I headed out into the chill to find the white evergreen azaleas, the very first of the new season’s michelias (deliciously fragrant) and white hellebores. By this time, I found my eyes being drawn to colour and red blooms were demanding my attention. I would find a monochromatic garden soon palled but the colours  will have to wait for another day as I end with the simple perfection of Camellia Superstar below.

Superstar (6)

Plant Collector: Daphne bholua

Daphne bholua - oh the fragrance

Daphne bholua – oh the fragrance

It is a rare plant that can stop you in your tracks from several metres out and have you sniffing the air to locate the source of scent. The Himalayan D. bholua is one of those plants. In our experience it is the strongest and sweetest of any of the daphnes and it has a very long flowering season because it sets buds down its stems. It is also very hardy. That is about the sum total of its merits.

As a garden plant, it becomes leggy, scruffy and untidy with age. It seeds down too freely and suckers around the place so when you think you have dug out one plant, it is just as likely that the suckers will pop up all around to confound you. It is semi deciduous. In cold conditions, it will drop all its leaves. In temperate conditions it drops some and of those it retains, only half look healthy while the other half look as if they are dying. Its natural form is upright but twiggy and untidy. Even the named cultivars we have tried are no better.

But we would not be without it. Oh, that scent. It all comes down to placement. Basically, you need to hide the plants behind something more attractive so you enjoy the scent while not expecting to admire the plant. I cut back and try and shape some of our larger plants from time to time, but it does not make a lot of difference to the overall appearance. You can never have too many fragrant daphnes in a garden and the narrow, upright habit of bholua means those plants are not going to hog too much space.

First printed in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

The sweet smell of daphne in winter

Daphne odora - happy around the back by the rubbish tin.

Daphne odora – happy around the back by the rubbish tin.

We have never forgotten the nursery colleagues who told us that their range included lemon trees and daphnes “because you can sell a lemon tree to pretty much every household and everybody has to replace their daphne every five years or so”. I had never thought about it before, but they were right. Most New Zealand gardens have at least one of each and daphnes do not rank up there as long lived plants. But we wouldn’t be without them in the winter garden.

While there are upwards of 60 different species in the wild, in terms of garden plants in this country, generally you have a choice of odora, odora or odora with occasional breaks for D. bholua and if you are really lucky, you might spot the little ground hugging D. cneorum (with its silent c), the dainty D. x burkwoodii, or the remarkable blue D. genkwa. You may buy your odora by many other names, but if it has typical daphne foliage and flowers, it is just an odora selection. The flowers are generally small and a mix of lilac pink and white with a range of subtle variations. Some are darker, pinker or even pure white. I bought one that was reputedly apricot but that was wishful thinking with the description.

The good and the bad of the Himalayan Daphne bholua

The good and the bad of the Himalayan Daphne bholua

We have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Himalayan Daphne bholua. In our opinion it has the best and strongest fragrance of all and it has a long flowering season. Its upright habit of growth means it fits into borders and beside paths well. That is the good side. On the down side it suckers (spreads underground), seeds much too freely and is dispersed by birds so has weed potential. It also becomes very scruffy with time. It is semi deciduous which means it is neither one thing nor the other – it drops some leaves and those that hang on often look messy. The form is ugly and it can get quite large after a few years if you don’t stay on top of the pruning. So it is not a plant of great beauty at all, but its scent is superb. Hide it at the back of the border in behind more attractive plants so that it can wow you with its fragrance.

The blue flowered Daphne genkwa from China is remarkable. For most of the year it is just an anonymous willowy shrub. It is fully deciduous, so drops all its leaves in autumn. Then in late August, all those whippy growths burst into lilac blue flowers down their length. It is a wondrous sight. Some claim a light perfume, but I think that is imagination. It is just one of the loveliest shrubs you will ever see in flower. Alas, it is difficult to propagate (it is generally done from root cuttings) and can be difficult to get established so it is not common. However, it is still produced commercially and a good garden centre may be able to order it in for you. Plant it where it has good light, good drainage and plenty of space so it won’t need trimming. I killed a well established plant by cutting it back and I wasn’t that brutal. I loved it so much I bought three replacements and these will be planted with plenty of space so they should never need pruning.

Deciduous, lacking scent and blue lilac but it is probably the most spectacular - Daphne genkwa

Deciduous, lacking scent and blue lilac but it is probably the most spectacular – Daphne genkwa

Growing tips: daphnes are not suitable plants to grow in containers. Mostly they look unhealthy and straggly because it is hard to get the potting mix right. It is much easier to keep them lush and healthy planted in the garden, even more so if you pick a position out of full sun. The odoras and bholua are often a good choice for the more shaded house borders. While they need good light levels, they are quite happy with little or no direct sun.

Daphnes prefer rich loamy conditions, neither acid nor alkaline. They won’t love you if you put them in waterlogged conditions either so look for spots with good drainage which never get bone dry either. Keep them mulched with compost or leaf litter.

While Daphne bholua will accept hard pruning, most other types won’t. You are better to take a bit more care and think more about pinching out new growth to encourage bushiness and shaping with secateurs, rather than hacking bark hard all over.

Because they are winter flowering, finding locations near to where you walk in winter means you will get more benefit. This is one of the few plants with such strong scent that you will pause and look for the source so plant it where that can happen. Only D. genkwa is spectacular in flower, so they are wasted in more removed locations. Round the back of house near the rubbish bin is a handy location for us though we have quite a few other plants all over the place.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Tikorangi notes: June 25, 2010

Latest posts:
1) The formal perfection of Camellia Mimosa Jury – the cultivar bred by Felix Jury which we rate as his very best.
2) Mark’s Monarch Rescue Centre and other garden tasks for the week.
3) While we certainly don’t have gardening conditions that resemble its native habitat of sand dunes, Aloe thraskii shows a tolerance of wide range of condtions.
4) Outdoor Classroom this week is a step by step guide to pruning hydrangeas. Macrophylla hydrangeas.

Daphne bholua

When Daphne bholua, the Himalayan daphne, first became available here, it seemed liked the best thing since sliced bread and we gathered every form we could find. While it remains a valued plant in our garden, it has not proved to be such an all-round wonder plant as we had hoped. After a few years, it can look pretty scruffy and its habit of being slightly semi-deciduous doesn’t help because it doesn’t drop its spent leaves early enough. Added to that, it sets seed so freely that it pops up throughout the garden to the extent that one can see some element of noxious weed about its ways. And it suckers all round the parent plant. But of all the daphnes, it must have the loveliest scent and a single plant can waft that fragrance metres away. And when that happens on calm days in the depths of winter, all is forgiven.