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By Trey Pitsenberger, co-owner Golden Gecko

One sure sign that spring is just around the corner is the fragrance of Daphne. Here in Auburn, and other Gold Rush communities, Daphne has been a favorite among gardeners for many years. Taking a walk just the other day I passed an old Victorian when a sweet, pervasive fragrance caught my attention. The smell is one of the most unique and wonderful gifts the plant world can offer. It grabs your attention, triggering many long forgotten memories of past encounters with this plant. The sense of smell is like that. Unlike vision, hearing, or touch, smell tends to be a bit more repressed in modern man. Perhaps it’s because living in towns and cities smell is not always a welcome sense. In the old days it was very fashionable for the ladies to sport a corsage of Daphne. Anytime you wished you could lift the corsage to your nose and all the other unpleasant smells retreated.

Most of the year Daphne is an unassuming shrub growing in the shady part of our gardens. Usually about four feet high and six feet wide it sports narrow, 3-inch long leaves that are green, thick and glossy. The most popular Daphne has yellow or white edged green leaves. This variety is called ‘Aureo-Margenata and is the most widely distributed of the Daphnes. Its produces clusters of fragrant flowers pink to deep red on the outside and white-throated pale pink on the inside. I call it the ‘Romantic Plant’ as it usually blooms right around Valentines Day and lasts for a few weeks, sometimes longer. The flowers can be clipped off and placed in a vase for inside the house. The fragrance will fill the room.

Daphne, can be enjoyed by all gardeners in the foothills, as long as you can give it about three hours of shade during midday. It is not just deer resistant it’s deer proof. The ground should have excellent drainage with plenty of organic matter worked in. Plant it as you would a Rhododendron. Unlike a Rhododendron you should water Daphne as infrequently as possible. Little water during the dry season helps in the formation of flower buds the following year. Plant the root ball of Daphne a bit high in the ground, but mulch the soil or plant a living groundcover to shade the roots.

Since Daphne is quite slow growing it makes a great container plant. Also using a high quality potting soil and watering infrequently is often more successful than growing in less than optimum soil. In the garden center Daphne is the one plant, other that succulents and cactus, that we don’t water everyday in the summer. You can locate the container where the light conditions are just right, and where you will be able to enjoy the fragrance the most.

Perhaps this year you could give the gift of a blooming Daphne to your valentine. Every year, when the flowers and fragrance appear, your valentine will be reminded of your thoughtfulness. With its heavenly fragrance and handsome appearance Daphne is very much “The Romantic Plant”.

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