It wasn’t easy to buy Daphne bholua of the approved cultivar, Jacqueline Postill, and I wasn’t sure growing it would be any easier. Why was I so keen – and clearly not alone? It flowers when you need it most, in mid-winter like Sarcococca, its scent is delicious, and year round its shiny dark upright shape is a serious presence in the garden. Besides, all the best gardens have one; at Exbury there is a whole grove of lusty suckers you can smell a furlong off.
Anyway, growing it in this shady London garden has not been a problem. Until the slugs found it. Would slugs like its quite leathery leaves? They haven’t eaten anything else in this bed, but they’ve shredded the daphne while my back was turned. Where on earth do they live, these little critters? Now I’ve played the genial host to them with a jam-jar of Stella Artois, fifteen or twenty are afloat in the beer. I shall keep on buying rounds until poor Jacqueline has recovered, though I don’t expect many flowers this winter.
The daphne that makes up for it is Daphne odora Aureomarginata. It seems odd that a variegated form of an evergreen should be a better doer than the plain version, but it’s true in this case. Our five year old plant is now over four feet high and is just coming into flower, which it will keep up for months. I’m afraid I killed its cousin, Eternal Fragrance, by planting in a dry bed in full sun. And what happened, I wonder, to the deciduous daphne that was once all the rage in gardens of the Verey era, D. x burkwoodii ‘Somerset’? I haven’t seen it for ages. Perhaps it’s one of those plants that are propagated so often that they somehow become reluctant to grow. But then I’ve heard that my favourite summer clematis, Perle d’Azur, is getting sulky, when apparently nurseries simply find that its nodes are too far apart to get an economical number of cuttings from a stock plant.