Dream Gardens: Hearts belong to Daphne

Dream Gardens: Hearts belong to Daphne

But besides the “regulars” such as snowdrops and daffs, try to find space for one or two of the more unusual, early spring-flowering plants that give you something special to look forward to. You won’t be disappointed, I promise. The one I always look out for is the mezereon, or Daphne mezereum to give it its proper name.

At any other time of year it is a rather unremarkable small, straight-stemmed shrub but in February and March it undergoes a staggering transformation.

The bare winter twigs erupt in a mass of tiny purple “bobbles” that outlines them almost from top to toe.

They are heavily perfumed and when the plant is grown in a warm, sheltered corner the scent builds up until it is totally to die for.

Being very slow-growing, it is ideal for small gardens. So why, you may wonder, don’t we see more of Daphne? The sad fact is it is fussy about growing conditions.

It wants a cool, sheltered yet sunny spot with well-drained, humusrich, lime-free soil but in less suitable positions it struggles or fails and it hates root disturbance so it’s no good expecting to move it later if you get it wrong.

When you have the wrong sort of soil it’s worth trying one in a large tub so you can move it to a showy spot on the patio at flowering time and park it somewhere cooler in summer.

When you see a good specimen, even the least avaricious gardener can’t help thinking, “I want one”.

Another spring special to consider is the white forsythia, Abeliophyllum distichum. The problem here is fitting it in.

It’s a floppy-stemmed shrub roughly 6ft x 6ft that needs the support of a wall, fence or trellis because it is too weak to stand up by itself.

A south-facing porch or trellis fixed to a sunny wall is the perfect place to grow it and it should be given plenty of shelter in well-drained soil.

In February and March the stems are studded with white flowers that trumpet their almond-frangipani scent a fair distance and it’s so moreish you’ll want to be able to inhale at every opportunity.

The shrub is nothing special for the rest of the year so use the branches as support for one or two clematis.

Choose varieties from the viticella and texensis group that flower in summer and can be cut down to ground level in winter, just in time for the spring Abeliophyllum display.

A sunny sheltered wall is also the best place to grow the nearlyexotic Azara microphylla.

This stunning large shrub or small tree has ferny evergreen foliage, joined in March (or February, given a mild winter) by tiny yellow, fluffy flowers that are powerfully scented of what some people identify as vanilla and others, marzipan.

Give it the same conditions as Abeliophyllum and you won’t go far wrong.

All three are real corkers and even if they are a tad fussy, humour them they’re well worth the effort.

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