January 2021: Daphne “Perfume Princess”

The Jury family of New Zealand have, over the years, produced a range of plants – Magnolias, Camellias, and Rhododendrons – the current generation, Mark and Abbie, continue that tradition. This Daphne was, perhaps, an accident, although it had been “in development” for about 10 years before being forgotten. So it had languished in a tipped-over pot at the back of the greenhouse and only emerged into the gardening world due to its scent, One day, Mark was wandering about and decided to find out what he was smelling!

“Perfume Princess” is the result of a hybrid between Daphne odora and Daphne Bhoula and has been described as the most fragrant shrub in the world. It’s pink glowers are larger than traditional odoras.

Flowers of different Daphnes
Perfume Princess to the left, centre is a large flowered D. odora ‘Grace Stewart’, right is a normal sized Daphne odora. Photo copyright Abbie Jury

 

Daphness generally have a sweet and spicy fragrance; “Perfume Princess” adds a strong citrus undertone which distinguishes it from its relatives. But on top of that comes the strength of that fragrance. On a dry, sunny day I can smell mine from a few metres away. Mine comes into bud in mid-November and even before the buds open, the scent spreads some distance. This year, it has peaked over Christmas and into January, hence I can feature it as a January plant of the month. We’ve had some decent weather and I’ve been able to spend time sitting beside it and breathing in what it has to offer. In my 30 years living here, I’ve only once experienced a -1C temperature overnight; I have a weird little microclimate all of my own. This Daphne should be OK down to -15C but a couple of overnight frosts will shorten its flowering. I’ll keep fingers crossed. It usually keeps flowering here into April. Nearly six months of flower is to be sniffed at. I’d just mention, though, that “the book” will often say flowering is in March and April.

Another photo by Abbie. She takes better ones than me!

It prefers soil just on the acidic side acidic and free draining (once it’s established don’t overwater), it’s happy in the border or in a container (mine is in a over-complicated large raised bed) and could even be used as hedging. Apply a slow-release fertiliser just after flowering. It’s generally pest and disease-free but keep half-an-eye open for aphids and scale (only treat if you find any). I think a semi-shaded position is better than full sun but that’s just me. Mark says it’s fine wherever as long as that isn’t in deep shade. Lots of places sell 9 cm pots but you’ll be better off looking for a slightly larger plant, say in the 12-15cm pot range. Get the position right first time and remove from the pot carefully; it won’t like root disturbance!

John Kingdon