August: Daphne Odora

This blog post may have formatting issues.
August 19, 2018

In Hobart at the moment one can smell St David’s Park, and its row of daphne odora bushes and their gleaming, pink and white flowers, several streets away. I walk through wonderful wafts of it’s scent from different gardens in the suburbs on my way into work. The scent will seep under the closed sash window from a nearby garden bed outside. It lasts for a week and a half in a vase inside and makes the house smell wonderful.

What a shame humans make such awful smells in comparison. We try in vain by dousing ourselves in bottled scents.  Some bottled purfumes are lovely. Many are not. None of them are a patch on daphne odora. There is a nuttiness in the smell of it somehow, so it isn’t only sweet. In Korea it is called a thousand mile scent.

There is a white form of Daphne odora. At Valleyfield it flowers a little later than the pink form. It’ scent is similar, but a bit more lemony and without some much of a nutty note. (I’m sure that there are more technical and accurate ways of describing scent than I know).

There are a lot of other types of daphne, not just odora. I mentioned Daphne bholua, which flowers in May-June in an earlier post. Daphne means laurel in greek. Daphne odora came from China. That family of plants is also called ‘laurel spurge’. It isn’t really a spurge, but the word is a clue. A spurge is a plant which will purge you. Purge you to death even. Everything about Daphne ordora is poisonous. Which casts its pearly beauty and its scent in new and sinister light.

Daphne is in love with death‘ I read in a garden book once. It does go yellow and droopy leaved and up and die from time to time, as well as not really living all that long (eight to ten years they say).  Daphne odora loathes wet feet which will rot its roots. It also loathes being too hot and too dry.  It doesn’t like root disturbance so won’t like being transplanted from a spot which isn’t working.  It is not a putter upper with things it loathes.  That is that.

There are three flourishing bushes in this garden, all under trees where the tree roots will keep the ground from being soggy. All of them are at the outer reaches of the sprinkler ranges in the watering system. The very edge, where sometimes, if the wind is wrong, they won’t get watered at all. These are the sorts of spots I recommend for planting. The bush between the spot where we park the car and the kitchen door gives the most pleasure because its scent welcomes you home, especially once dark has fallen.

As always with things I like, I have plans to buy more.  One, two, three, I see flourishing in my minds eye amidst the hellabores under a spreading horse chestnut tree near the house. One by the South-east door near a bathroom where I hope the scent will steal in the window. That is the riskiest spot as it isn’t under a tree and, owing to an enormous pink camellia which I believe my grandmother may have planted, gets not a scrap of sun in winter, so winter root rot is a risk. I’ll risk it though, as the ground is sandy due to there some building material being dumped on that spot once. Also, fortunately, hardware shops carry hundreds of daphne odoras at this time of year, for not too much money and so I won’t have thrown the children’s education fund away if it does die. And they have grown out of putting everything they see in their mouths, so surrounding the house with purging poisons shouldn’t be too dangerous. After all daffodil bulbs were apparently used as suicide pills by the Roman army and no one avoids planting those for safety reasons.