Daphne was a water nymph (Naiad) who caught the eye of Apollo. He chased after her. To avoid God knows what injury, she sensibly turned herself into a bay tree (Laurus nobilis), which Apollo mooned over thereafter. This is an archetypal representation of the pursued and the pursuer in relationship: if they’re running away from you and never turn around to chase you back, then they’re probably not that into you, as the saying goes.
When it came to giving a common name to this family of precious shrubs from Asia, it was no doubt decided that as the leaves of some of the species resembled the bay leaf and as the beauty of many of the species resembled an irresistible Naiad, that this is after whom it should be named.
A favourite of home gardens in southern Australia, the sweet daphne (Daphne odora) outshines all other winter flowering fragrant plants. Its spicy citrus fragrance is distinctive in the cold air and when brought inside in a generous bunch the warmth empowers the scent. Whenever I catch a whiff, I am transported back to my grandmother’s South Gippsland garden.
The inflorescences come in bundles of white flowers and each flower is made up of four tepals (petal and sepal combo), and each petal is backed with cerise. They are usually borne amidst the leathery green foliage from July to September. There are varieties that have variegated leaves and some with pure white flowers.
They are known to be a little bit fussy. I would say good drainage in acidic soil with an easterly prospect, if you can find the space, is best. Others suggest dappled light. And give it a very light tip pruning every year and pick many bunches as gifts and to cheer up the house. This will help it to stay in some shape. For they can become unruly and untidy if left to their own devices. It will need to be fertilised too, so that the leaves stay glossy and green and not lank and yellow. A regular supply of water in dry weather will help it to stay strong and resist attack from such pests as scale.
In design it is best used in a mixed border. It is not a very interesting plant to look at for most of the year, so it is good to have something more fascinating to look at in the vicinity, but don’t let the daphne be overpowered by other plants in the summer months, as it will restrict its growth and flower production the following season.
And have them growing somewhere where you walk past them every day, so that its scent can astound you each day of winter and transport you to the moment you were first aware of it as a garden plant.
My biggest task in the garden I was working on in Boolarra last week was to bring to heel some rather exuberant fruit trees in an orchard that has not been pruned for quite a few years. I am not even sure all the trees are on dwarfing rootstock, so their capacity for growth knows no bounds. I chose to prune them now, the wrong time, in an attempt to knock a bit of vigour out of the growth of the trees. We will see how well that works. I will keep you updated.
Basically I cut out all the staunch upright growth with my handy little pruning saw and tidied up crossing branches and dead wood with my secateurs and loppers.
From the picture you can see it was a classic autumn day. The clippings went to the cows, who love fruit tree leaves (as well as fruit, apples in particular). The lopped branches will end up in a piece of rustic fencing at ‘Clear Springs’.
The thyrsus was a symbolic implement from ancient times made of a rod with a pine cone fixed on the top. It was associated with Bacchus or Dionysus, and in the midst of this silly season and the Spring Carnival in Melbourne, when Dionysus’ bacchanalian cult seems to be active at every Cup Day barbecue and racing event, it is quite fitting to be reminded of it by a rather upright planting in the Fitzroy Gardens this sunny spring afternoon.
The radiant golden racemes of the Wachendorfia thyrsiflora (where the thyrsus reference comes from) are in full splendour at the moment. The timing of this planting to coincide with the stunning Doryanthes exelsa’s flowers (towering above on their immense stem) is impressive.
Both are fairly tough plants as long as they have adequate water (I find the Wachendorfia won’t flower if it dries out). If you want to find out more, check out the links below.
When I arrived at ‘Clear Springs’ in classic spring drizzle, the colours of the seasonal blossom and flower glowed brightly in the mute light, against the grey sky. It was Thursday and ahead of me lay four days in the garden, before I had to go back to the city and to work. And in front of me, on a grassy path, lay Mme Alfred Carriere. She lay sadly beside the verandah post she was supposed to be attached to. She looked like a badly broken limb: at the wrong angle and disconcerting.
An instant sense of guilt came. I had meant to prune all the roses on my previous visit, but had only managed to trim a few of the bush roses, daunted no doubt by the mammoth task of thinking out and tidying up the vigorous old lady of the climbing rose world. My failure to act meant that she was too top heavy and the wires that supported her buckled in the heavy winds.
My initial dread subsided somewhat when I discovered that she had slumped rather than snapped. I figured I could reattach her.
It didn’t take long.
Once righted, she stood proudly again and I picked a few of the exquisite buds that were beginning to open and enjoyed the rosy fragrance from the cream flowers, so palely stained with pink, the margin of the outer petals a wrinkled, cerise edge. These colours usually bleach away in the bright sun, but this grey day had kept the precious colours vivid.
Horticulture in urban areas is widely becoming a vehicle for conscious community building. The popularity of community gardens is a testament to that. Meeting friends and neighbours amidst the kale and parsley is the way to go. I get it. I like it. And, some creative people are always thinking of new ways to expand this concept, often by using the internet to connect people. This can be seen in the groovy concept set up by a few blokes in the inner north of Melbourne, with their project HerbShare. I hope they continue with the idea, even though their crowd sourcing venture has not yet been successful. Check out their Facebook page to find out more. https://www.facebook.com/theherbshare
How did I find out about them? I stumbled on this quirky little planting in a bluestone alleyway in North Carlton. An old plastic tub, a television carapace and a rather retro pepsi crate serve as the containers for the herbs which are grown here for the person who planted them and also for any of the neighbours who might like a sprig of mint for their peas. One less thing to buy at the supermarket. One more reason to connect with your neighbours.
The days are getting longer. But it is still winter. The plants grow, but slowly. Broad beans (Vicia faba) have been growing steadily since we planted them in May. And they are flowering their sweet, cream flowers that promise the fruit that is to come. I planted the broad beans in three rows, fairly closely together so that the plants support each other as they grow. Nearby I grow a small crop of garlic, another of my favourite winter crops. All in a bed of rich red soil that I have tried valiantly to keep weed free over the course of the winter. I wish I could keep the whole garden like that. Elsewhere the cape weed and blue pimpernel are also thriving. That will be a job for another day, when the days get longer still.
The space is small and the conditions are harsh. This little bed is about 40cm wide between the bluestone alleyway and the asphalt path to the letter box. It is about a metre long. Sometimes, when we are reversing out of the alley, we impinge on its borders. This spelt the end of the inappropriately chosen Phormium tenax cultivar that had been growing there sparsely for a number of years. We replaced it with a Lomandra longifolia we had been given and it keeps the remaining phormium company. But really it is a bland little planting.
A ground hugging creeper could be a solution. I had it in my mind to carpet the bed with Corsican Mint (Mentha requienii), so that when traffic (foot or automotive) strays onto the bed, there will be a lovely crushing of leaves and a release of creme-de-menthe aroma.
The problem of course is that I could not find a trace of this plant in any of the nearby nurseries. Too impetuous to order the plant that I wanted and had spent some time planning on buying, I hastily grabbed two ground-huggers that might fulfil a similar function of softening this stony spot without getting in the way.
In retrospect of course I realise that they are not compatible bed fellows, one preferring dry and the other moist conditions. But as I am not sure what the conditions of the ground really are (we have heavy clay hereabouts, it being an old brick making area, so ‘moist’ isn’t out of the question, but I’m not sure that the soil in this bed is 100% local, so it might possibly be dry after all). Maybe I am simply hedging my bets.
The two plants are Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) and Woolly Thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus). Here are preliminary photographs of each. I will take some more pics as the season progresses. Happy gardening.