To Carol with love: notes on a special daphne

2013-05-18T00:00:00Z 2013-05-21T13:03:05Z To Carol with love: notes on a special daphneThe Associated Press The Associated Press
May 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

I fell in love with Carol Mackie almost from the day she arrived here. True, she was nothing special to look at early on, but she always had a becoming daintiness.

And what a looker she has become, with a full, round head of stems, along which fan out like pinwheels lance-shaped, bluish-green leaves, each with a creamy white margin tracing its edge.

And Carol — a kind of daphne —doesn't stop at just looking good. Every spring, each of her stems is capped by a tight cluster of small, white flowers. As they open and age to pink, they infuse the air with a deliciously sweet perfume.

One more bonus of Carol Mackie is that she is evergreen, although in more northern regions she is semi-evergreen or deciduous. She does look a bit ragged each year by winter's end, but it's not long before she's dressed up again in new leafery. Anyway, my attention during that ragged period is distracted by the colorful show of daffodils, crocuses and species tulips at her feet.

DAPHNE DEATH

I am thankful each year that Carol Mackie has flourished in my garden because, like other daphnes, she has the unfortunate habit of dying suddenly. Daphnes frequently expire after being moved; sometimes they die for no apparent reason at all. But my Carol Mackie has survived and thrived after being ripped out of the ground and replanted to make way for a construction project.

The fact that gardeners put up with the threat of "Daphne Death" is testimonial to the plants' virtues.

And there are other garden-worthy daphnes. Carol Mackie is a hybrid of rose daphne, a wide-spreading evergreen growing only 6 inches high, and Caucasian daphne, which grows 5 feet high. Both species have fragrant flowers. These species were mated with an eye to combining their qualities into one plant.

CAROL COMES FROM A GOOD FAMILY

The mating resulted in only three viable seeds, and of the three resulting seedlings only two survived. Those two grew to become the 3-foot-high varieties Somerset and Arthur Burkwood. Carol Mackie originated from a chance mutation on one of those hybrid's branches. This happy event took place and was discovered in the New Jersey garden of Carolyn Brett, formerly Carol Mackie.

I've recently learned of another daphne that I'm sure to fall in love with. This one, Briggs Moonlight, is a close relative of Carol Mackie. Its leaves are like a photographic negative of Carols' leaves, being, this time, creamy white with green edges.

Both Carol Mackie and Briggs Moonlight demand well-drained soil and some protection from the full fury of wind and sun. A mulch keeps their roots cool, which they like. Even better is to mulch and then underplant these daphnes with dark plants — Purple Palace coral bells, Bowles' Black viola, or Aphrodite hosta, for example — the better to show off the daphnes' decorative leaves.

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