Oh, what a sweet pair: daphnes and anemones | AspenTimes.com

Oh, what a sweet pair: daphnes and anemones

Anna Naeser
Aspen CO, Colorado

The sweet smelling daphne is winding down now but it has been blooming for many weeks. It was already in full bloom when the pie cherry tree (Prunus cerasus “Montmorency”) blossomed.

Viewed from the border, they made quite a picture, the dome of the snowy cherry rising like a cloud behind the mound of the pink-blushed daphne. It reminded me of the opulence of the famous flowering cherry trees in Washington, DC.

The cherry blossoms shattered weeks ago, but the daphne bloomed on. The chokecherries dangled thousands of racemes like creamy caterpillars packed with minute blossoms (both native Prunus virginiana and the cultivar “shubert”) until they too dropped a blizzard of shredded petals. It was still blooming when the gas plant, Dictamnus albus, opened white starry flowers along erect and elegant spires and only now, as the bridal wreath spiraea (Spiraea x vanhouttei) branches bow under the weight of its flowers, is my hybrid Daphne x burkwoodii “Carol Mackie” quietly leaving the scene. As the flowers fade, the shrub is refreshed with new clusters of narrow, fresh green leaves delicately outlined in creamy yellow.

I didn’t know that daphnes have a reputation for being difficult, hating to be disturbed and apt to die unexpectedly. Not knowing that they require a sheltered site in part shade with reliable moisture, I planted mine in full sun in dry, unimproved clay. I watered it faithfully the first year and then ignored it while it sat, not dying but not growing much either, surrounded by yarrow and coreopsis, daffodils and poppies.

After 10 years or so, it began to capture my attention, blooming regularly and heavily. It is now almost 4 feet across with quite limber, gracefully curving branches, laden with clusters of flowers. I just wish it were closer so I couldn’t go in or out of the house “without a rewarding glimpse … and a breath of fragrance too” as Helen VanPelt Wilson says about her door-yard garden in The New Preferred Perennials, published in 1945.

Last spring I planted two more young daphnes, another D. x burkwoodii “Carol Mackie” and one called “Lawrence Crocker,” which is described as a compact gem, only 12 inches wide and tall at maturity, with tiny, glossy, dark evergreen leaves and deep-pink flowers. This time I paid attention to both Wilson and the cultural instructions, planting them in partial shade close to the path I beat every day. They both survived the winter, which is a good sign.

Springing up around and through the recumbent branches of the daphne is the lightly fragrant snowdrop anemone, Anemone sylvestris, with a reputation as wild and rambunctious as the daphne’s is temperamental and fussy. But what a combination they make! Everything about the texture and habit of these two is contrasting: the daphne’s foliage is fine-textured, linear, and profuse-think kinnikinick or mountainlover ” while the anemone’s basal foliage is sparse, large, deeply incised, and segmented.

The flowers of the daphne are narrowly tubular, opening into four slightly recurved, pointed lobes, maybe half an inch long and wide with minute yellow specks indicating recessed stamens. The clusters of white to pale-pink tubes spring directly from the twigs among the leaves. The anemone on the other hand has pure-white, 2-inch-wide single flowers composed of five broad sepals, on the end of a long straight stem, often a foot or more tall, with maybe one whorl of three leaflets half way up the stem.

The central boss is prominent and surrounded by bright yellow frizz of stamens. After the petals fall, the ovaries swell into cottony seedheads that stay interesting for ages. When the weather cools in fall, I sometimes get a few repeat blooms and coming upon their pristine simplicity among the blowsy tawniness of fall is a joy akin to spotting the first crocus in spring.

Interestingly, the other place the snowdrop anemone also has sowed itself is a patch of dark purple iris. Well, you all know what an iris looks like, so you can imagine how it contrasts with the anemone, although in a completely different direction than with the daphne. If the anemone sowed itself about with the abandon with which it is usually credited, then it would be sprinkled throughout the border and the effect might be visually cluttered instead of charming. In a well-irrigated, hyper-fertilized border in Aspen, I can see that it might become an invasive spreader, but not a chance in my drier, less fertile garden. Anyway, one gardener’s hooligans are another’s indispensable easy-care plants.