Just about every plant has a story behind it – who discovered it, or what the breeder was trying to develop throughout the breeding process. UK plantsman Robin White broke barriers when he developed Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’. It’s the story behind the plant that I love, just as much as the plant itself.
Going to visit Robin at his home in England a couple of years ago was a memorable experience. Located in a quaint little village in the English countryside, Robin and his wife Sue still live on the site of Blackthorn Nursery – their successful boutique nursery that they operated for years. As we weaved through various country lanes, we finally came across Robin waiting patiently at his front gate for us. He was rugged up in a woollen jumper and his sturdy boots indicated the ground was cold and damp underfoot. It was a bleak day in January and I remember feeling relieved to be shown into the warmth of their large country kitchen – complete with family dogs snoozing by the fire.
Robin has a fine reputation for being a fine plantsman and nurseryman, but is also a well known and successful hybridiser. I had communicated with Robin for years via email and he had been a great resource to answer my Daphne questions. He was the same in the flesh as the person I had got to know via our series of messages – brief, factual, softly spoken but obviously a humble wealth of knowledge.
We chatted with Robin and Sue about the recent launch of Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’. For us the journey had seemed a long one – importing plants into the country, the required quarantine period and the extensive trialling around the country to ensure it would perform for Australian gardeners. Finally there was a long period of bulking up enough numbers for the national launch.
For Robin however, the journey had began almost 30 years ago. Robin’s aims have always been to introduce vigorous, free-flowering garden plants that are hardy and tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions. Breeding new Daphne cultivars doesn’t happen overnight, and Robin has invested years in rigorous evaluations and culling seedings that did not meet his expectations. Along the way Robin has also authored a book on Daphnes (Daphnes – a Practical Guide for Gardeners) and has become a leading expert on this genus.
‘Eternal Fragrance’ is the result of 30 years of this process. Robin’s vision was to introduce a Daphne that overcame all the traditional hurdles of Daphne growing. Whilst we all love that fragrance, nearly everyone has at least one failed Daphne story. Robin wanted to halt that problem once and for all. No more needing the perfect soil type, no more focus on just the right amount of dappled light, no more pH problems and no more needing exactly the right moisture levels.
Sitting at that kitchen table chatting with Robin about ‘Eternal Fragrance’ was special. As we presented him with his first royalty cheque – the income from the first sales in Australia – and something unique happened. Robin’s eyes welled up. He was touched – he explained – not because of the cheque, not because of all the marketing material laid out in front of him – but because PMA had taken the time to realise his vision and take his new variety to home gardeners. We had worked with him for years to get ‘Eternal Fragrance’ to a point where it could be shared and enjoyed by an entire country. That was a fabulous moment!
There’s a video we made that day – right in Robin’s kitchen. Let me share it with you so you can meet the man behind ‘that Daphne.’
It’s always rewarding to work with plant breeders and help them turn their vision into reality. Not many people realise that behind a plant can be 5, 10, 15 – up to 30 years of work. The next time you grumble about paying $10 or $15 for a plant in a garden centre, stop and consider that you are probably buying years of research and development. When you look at it in that light, it’s probably a bargain.
‘Eternal Fragrance’ has been celebrated in Australia in the Australian Business Awards in 2011. It was the first plant to be recognised in these prestigious awards and took out the Best New Product Category over a whole range of products from washing powder to cat food. Its virtues are simply but very effective. You can plant ‘Eternal Fragrance’ in just about any soil type, it’s not fussy about water levels (its doesn’t like to sit in water, but it can also handle extended dry periods very well), it blooms in spring and repeat flowers at other intervals throughout the year and it loves the sun!
‘Eternal Fragrance’ really is sun hardy. You can plant it in a full sun position and it will be happy. From a container on a sunny deck to a hedge along a garden path, don’t fuss about sunshine levels with this plant. It’s a good idea to keep it close to the action so you can enjoy the fragrance in spring when it’s in full bloom. ‘Eternal Fragrance’ will also repeat flower throughout the year too.
But guess what – there’s more! No, not a free set of steak knives…
Robin went on to develop a sister variety, ‘Spring Pink Eternal Fragrance.’ Now available in Australia, this shares all the same attributes as ‘Eternal Fragrance’ but the flowers open pink and gradually age to white. It’s a lovely twist on ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and definitely worth adding to your garden if you’re a Daphne fan. Look our for it in garden centres this spring (and don’t forget to choose a sunny spot for it too).
When you see ‘Eternal Fragrance’ or ‘Spring Pink Eternal Fragrance’ in stores, let you mind wander back to Robin – one man that has made a huge difference in Daphne circles.
[This is a sponsored post brought to you by Plants Management Australia]