There’s not much still blooming in my garden in late November. An aconite (Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’), some fall-blooming crocuses, white corydalis (Pseudofumaria alba, better known under its old name, Corydalis ochroleuca), and sticky sage (Salvia glutinosa) are about it. After all, most nights temperatures now drop below freezing and we’ve had several snows, although none that have lasted more than a few days. And any day now we’ll getting that snowfall: the one that will last right through until spring. Such is winter in USDA hardiness zone 3/AgCan zone 4!
But there is one shrub that is still blooming on… and it’s been in bloom since late April: Daphne x transatlantica ‘Jim’s Pride’. It is by far the longest blooming shrub in my garden… and so few gardeners seem to have ever heard about it!
This shrub was introduced by the late Jim Cross of Environmentals Nursery, Long Island, NY in the late 1980s and won a Gold Medal Plant award from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in 1990. The parents of D. x transatlantica are Daphne caucasica (deciduous) and Daphne collina (evergreen). The result gives a semi-evergreen shrub about 3 to 4 feet (90-120 cm) high and wide (on 3’ by 3’ in my climate) with a mounded growth habit, small rhododendronlike leaves, and highly fragrant 4-petaled white flowers arising from pinkish buds. And for some reason, the plant just won’t stop blooming.
Most of the year, the bloom isn’t “oh-my-gawd-look-at-that!” dense, but small clusters of flowers do keep appearing from snow melt (or shortly thereafter) until winter truly sets in and no, there are no breaks: there are always at least a few flowers. The heaviest bloom is in spring, but most years, mine will still be in bloom in early December if the snow holds off until then.
The reason this shrub can do that is that it blooms from both old and new wood… and just keeps producing flower buds from spring though to winter. It just doesn’t know when to quit!
It Shouldn’t Grow Here
I must confess, this shrub shouldn’t theoretically be able to survive in my climate. It’s listed for USDA zone 5 (AgCan zone 6) and I don’t doubt that’s correct. One spring mine was killed nearly to the ground (and barely bloomed that year), but it did come back: yes, that’s in USDA zone 3/AgCan zone 4. I’m sure the abundant snowcover my plant gets – always at least 3 feet (90 cm) of snow – helps a lot. Plus it’s in a semi-shady spot naturally well-protected from cold winds, a site where snow tends to build up rather than blow away. And Mother Nature also applies an abundant mulch of dead leaves each fall to protect its roots while waiting for the snow to come.
As a semi-evergreen shrub, it would be expected to lose all its leaves in colder climates in the winter, but I find it holds onto the upper ones every year. And I’ve been growing it for 12 years now, so figure I’m getting to know it.
What It Needs
I gave my plant what I was told it needed, that is a fairly rich, well-drained soil in a spot not subject to drought. It’s said to prefer alkaline soil, but mine seems perfectly happy in my moderately acid soil (pH 6.2). This is not a plant you’re going to want to prune. After all, not only does it naturally form a nice compact mound, but since there are always buds coming, when exactly would you prune it? Any cutting you do would result in fewer blooms. I only remove any winter damage and that has been (with one exception) very slight.
Where to Find It
This shrub is locally available in suitable climates, but will be hard to find in colder areas where nurseries assume it’s not going to be hardy. In Canada, you might want to try Phoenix Perennials (even if they don’t offer it in their mail order listing, ask, as they do carry this plant). In the US, try Plant Lust or ForestFarm.
Or try the much more widely available D. x transatlantica ‘Blafra’ Eternal Fragrance™, a newer cultivar presently being promoted by several nurseries including Monrovia. It seems almost identical to ‘Jim’s Pride’, although it’s said to be a bit shorter (2 to 3 feet/60-90 cm). You could also try D. x transatlantica ‘Blapink’ (Pink Fragrance™), a pink-flowered version. There are also a few varieties of D. x transatlantica with variegated foliage if that’s your thing.
I can’t guarantee that any of these are as hardy as ‘Jim’s Pride’, but they might we worth a try!