Sandy's Garden ... Daphne

During my formative years, I was an avid reader of The Sunday Post, as were most, if not all, of my friends.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 9:54 am

It was THE Sunday newspaper.

Sunday morning was not complete without the joys of Oor Wullie and The Broons.

The adventures of Paw, Maw, Granpaw, Hen, Daphne, Joe, Maggie, Horace, The Twins and The Bairn were eagerly anticipated each Sunday and often mulled over at school on Monday morning.

Falkirk Herald gardening guru Sandy Simpson

I didn’t realise until very recently that ‘Hen’ is short for Henry.

As for Daphne, the excessively-plain eldest daughter, where did her name originate? It’s not one which was in common usage in the 1930s, when Dudley D. Watkins invented the family, the 1950s when I was growing up or the 1970s, when I lost interest in their doings.

Nor, for that matter, is it in common use today.

Daphne, it turns out, was a minor figure in Greek mythology.

She was, according to the folklore of Ancient Greece, a naiad, one of the nymphs of flowing fresh waters such as springs, rivers, fountains and lakes.

But Daphne is also the name of a genus … a category … of between 70 and 95 species of deciduous and evergreen shrubs in the family Thymelaeaceae, native to Asia, Europe and north Africa.

We have one in our garden – although I don’t know what type it is, for I’m a gardener not a horticulturist and the label from when it was planted has long since fallen off – and it is bursting into bud right now with the promise of generous quantities of pinky-red flowers for months to come.

Within the genus the flowers of different species range in colour from white through greenish yellow or yellow to bright pink and purple.

All are scented … nice … all are attractive … nice … and all are poisonous … ah.

“One active compound is daphnin, a glycoside, combining glucose with daphnetin,” I learn from Wikipedia. “Some species have been shown to contain a further toxin, mezerein.

Some of the symptoms of ingestion include burning sensations and lesions of the mouth and upper digestive tract, gastroenteritis and diarrhoea, and in severe cases, damage to the kidneys (nephritis), irregular heart rhythm, and coma.” Not nice. And the attractive, red, tempting berries are even more poisonous, so it’s not the best choice for a garden where children play.

With no children playing in our garden, our daphne can enjoy the sunshine with its roots appreciating our well-drained, moisture-retentive soil and the whole bush grateful for its protection from bitter winter winds from the north-east, although it’s not bothered by frost.

We add a layer of chipped bark all a ound the plant as a mulch annually, but it’s very undemanding in the way of care; and, though daphnes are susceptible to leaf browning, waterlogging, nutrient deficiency, honey fungus, Phytophthora root rot, fungal leaf spot and virus, the specimen in our garden has been remarkably healthy.

Here’s to daphne or Daphne, whichever you prefer.