The botanical world holds so much promise for humankind, what with its contributions of fiber, pharmaceuticals, flooring, linen capri pants, hallucinogens, and what have you, that it surprises me we don’t hear more about The Plant That Makes People Walk Backwards. Surely this should be noteworthy.
I am referring, of course, to the small shrub Daphne odora, which is so unremarkable in appearance that it seems to disappear into the dusty basement of the brain. (Same place we keep our PIN numbers.) We walk right by a blooming Daphne odora without a backwards glance, and five paces later the shrub sends out its fragrance molecule assault team and hauls us back. Done correctly, the fragrance posse will get us undulating dreamily through the air like early cartoon animals. We know what we’re dealing with–another visually spurned Daphne; we just need to retrace our steps and locate it and get ourselves a good snootful.
I used to have a massive Daphne right out front, but it didn’t make the cut when we nuked the landscape and started over. It tends towards scraggiliness. It’s floppy and limp and its leaves are nothing special. I was willing to leave Daphne-owning to the neighbors, but Dave wouldn’t have it. Swooning over Daphne is one of his favorite springtime activities and he wanted to be able to do it right at home where he’d have somewhere soft to land. There’s always compromise involved when folks live together. For instance, if you’re a tidy soul, you loosen your standards. If you’re a slob, you try to learn to care. In this case, the compromise was that I planted a new Daphne in a new location where it won’t do all that well.
You only need one small bush to do the trick. Down the block, however, is an exceptionally tidy and well-maintained small garden that is positively anchored by Daphne. It’s the majority plant. It’s in charge. Everything in the yard is pruned to perfection and the Daphne plants have ganged up into a veritable hedge. When it’s in bloom, as it is now, it seems like nothing less than a power play. Why would someone plant that much of it? It is hard to shake the image of the gardener inside the house, peering through the blinds, smirking and cackling, waiting for the bodies to pile up in delirium on the sidewalk. The garden is gorgeous. There is not a blade out of place. Gravel is re-raked after every footprint. Even the moss is edged. No question: this person lives alone.