Tag Archives: Edgeworthia gardneri

Golden orbs

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Every time Edgeworthia gardneri blooms and I sniff the waxy, golden orbs of fragrance, I remember a customer from our mail order days. One who put the cuss into customer, as Mark is wont to say.

New Zealand Gardener magazine carried a full-page photo of a single golden orb and the accompanying text named us as one of very few suppliers of this plant. It is not common in NZ gardens and not that easy to propagate. A full-page photo should give a hint as to the problem. It was considerably enlarged in the image.

A reader rang, desperate to order one of the few remaining plants we had. One of the staff took the call and didn’t check to make sure she knew what she was buying. I am not saying Mark or I would have checked, but we might have. The staffer instead sold her an additional random plant as well to meet our minimum order of $35 and her plants were packed and despatched.

I have no idea what the woman’s name was but I can remember she lived in Palmerston North (here’s looking at you Palmerstonians – she was yours, all yours). On receipt of the plant, she rang to express her extreme disappointment. The flower, you see. She had no idea the flower would be so small. It looked much larger in the photo. I mentally sighed and agreed to take the plants back if she returned them in good condition. She had clearly destroyed our packing because in due course, the plants arrived back in a carefully constructed cardboard cage, with windows and air vents, even. As I recall, it cost her $27.50 to send us back $35 worth of plants. I deleted her from our data base.

Edgeworthia gardneri is the tall, willowy, multi-stemmed shrub behind the orange clivia

But every year, as I enjoy the plant in bloom, I smile wryly at the thought of what she missed out on because it is lovely. It is willowy in its growth so light and graceful, adorned by many golden orbs with good scent in late winter and early spring. It is evergreen and hails from the forests in the Himalayan foothills and is, I have just discovered, just as good if not better for the making of high quality paper as its better known, deciduous, shrubby cousin, Edgeworthia papyrifera syn chrysantha (which bears the common, though inaccurate, name of the yellow daphne).

It is just that the flower heads are the size of pingpong balls, not tennis balls, or maybe even the larger ball size used in softball and baseball.

Plant Collector: Edgeworthia gardneri

The scented golden orb of Edgeworthia gardneri

The scented golden orb of Edgeworthia gardneri

This plant has a very curious flower head – fully rounded golden pompoms of tightly packed, almost waxy flowers. Sweetly scented too, which is not surprising because it is a close relative of the daphnes, but because it does not mass flower, it lacks the fragrant oomph of its cousins. Each flower head is only about 3cm across, not much larger than an old fashioned gobstopper. Gardneri is still newly introduced to the west – it comes from Nepal – not easy to propagate from cutting and rare. I tell you this because several years ago we did manage to get some plants successfully growing and offered them on the mailorder list we used to put out. At the same time a gardening magazine showed a photograph of the flower but gave no idea of the size. Somebody in Palmerston North tracked us down and ordered the plant. We shipped her down a splendid specimen but she was not happy. She was expecting a flower more akin, I suspect, to the size of a cricket ball rather than a pingpong ball. She sent back this rare and choice shrub. It cost her more in freight than the plant was worth, but clearly it was a matter of principle because she felt short-changed by the size of the flower.

There are only two, maybe three, species of edgeworthia. The more common Chinese form, papyrifera or chyrsantha, is deciduous but gardneri is fully evergreen and makes an open, airy bush with a graceful appeal. It is not particularly hardy and won’t thrive in areas with cold winters. It has good nectar for the tuis and we are planning to add another plant in full sun to feed our butterflies.