Tag Archives: spring flowering shrubs

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: Calycanthus floridus

Calycanthus floridus in a New Plymouth garden

Calycanthus floridus in a New Plymouth garden

Commonly known as Carolina Allspice, this is the best example I have seen in bloom. We had it here once but dug it out because it was a bit insignificant where it was located. It is better as a border plant than a specimen plant and this particular one shown above was well located beside a steep path, so it could be viewed from both above and alongside.

It is a largish, deciduous shrub from the coastal plains of south eastern USA. The foliage is scented when crushed, variously described as spicy, aromatic or smelling of camphor (which means like Vicks Vapour Rub to me) but I wasn’t going to pick a leaf and test it, given my position as a garden visitor. Nor did I smell the blooms which are reputedly scented though the online references run the gamut from ‘highly scented’ to ‘evening scented’ to the sage advice to buy the plant in bloom because the strength of the scent varies greatly between individual cultivars. I think it likely that most plants in New Zealand will be from a single clone so there may not be choice on this aspect.

It is one of those curiosities that is not commonly seen in gardens here with blooms that are interesting rather than spectacular. It is never going to be as showy as the viburnums that are in bloom right now but pretty much every garden has those whereas only a few will have the calycanthus. For some gardeners – and some garden visitors – the delight lies in something less predictable.

For anybody out and about visiting Taranaki gardens during the festival this week, this fine specimen can be found in Tainui Close, the city garden of Chris Paul and Kevin Wensor. Mark tells me he has another plant of it languishing in his Pile of Neglect – his term for a collection of plants waiting for him to find the right location before he gets around to planting them out.

Viburnums - also flowering now.  I think this one is probably V. plicatum 'Mariesii" or Lanarth.

Viburnums – also flowering now. I think this one is probably V. plicatum ‘Mariesii” or Lanarth.

Plant Collector: Deutzia x rosea

Deutzia x rosea

Deutzia x rosea

Flowering deciduous shrubs are a mainstay of colder climate gardens but less popular in our temperate to warm climes. This means that many gardeners miss out on delights such as this little deutzia. In winter it is a bare bunch of twiggy branches, in summer it is an anonymous leafy shrub with smallish, pointed leaves but in late spring it comes into its own with a mass of small starry flowers. The flowers are comprised of five slightly pleated, bi-coloured petals which sit flat like a daisy with a centre boss of pale gold stamens. If you look closely, they resemble icing flowers or ones made from fabric. There are plenty of blooms held in clusters and it is very pretty and dainty.

Deutzias are a relatively large family of hydrangea relatives and most originate in parts of Asia which experience colder winters. They are cold hardy, unaffected by even heavy frosts. While there are a large number of different species and hybrids, D. x rosea is hybrid between gracilis and purpurascens. Like the majority of deciduous flowering shrubs, it prefers sunny conditions though it doesn’t seem to be too fussy on soils. I think it is best treated as a border shrub where it can shine when in flower and gently meld into the background when it isn’t.

Plant Collector – Syringia palibiniana

Syringia palibiniana - Korean lilac

Syringia palibiniana - Korean lilac

We are not the world’s greatest territory for growing lilacs, those wonderfully fragrant cones of lilac blooms in spring, which is why you don’t see them around this area a great deal. They favour a more continental climate with cold winters and, preferably, hot summers, heavy soil and more alkaline conditions. Taranaki with its friable, volcanic soils and very mild climate is at the opposite end of the scale. But this dwarf Korean lilac is wonderfully adaptable to our conditions. It doesn’t have as strong a scent as the common lilac (Syringia vulgaris), but it is sweetly perfumed and makes a compact little shrub to about 100cm x 100cm. Like all lilacs, it is deciduous and when its little leaves appear, they are completely in scale to the dainty flowers and the small habit of growth. It is one of those handy little shrubs that you can fit in anywhere in the garden which gets reasonable sun and it will delight you at this time each year as it opens its many panicles of little lavender flowers.