There is a particular plant I always look out for, on a lower path on Battleston Hill within the RHS Gardens at Wisley and I’m always superbly pleased to see it in flower, starry and bright, with clove-like fragrance. Anticipating the flowers, it is also lovely in bud, on upwardly ascending bare stems: miniature, silky grey, plump and velvet things, buttons the shape of chrysanthemums on Japanese porcelain.
There is a red/orange flowered version, Red Dragon, that I should look out for too, though this will remain my favourite I’m sure. It is the RHS plant of the month for February and they write;
This is a genus of three species of deciduous or evergreen shrubs which all have papery bark.
They are found in forests, on shrubby slopes and near streams throughout Nepal and China and the genus has also been introduced and become naturalised in Japan. In cultivation they are grown for their fragrant flowers and handsome foliage.
The leaves are lanceolate, entire, tough, usually hairy and clustered at the ends of ascending branches.
The flowers are approximately 3.5-5cm across and are normally yellow with a cylindrical calyx and spreading petals. They are clustered into dense stalked spherical heads. The flowers are similar to Daphne (which is in the same family) but the stigma is more elongated and the style is cylindrical.
Edgeworthia can be used at a woodland edge with spring bulbs, with other winter flowering shrubs or in a mixed shrub and herbaceous border where it will provide a welcome lift early in the year. They are beautiful and fragrant plants which reward good soil cultivation and careful placement.
The genus is named for Michael Pakenham Edgeworth (1812-1881), a keen amateur English botanist who combined colonial service for the East India Company with plant collecting.
Edgeworthia chrysantha (as photographed on Battleston Hill at RHS Wisley in March 2011)
This species is from the forest and shrubby slopes of China, and was named for its yellow flowers, chrysantha meaning with golden flowers.
It is an open, rounded deciduous shrub with upward-pointing supple shoots. The leaves are ovate, dark green and up to 15cm long. The flowers are fragrant, yellow, borne in winter and clustered into dense spherical heads. The flowers are also covered with silky white hairs which make the whole plant appear frosty when in bud.
Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Red Dragon’ has vibrant red to orange flowers (that I haven’t seen yet at Wisley but will make sure I ask for directions on my next visit…)