I first planted edgeworthia despite concerns that this deciduous shrub was not sufficiently winter hardy for my northwestern Virginia garden. I had seen its marvelous blooms somewhere or the other (and now I don’t recall where), and decided that planting it was worth the risk. Over the years I’ve planted many marginally cold hardy plants, and often they fail quickly, though a few manage to barely survive and tease that someday they might pull through before one day expiring in the heat of July.
The end for struggling plants often comes in the heat of summer, but edgeworthia has been stressed by winter cold only once, a couple years ago when my home thermometer read zero degrees, but when the true temperature was likely to be a few degrees colder. The stems are naked in January except for flower buds that dangle from branch tips, but they looked cold (if that’s possible), and the stems showed signs of desiccation. In fact, a few of the buds failed to bloom in early March, but otherwise edgeworthia has sailed through winters with no bother at all.
Though marginally cold hardy plants often grow reluctantly, edgeworthia has grown vigorously, and now is nearly four feet tall and ten feet across. This is wider and taller than I expected so quickly, and I presume that it will continue to grow, so I will have to begin cutting it back sometime in the next year or two so it doesn’t engulf its neighbors. This should be quite simple to do, and the logical time to prune it will be immediately after the flowers fade in early spring.
The flowers are unique, in the least, and if I should have to select one bloom as my favorite this would be my likely choice. The flowers are best described as a bunching of long white tubes with slightly flared tips. The tubes are popcorn white, and the tips appear to have been dipped in golden butter.
Edgeworthia’s flowers expand slowly through the winter from tight buds that are evident even in late summer, and often the first sign of color is early in January. Full bloom is usually for three weeks beginning at the the first or second week of March, and as flowers fade the stems are bare for a few weeks until leaves begin to develop late in April.
References often proclaim that the leaves are drab, but I’ve found the fuzzy, blue-green rhododendron-like foliage to be more than acceptable. This isn’t a jump up and down, exciting shrub when it’s not flowering, but few shrubs earn this distinction, and edgeworthia is as nice as any. The foliage has no color in autumn at all, though the leaves stay until the middle of November. After a freeze or two the leaves shrivel, turn to brown, and then they are gone. But, this makes the flower buds all the more obvious so that I can follow their progress through the winter months.
In the proper order of things, edgeworthia flowers after the witch hazels, but before the early magnolias, and if I grew forsythia in the garden it would bloom ten days earlier. I have read that it is fragrant, and I think that I’ve heard that it is highly fragrant, but my sense of smell is reserved only for food, so I can’t vouch for that. I can heartily recommend this delightful, hardier than expected shrub for any garden with a space ten feet in width.