Is that really yew?

While folks from “up north” know yews (Taxus), they are far less likely to know its doppleganger, the false yew (Cephalotaxus). I’ve always considered the two fairly interchangable, so was fascinated when DNA showed they actually belong to different plant families, which aren’t really closely related…other than both being conifers. Taxus is now in its own family, Taxaceae, and Cephalotaxus now resides in its own family, Cephalotaxaceae. For most gardeners, the important thing to know is that deer will consume taxus, but not cephalotaxus.

Below are a few favorites from the JLBG gardens. Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Brooklyn Gardens’ is a much wider leaf plant than the better known Cephalotaxus ‘Duke Gardens’. Mature size of ‘Brooklyn Gardens’ is 2′ tall x 14′ wide, so it functions as an evergreen ground cover in either light shade or sun.

Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Brooklyn Gardens’

Our oldest plant of Cephalotaxus ‘Duke Gardens’ is now 27 years old, and measures 3′ tall x 12′ wide. Here it is growing in fairly deep shade.

Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Duke Gardens’

Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Golden Dragon’ is a much smaller selection with bright golden foliage. Our five year old plants are 2′ tall x 4′ wide. The gold color only shows with a bit of sun.

Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Golden Dragon’

Bruce and his conifers

We recently visited conifer collector Bruce Appeldoorn at his nursery in the tiny town of Bostic, west of Charlotte, NC. Not only are the gardens amazing, but Bruce has transitioned from his career in landscape design/installation, to an amazing dwarf conifer nursery. He now sits atop the throne, having what is almost certainly the top conifer nursery in the Southeast US. Most everything is propagated here from either cuttings or grafting. He is part of a small contingent of regional broom hunters, who seek out and graft dwarf witches broom mutations from area pine trees. You can find out more about how to visit or order here.

Blue Ice is Hot

One of our favorite blue-foliage conifers that thrives in the southeast heat and humidity is Cupressus arizonica var. glabra ‘Blue Ice’. This is a four year old planting of the Arizona native that’s already made a nice size specimen. Cupressus ‘Blue Ice’ is great to use for Christmas arrangements, due to it’s color, foliage fragrance, and ability to hold up very well after being cut.

Gardening for winter

Here are a couple of images of the gardens at JLBG to show how we garden for the winter months. By selecting and designing your garden for the winter season, it will automatically look great during the other three seasons.

Plants featured include hellebores, rohdea, ophiopogon (mondo grass), sabal palm, Illicium ‘Florida Sunshine’, and a number of conifers.
Here’s one of our woodland streams featuring Aucuba ‘Limbata’, carex, and rohdea. With proper plant selection, the garden in winter doesn’t have to be a lifeless canvas of mulch.

Friday Morning Podcast

Here are some decorative seed pods from the garden this week.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Plant Labels

We just snapped this photo of Lemon Thread Cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Lemon Thread’) in the gardens here at Juniper Level, and wanted to share since it illustrates our constant rants about trusting nurseries, plant tags, and websites to give accurate mature sizes. For a woody plant, our typical advice is to triple any size you are given. So, we wanted to see how that advice would work with the plant below.

Lemon Thread cypress was discovered in the mid 1980s as a sport at Oregon’s Mitsch Nurseries, so it’s a relative newcomer as plants go. Our 20 year old specimen is planted in compost-amended sandy loam without any chemical fertilizers ever. We should also add that we don’t believe in shearing plants, which we find a waste of energy as well as a middle finger to natures’s beauty. Our specimen now measures 25′ tall x 15′ wide.

We then searched the web for Lemon Thread Cypress and recorded the sizes from the top 30 sites that came up in Google…see notes below the photo.  Sizes we found range from 2-5′ tall x 2-3′ wide with only one site giving a height greater than 10′.

Is it any wonder that people install plants in the wrong place!  So, why does this happen? Many reasons:

  • Vendors lie to sell more plants…sad, but true.
  • Vendors almost never update inaccurate information once it’s in their system.
  • Few vendors/garden writers bother to visit a public garden and actually measure the plant. It’s much easier to copy someone else’s mistake.
  • Most plants which are measured, are measured either in containers, or from heavily pruned garden specimens.
  • Plants grow differently in different climates.  Very true!
  • It takes too much time to be accurate, but don’t we really owe that to our customers?

2-5′ 2-3′
3′ 4′
3-5′ 2-4′
4′ 3′
5′ 4′
5′ 5′
5′ 4′
5-12′ 7-8′
5-6′ 6-8′
6-8′ 3-4′
12′