Meet Hamabo

We expect most everyone has grown a hibiscus at one time or another, either tropical or hardy. How many of you have tried the Asian Hibiscus hamabo? This fascinating 8-10′ tall evergreen shrub has thrived in our trials since 2018, and is just now flowering at JLBG for the first time. We had always considered this species tropical, so we were thrilled to hear that it survived as a die back at the SFASU Arboretum in Texas after this springs’ arctic blast of -4F. Dr. Dave Creech at SFASU tells me that it remains evergreen down to 10 degrees F. Has anyone else had experience with growing this outdoors in a cold winter climate?

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.

Aucuba show

We find aucubas an invaluable evergreen shrub for dry shade, and one of our favorites is looking rather nice this week. Aucuba japonica ‘Ogon-no-tsuki’ is also one of the slowest growers due to the large amount of gold in the leaf center. It is our hope to perhaps finally have enough to share in the next couple of years.

Aucuba japonica ‘Ogon-no-tsuki’

Need an Inspiration?

Sometimes we’re all in need of inspiration, and this spring, ours came from its namesake, Magnolia ‘Inspiration’. This stunning evergreen hybrid between Magnolia doltsopa and Magnolia laevifolia was developed by our old hosta friend, Barry Sligh of New Zealand, who sadly passed away in 2019. Our amazing seven-year old specimen is now 10′ tall x 10′ wide and as you can see if absolutely loaded with deliciously fragrant flowers. Pat McCracken of Garden Treasures Nursery tells me that he produced it for a while, but stopped because it grew too fast in containers. I agree with his assessment that it is the proverbial ugly duckling when young, but it sure makes a heckuva swan when it ages.

Magnolia ‘Inspiration’
Magnolia ‘Inspiration’

Winter Bridal Bouquet

Flowering this week is our selection of Magnolia floribunda ‘Bridal Bouquet’. When we visited Yunnan, China in 1996, we were able to return with three seed of Magnolia floribunda, a species which seemed completely absent from American horticulture. The resulting seedlings were planted into the garden, where two promptly died during the first winter. Thankfully, one survived and is still thriving today 25 years later.

Magnolia floribunda ‘Bridal Bouquet’ forms an upright, somewhat open evergreen that sometimes starts flowering as early as mid-January. This year, thanks to our consistent cold, it waited until early March to start its floral show. The flowers have a distinctive and fascinating fragrance that we find unique among our magnolia collection. We have shared cuttings with several woody plant nurseries and donated plants to a few rare plant auctions in the hopes of getting this more widely cultivated.

Magnolia floribunda ‘Bridal Bouquet’
Magnolia floribunda ‘Bridal Bouquet’

Confused Sweet Box

We’re not sure why this sweet box is confused, but we love it nevertheless. Flowering now at JLBG with an insane fragrance emitted by the tiny white flowers. Here is our eight-year old evergreen clump in flower now.

Sarcococca confusa

A Yew for You

Our 30-year-old plant of Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Duke Gardens’ has reached 3.5′ in height and 14′ in width. This amazing deer-resistant shrub, discovered at the nearby Duke Gardens, is a superb evergreen that tolerates both sun and shade as long as the soil is well-drained. As is our garden policy, our plant has never been sheared.