Just beginning to open outside our nursery office is the lovely Magnolia platypetala. Our specimen of this amazing Chinese native is now 24 years old. The fuzzy brown buds, which are beautiful in their own right, open to large, fragrant white flowers. When night temperatures drop below freezing, the petals melt, but are replaced the next day by more opening flowers.
Taxonomically, it’s often listed as a subspecies of Magnolia maudiae as well as Magnolia macclurei, but we’re sticking to it being its own species, since we grow both other species nearby.
Looking exceptional in the garden is the selection of the North American native Yucca flaccida ‘Hairy’. Yucca ‘Hairy’ is a Tom Foley selection that we feel is probably the finest clone of Yucca flaccida that we’ve ever seen. It’s truly puzzling why this isn’t an industry staple. Below is a photo of our 20 year old clump, taken recently.
In flower now at JLBG is the rarely seen, Southeast native, Parnassia caroliniana. This amazing, but difficult to grow bog perennial begins flowering for us in mid-November. Even more odd than the plant itself, are it’s relatives. It’s a member of the Celastraceae, meaning its cousins include the genus, Euonymus, and the bittersweet vine, Celastrus.
In the wild, it’s only native to North Carolina, South Carolina, and a single population in North Florida, where it can be found in open pine savannas that are regularly subject to fire. Due to timber production, commercial agriculture, and housing, it has gone from being fairly widespread, to becoming vulnerable with a Global-3 rarity rank and only 80 known populations. We inherited our specimen from a friend of the late Larry Mellichamp, who got his start from Larry many years earlier. We’d love to figure out how to propagate and make this available, so fingers crossed.
Greeting me on a recent foggy winter morning garden walk was a specimen of the fascinating Clathus columnatus, better known as column stinkhorn. It lives on dead and decaying organic matter, so is often seen growing in mulched areas. In the US, it’s typically seen East of the Mississippi, but many mycologists theorize it was actually introduced into the US. It has a unique fragrance to lure flies to disperse it’s spores, but the temperatures were so cool when I took this image, I couldn’t pick up any scent. What a cool gift of nature.
Here’s a winter-flowering shrub that few people have grown. Flowering now in the garden is the evergreen Chimonanthus zhejiangensis, a little-known relative to the more popular, deciduous Chimonanthus praecox. This is a small genus of only six species in the Calycanthaceae family, all native to China. Our plants originated from seed from the Shanghai Botanical Garden.
While we value it for its uniqueness, rarity in the wild, and winter flowering appeal, we can’t see this ever becoming a horticultural staple, due to it rank growth habit to 6′ each year, and it’s maturing size of 15′ tall x 15′ wide. The fragrance is also quite musty, and probably not something that would appeal to the masses.
We’ve struggled for years to grow some of the exceptional forms of Hart’s Tongue fern, Asplenium scolopendrium in our hot, humid climate. One cultivar that we’d long been enamored with is Asplenium ‘Keratoides’. After killing nearly everything we had, we stuck one in the crevice garden, where, to our amazement, it has performed marvelously. It seems that this species needs to grow near rocks to thrive, and the alkaline nature of our crevice garden is obviously to its liking.
We make crosses on our flowering agaves during the early summer, then in some cases, must wait until fall to see if we were successful. If we don’t get pods formed within a few weeks, we know that the particular cross was a failure, but in some cases, the cross forms pods, but there is nothing viable inside. This usually occurs when we make what’s known as a wide cross, using more distantly related species.
The stalk below is from a plant of Agave x ovatispina that flowered this year. Agave x ovatispina is itself a previous hybrid we made of Agave flexispina x Agave ovatifolia. We flowered our first clone of Agave x ovatispina last year, and it produced no viable seed, so we’re hoping for better luck with our second clone.
As you can see below, we had seed pods form.
When we opened the pods, we found that most of the seed (those colored tan) are not viable. Only a few black seed (potentially viable) were present.
The interesting thing we noticed was that viviparous (clonal) bulbils had formed on the top of the stalk. This trait occurs on a few agave species, including occasionally on Agave ovatifolia. While these plants are clonal, we often see variegation appear on these plantlets, so they’ve been planted as we wait to see what emerges.
Our garden patch of Agave lophantha ‘Splendida’ is looking rather splendid this morning as we approach December. This patch started as a single rosette in 2013, so has now been in the ground for a little over a decade. We think it’s one of the best forms of the North American native Agave lophantha that we’ve ever grown. This originally came to us from our friend Ted Stephens of Nurseries Caroliniana.
Up until a couple of years ago, we could find no literature detailing any hybrids in the cast iron plant genus, Aspidistra. With our extensive in-ground collection, we had begun noticing seedlings that were obvious hybrids, so we began first by confirming that both the flowers and foliage showed signs of being intermediate between both parents.
The next step was to pot up the seedlings and then select which would go in the garden for further trials. Below are some of our earliest hybrids between Aspidistra elatior and Aspidistra sichuanensis. Aspidistra elatior has very upright leaves, while Aspidistra sichuanensis has foliage that is heavily arching. As you can see in the photos below, the traits of the hybrid range from arching to upright, and everything in between.
We should be able to make some final selections for uniqueness and vigor within three years, then send them along for propagation.
We’ve been very pleased with a series of new windmill palm hybrids in the garden as we approach another winter stress test. Trachycarpus x forceps is our assigned name for crosses between Trachycarpus fortunei and Trachycarpus princeps. While most Trachycarpus fortunei is winter hardy here in Zone 7b, the lovely Chinese/Tibetan border endemic, Trachycarpus princeps, with its silver backed leaves, has not been so happy–we’ve killed four, so far.
Several years ago, we were thrilled to acquire seed of several different crosses of the same hybrid. Since all crosses between the same species must use the same nothospecific name, we assigned each with an additional seed strain cultivar names to distinguish the different parents and which was the mother and father. In plant breeding, the mother is always listed first..
*T. princeps x T. fortunei ‘Wagnerianus’ = Trachycarpus x forceps ‘Prince’
*T. fortunei ‘Wagnerianus’ x T. princeps = Trachycarpus x forceps ‘Wags’
*T. princeps x T. fortunei = Trachycarpus x forceps ‘Silver Mine’
*T. fortunei x T. princeps = Trachycarpus x forceps ‘Fortune’
Below is a 4.5 year old plant of Trachycarpus x forceps ‘Wags’–our oldest specimen.
Trachycarpus x forceps ‘Fortune’ has been in the ground for 2.5 years. This is the cross using straight T. fortunei as the mom and T. princeps as the dad.
Trachycarpus x forceps ‘Prince’, below, has been in the ground for 2.5 years also. Here, Trachycarpus princeps was the mom parent.
We recently caught this Chinese praying mantis munching down on the native yellow jackets that have been feasting on our flowering specimen of Hedera rhombea ‘Cheju’. I guess this looked like a horticultural food truck to them. Evidently, they aren’t effected by the toxin in its sting. It’s truly an insect eat insect world out there!
We were recently blessed to welcome some of the regions’ top designers to visit JLBG. Starting from left to right is Phil Szostak, modernist architect and designer of the Durham Performing Arts Center. Second is retired modernist architect, Frank Harmon, who designed our home, among many of his extensive projects. Next are Sue Nelson and Warren Byrd, founders of the nationally renown Landscape Architecture firm, Nelson Byrd Woltz. Of course, our own Anita Avent is on the far right. We enjoyed a lovely morning walking around the garden, since only Frank had been here previously.
In case you missed it, the USDA just issued their Updated Winter Hardiness Map, led by former PDN/JLBG staffer, Dr. Todd Rounsaville. While the results show an expected warming trend, the results are a bit concerning from the point of view of what plants people will be encouraged to plant. You can find the new map here.
The new map shows our location outside Raleigh, NC, as moving from Zone 7b to Zone 8a. Since the purpose of the map is to show people what they can grow in each zone, this is troubling. Using a 30 year data set, our winter low temperatures average out to 13.03 degrees F. That temperature is certainly Zone 8a, but when you look at the low temperatures experienced during that 30 year stretch, we experience six years where the temperatures were well below Zone 8a.
During that stretch, we have had:
4 Zone 9a winters, with a low of 20-25 F
7 Zone 8b winters, with a low of 15-20 F
13 Zone 8a winters, with a low of 10-15 F
3 Zone 7b winters, with a low of 5-10 F
2 Zone 7a winters, with a low of 0-5 F
1 Zone 6b winter, with a low of -5-0 F
Therefore on 6 occasions during the last 30 years, all of your Zone 8a plants would have died. Is this really acceptable? We think not.
Having been on the map committee in 2012, we requested that items like this and many other map deficiencies be addressed with the new map, which does not seem to have occurred. If the purpose of the map is simply to show how the low temperature averages have changed on average, then the map works fine, but it is actually used for so much more. I hope the USDA will come up with a plan to address these concerns.
Many of our sarracenia (pitcher plants) have started to go dormant by now, but that’s not the case for Sarracenia leucophylla and any of it’s hybrids. Patrick explained this difference by noting that this species is designed for attaching moths, due it’s white tops that illuminate at night. These moths are prevalent in the fall, hence the plant realized it was a good idea to produce a huge crop of fall pitchers. Below is our patch of Sarracenia ‘Daina’s Delight’ in mid-November–pretty impressive!
Our oldest clump of the amazing Agave nickelsiae (formerly A. ferdinandi-regis) is now over a decade old, so we’re probably within five years of flowering. Often confused with the similar Agave victoriae-reginae, this North American (Northern Mexico) endemic is somewhat similar, but has more leaves, darker spines, and more prominent leaf markings.
Some seedlings offset, while others, like this selection, do not, so this will die after it flowers, but not before we spread its pollen far and wide on every other flowering agave we can find. It’s still hard for us to comprehend that such an amazing plant is actually growable in our garden. Obviously, bright sun, and well-drained soils are the key. Hardiness Zone 7b-10b.
We’ve been growing the fall-flowering Farfugium japonicum for nearly 40 years, and despite growing numerous cultivars as well as seedlings, had seen no difference in the standard yellow flower color, until a 2008 visit to the Georgia garden of plantsman Ozzie Johnson. There, I first met the cultivar, ‘Beni’, which in Japanese, means red flowers.
Plantsmen in search of red flower plants all share the same frustration when they find that ‘Beni’ almost always turns out to be orange, to those without horticulture color blindness. Nonetheless, I was thrilled to know that there was a mustard orange flowered selection. Thanks to Ozzie’s generosity, a division returned with us for JLBG.
After growing it for 15 years, we still don’t have enough to share, but have recently divided our original clump, and spread it around the garden to build up stock faster. The photo is it in the garden this week (mid-November). We’re hoping it won’t be too much longer before we can share this amazing selection. Hardiness Zone 6a-9b.
One of the frustrating things about growing and propagating plants is when you find an incredible plant, offer it for sale, and virtually no one buys it. Such is the case with the Texas native, Ageratina havanensis, aka: Havana Mistflower, Eupatorium havanense. This fascinating woody perennial, formerly classified as a eupatorium, forms a 3′ tall x 7′ wide mound of foliage, that’s smothered starting in late October with a dense blanket of white flowers. I can think of little else that gives you this much flower power in the fall sun garden. An array of butterflies and moths are regular visitors. The photo below is from mid-November this year. Located with enough space, there is never any required maintenance. Any idea why we never could get folks to purchase these when they were offered through PDN?
One of our favorite ferns, known as Cat’s claw fern, is putting on quite a show this fall. Onychium japonicum is a plant I’d never met until a 1996 expedition to Yunnan, China. Although it was a bit depauperate in the wild, the potential I saw, was far exceeded by its garden performance. We now grow four different wild collections, all of which have somewhat similar growth and appearance.
We have found Onychium japonicum to thrive in everything from light shade to full sun, even in our brutal summers. The foliage is tardily deciduous, meaning it usually looks great here until early-mid January. The plant spreads via rhizomes, but the spread is not fast, so it’s easy to reign in, if your patch gets too wide. We think the incredible texture and ease of growth makes this a fern that should be in every garden where it’s growable. Hardiness Zone 7a-9b, at least.
Putting on a lovely show in the fall garden this month is the native Callicarpa americana ‘Lactea’. Callicarpa americana is a native from Maryland southwest to Texas, where it pops up, usually in disturbed areas as an early/mid successionary species in sunny sites. The typical fruit color is purple, but the white-fruited Callicarpa americana ‘Lactea’ was originally discovered in Evangeline Parish, Louisiana. It typically comes true from seed. In addition to humans, the fruit is also enjoyed by squirrels, possums, racoons, and foxes.
It’s foliage has also long been used to repel mosquitos, validated by the USDA, who discovered that the leaves contain two different insect repellents, callicarpenal and intermedeol. Hardiness Zone 6b-11.
Putting on a show this week in the garden are the Living Stones. No, not Mick, Keith, and Ronnie, but the horticultural Living Stones, Lithops aucampiae. Our oldest patch starts flowering in early to mid November each year, growing beautifully under an overhanging rock.
For all the articles about how difficult they are to grow, and how they won’t take any frost, we’ve found it all to be completely fake gardening news. These were started from seed in 2018, and have now survived 11F in the ground with no ill effects. We have them planted in a soil mix of 50% Permatill gravel, 25% native sandy loam, and 25% compost, with an open exposure to the south.
We added two more species (L. hookeri and L. lesleii) to the garden almost two years ago and they have thrived equally as well. Sounds like the myth about Lithops being difficult to grow and not winter hardy is completely busted.
Our patch of Ajuga ‘Tropical Toucan’ is certainly lighting up the fall garden. There aren’t many groundcovers that can give a garden this kind of color and not try to take over the garden. Hardiness Zone 4a-8b.
Another of our favorite fall alliums is the lovely Allium kiiense, which hails from the Honshu Japan penisula by the same name. Last year, we had so many plants that went unpurchased, we planted a mass instead of throwing them out. Below is that mass in full flower this week. Hardiness Zone 5a-9b.
We’ve planted quite a few forms of our native Sabal palmetto through the years. Only two have survived long term; the the form from Bald Head Island, NC, and one propagated from an ancient specimen in Mt. Holly, NC, just west of Charlotte. Taken recently, our Mt. Holly specimen is now 22 years old. It’s been almost that long since we’ve had any to share, so we’re hopeful our plants are getting old enough to flower soon.
Looking great in the garden in November are our collection of x Amarines. These are a fascinating man-made group of hybrids between two South African genera of bulbs, Amaryllis belladonna and Nerine, first described in 1961. These grow their foliage in winter, which is a problem in climates as cold as ours. If the foliage gets damaged in winter, they rarely have enough energy to flower the next year. We actually weren’t expecting any flowers this fall, since we experienced 11F last winter, so this is a lovely surprise. We find these grow best in open shade to part day sun, as long as the drainage is good.
Below are several selections from our collection of Hemskerk hybrids, introduced in 2012. The top is xAmarine ‘Anastasia’, followed by xAmarine ‘Elvi’, ending with xAmarine ‘Emanuelle’.
Here is one of our bog gardens showing off the lovely native Spiranthes bightensis ‘Chadd’s Ford’, wrapping up its flowering in early November. This easy-to-grow native orchid is right at home with sarracenias (pitcher plants) in very moist soils.
Despite its popularity in gardens, Spiranthes bightensis has a global rarity rank of G1, meaning it is the rarest of the rare plant species. It is currently known from only nine populations in the Delmarva region of the US East Coast. DNA testing showed that it is an ancient hybrid between two other species, Spiranthes odorata and Spiranthes cernua. The plant was named after the NY Bight, which is the geological area at the mouth of the Hudson River.
It would be interesting to know how those individuals who abhor hybrids deal with this.
This is the first time since 2010 our region has hosted the event, which moves throughout the Southeastern US each fall. This year, the sold out meeting welcomed 225 attendees, which included 56 International participants. The educational sessions were held at the RDU Airport Doubletree, and the bus tours ranged from Bahama in Durham County south to Johnston County.
Speakers covered a wide range of propagation/production topics, including our own Aaron Selby, who shared our “secrets” for propagating many of our rare and difficult to propagate crops. The student competition talks are always fascinating to see what research is in the academic pipeline.
The meetings always consist of both a live and silent plant auction, where all kinds of horticultural treasures abound. Below is Dr. Mike Dirr (retired UGA professor/author), and Dr. Todd Lasseigne (Director of Bellingrath Gardens), extoling the virtues of a plant in the live auction.
Our live auctioneer was non other than NC’s past Attorney General, Secretary of State, and famed Watergate lawyer, Rufus Edmiston. The 81 year old Edmiston is an ardent gardener, so he was right at home with the group. Below he is with gardening celebrity, Brie Arthur (l), Edmiston, JC Raulston Arboretum director Mark Weathington, and Plants Nouveau co-owner, Linda Guy (r).
I remember looking in astonishment at the first published photos of the newly described North American (Northern Mexico) native century plant, Agave albopilosa, with disbelief. Could this really be real, and if so, how did it escape being discovered and published until 2007. It turned out not to be an April Fools photoshop joke, but indeed an amazing new botanical discovery.
We were finally able to acquire seed in 2010, and again in 2013, so our oldest plants, pictured below, are now a decade old. It took about 2 years for the cotton balls to begin to form on the leaf tips, but like most century plants, Agave albopilosa turned out to be easy to grow, albeit insanely slow. It’s so slow, that commercial production will probably always be limited to small specialty nurseries. It’s been interesting to observe the genetic differences of the species, as you can see below. Some of our seedlings are non-offsetting, while others produce numerous offsets.
The first plant that I’m aware of to flower in the US, occured this summer at Walters Gardens in Michigan. Below is plantsman Hans Hansen, showing off his baby, before the pollen is removed for breeding purposes. Because it’s a cliff dweller, the flower spikes found it more reasonable to hang downward. If the cotton balls are heritable, as they should be, I see no reason within a decade that we can’t have giant century plants in our gardens with cotton balls at the tip of each leaf.
Flowering in the crevice garden in early November is the little-known South African bulb, Strumaria discifera ssp. bulbifera. These hail from the winter wet/dry summer region of the Western Cape, and have been right at home in the ground here since 2018. Okay, so it’s not as flashy as a tulip of daffodil, but to quote Abraham Lincoln, “for people who like that kind of thing, I think that is just about the kind of thing they’d like.”
Looking great in our trials in early November is Symphotrichium dumosum ‘HillandSchmidtii’. Also, known as Aster dumosus before its name change, this fascinating 2018 Zac Hill/Jeremy Schmidt collection from Wilkes County, Georgia has proven to be quite a winner, so it will certainly be slated for a future Plant Delights catalog. We initially though this was the plant formerly known as Aster pilosa, before Patrick straightened us out. Evidently, virtually everything in the trade as Aster dumosus is incorrectly named.
In full flower now is Patrick’s selection of the native Helianthus angustifolius from Berkeley County, SC. This widespread wetland, often shaded species can be found from New Jersey to Texas. As is the case for most species, each population varies in one or more traits. Most Helianthus angustifolius usually reaches 5′ in height, but this amazing compact selection matures at only 3′ tall x 7′ wide. Here, we have in growing in slight moist, but un-irrigated sandy loam ammended with compost, in full sun. I have a feeling this one is heading for the propagation shed next year.
We have a number of favorite legumes in the garden, but most flower in the spring or early summer. The star of the fall garden is undoubtedly Dalea bicolor var. argyaea, which starts flowering in mid-October. All summer, we get to enjoy the silver foliage, which thrives in our summers, only to be further rewarded in fall with the floral show. This amazing North American native hails from Texas and New Mexico, where it can be found in alkaline sandy uplands.
We love it when people tell us that certain plants won’t grow in our climate. As gardening contrarians, we thrive on proving gardening experts wrong. Below is a great example–our combination of Globularia repens (Spain, Italy) and Acantholimon halophilum (Central Turkey) thriving in the dryland crevice garden. Both have sailed through out rainy, humid, hot summers, and are now enjoying the cooler temperatures of fall.
Flowering now in the garden is Dan Hinkley’s Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Indianola Silver’. This incredible plant is one of Dan’s collection with pewter foliage, that just glows in the fall garden. Mature size is 4′ tall. I picked this up on a 2006 visit to Heronswood, just before the nursery was shuttered by George Ball. Because this never made the catalog, it’s virtually unknown in most plant circles. Hardiness Zone 7b-9.
Colchicum autumnale ‘The Giant’ is in full flower in our alpine rock garden this week. This widespread Central European species bursts out of the ground for us in mid-late October with a stunning show. The cultivar, ‘The Giant’ has abnormally Y-U-G-E flowers. Hardiness Zone 5a-8b.
Flowering this week is the lovely fall-flowering Allium thunbergii. This specimen is a 1993 Dan Hinkley collection from the Heuksan Islands, well off the coast of South Korea. Many of the plants on the Heuksan Islands have been isolated so long, that they have speciated (evolved into a new species). In this case, this plant sort of keys out to Allium thunbergii, but not exactly. We find this to be a superb, fall-flowering rock garden specimen, and one we hope to get propagated in the future. The first bulbs will go back to Dan for his home garden. Hardiness Zone 6-8.
The beautiful Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri ‘Grape Sensation’ is still in full flower as we approach the end of October. This amazing, but quite rare blanket flower is only found in a small area of the East Texas pineywoods region. Although it’s currently listed as a variety of Gaillardia aestivalis, we feel it deserves to be elevated to species status, and am shocked that no taxonomist have tackled this yet. Good drainage and plenty of sun are keys to success. Hardiness Zone 7a-9b.
Solidago mexicana ‘Endless Stares’, in flower at JLBG, is a wild, but almost unknown Southeast US native, which ranges in coastal settings from Maryland south into Mexico. This goldenrod is Patrick’s SC native selection, with stunning purple red stems all summer. We love the large size, but this probably freaks out most gardeners.
Through the years, we’ve killed far more than our share of Zauschnerias, California fuchsia, but a combination of building a crevice garden and planting the superb clone, Zauschneria canum var. arizonica ‘Sky Island Orange’, we have a winner. Our clump, which is in full flower in October, has been growing here since 2018. To say that perfect drainage is essential is a grand understatement.
One of the top pollinator plants in the garden this month is this clump of adult ivy. All ivies clump, instead of run, once they gone through horticultural puberty, which usually happens around age 15. English ivy, Hedera helix makes a similar, but larger shrub, that flowers in July. The clump below is our selection of Hedera rhombea, which is a much smaller plant that flowers two months later.
Our selection, Hedera rhombea ‘Cheju’ is an adult selection that I found hiking through the woods on Cheju Island, Korea in 1997. Two cuttings we sent back rooted, and 26 years later has made an incredible, unpruned garden specimen. Pollinators include honeybees, native bumblebees, and an array of wasps and yellow jackets. Our native Carolina anoles perch atop the flower stalks, just waiting for lunch to arrive. The pollinators are so numerous, the plants give off a discernable buzz. As we try to constantly educate people, the insects don’t care where the plant originated.
Here’s an October shot from the garden, showing the textural possibilities of foliage. Front to back are Heuchera ‘Grande Amethyst’, Microbiota decussata ‘Prides’, Rhododendron ‘Elizabeth Ard’, Athyrium angustum, Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Brooklyn Gardens’, and Metasequoia glyptostroibes ‘Shirmin’s Nordlicht’ in the rear.
Agaves are an amazing architectural addition to the garden with their form and radial symmetry. We just captured this image of one of our Agave x loferox hybrids, that we named ‘Magical Moments’. The result turned out very artsy.
Walking through the nursery this week, we spotted a fascinating triangle orbweaver spider (Verrucosa arenata). These cuties are usually seen in late summer and fall in open woodlands. Their diet focuses on small insects such as mosquitoes, but cause no harm to humans, except arachnophobes. We love the color echo with the ground fabric and pieces of bark.
In 2012, plantsman Hans Hansen and I were botanizing in the Balkans, when we drove up on a patch of flowering Aconitum superbum in a field at 4,200′ elevation, near the town of Kupres, Bosnia. Hans collected seed, since monkshoods fare far better in Michigan than they do in the heat and humidity of Raleigh, NC.
Years later, I was admiring a patch of monkshoods at Walters Gardens in Michigan, when I discovered that these were seed grown from the plants we found in Bosnia. Since they had thrived in Michigan, I returned home with seedlings to try in Raleigh.
Surprisingly, as you can see from the patch below, they have thrived in Raleigh, in both light shade as well as full baking sun, topping out between 4′ and 6′ in height. Interestingly, it doesn’t appear that Aconitum superbum is in cultivation, which is quite surprising. We’ll make sure these are fast-tracked into production now that we know how well they tolerate our summers. Hardiness is Zone 5a-8a, at least.
I can honestly say that no plant perfumes the garden better than the amazing Osmanthus fragrans ‘Conger Yellow’. We currently grow nine cultivars of tea olive, but none can hold a candle to the fragrance of this yellow-flowered clone. Anyone visiting the garden in September/October is dazzled by the fragrance from up to 200′ away…a feat that no other plant can match. Our 20 year old specimen is truly a sight and fragrance to behold.
The lovely variegated evergreen shrub, Fatsia japonica ‘Murakumo Nishiki’, is really looking fabulous now, as we move into fall. The commercial availability of this woody ivy relative, has been a bit sparse, but hopefully propagation protocols will continue to improve. There are so few cuttings per plant that the only real answer for better availability is to use tissue culture. Hardiness Zone 7b-10.
Hemiboea subacaulis var. jiangxiensis ‘Jiangxi Bells’ is looking great in the garden over the last month. This gem is an amazing new, hardy gesneriad from a joint collection by Scott McMahon (Atlanta Botanic Garden), and Mark Weathington (JCRA). Discovered in Jinggangshan, China, this seems to be a new species to cultivation. The 1′ wide, fuzzy-leaf rosettes, spread via stolons to form a lovely deciduous groundcover. Starting for us in mid-September, the rosettes are each topped with a cluster of tubular pink flowers. Light shade, and slightly moist soil make the best show. Fingers crossed, this should show up in the next Plant Delights catalog. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10.
Looking lovely this week in the garden is Crinum politifolium, which hails from Tanzania. Not many people think of East Africa as a source of Zone 7b hardy plants, but areas such as the Southern Highland hold a wealth of horticultural potential, especially for geophytes, that hasn’t been well explored.
We just love this surprisingly winter hardy cuphea (cigar plant). Cuphea cyanea, a North American native, looks so delicate, but it’s rock hardy here in Zone 7b. Our original plant came from Asheville gardeners, Peter and Jasmine Gentling, where it survived fine in Zone 6b/7a. Our plant continues to be in full flower in mid-October. As you can see, the native bumblebees are thrilled to have it around.
The first photo below is our hybrid century plant, Agave x ocareginae ‘Oh Victory’, from a cross we made in 2014, between Agave ocahui and Agave victoriae-reginae. The plants went in the ground in 2017. Of the eleven seedlings we selected and planted in the ground, only five have survived.
Below you can see both parents, first Agave ocahui, which supplied the pollen, and below that is Agave victoriae-reginae, who was the mother. The hybrid has leaves that are intermediate in width between both parents. Our hopes were for the offspring to have the white markings of Agave victoriae-reginae, which didn’t happen. Now, we’ll wait for these to flower, and hope we can get seed that produces a F2 generation with the white markings, which seem to be a recessive genetic trait.
The coolest plant feature in the garden this week are the seed pods on the woodland ginger, Zingiber mioga ‘Lushan Gold’. We’ve grown many different forms of Zingiber mioga, but none like ‘Lushan Gold’.
First, this exceptional Chinese collection from Atlanta Botanic Gardens’ Scott McMahon clumps instead of runs like all the commercial forms. Secondly, it flowers more than a month earlier, resulting in a much earlier show of these crazy seed pods, bulging with little eye-like structures. Fingers crossed, this is scheduled for a first appearance in the 2024 Plant Delights Nursery catalog. Hardiness is expected to be Zone 6b-9b, at least.
We received the shocking news this week that our friend, and retired Director of the Morris Arboretum (Pennsylvania), Paul Meyer, passed away. Paul spent his entire 42 year career at the Morris Arboretum, first as Curator/Director of Horticulture, and then 28 years as Director of the Garden, before retiring in 2018. We all wondered what would happen after he retired, since for the entire 42 years, Paul, and his wife Debbie, lived in a home on the arboretum property. I know I’ll always treasure the time I was able to spend the night with Paul and Debbie, in what was truly a room with a view.
During his tenure at the garden, Paul co-founded NACPCC, the North American China Plant Collection Consortium. As a result, he participated in twelve overseas plant collection trips. In addition to running the gardens and traveling, he taught at the University of Pennsylvania, which owns the arboretum, and wrote for a number of publications.
Paul was a recipient of virtually alll of the top horticulture awards, including the prestigous Scott Medal (2018), the L.H. Bailey Award from the American Horticulture Society (2014), and most recently, the Veitch Medal from the Royal Horticulture Society (2022). Just prior to his cancer diagnosis this spring, he was preparing to lead an International Dendrology Society tour to South Korea.
I’ll miss running into you on the road, my friend, and chatting about all the cool plants you’d encountered. Our thoughts go out to Debbie during this difficult time, but what a life, well lived.
I posted photos earlier from our lycoris selection back in August, but the season extends through September and into October. Below are some of the later flowering varieties. With a selection of cultivars, you can easily have a lycoris in flower from early July until mid October.
Lycoris ‘Tipping Point’ looks like the common Lycoris radiata, but instead of yellow pollen, it has white, creating interesting anther tips.
Lycoris x caldwellii ‘Eye Scream’ is a hybrid between two spring-leaf species, Lycoris longituba and Lycoris chinensis.
Our plants of Eysenhardtia texana ‘Uvalde’ are perfuming the air with their sweet fragrance in October. As you can imagine, it’s abuzz with pollinators. This Texas/Mexico native, known as Texas kidneywood, makes a 10′ tall shrub that’s quite heat and drought tolerant. The common name comes from the fact that the genus Eysenhardtia has been used for centuries by the indigenous peoples of Mexico and parts of Central America to treat urinary ailments. We’d killed this species once before due to our cold temperatures, but Patrick’s collection from Uvalde, Texas has proven to be rock hardy for us.
The shaggy blazing star, Liatris pilosa has put on quite a show over the last few weeks. Looking quite different in the garden than it did in the wild, this native from Delaware south to Florida enjoys bright sun and well-drained soils. Our plant is growing in one of our Permatill amended rock gardens. Hardiness is Zone 6-9.
The star of the fall garden this year has been Colchicum tenorii (recently corrected to Colchicum cilicicum), which has been flowering for weeks. Our clump of this Italian native bulb, began as a single bulb in 2000. Once the flowers finish next week, the large, green leaves will emerge and continue to grow through the winter, before finally going dormant in mid spring. This is growing in our full sun rock garden in a soil mix amended with Permatill. (Hardiness is Zone 4-8).
Introducers of new century plant selections are challenged with coming up with appropriate cultivar names, often have a propensity to use wordplay, referring to the agaves spiny teeth. Two favorites, we photographed this week are below, Agave titanota ‘Snaggletooth’ (top), and Agave titanota ‘Sabertooth Tiger’ (bottom). Both are mutations of the same original plant, the later was derived from a mutation that flipped the pattern from an edge to a center. Agave titanota is prized as a summer patio container plant due to its relatively slow growth rate. Plants must be stored indoors for the winter when the temperature drop below 40 degrees F.
In full flower now at JLBG is the longspike tridens, aka: Tridens stricta ‘Buffalo Feathers’. Athough native from NC west to Texas, the genetics of our clump hails from a Wade Roitsch (Yucca Do) collection in Lee County, Texas, and is superior ornamentally in both form and longevity.
We have found this little-known ornamental grass to be an excellent garden addition, giving a Calamagrostis acutiflora-like presence in hot, humid summer climates where that popular grass fears to tread. Our plants have been in the ground for over three years, and we continue to be impressed.
We have been admiring the amazing Nerine angustifolias in our dryland parking lot berms over the last few weeks, and they are almost at peak bloom. These South African (Mpumalanga province) amaryllids are distant allies to the Southeast Asian genus Lycoris, although they keep their foliage, unlike lycoris.
Typically nerines don’t offer much winter hardiness here in Zone 7b, but this species has thrived in our trials since 2019. It’s our hope to finally have enough to share through Plants Delights in spring.
Flowering this month in our parking lot dryland garden is the true Eragrostis elliottii. Back in 1999, we introduced a plant under that name, which had been identified as that species by a Florida taxonomist. Well, it turned out to be the South African Eragrostis chloromelas that’s now being sold nationwide as Eragrostis ‘Wind Dancer’.
Last year, we made a trek to South Carolina to obtain the correct Southeast coastal plant native, which is now under trial to determine its garden performance and behavior. You’ll notice the similar appearance to the popular Eragrostis spectabilis, but we’re hoping it doesn’t have the seeding proclivity of E. spectabilis. Once, and if it passes our weed potential trials, we’ll be ready to share.
Our oldest, 21 year-old Cycas taitungensis finally decided to flower this year, but it waited until three months after all the other cycads had finished coning. Plants in the genus Cycas are dioecious, with male and female cones on separate plants. Our specimen turned out to be a female, and by the time we finally located pollen on the west coast and had it flown in, it was too late to have meaningful sex this year. At least we finally know what sex we have. Let’s hope it gets back on a more normal schedule in the future.
Here’s a new banana to add to the list of hardy species, Musa haekkinenii. This very new, compact-growing, species was first published in 2013, and named after Finnish Musa expert, Markku Häkkinen. Genetically, it’s a relative of Musa coccinea & Musa exotica, that hails from Phú Thọ Province of Northern Vietnam, where it was discovered in garden cultivation. Although it is reportedly wild further north in Vietnam, it has yet to be re-discovered in situ.
In the garden, it forms a dwarf 7′ tall x 10′ wide, freely offsetting specimen. For us the upright stalks of stunning scarlet red flowers begin in mid-September. So far, it has survived 11 degree F in ground with no protection. In Vietnam, it is referred to as Chuoi rung hoa do, which translates to wild red banana. We’ll do our best to make this available as soon as possible.
Below is our SC collection of Andropogon glaucopsis, looking outstanding in the garden this week. This native gem can be found growing in swamps, scattered from SC through much of the gulf coast. We’re testing its adaptability to non-bog settings, and so far, it’s doing amazingly well. For years, this was considered a subspecies of Andropogon glomeratus, which it obviously isn’t. Hardiness Zone 7b-10, at least.
Looking lovely in the early fall garden are the xAmarcrinum. These are man-made hybrids between Crinum lilies and the South African Amaryllis belladonna. Despite the later not growing well here, the hybrids are quite amazing with their sweetly-fragranced flowers. All xAmarcrinum are somewhat similar in growth, with greatly reduced foliage from most crinum parents. The cultivar below is xAmarcrinum ‘Summer Maid’. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10.
Looking lovely in the garden now is the evergreen Chinese hand fern/ribbon fern, Lepisorus palmatopedatus (formerly Neocheiropteris). We’re very excited to try this 1′ tall dwarf in our woodland garden, and would be surprised if this isn’t one of the only in-ground specimens in the US. If not, we’d love to hear who else has tried it. This Chinese endemic, found only in Guizhou province, only occurs in a narrow range between 5,000′ and 9,000′ elevation, so it should have decent winter hardiness. This will be our outdoor winter test, so fingers crossed.
Looking lovely in the garden now is the Purple Velvet Bean vine, Mucuna cyclocarpa. This lowland native to Southeastern China makes a superb deciduous vine that flowers non-stop from mid-summer until fall. To us, the bizarre fleshy flower clusters look like those characters from the old Fruit of the Loom commercials. Interestingly, we must not have the pollinators it needs in our region, since it never sets any seed unless hand pollinated. One of the other species, Mucuna pruriens, has been widely studied, and found to have countless medicinal properties, but it doesn’t seem that M. cyclocarpa has been studied so far. All plants in the US seem to trace back to the former Yucca Do Nursery, who obtained seed from a visiting Chinese researcher.
Looking lovely at JLBG now is the purportedly tropical vine, Combretum indicum. Native from a wide range of Southeast Asia, Rangoon creeper is a woody vine that’s shockingly winter hardy, as our plants sailed through last years 11 degrees F–despite it usually being listed as a Zone 10/11 plant.
The flowers usually open white, age to pink and then red, but this year, they have opened red–we’re not sure why. The tubular flowers are a favorite of long-tongued moths. It has grown much slower for us than it would in warmer climates, since our plant dies to the ground each winter. This year, our three year old plant has already returned to 8′ in height.
I’m just back from a quick 24-hour trip to NYC for a special tribute to a dear friend, Margaret Roach. Wave Hill Gardens in the Bronx, was hosting a garden fundraising dinner to salute this legendary garden communicator.
Accompanying me was NCSU CALS College Advancement Director of Development, Alycia Thornton, who manages the fundraising for the JLBG Endowment. We were thrilled to have two incredible plant people/conservationists, Eleanor Briggs (founder of The Harris Center for Conservation Education and Wildlife Conservation Society photographer) and John Gwynne (Retired Director of Conservation for the Bronx Zoo and owner of Sakonnet Gardens) as our tour guides for the day.
Arriving in NYC just after 8am, we headed downtown to visit two newly recycled horticultural landmarks, Little Island and the High Line, neither of which I’d visited before.
Little Island is a relatively new NYC park (2021), built on the ruins of the famed Hudson River pier 54, which was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy (2012). Pier 54 was once the docking point for transatlantic ships, including being the drop off point for recscuees from the Titanic. After the pier was commercially abandoned in the 1980s, it became a social hangout for an array of groups and concerts, before being destroyed in the storm.
Media executive and billionaire Barry Diller and his wife, Diane von Furstenberg, were the chief drivers of the renovation project, donating 260 million dollars toward the construction of the riverside park that would become known as Little Island..
The 132 concrete pilings that anchor the park, were designed to look like giant tulips, with some rising as much as 62′ above the Hudson River, and anchored as deep as 200′ into the river bed. The project, designed by renown NY architect Signe Nielsen, has already hosted over 3.5 million visitors since its opening in 2021. Not only does the 2 acre Little Island have amazing multi-level gardens, it also has an ampitheater that looks across the water into adjacent New Jersey.
The use of tall berms and large public areas for walking make this a very enticing space for visitors.
The level of horticultural maintenance was superb in this meadow-like style of landscaping that can easily become a mecca for weeds.
Standing at the top of Little Island gives you a birds eye view of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, the adjacent One World Trade Center tower.
The plant selection was quite varied, but to find lovely specimens of the rare, Southeast native oak, Quercus oglethorpensis was quite shocking.
For those who haven’t heard of the High Line, it is the elevated commercial railroad tracks that run through downtown New York City. Originally built in 1934, with the aim of reducing pedestrian fatalities caused by the street level trains. For the next 50 years, these raised tracks, perched 30′ above the road below, were the main option for hauling commercial supplies, food, etc. throughout this part of the city. With the expansion of the commercial trucking industry, the tracks were abandoned in the mid 1980s.
In 1999, Mayor Rudy Giuliani ordered the tracks demolished, but public backlash resulted in the formation of The Friends of the High Line, which advocated for re-purposing the tracks. In 2003, an idea contest was held, with the winning proposal being to convert the old tracks into a public park, including plants, art, and a space for relaxation.
In 2006, the project formally began. Work involved converting the rail bed into planting bed, complete with drainage, lighting, seating, etc In 2009, the first section of park opened, and fourteen years later, the final section, the Moynihan Connector, opened this year. The entire 1.45 mile park is funded, operated, and managed by the Friends of the High Line, in conjunction with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation..
The gardens are planted with over 500 plant taxa from trees to annuals. Parts of the old railroad were left in the garden as a salute to its past. Some sections are now heavily wooded, while other sections are more prairie-like.
Interpretive signage is used to teach visitors about the plants they see along the route.
Today, the High Line has generated so much excitement, that new apartment buildings are being built both beside and straddling the High Line. In its first year, the High Line saw 1.3 million visitors, and by 2015, that number had climbed to 7.6 million, with 31% of those being NYC residents. Today, the High Line ranks 9th among the most visited destinations in New York City. I’m sure the view out of these apartments is amazing, but I guess you’d need to be a real exhibitionist to want millions of strangers peering into your house from the gardens.
Art is a big part of the High Line as you can see from the replica of a coral bark maple below. We were there during the UN Climate Conference, so pop-up booths were everywhere along the central part of our walk.
An outdoor food court makes it convenient if you need food or drink while you’re there.
The gardens are completely funded by the Friends of the High Line, so donations are essential to keep this project going. I expect that anyone who lives along the route is more than happy to contribute to keeping this section of the concrete jungle green.
After leaving the High Line, we headed to our final stop of the day, Wave Hill Gardens in the Bronx. I had visited three times prior, but it had been well over a decade since my last stop.
Opened in 1965, Wave Hill Gardens are a 28 acre oasis in the Bronx’s affluent Riverdale community, situated above the scenic Hudson River. The land and two homes on the property was donated in 1960 by the Perkins family to the City of New York to become a public garden.
The annual fundraising event held by the garden, picks an honoree each year, and this year, they chose garden writer, Margaret Roach. If you don’t know of Margaret, she is currently the Garden Writer for the New York Times. Margaret’s career ranged from being a sports columnist to Senior/Executive Vice-President of Martha Stewart Living from 1995-2008. In between her career start and end was a ten year stint at Newsday and New York Newsday, where she served as Fashion Editor and later Garden Editor.,
In 2008, Margaret retreated from public life to reconnect with her garden and heal from life in the big city on her NY property, far away from the bustle of the big city, where she began her own podcast, A Way to Garden. On A Way to Garden, Margaret interviews experts on gardening and an array of related topics. Margaret has also written several gardening books during her time away from the city. We all celebrated tonight, since this was the first time in four years that Margaret had graced any public events.
Below is Marco Polo Stufano, the founding Director of Horticulure for Wave Hill, and the man responsible for it’s brilliant transformation from dilapidated estate to the world class garden it is today. Marco retired from Wave Hill in 2001 after 34 years at the helm. Marco, who still loves nearby, just celebrated his 85th birthday…congratulations!
It was great to see an array of horticultural friends, many of which I hadn’t seen in years Below is garden writer, Ken Druse, with his husband, Louis Bauer. Louis followed Marco Stufano as Director of Horticulture at Wave Hill for seven years. As you can see by the cane, Ken is sadly struggling with mobility issues.
Marc Hachadourian is a renown plantsman, and Manager of Living Collections the New York Botanic Gardens Living Collections Greenhouses. Mark is the author of the recently published book, Orchid Modern.
It was great to have time to visit with Ed Bowen and Taylor Johnston of Rhode Island’s Issima Nursery. We have been big fans of their nursery since its inception, so it was so lovely to be able to chat in person.
It was also great to reconnect with Peony’s Envy owner, Kathleen Gagan, who I hadn’t seen in years. Kathleen is a dynamo that runs one of the country’s best retail peony nurseries from her farm in New Jersey.
There was a crowd of gardening celebrities from Pennsylvania that made the trip, including magnolia guru, Andrew Bunting, Vice-President of Horticulture for the Pennsylvannia Horticulture Society.
Ethan Kauffman moved north after his 8 year stint at Riverbanks Botanic Garden and 9 years at Moore Farms, both in SC, to become the Director at Stoneleigh Garden in Pennsylvannia. There, his transformative work with native plants has become the talk of the region.
It was great to catch up with long-time friends, garden designers Charles Price (l), and Glenn Withey (r), who flew in from Seattle for the event. Glen and Charles are world renown landscape designers. For several years, it was hard to pick up a national gardening magazine without a feature on their work.
The evening ended under the open skies with a brief auction and a lovely tribute to Margaret and her contributions to the horticultural world. It was lovely that the horticultural stars came out to honor one of their own.
Below are three of our final selections of Agave x ovox, which we made out of several hundred seedlings. These are each sister seedlings from our cross of Agave ovatifolia x Agave pseudoferox ‘Bellville’ It’s always interesting to see how many different ways the genes sort out. These are from our 2018 cross, and only went in the ground in 2021, so despite their size, they’re still babies at 2′ tall x 4′ wide. So far, they are showing some true hybrid vigor. Each should mature around 4-5′ tall x 8-12′ wide. These are all fine in Zone 7b and south.
Athyrium shearei is a fascinating fern, given to us many years ago by fern guru, Dr. John Mickel. We’ve yet to offer it because we’re not sure if anyone would purchase it since some folks may think the dark central veining may look like something is wrong with the plant…which it is not. This deciduous fern native to China, Korea, and Japan makes a slowly spreading patch, and is hardy from Zone 5-8. Mature height is 15-18″ tall. What do you think?
This spring, I was fortunate to be able to visit the former garden of the late Camellia guru, Dr. Clifford Parks. One of the many plants that took our breath away was this unlabeled evergreen azalea. We were able to root cuttings, but now, I’m hoping someone out there in horticulture land will recognize it and give us a name.
Ever since I first saw Lycopodiella prostrata as a young child, I have been fascinated with this alien-looking oddity. Botanically, these belong to a primitive group of plants known as clubmosses.
Every trip to the coast, I seem to wind up with a small piece to try in the garden, and every time, I fail. This spring, I was headed east to check out the site of a major road widening near Wilmington, NC, and mentioned to Patrick my frustration with trying to grow this. The secret, he shared is to get only the tip where it has rooted down, and only move it in winter/early spring. To my amazement, that tiny piece has now well established in one of our new bogs, along with another favorite, the bright orange native annual, Polygala lutea. So often, it’s just one small tip that makes the difference between success and failure.
Everyone grows the Asian butterfly bushes because of their huge flower panicles, but there are some really cool native buddleias that are mostly overlooked. Below is Buddleia marrubifolia from Presidio, Texas. Native to the Chihuahuan Desert, mature plants can reach 6′ tall x 6′ wide. The hairy white foliage serves as a nice foil for the odd, small orange, sattelite-looking flowers that adorn the plant starting in late summer. We last offered this in 2000 to raucous sales–just kidding about the raucous sales. Nurserymen disdainingly refer to these as BIO plants….botanical interest only. Hardiness Zone 7b-10b.
Here’s our clump of Chrysopsis gossypina in the garden this week, looking shockingly like a South African Helichrysum petiolare (straw flower). This little-known Southeast US native (Virginia to Mississippi) is usually found on dry, sandy soils. So far, our plants of the short-lived cottony golden aster are thriving in our well-drained agave/cactus berms. The yellow daisy flowers should be appearing soon.
Flowering this month is one of my favorite curiosities, Grandma’s hat pins. Eriocaulon decangulare hails from costal habits from New Jersey south to Texas, where it can be found in bogs and swamps. They thrive in the same conditions as pitcher plants. Perhaps it’s time to send some seed to the nursery since we haven’t offered this through Plant Delights since 2003. What do you think? Hardiness Zone 7a – 10b.
We’re always disappointed when great plants don’t sell well enough to continue offering them, and one of our best examples is Microlepia ‘MacFaddeniae’. Below is our clump in the garden this week. This California selection of the Japanese native rigid lace fern forms a lovely, unique clump that stays evergreen until Christmas. Oh well, we sure enjoy it in our garden. Hardiness Zone 7b-10b.
I doubt any of our garden visitors actually slow down enough to notice some of the smaller treasures flowering now, like the dwarf Chinese gesneriad, Petrocosmea oblata. When I say small, I’m talking 2″ in full flower. We are fascinated by the array of Asian gesneriads that thrive in rock cracks, most of which are fairly unknown outside of their native habitat, unless they are grow in containers by members of the American Gesneriad Society. It’s our hope to bring more of these treasures to light.
Okay, raise your hand if you grow Orbexilum lupinellus in your garden? I’m still looking for hands out there… This endemic to longleaf pine/wiregrass habitats in the Coastal plain from NC south to Alabama, is a delightful rock garden plant, that’s made itself right at home at JLBG, flowering beautifully in late August/early September. This is growing in a rarely irrigated rocky section and has thrived in both the heat and drought. It’s probably not showy enough to offer commercially, but we sure enjoy it.
We are thrilled at the performance of the little-known banana, Musa nagesium var. hongii. Our plants are from the recently discovered population in Northeast India, which is a good jaunt from the formerly known populations in Yunnan, China. These sailed through our cold winter, and have exploded in growth during our hot summer. We love the chalky stems, like its close relative, M. cheesmanii. Hopefully, we’ll be able to share these one day. Hardiness Zone 7b-10b.
Our clump of Coniogramme emeiense ‘Green Energy’ is looking fabulous at the end of August. This is one of our selections of bamboo fern we’ve yet to introduce. We love it’s distinctive look, but am not sure if anyone would actually purchase it. What say you? Hardiness Zone 7b – 10b.
Looking great in the garden in late summer is the little known love lily, Amorphophallus kachinensis. This southeast Asian species has now reached 7′ tall in the garden. Our earlier collections from Thailand were not winter hardy here, but this Peter Zale collection from Myanmar has thrived.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the grape breeding trial garden of grape savant, Jeff Bloodworth of Orange County, NC. I didn’t realize it until my visit that Jeff, now 73, and I were in the Horticulture Department at NC State together from the mid to late 1970s. While I was starting on my undergraduate work, he was working on a Masters and later a Doctorate. After school, Jeff went on to become a Research technician with NC State grape breeder Dr. Bill Nesbitt, until he unexpectedly passed away in 1983 at the age of 51.
Departmental leaders decided to do away with the grape breeding program due to a lack of commercial interest in NC, so Jeff saw an opportunity. Scrambling quickly, he found and purchased 12 acres in rural Orange County, where all the NCSU research genetics found a new home. Jeff, and his wife, Peggy, still live on the same property today.
I’ve grown and studied muscadine grapes for almost 40 years, but Jeff’s little finger has far more knowledge than I dreamed existed. To say Jeff is obsessive about his work with grapes is a grand understatement.
We were joined by video producers Bill Hayes and Erin Upson of Carboro’s Thunder Mountain Media, who are working on a video project to help tell Jeff’s amazing story.
Until 2013, Jeff had never introduced a single new grape. Part of the reason is that his breeding goals were regarded as impossible “pie in the sky” ideas. Jeff was trying to cross seedless bunch grapes (pictured below), which grow well in California, but sulk in our summers, with the Southeast US native muscadine grapes.
After 10 years of no success, he finally was able to secure a viable offspring, and so was off to the races. Despite this eventual breakthrough, Jeff struggled to get any commercial or academic entities interested in his creations.
That was until plantsman and Gardens Alive owner, Niles Kinerk and his team, heard about Jeff’s work, and soon after, hired Jeff as an employee, providing some welcome financial support. Below are Jeff and Peggy Bloodworth with Mark Wessel, Gardens Alive Director of Horticultural Research.
Jeff’s first introduction through Gardens Alive, in 2013, was the light purple Vitis ‘Razmatazz’. This small-sized grape was the first seedless muscadine hybrid on the market. Although the fruit size is small by conventional standards, it is long producing as well as deliciously sweet. This was followed a few years later by Vitis ‘Oh My’, a bronze fleshed, larger seedless muscadine hybrid.
My trip last week was to join the Gardens Alive team as they sampled the new hybrids and made their final selections for future introduction. I was particularly excited by one of Jeff’s hybrids with 1″ seedless bronze grapes, but Jeff explained by slicing the grape in half and examining the ovary, that this was a female grape, which would need a male pollinator. Most commercial muscadine varieties are “perfect”, with both male and female flowers on the same plant. The size of Jeff’s seedless grapes continue to increase, and the variance of sweet flavors are astounding, so the future of grapes in the Southeast US is very exciting.
Nearby Jeff’s farm, investors have purchased much of the regional farmland with the goal of large scale production, including hundred of acres of Jeff’s grapes. We salute Jeff’s brilliance and persistence in this amazing endeavor!
What would you say if I told you that virtually everything you know as a mimosa, isn’t? In fact, the commonly known mimosa is actually an albizzia. Albizzia julibrissin, native from Japan through to the Transcaucuses, was brought to the US back in the 1700s as an ornamental. Back in the day, it was actually thought to belong to the genus Mimosa, but this error was corrected by 1806, but as you can see, old names die hard. Although beautiful, albizzia is a prolific seeder, so is rarely planted any longer.
Interestingly, virtually no one grows any of the 25 North American native species of true Mimosa. Below is our plant of Patrick’s collection of the Southwest US native, Mimosa dysocarpa in flower now. This 3-6′ tall, highly thorny shrub, grows natively from 3,500′ – 6,500′ in the dry deserts of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. So far, it seems to be liking its new home in NC. It’s a particularly good food for bees, butterflies/moths, and birds, while the fruit is adored by quails.
Flowering well in the late summer at JLBG is the florally magnificent banana, Musa ornata. Native to Myanmar, Northern India, and surrounding regions, it isn’t typically winter hardy in Zone 7b. This is Hayes Jackson’s selection, Musa ornata ‘Anniston’, which sailed through last winters 11 degrees F.