When it comes to plants, we’re what you’d call a high risk, high reward garden. In other words, nothing ventured horticulturally, nothing gained. That was our thoughts last year when we planted our only plant of the rare variegated orchid, Cymbidium goeringii ‘Xueshanbiancao’ in the crevice garden, just months before our coldest winter in five years.
Not only did our baby sail through the winter, but it’s now sporting a flower, which is also variegated with a narrow creamy border. The soil mix in this section is 50% Permatill, 25% native sandy loam, and 25% compost. How cool is that!
Many gardeners tend to ignore the narrow leaf Trillium lancifolium in favor of the larger, more impressive species, but we think this smaller toadshade is quite garden worthy. Below are two clones we’ve named and introduced in the past. One is in full flower here at JLBG, and the other is right behind in mid-March. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
Those of us who have studied trilliums extensively in the wild, feel that all Trillium lancifolium are not created equal. In other words, what is currently known as Trillium lancifolium is most likely 2-3 different species. These are botanically known as cryptic species, since they are hiding in plain site. Advances in DNA now allows researchers to confirm field observations, so don’t be surprised if you see more new trillium species being named from this complex.
The first image below is Trillium lancifolium ‘Lancelot’, a selection from North Florida that forms dense clumps, compared all of the other plants from this population, which grew as solitary stems. The flowers are also butterscotch instead of the typical purple.
Trillium ‘Black Panther’ is a JLBG selection from a cross of genetics from a Florida population with a Tennessee collection. It also forms dense clumps.
Ajuga ‘Cordial Canary’ is one of the new generations of well-behaved bugleweed selections, this from the work of Chris Hansen. It looks pretty amazing for mid-March at JLBG. We love colorful groundcovers that play nice with their surroundings. Zone 4a-9b.
We love it when Baptisia perfoliata ‘Flying Saucers’ emerges in the garden. The purple stems and perfoliate foliage (the stems run through the middle of the leaves) are fascinating as they awaken from their winter slumber. This special clone of the native to Interstate 20 in South Carolina was a 2020 Plant Delights introduction. We hope to have enough propagated to offer again next year. Zone 5a-9b.
Sedum palmeri ‘Mendoza’ is looking superb in the garden in late winter. This northern Mexico native is one of our favorite species, flowering far earlier in the year than any of the other sedum species we grow. We had tried Sedum palmeri prior to to growing this clone, and never succeeded in getting it to survive our winters.
In 2002, we were eating lunch at a ski lodge near the border with Argentina and Chile, when I spotted this compact form growing in a flower bed. We have no idea how a plant from Northern Mexico got so far from its’ home, but we’re glad it did. This patch in the garden was grown from a single cutting we legally brought home from the trip. We subsequently named this after the nearby town of Mendoza, and introduced it through Plant Delights in 2013. Zone 7b-10b, at least.
Exochorda is a little-known monotypic genus in the rose family. The single species E. racemosa is divided into 4 subspecies, ranging primarily from southeastern China, with a disjunct population in the “Stans” (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan).
Exochorda is a small shrub that flowers for us in late winter, usually starting around March 1. Pictured below in our garden is Tom Ranney’s relative new hybrid, Exochora ‘Blizzard’, which we absolutely love. This should mature around 6′ tall x 7′ wide. Zone 4a-8b.
We’ve been fascinated with the woody plant genus Loropetalum since the late J.C. Raulston first distributed the pink-flowered forms, which had just come into to cultivation in the US, back in 1989. Since those original plants were propagated and sold, many nurseries have tried to one up each other with a barrage of new introductions. Today, we have documented 68 named cultivars of Loropetalum, of which we currently grow only 22. Below are a few from JLBG, which are currently in full flower.
Sadly, most folks mistakenly think these are foundation shrubs, thanks to unscrupulous retailers. Most, are in fact, either large shrubs or small trees. Yes, if you’re into plant mutilation as a form of legal S&M, you can shear them into bizarre boxes and meatballs, but do you really think this is a good idea? Do you really hate natural beauty that much?
Below are a few named selections with their advertised sizes and their actual sizes, so you can plant them in the proper place. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-9b.
Loropetalum ‘Snow Panda’ has been truly outstanding for us. It was introduces as maturing at 10′ tall x 9′ wide, and our 7-year-old plant is now 7′ tall x 12′ wide.
Loropetalum ‘Zhouzhou‘ is sold as ‘Zhoushou Fuchsia‘ and as ‘Pipa’s Red’. These are listed as maturing at 5′ tall x 6′ wide and 12′ tall x 12′ wide, depending on which name is on the tag. The reality is that it matures at 30′ tall x 20′ wide, as you can see below with our 27-year -old specimen.
Loropetalum ‘Ruby Snow’ is a fascinating chimeral misfit (think schizophrenic) selection with both white and pink flowers. The introducer touts it as maturing at 6′ tall x 6′ wide, but our 6-year-old specimen is already 8′ tall x 14′ wide, so this will get far larger than the tags indicate.
Loropetalum ‘Daruma‘ is an extremely heavy flowering selection that is sold as maturing at 5′ tall x 5′ wide, but this isn’t even close. The 6-year-old specimen below is already 6′ tall x 9′ wide, and our oldest specimen had to be removed from its original location after it reached 16′ tall x 16’ wide.
Loropetalum ‘Shang Hi’, sold under the marketing name Purple Diamond, is touted as maturing at 5′ tall x 5′ wide. Ooops–our 14-year-old plant is already 15′ tall x 15′ wide. Perhaps we need to give remedial measuring courses to some of our nursery folks.
Loropetalum ‘GrifCRL‘, marketed as Little Rose Dawn, is incredible in flower, but it’s marketed as maturing at 10′ tall x 10′ wide, and our 16-year-old specimen is now 18′ tall x 18’ wide.
Loropetalum ‘Crimson Fire’ is much more red than most selections. The introducer claims it will mature at 4′ tall x 5′ wide, but our 6-year-old plants are already 10′ tall x 10′ wide.
These are just a few of the amazing selections, but keep in mind to never trust plant tags when it comes to where you should plant your plants to keep from needing to butcher them.. Until nurseries and plant introducers learn to care more about the end consumer’s success, it’s always a good idea to visit botanic gardens and determine the true size for yourself.
It was great to spend several days last week walking through the nursery and gardens with our dear friends, Carl Schoenfeld and Wade Roitsch of the former Yucca Do Nursery. Wade is still gardening and plant exploring in Texas, while Carl has opened Yucca Doo Vivero at his home in Salta, Argentina. You can follow his new adventure on Facebook.
Their contributions to the world of horticulture are extraordinary, and it’s great that those efforts are continuing, despite the closure of their North American operation.
We love the amazing winter flowering toothworts of the former genus, Dentaria. The latest taxonomic work moves these into the genus Cardamine, which means quite a few tag changes here at the gardens. It’s fascinating that more native plant nurseries don’t have a better offering of these amazing plants.
Flowering below this week are two of our collections from a botanizing expedition to Arkansas a few years earlier. The first is a very nice, compact form of the native Dentaria laciniata from Yell County. Below that is a new, un-named species that we discovered in Montgomery County, Arkansas.
Looking absolutely fabulous in the garden now is the superb new fairy wing introduction, Epimedium ‘Lyrical Lemonade’, from the handiwork of plantsman, Hans Hansen. It’s hard to imagine where you’d fit any more flowers. Hardy in zones 5a to 8b.
Here are a couple of groundcovers that are looking nice in the garden in early March. The first is the Western US native, Cerastium beeringianum (Western Snow in Summer), which is a close relative of the Italian Cerastium tomentosum. We selected this form from seed we grew, originally purchased from a native plant nursery as the US native, Arenaria stricta–oops! Both genera are at least members of the dianthus family, Carophyllaceae.
We’re still pretty excited, despite the misname, since this is an alpine species that typically grows above 10,000′ elevation. We’ve added the name ‘Southern Snowstorm’ to this exceptional clone.
Below is the Balkan native, Arabis procurrens. This member of the Brassicaceae family makes a superb groundcover. Our 5 year old, well-behaved, evergreen clump pictured below is almost 4′ wide.
This winter, we were mulling over options for our a bed along the walkway to our nursery and garden office. We had previously had a narrow raised bed, but this was backing up rain water on our sidewalk. The garden and research staff proposed that we remove the raised beg and install a bog garden/rain garden to catch and use the runoff from the office roof.
The first step was removing the existing plantings, followed by an excavation to 2′ in depth, being sure the bottom was level.
An overflow pipe was installed at the east end at a level where water would never pond in the top few inches.
The next step was the addition of a pond liner, followed by several inches of washed stone gravel. Just covered by the gravel was a horizontal pvc pipe, connected to a vertical tube, which would provide a way to add water from the bottom up, should such ever be needed.
On top of the gravel, we added about 15″ of a soil mix, comprised of 50% native sandy loam from the property and 50% peat moss. Once the mix was thoroughly moistened, plantings began. We’ll continue to add small bog plants as the season goes, but we’ve already been through several significant rains, and the system functions beautifully. Water management is such an important factor in gardens, so we hope this gives folks an idea of how to turn a garden concern into a special plant habitat.
In flower this week is Fothergilla milleri ‘Redneck Nation’. Most people have probably never heard of Fothergilla milleri, since it was just described as a new species in 2020. When a DNA analysis of the genus was completed, it showed several diploid populations previously thought to be Fothergilla gardenii were actually a new, undescribed species. Immediately after being described, it was listed as a Globally imperilled species (G2 rank).
Currently, Fothergilla milleri, which grows in swampy bog forests, is known from only 6-20 populations: a few in Coastal Alabama, one in Georgia, and a few in the Florida panhandle. This Baldwin County clone was discovered by naturalist, Fred Nation. The species was named to honor Dr. Ron Miller.
Flowering in the garden this week is our Macon, Georgia collection of the southeast US native Asarum arifolium ‘Macon Jars’. Other forms of A. arifolium from further north in it’s range won’t be flowering for several more weeks. We trim the old anise-scented foliage of our asarums so we can better enjoy the amazing floral show of this native woodland perennial. The new leaves will emerge in just a matter of days.
Imagine what it’s like arriving at work in the early morning hours for a winter open house day to find that straight line winds during the night have destroyed the entire nursery checkout structure. Indeed, that’s what our staff faced on the final weekend of our recently concluded open house.
Not only was our canvas cover ripped to shreds, but most of the support poles were mangled beyond imagination. Electrical wires and Internet cables were twisted into a tangled mass, with some dangling 20′ in the air.
Our Saturday morning debacle saw both the nursery and garden staff jump into action, including some of which were awakened from their weekend slumber to help demolish, quickly rebuild, and then re-wire the entire structure, so that by 10:30am, we were able to resume checkout in something other than our temporary set up.
Thanks to our amazing staff, and thanks to the patience of the record-breaking crowds who visited during the final Saturday and Sunday.
It’s pussy willow time in the garden, and looking great this week is the native Salix eriocephala. The species S. eriocephala (which means wooly head) has a wide distribution from Maine west to Minnesota, and south to Alabama. Interestingly, it seems to have completely skipped over the Carolinas. Our plant is from a population in North Central Georgia. The photos are of the clone Salix ‘Big Ears’ due to the huge winged stems.
We love the late winter flowering Drabas, which thrive in our dry crevice garden. Below is the miniature Draba hispanica, which has been in flower since late February. This Spanish species likes to grow in dry limestone cracks, such as the one we provided here. Unless you’re an avid rock gardener, you may not realize that draba is actually in the cabbage family, Brassicaceae. Once the flowers finish, you’re left with a fuzzy evergreen bun of foliage for the rest of the season. Zone 5a-8a, at least.
One of our favorite woodland spring ephemerals has to the be the Black Sea cardamine, which has been simply glorious for several weeks in the woodland garden. Below is a photo of our patch, taken today. This amazing perennial doesn’t make an appearance above ground until early February, but soon after its emergence, it’s in full flower. Cardamine quinquefolia is a slow spreader, so put it in an area, where it’s free to move, since it will form a 6″ tall x 3′ wide patch in 4 years.
As a spring ephemeral, it will go completely dormant in May, resting during the hot summer months. We like to use later emerging plants throughout the patch, which emerge as the cardamine is going dormant. Hardiness zone 6a to 8b.
One of our favorite borage family members, Trachystemon orientalis is flowering this week in the woodland garden. Native to Bulgaria and Turkey, this late winter-flowering groundcover is quite tough. The foliage dies away in fall, but not long before the emergence of flowers and a new round of foliage. Hardiness Zone 6a-8b.
Dentaria (Cardamine) diphylla ‘Burnsville Beauty’ is our 2008 collection of the native woodland groundcover, Dentaria (Cardamine) diphylla from a collection in Burnsville, NC. This selection stood out in the wild with much narrower and more pointed leaflets that any other clones we’ve seen. Since 2008, our division has grown into a 4′ wide patch. The foliage emerges in fall, flowers in March, and then goes summer dormant. We hope to release this selection for the first time next year.
Flowering now in the garden is the delicate toadshade, Trillium delicatum. This diminutive trillium, published in 2019, hails from Central Georgia, where it naturally grows in floodplains. Despite a damp habitat, it has performed beautifully for us, even in average to dry garden soils. This species is quite rare, and is suffering significant damage from feral hogs, making ex-situ conservation even more important. Our clumps are getting large enough for us to hopefully make divisions available within the next year.
We lovely the Eastern US native, false rue anemone, flowering now in the woodland garden at JLBG. This is one of the great winter flowering perennials, which we feel should be a part of every shade garden. The plant below has been thriving for decades under a grove of giant black walnut trees. Depending on where within its native range from Minnesota south to Florida, the genetics originated, it starts flowering from late January to early March.
Isopyrum biternatum is the midst of a bitter custody battle with the genus Enemion, but there hasn’t been any new DNA work since the early days of the field, when the sole use of chloroplast DNA gave us a number of incorrect name changes that were later retracted. Until we see some nuclear DNA results, we’re leaving it in the genus isopyrum.
Looking fabulous in the garden now is Veronica umbrosa ‘Georgia Blue’. We’ve grown this amazing groundcover in the garden since 1990, and find it as great now as it was 33 years ago. This superb introduction was originally collected in the wild in Georgia (the country, not the state) by England’s legendary plantsman, Roy Lancaster in 1979. In 30+ years of growing it, its never misbehaved or thrown a single seedling. Flowering time for us is usually from mid February through March, so it can be used as a background for spring bulbs.
In late February, myself and local plantsman Mike Chelednik, headed south for the mid-winter meeting of the Southeast Palm Society, being held at the American Camellia Society Headquarters at Massee Lane in Ft. Valley, Georgia. I had wanted to visit the camellia garden ever since I knew one existed, but the timing had never worked out. Mike, who goes by the social media moniker, “Mike See”, is one of the foremost camellia experts, as well as a hardy palm enthusiast.
Our first stop on the way to Ft. Valley was the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Gainesville, Georgia satellite garden, to check out the plant damage from their winter low temperatures of 5 degrees F. Although a number of plants in their trial fields were quite crispy, including most of the commercial cultivars of distyllum and even giant plants of Osmanthus heterophyllus, there were an amazing number of new plants from their recent Asian plant exploration trips that sailed through the cold.
I was particularly excited to see that a collection of the giant Begonia sillitensis from India sailed though the cold and looked ready to start growing. It was also great to see how well their large specimen of the Taiwanese aralia relative, Sinopanax formosanus, sailed through the winter. I had seen this in the wild several years earlier and felt it had a good shot at surviving in central NC.
I was especially glad to see that their amazing, conical clone of the hardy cinnamon tree, Cinnamon japonicum sailed through the low temperatures without any damage.
Their greenhouse was full of new treasures yet to go in the ground, including this Vietnamese collection of Sauromatum venosum. Virtually all of the material in the trade currently is from India, so these new genetics are quite exciting. Of course, there is always the possibility that this constitutes a newly discovered species. The velvety leaf surface makes me fairly confident this may be new. We are very fortunate to be a trial site for many of their amazing collections.
From ABG, we headed south through the highway insanity that constitutes the drive through Atlanta and south toward Macon, GA. There simply aren’t enough lanes to handle the mass of vehicles that travel this route–something you would think highway department officials would have noticed by now.
I was quite unprepared for the facilities at Massee Lane Gardens, since plant society headquarters are pretty much an extinct dinosaur of bygone eras. In this case, the Ft. Valley headquarters located in this former peach shipping hub of South Georgia, was a well-funded throwback to earlier generations. Started in the 1930s by pecan farmer, David Strother, the 160 acre property still contains pecan orchards. In 1966, Strother donated the property to the American Camellia Society.
The rectilinear facility has a “dripping with money” elegance, at odds with most of the surrounding tired town. Entering through the gift shop, a right turn takes you into the Annabelle Lundy Fetterman Educational Museum, a meeting room/display museum, which houses an absurdly extensive collection of Boehm porcelain. This room is named after the NC camellia aficionado of the same name. The late Annabelle Fetterman was the renown businesswoman CEO/owner of Clinton NC’s Lundy Packing Company.
Taking a left from the gift shop, routes you toward the lovely auditorium, where we would hold our Palm Society meeting.
About 35-40 palm nuts showed up for the SPS meeting, with several like us, driving in from 5-10 hours away. I’ve been a member of this amazing, but loose knit organization, for over 3 decades, although I think this is the first meeting I’ve attended that wasn’t held at our own Raleigh garden. We were treated to a fascinating talk by Rick Davis, on growing Cocoid palms in upstate SC. These include the jelly palms of the genus, Butia, and their hybrids. I think we all left the meeting, knowing there are far more palms we need to try in Zone 7.
Following the meeting, there was a rare palm auction thanks to member donations, followed by a tour of the Massee Lane gardens by Garden Manager, William Khoury. William and his staff of one assistant, manage and curate the entire camellia garden, which covers over 6 of the 160+ acre property. We’re sending good thoughts that they get more help to manage this extensive collection.
The garden is almost exclusively camellias, planted in large beds, with easily navigable paths winding visitors through the plantings.
While 99% of the visitors head to the garden section containing the show camellias and their hybrids, I headed to the virtually empty section devoted to wild camellia species, almost all of which were a gift from the late Dr. Clifford Parks of Chapel Hill, NC, just prior to his death. It was an interesting study, since they dropped to 12 degrees F. this winter…only a single degree higher than Raleigh, NC.
Camellia species other than Camellia japonica, Camellia sassanqua, Camellia reticulata, and Camellia sinensis, are virtually unknown by US gardeners. While not nearly as showy as the fancy hybrids, many of these plants have amazing foliage and forms, with most worthy of garden inclusion.
For the first several hours, I had the species collections to myself, until after an on-site food truck lunch, I heard a female voice recording a soliloquy about species camellias as the figure slowly sauntered from plant to plant. As I peered through the thicket, the voice was coming from none other than our NC neighbor and former PDNer, Brie Arthur of Brie Grows, who was in the area, recording a camellia segment for her Youtube channel.
By late afternoon, I had finished studying the species, and made my way over to the show camellia garden. Much of Massee Lane is devoted to camellias that are grown for flower show bloom competitions/displays. Below are a few photos from the acres of mostly well-labeled plants. There are certainly few better gardens in the southeast US to see this many camellias (over 1,000 plants) and make notes of which you’d like for your own garden. There was even a sales area devoted to some rather new and hard to find hybrids.
Heading back north toward home, we made one stop at the garden of Atlanta area plant collector, Ozzie Johnson, who maintains a large collection of mostly Asian plants at his extensive garden. As we saw at Atlanta Botanical Garden, there was extensive damage due to the single digit F low temperatures in December.
A huge specimen of Aucuba omeiensis was quite fried and we were unable to determine yet if it might possibly resprout.
The original plant of Ozzie’s introduction, Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’, also was completely defoliated, although it appeared like it would resprout.
Another of Ozzie’s introductions, the weeping Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Ryusen’ was untouched. The photo is of the original plant from which all others have been propagated.
Despite most of the commercial selections of Distylum being fried, it was great to see this variegated selection of Distyllum myriocoides untouched after 5 degrees F.
Carex picta ‘Bama Beauty’ is looking particularly wonderful in the garden today. Native from Indiana south to Mississippi, this little-known sedge has been delighting us in the garden since 2014, when Zac Hill, JLBG’s Taxonomist and Plant Records Specialist, brought a piece back from a botanizing excursion to Alabama.
In the garden, it’s been very slow to multiply, but we hope to make this available before too much longer. Carex picta is an oddity in being one of very few sedge species that are dioecious–plants are either male or female. This collection is a male selection, which has more showy flowers–as carex go.
Our three way hybrid cycad, C. x menageatroisensis (Cycas panzhihuaensis x (revoluta x taitungensis) appears to be in full “flower” this week, months after we tried, but failed to impregnate it. Despite being unproductive reproductively, it’s quite fascinating as a garden feature. Cycads came about back in the day before flowering was invented, so they actually produce cones, like a pine tree. Despite the leaves frying at 11F, the female strobilis remains undamaged. Our clone picture below is a female.
Flowering for the last week in the garden is the lovely winter iris, Iris reticulata ‘Painted Lady’. Iris reticulata is unusual in that it has bulbs instead of rhizomes. In the wild, it calls home the dry regions from Turkey to Iran. These spring ephemeral iris go to sleep for the year by late spring/early summer. Hardiness is Zone 5a-8b, at least.
Galanthophila, an obsession with snowdrops of the genus Galanthus, is spreading almost as fast as COVID did through both Europe and North America. While we love and value galanthus for their flowering in the winter garden, we’ve yet to take the plunge into full-fledged galanthophilia, which results in people sacrificing meals to have the latest new name in snowdrops for their garden. For serious galanthophiles, it’s not unusual to pay from $100 to $10,000 to have the latest, greatest selections. Although there isn’t a cure, the 12-step program seems to be able to help some gardeners keep this addiction in remission.
Here are a couple of specimens that are looking quite nice in the garden this week. Galanthus ‘Viridapice’ has been around since the 1920s, while Galanthus ‘Beth Chatto’ dates from the 1960s. Despite their advanced age, these gems have stood the test of time. All galanthus will go dormant in late spring.
Here are some of the latest crop of amazing Helleborus x hybridus to flower in the garden. If you attend our Winter Open Nursery and Garden this week or next, you will see these in person. Plant Delights will also have a pretty incredible crop of these for sale during the open house days. We hope to see you in person!
Flowering in the garden now is the wonderful US native Pachysandra procumbens (Allegheny spurge). Native from Indiana south to the gulf coast, our selection, Pachysandra ‘Angola’ comes from the woods near that well-know Louisiana prison. This stunning evergreen, variegated, slow-spreading, woodland groundcover, is quite different from its better known and much faster spreading Asian cousin, Pachysandra terminalis. The flowers are also sweetly fragrant, what more could you want? Hardiness is Zone 5a-9b.
Our plants of the shrubby Distyllum myricoides has been in stunning flower for the last few weeks. This fascinating evergreen shrub, mostly native to China, is in the same family, Hamamelidaceae, as its’ better-known cousins, Hamamelis (witch hazel) and Fothergilla (witch alder).
Due to the breeding efforts of Dr. Michael Dirr, distyllum has actually begun to show up in box stores…something that was unthinkable two decades earlier. We love it for the evergreen foliage, but what really excites us is the amazing winter floral show as you can see below.
We’ve grown the native loblolly bay, Gordonia lasianthus for several decades, but I’d never stumbled on one as large as the one we spotted last week while botanizing in coastal southeastern North Carolina.
The specimen we ran across has a 26″ diameter and a height of 70′, which although huge, turned out to be slightly smaller than the state champions in Currituck County, which top out at 85-90′ tall. Posing by the trunk is the landowner, Vince and his son Vinny, who moved to coastal Carolina from Brooklyn, NY.
Also, on the same site, we found a population of Chamaedaphne calyculata, a bog-loving, blueberry relative with a circumboreal distribution in mostly cold and sub-arctic regions. When we returned, Patrick told me that it was quite rare in NC, but he found a singole documented record for North Carolina on Hwy 211 in Brunswick County (Vince’s property), that we’d accidentally stumbled upon. Sadly, Hwy 211 is being widened, so this population, along with many other amazing natives are in jeopardy. Fortunately, we now have a small division now growing in our ex-situ conservation garden at JLBG.
Flowering now is one of our favorite native witch hazels, the semi-dwarf, Ozark witch hazel, Hamamelis vernalis ‘Quasimodo’. This amazing gem was discovered and introduced by the late Dutch nurseryman, Pieter Zwijnenburg. I would argue that this is a far more significant introduction than his much better known Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’. Our 8-year-old specimen is now 5′ tall x 5′ wide. Not only does the compact size fit in most gardens, but the density of the deliciously fragrant flowers is unparalleled in the genus.
So often we think we know all about a plant, when we’ve only grown a single clone, and we all know what happens when we assume! A good example is the Southwest US native Agave parryi ssp. truncata, which is now grown around the world. 99.9% if the plants in commerce are a single clone, know as the Huntington form. Unfortunately, this clone is not reliably winter hardy north of Zone 8b.
Many years ago, we received a new clone via the late nurseryman, George Hull. Having survived for us without damage since 2010, including two winters of single digit F temperatures, we have christened this Agave parryi ssp. truncata ‘Hardy Boyz’. Below is a photo taken last week. It’s been very slow to offset, but we feel this an exceptional clone worthy of propagation and distribution. Stay tuned.
We were thrilled how well Agave x protamericana ‘Silver Surfer’ came through the 11 degree F. cold snap this winter. This 2007 Plant Delights/JLBG agave introduction was our selection from a Yucca Do Nursery seed collection in Northern Mexico of a naturally occurring hybrid between Agave americana and Agave asperrima.
We’re several years into an experiment to see how well the epiphytic (grow mostly on trees) tongue ferns of the genus Pyrrosia fare in hanging, moss-lined baskets when left outdoors all year. This is our coldest winter to date since the test began, with a low of 11 degrees F. Here is a photo of one of those baskets taken today. They were not protected in any way during the cold. We have 17 clones on trial in this manner, and some do show a bit of foliar damage, while others are untouched. We think it’s quite amazing to have evergreen hanging baskets of live plants that can remain outdoors here in Zone 7b.
Platycladus orientalis ‘Van Hoey Smith’ is looking absolutely fabulous in our garden this winter. This fascinating selection of Oriental arborvitae, Platycladus orientalis was named after the late Dutch conifer guru, Dick van Hoey Smith (1921-2010), by an American nurseryman, who reportedly received these cuttings, unlabeled, from Dick. Some conifer folks think this is actually an old cultivar, Platycladus orientalis ‘Aureovariegata’. I understand this is not a good performer in climates with low humidity, but it sure likes it here in NC. Winter hardiness is Zone 5b-9b.
So, who is Van Hoey Smith? Born, James Richard Pennington van Hoey Smith, Dick’s family started the famed Trompenberg Arboretum in Holland, which Dick later ran from 1950 until he handed over the reins to his successor Gert Fortgens, in 1996. If you haven’t visited, I highly recommend a visit for any keen plant lover.
Flowering today is the deliciously fragrant Mahonia gracilis, a little-known species from the mountains of northern Mexico. Maturing at 8′ tall x 12′ wide, this evergreen species burst into full flower usually in late January/early February. The flowers buds have great resistance to cold snaps after they open, and the overpoweringly sweet fragrance is legendary. Virtually all of the mahonias in commerce in the Southeast US are from China, so this is quite different from those. In 30 years of growing these, we have never seen a single garden seedling. Hardiness is Zone 7b-9a, at least.
Winter is peak flowering season for many of the amazing wild gingers. We caught Asarum porphyronotum ‘Irish Spring’ in full bloom recently. We remove the old foliage just as they come into flower for better photography. The new foliage begins to emerge just as the flowers fade. Amazing as these are, it requires slowing down to actually notice their amazing flowers, which are pollinated by pill bugs and slugs.
Here are a couple of dwarf pines in garden that are looking particularly great in mid-winter.
The first is PInus strobus ‘Mini Twists’ is a dwarf seed-grown selection of our native white pine that matures at 6′ tall x 4′ wide. This is a 2005 introduction from Vermont conifer specialist, Greg Williams. Good drainage is a key to success with white pines in our hot, humid climate. Hardiness is Zone 3a-8a.
Below is Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’, a 1987 introduction of a selected seedling of Japanese black pine from Angelica Nurseries of Maryland. In 10 years, it reportedly will reach 15′ in height x 20′ in width. Although it’s known commercially as Pinus ‘Thunderhead’, that cultivar name was actually used six years prior for a different pine, and according to International nomenclatural rules, can only be used once per genus, so the correct name would become Pinus ‘Angelica’s Thunderhead’. Hardiness is Zone 6a-8b.
Flowering recently in our heated greenhouse was the little-known Paramongaia weberbaureri. This fascinating bulb, native to Coastal Chile at 10,000′ elevation, is a distantly evolved cousin of our native spider lilies, the genus Hymenocallis.
We typically don’t grow many non-hardy plants, but are interested to see if it will hybridize with our native Hymenocallis, since another Andean native, Ismene amancaes, has been successfully hybridized with Hymenocallis in the past. As this is a winter-flowering species, we have collected and refrigerated the pollen while we await Hymenocallis flowers.
Looking great in the garden now is a dwarf witches broom selection of Norway spruce, Picea abies ‘Hereny’. Discovered by Hungary’s Józsa Miklós, and first published in 2010, it reportedly matures at 2′ tall in 20 years. Our 4 year old specimen has already reached that size, so we expect our warm summers will make it a much larger plant here.
The Dryopteris kinkiensis is still looking fabulous in the garden as we inch closer to spring. This little-known Chinese native fern was first brought into the country as spore by plantsman Hans Hansen in 2005. It is also native to Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. The name was originally published for the material in Japan, named after the Kinki region. The foliage is a very glossy dark green with a nearly plastic texture. We estimate hardiness to be zone 7a-9b, but we could be greatly underestimating its potential in that regard.
New colors of Helleborus x hybridus are opening daily, so here are a few shots from the garden today, showing the incredible range of colors that are available. We hope you can join us for our upcoming Winter Open Nursery and Garden and enjoy these in person.
The variegated wide-leaf holly, Ilex latifolia ‘Snow Flash’ is loaded with berries and looking quite spectacular in the garden this month. We’ve shared cuttings with several nursery folks, so hopefully, this will be making its way into the market. The plant was originally brought to the US from Japan by plantsman Barry Yinger. Our specimen below is now 18 years old. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
Agave x protamericana ‘Funky Toes’ is looking fabulous in the garden today, having sailed through our cold winter in tip top shape. This unique form of the well-known North American native agave is an introduction of the former Yucca Do Nursery, from one of their collections in Northern Mexico.
In 2018, we found a streaked leaf on a potted offset. By using a technique called crown cutting, we were able to isolate the bud from the streaked leaf into a yellow center, which we named Agave ‘Funky Monkey’…photo below. Hopefully in the next few years, we’ll have enough of this new introduction to share.
We’ve long been a fan of the central Japan native conifer, Thujopsis dolobrata, which we’ve grown for decades. For those, who aren’t students of the Latin language, the ending -opsis, means “looks like”. When Thujopsis was formally named in 1894 by Franz von Siebold and Joseph Zuccarini, they chose a name that could be translated to “looks like the American genus, Thuja”.
On a 2012 trip to Joann Currier’s former Unique Plant Nursery in NC, we noticed a plant of Thujopsis that looked unlike any we’d seen. Since the genus only has a single species, the variant was either a mutation or odd seedling. The very thick, plastic-like foliage on this selection gives the appearance of a ploidy mutation (extra chromosomes).
The cutting they shared was rooted, and subsequently went in the ground here in 2013. A decade later, our plant is pictured below this month, topping out at 10′ in height. Joann originally got the plant from Randy Plante at Greener Visions Nursery, who got it from NC conifer nurseryman Geoff Driscoll, who got it from someone “up north”. That’s where the trail goes cold. We’ve shared cuttings with several NC nursery folks, in the hopes this amazing selection becomes more commercially available in the future.
We just discovered that one of our good plant friends, plantsman and former mail order nurseryman, Dick Weaver, 77, passed away early in the days of the pandemic in June 2020.
Dick and I had been corresponding regularly, but in a final note in late 2019, he indicated that Parkinson’s had now made it difficult for him to type emails. Although we chatted on the phone after that, I completely lost track of him during the COVID craziness. It was only when I tried to catch up last week that I discovered he’d passed not long after our last chat.
Dick and his life partner, Rene Duval, started We-Du nursery in Marion, NC in 1983, after Dick left his job as Assistant Curator/Taxonomist/Plant Explorer at Boston’s Arnold Arboretum (1970-1983). Armed with a PhD in Botany from Duke University, Dick gave up a good salary and stable job for the uncertain, crazy world as a mail order nursery owner.
As a young nursery owner, We-Du Nursery near Marion, NC was always one of my favorite stops to see and acquire new plants and chat with other plant nerds. Their nursery specialty was both North American native and their Asian counterparts–similar interests to ours.
After 13 years in the mail order business, Dick and Rene sold We-Du to move to Puerto Rico to run a coffee plantation. Dick thought mail order was difficult until he tried to run a farm in the mountains of Puerto Rico. In 2001, I remember a desperate sounding email from Dick, saying they needed to move back to the US asap…preferably to Florida. We made a few calls, and connected Dick to friends in the Gainesville area, which eventually led to Dick getting a position with the Florida Department of Agriculture in 2002. He worked there until his retirement in 2010.
It was great to have Dick and Rene back on the mainland and to once again be able to visit in person, this time at the fascinating home and garden they created in North Florida.
In 2016, after Rene passed away, Dick moved to Pennsylvania to be near his remaining family, starting yet another garden. Sadly, we never got to visit his final home. We’ll miss the plant chats and plant exchanges, but thanks for adding so much to the world of horticulture!
If you go through the garden slow enough, you’ll notice little treasures like the NC native, Opuntia drummondii. This tiny growing coastal native prickly pear cactus can be found from NC around the gulf coast to Mississippi. Our specimen was shared with us from a collection on NC’s Bodie Island–a name made famous as the place where the Wright Brothers took flight. This prostrate grower is great to keep animals from trespassing onto your property.
Ilex ‘Magiana’ has made a superb plant in our garden. Below is a photo this week. This 2003 introduction form Mississippi’s Evergreen Nursery has never been touched by a pruner. The patent expired this year, so we anticipate more nurseries will be propagating it in the future. It originated as a seedling of Ilex ‘Mary Nell’ and was originally sold under the trademark name Acadiana. In the garden, expect a mature size of 14′ tall x 8′ wide. Our specimen is now 16 years old.
Looking great for the last couple of weeks in the garden are the double forms of the Christmas rose, one of the first hellebores to bloom in the garden. This clump of Helleborus niger ‘Snowbells’ is looking particularly nice. Hardiness zone 3a to 7b.
I’m betting that even the most seasoned plant collectors probably haven’t grown or even heard of Urophysa henryi. This odd generic member of the Ranunculaceae family hails from China, where it can be found only in a very few scattered populations, hanging out from cliff-side karst rock fissures in Guizhou, Sichuan, Western Hubei and into Northwestern Hunan.
Urophysa henryi is very closely related to the highly prized, but rather difficult to grow, rock garden plant, Semiquilegia adoxoides. I was particularly interested to read in a 2021 Chinese research paper, “In field observations and laboratory experiments, we found that U. rockii and U. henryi can not survive outside the karst limestone, which indicated that the karst limestone plays a significant role in their growth and development.” This is why you never send a botanist to do a horticulturist’s job!
In our garden, sans the Karst limestone, it has thrived in our rock garden, not blinking this year at 11F. The 4″ tall x 6″ wide evergreen clumps of columbine-like foliage are topped with clusters of small, outfacing white flowers, which resemble our native Isopyrum biternatum, Like Isopyrum, Urophysa flowering starts for us in early January, and continues through March. We think these are an outstanding addition to the winter garden and are going to do our best to get these propagated to share before words gets out that they can’t be grown in cultivation.
One of the nice surprises this winter has been the performance of our hybrid Magnolia grandiflora x Magnolia coco. This 2019 seedling came through the recent 11 degrees F looking great, despite half its parentage being rather tender.
While Magnolia grandiflora is certainly winter hardy here, the other parent, Magnolia coco is “reportedly” not hardy. Magnolia coco is a small tree/shrub hailing from Vietnam, Southern China, and Taiwan. Those reputable on-line sources consistently write that it isn’t hardy north of Zone 9. Well–hmmm!
The bottom image is our plant that has been in the garden since 2003…that’s 20 years. Yes, after 11F, the foliage is brown, but the stems are fine and it will re-flush well in spring. We can’t wait to see the flowers on the hybrid, which is still a few years away from being old enough to have sex.
Our 2nd earliest trillium is up and almost ready to flower. The deep south native Trillium underwoodii is the second toadshade to emerge, only behind the Florida genetics of Trillium maculatum, which emerges here in December. Although there is plenty of cold remaining, Trillium underwoodii is able to tolerate multiple nights of hard freezes below 20 F after the foliage has emerged. Winter hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
The earliest of the lenten roses, Helleborus x hybridus, have just opened. Depending on the genetics of each clone, they will continue to open until mid-March. Flowering on each variety continues for many weeks to over a month if the temperatures remain cool. Only a few weeks remain before our Winter Open Nursery and Garden, when you can visit and see these first hand in the garden, and even select your own flowering plants from our on-site nursery, Plant Delights.
We thought we’d share a photo taken this week of the original plant of Illicium parviflorum ‘Florida Sunshine’ from our garden. All plants sold worldwide originated with cuttings taken from our specimen. The original plant has now been in the ground here for 22 years and measures 8′ tall x 8′ wide. The foliage becomes brightest in the cool temperatures of winter. Who says Southeast US native plants look ugly? Hardiness zones 6a to 9b.
Although the native Ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris ‘The King’, goes winter dormant, the fertile fronds remain upright and attractive all winter. Here, we have it growing among the evergreen Solomon’s Seal, Disporopsis pernyi. This site is quite dry, compared to it’s normal habitat of wet swamps.