Remembering Rosenwald

I continue to be shocked how many people I speak with that have never heard about Rosenwald Schools. It’s truly puzzling that it manages to be overlooked in our American History classes. Last year we mentioned the renovations taking place at the Panther Branch Rosenwald School, just three doors north of Juniper Level Botanic Garden (JLBG). We promised to keep you updated, so here goes.

If you missed our original blog, here is a brief history of the partnership that produced the Rosenwald Schools. In the early part of the 20th century, Sears & Roebuck president, Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932) teamed up with renowned African American education leader, Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) of the Tuskegee Institute, to try and remedy the chronically underfunded, segregated education system for African American children.

Washington and Rosenwald worked together to fund construction of state-of-the-art middle schools for African American students around the country. Between 1913 and 1932, 5,350 schools (and associated structures) were constructed thanks to a matching grant program (1/3 Rosenwald funds, 1/3 local government funds, and 1/3 community funds) devised and set up by Rosenwald and Washington.

The Rosenwald schools were based on designs by the country’s first accredited black architect, Robert R. Taylor of the Tuskegee Institute. These plans were later standardized by Samuel Smith of the Rosenwald Foundation. Some Rosenwald schools accommodated as many as seven teachers, while others had only one. The schools, which were all conceived to also be used for community functions, were designed based on daylight considerations and the effect on the light on student eye strain. All schools have an east/west orientation, along with pale colored walls and expansive windows.

The recently renovated Panther Branch Rosenwald School

The 3,000 square foot Juniper Level/Panther Branch Rosenwald School, operated from 1926 until 1956, and is one of only sixty remaining Rosenwald Schools in existence. In their heyday, North Carolina had more Rosenwald Schools than any other state. Now that renovations are complete, the Rosenwald School is available for community events, and at night is used to tutor area students.

Juniper Level Missionary Baptist Church (JLMBC), which owns the Panther Branch Rosenwald School property, was first established in 1870 in a small log building, which continued to expand, culminating in the current main building, which was constructed circa 1920. Other adjacent structures were added later as the church grew.

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Juniper Level Missionary Baptist Church across the street, which owns the school property and headquarters the foundation that manages the restoration.

Visionary Pastor Jeff Robinson of JLMBC has graciously allowed us to become a partner in efforts to improve and strengthen the community of Juniper. In our case, this primarily involves landscape work around the schoolhouse.

Pastor Jeff Robinson in the Panther Branch Rosenwald School

In fall 2021, I was blessed wit the opportunity to attend a luncheon at the school with Mrs. Perry, below. Not only was Mrs. Perry, 92, a graduate of the Panther Branch Rosenwald School, but she went on to become a career school teacher. She shared amazing stories of the 200-300 students that attended the Rosenwald School, each walking from miles around. She talked about the amazing sense of community in the Juniper community, which didn’t suffer from the racial barriers that plagued many southern towns. She explained how the first student to school each morning was tasked with starting a fire in the pot-bellied stove that was the sole source of heat on cold mornings.

Mrs. Perry speaking at the Rosenwald School

JLMBC is also a Food Bank distribution site, so the first project for our staff was to build a community garden behind the Rosenwald School, where church members will grow their own organic produce to distribute. We enriched the soil with the same compost we use at JLBG, and worked with the church volunteers, who installed the deer fence.

Step two was the installation of a Magnolia grandiflora hedge between the cemetery behind the school and the adjacent fire station. Due to the narrow strip of land available, we used the naturally narrow selection Magnolia ‘Southern Charm’ (aka Teddy Bear magnolia).

Step 3 was installing foundation plants around the building, which will take a couple of years to fill in.

Plantings around the Rosenwald School

Step 4 will be the planting of Camellias and Azaleas on the newly built berm on the north side of the school to serve as a screen for the construction of Interstate 540..

New bed for highway screening

Step 5 is to build a nature park/picnic area in a wooded plot adjacent to the vegetable garden. When we began clearing the undergrowth, we found an amazing canopy of trees and a range of moisture regimens that would lend itself to becoming an area for the community to learn and enjoy.

Adjacent to the school, and along Sauls Road, were two large oaks, one red oak, and one live oak. With 54″ diameter trunks, both likely were 100-150 years old, probably dating to the founding of Panther Branch and the construction of JLMBC. Sadly, crews working on the construction of the nearby I-540 decided both should be removed, despite not being anywhere near the highway. Before we knew what was happening and could muscle any resistance, all that remained were two 12′ tall stumps.

Because these trees had great historical significance to both the church and school, we reached out for help in saving a slab from the live oak, which could be preserved and eventually dated. The folks at Bartlett Tree answered our call for help, and volunteered their crew to salvage a slab that we will now cure and prepare for display in the Rosenwald Historical Room. Hooray to Bartlett for their interest in this community project and willingness to help!

As we prepare for our winter open house, The church has agreed to open the Rosenwald School at 9109 Sauls Road for tours during our winter open house hours, which you can find here. Parking is available at the Church on the west side of Sauls Road, as well as the school on the east side of Sauls Road. We hope everyone will take time to stop by this important historical landmark and learn more about the amazing collaboration that created the Rosenwald Schools.

Plant Information…it’s all on the Internet…right?

It’s scary how many people rely on the Internet for all their plant knowledge. Sure, you can find some helpful information on-line, but so much of what is there is simply repeated from one writer to the next, without anyone who has actually grown the plants, checking it for accuracy.

More and more important books and journals are gradually getting scanned and will one day be available on-line, but there remains no substitute for a good library. Here at JLBG, we have just completed a construction project, which doubled the size of our reference library. Although, we have nothing compared with the country’s large, well-funded horticultural/botanical libraries, we feel that we have assembled an important reference collection for a botanical garden our size. We have been very fortunate over the last year to inherit two nice reference books collections, one with a focus on plant introductions and exploration, which now can be shelved.

Our library focus is on reference books like Floras, as well as books that go in depth on particular plant groups and genera. General landscape design books with no significant historical value are not within our focus.

The file cabinets in the photos include 40 years of plant articles, pulled from various journals and important plant magazines from around the world. We think most people today would be shocked at the extraordinarily high level of horticulture practiced and written about during the last few hundred years.

Additionally, email discussions by the worlds top plant experts from the early days of on-line communications are also preserved. Many of these experts are now deceased, but their plant knowledge and voices have been saved. All this information is filed by subject.

Also in our files are important plant catalogs, which are such an important historical record of what was being grown and sold in the past. I remember having lunch with the late English plantsman, Graham Stuart Thomas at his home, and the thing that he was most proud of was his extensive collection of significant plant catalogs.

So, if you run up on stacks of old catalogs, historical plant magazines, or plant reference books, don’t hesitate to check with us before sending them to the recycle bin.

Exciting times in Juniper Level

Having lived in Juniper Level, NC for 35 years, we’ve driven past the old Juniper Level School (just a few hundred feet from JLBG) countless times, anxiously waiting for promised renovations, before the building fell too far into disrepair. Well, after numerous starts, renovations are going full speed and we’d like to share the amazing story.

The two oldest buildings remaining in the unincorporated township of Juniper (Juniper Level) are the Juniper Level Missionary Baptist Church and adjacent schoolhouse. The 3,000 square foot Juniper Level/Panther Branch Rosenwald School, operated from 1926 until 1956, and is one of only sixty remaining Rosenwald Schools in existence.

If you don’t know the story of Rosenwald schools, here’s the back story. In the early part of the 20th century, Sears & Roebuck president, Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932) teamed up with renowned African-American education leader Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) of the Tuskegee Institute, to try and remedy the chronically underfunded, segregated education system for African American children. They worked together to fund construction of state-of-the-art middle schools for African-American students around the country. Between 1913 and 1932, 5350 schools (and associated structures) were constructed thanks to a matching grant program (1/3 Rosenwald funds, 1/3 local government funds, and 1/3 community funds) devised and set up by Rosenwald and Washington.

Front of the Juniper Level / Panther Branch Rosenwald School during renovations Jan. 22, 2021
Juniper Level /Panther Branch Rosenwald School sign and donation information. With renovation expenses in the neighborhood of a quarter million dollars, we’re sure any financial help would be welcomed.

Walter Magazine recently wrote a great article on the restoration and history of the school, so instead of repeating their work, here is a link to their article.

Architect plans guiding the renovation efforts

The Rosenwald schools were all based on designs by the country’s first accredited black architect, Robert R. Taylor of the Tuskegee Institute. These plans were later standardized by Samuel Smith of the Rosenwald Foundation. Some Rosenwald schools accommodated as many as seven teachers, while others had only one. The schools, which were all conceived to also be used for community functions, were designed based on daylight considerations and the effect on the light on student eye strain. All schools have an east/west orientation, along with pale colored walls and expansive windows.

Renovation work in the main classroom with the lunch counter connecting the kitchen on the right. The three-teacher school taught students from grades 1-7 (and eventually 8th grade). Plans are to make the space available as a community center for events once the restoration is complete.

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Juniper Level Missionary Baptist Church across the street, which owns the school property and headquarters the foundation that manages the restoration.

Juniper Level Missionary Baptist Church, which owns the Panther Branch Rosenwald School property, was first established in 1870 in a small log building, which continued to expand, culminating in the current main building, which was constructed circa 1920. Other adjacent structures were added later as the church grew.

We are honored to be part of the Juniper Level community, so perhaps now you understand more about why we named our garden after this tiny, almost forgotten, but historically significant community here in Southern Wake County. We’ll keep you posted on the progress of the Rosenwald school renovations and will let you know when it will be open for visitors.

As an aside, another of the many connections we have with the JC Raulston Arboretum is that they are also adjacent to another defunct African American school where the same Julius Rosenwald helped fund additions. This Rosenwald partnership was with local educator/businessman/philanthropist Berry O’Kelly. By 1931, The Berry O’Kelly School, located in the former emancipated slave village known as Method, was the largest African-American high school in NC. Only two buildings, which are now preserved, remain from its glory days. O’Kelly’s daughter, the late Beryl O’Kelly Brooks, is the namesake for the road where the JC Raulston Arboretum resides and the arboretum itself sits on land purchased from O’Kelly’s estate in 1936. I hope you have time to also read about that project and the incredible work of Berry O’Kelly here.

Bring on the Rain Lilies!

Zephyranthes has the common name rain lily for a good reason…it has the charming habit of sending up new blooms after a summer rain (it would make an excellent rain garden plant). Zephyranthes (rain lilies) are small perennial bulbs that need to be sited in the front of the border, or in a rock garden to be appreciated.

With an abundance of days in the mid 90’s in July, August has started with an abundance of rain, from hurricane Isaias to afternoon thunderstorms. And the rain lilies are loving it! Here are some of our rain lily collection in our outdoor production beds. Let us know which ones appeal to you and we will try to get them in future catalog!

Make Your Shade Garden Cool!

Variegated plants have part of the normal green portion of the plant leaf being replaced by white, cream, yellow, or occasionally other colors. How cool is that!

As a design element, variegated plants are often used as the center of attention or as a focal point in the landscape to lighten up a normally dark space.

Plants with bold variegation seem to scream for attention in the garden, hence their use as accent plants. As with all brightly variegated plants, they show off best when contrasted against a dark background. Whether planted against a mostly green hedge, or a larger backdrop of deciduous trees, some background is needed to properly display variegated trees, shrubs and perennials.

It’s not easy being variegated!

Container Gardens for Summer Color

Add summer color to your patio, pool or deck with perennial container gardens. There are many great summer blooming perennials that work well in containers and provide a pop of color even if you have limited garden space to plant. There are many types of containers that can be used and left outside year round. The containers shown here are a resin material that is weather resistant and come in an array of sizes and colors that can fit into any decor. These containers may need to have holes drilled into the bottom for drainage, and many have punch-out holes. They are light-weight and are easily moved even after planting. There are also ceramic and concrete planters that are frost proof and available in every conceivable shape, color and size.

Colocasia, perennial Hibiscus, Sarracenia (pitcher plants) and Bletilla

Some colorful and long blooming summer perennials you may want to consider for your containers include colocasia, perennial hibiscus, cannas, verbena, flowering maple, dahlias, monarda (bee balm), and daylilies. Other evergreen and variegated perennials can be grown in containers as well, such as aspidistra (cast iron plants), agave, mangave, and cacti. Hostas also make great container plants for the shady spot on your patio.

Canna ‘Orange Punch’, Verbena peruviana, perennial hibiscus and abutilon (flowering maple).

It is important to consider plant hardiness when creating your planter. Remember that since the plants roots are above ground and not insulated, they will be subjected to colder air temperatures during the winter. Depending on the length and severity of the winter, some plants may be just fine through the winter, or your container garden may benefit by being brought into the garage, sun room or porch area during the winter, or situated in a micro-climate, like next to a south facing brick or stone foundation.

Got the blues? If not, we can help.

Amsonia (aka: bluestar) are one of the best temperate genera (18 species) of blue-flowered perennials for the spring garden. We’ve offered quite a few different species and selections through the years, rotating them in and out as propagation successes allow and as sales dictate. All but two of the species, (Amsonia orientalis from Europe and Amsonia elliptica from Asia) are North American natives. Most are extremely drought tolerant, while others like Amsonia rigida and Amsonia tabernaemontana can tolerate very wet soils.

Amsonia montana is a commonly grown plant of mystery, having just appeared in horticulture, but never been documented from a wild population. A few of the amsonia species have flowers so pale blue that they appear white in the garden with only a hint of blue on the flower corolla. Amsonia are quite promiscuous in the garden, so if you grow more than one species nearby, you will have hybrids from seed. We hope you’ll explore this amazing genus of perennials.

Loss of a Phalloid Legend

We are saddened to announce the passing (May 12) of one of our closest friends, plantsman Alan Galloway, age 60. In addition to serving as an adjunct researcher for Juniper Level Botanic Garden, Alan was a close friend and neighbor, living less than two minutes from the garden/nursery.

Alan was a native North Carolinian, who grew up on a farm in Brunswick County, NC, where he developed his love for plants and the natural world. After graduating from UNC-Wilmington with a Computer Science degree, and working for his alma mater for two years, he made the move two hours west to Raleigh. There, Alan worked at NC State University in IT administration and management for 30 years, until retiring in Fall 2018 as Director of IT Services.

Starting in 1999, Alan would save up his vacation time from his day job at NC State, and spend 3-4 weeks each fall, trekking through remote regions of the world where he felt there were still undiscovered aroid species to find, document, and get into cultivation. From 1999 to 2018, he managed 21 botanical expeditions around the world, that included the countries/regions of Cambodia, Crete, Hong Kong, Laos, Mallorca, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Alan routinely risked life and limb on his travels, whether it was getting attacked by a pit viper in Thailand, barely missing a land mine in Cambodia, or tumbling down a mountain and almost losing a leg in Laos.

I had the pleasure of botanizing in Crete, Thailand and Vietnam with Alan, which was an amazing experience, although not for the faint of heart. Alan was a tireless force of nature, but was not one to suffer what he viewed as stupidity or laziness. Although he was very respectful of people from all walks of life, he also regularly burned bridges to those whom he found incapable of meeting his meticulously high standards.

Alan was botanically self-taught, but his obsessive compulsion led him to become one of the worlds’ leading experts on tuberous aroids, specializing in the genera Amorphophallus and Typhonium. To date Alan is credited with the discovery of 30 new plant species (see list below). He was working on describing several more plants from his travels at the time of his death.

Not only did Alan’s botanical expeditions result in new species, but also new horticultural cultivars of known species. Two of the most popular of these were Leucocasia (Colocasia) ‘Thailand Giant’ (with Petra Schmidt), and L. ‘Laosy Giant’.

As a scientist, Alan was both meticulous and obsessive. It wasn’t enough for him to observe a new plant in the field, but he felt he could learn far more growing it in cultivation. He would often work through the night in his home research greenhouse studying plants and making crosses, so he could observe seed set and determine other close relatives.

Alan was overly generous with his knowledge, believing that sharing was necessary for the benefit of both current and future generations of plant scientists. Without his expert understanding of crossbreeding tuberous aroids, we would never have been able to have such incredible success in our own aroid breeding program. Seedlings from his crosses were then grown out and observed, often resulting in a number of special clonal selections.

After his tuberous aroids went dormant each year, all tubers were lifted from their containers, inventoried, and carefully cleaned for photography and further study. Visiting his greenhouse during tuber season was quite extraordinary.

In his amazing Raleigh home garden and greenhouse, Alan maintained the world’s largest species collection of Amorphophallus and Typhonium, including 2 plants named in his honor; Amorphophallus gallowayi and Typhonium gallowayi. Alan’s discoveries are now grown in the finest botanical gardens and aroid research collections around the world.

After returning from what proved to be his last expedition in Fall 2018, he suffered from a loss of energy, which he attributed to picking up a parasite on the trip. It took almost eight months for area doctors to finally diagnose his malaise as terminal late stage bone cancer, during which time Alan had already made plans and purchased tickets for his next expedition. I should add that he made his travel plans after being run over by a texting pickup truck driver, and drug under the truck for 100 feet through the parking lot of the nearby Lowes Home Improvement, which ruined his kidney function.

Alan was certain, albeit too late, that his cancer came from a lifetime addiction to cigarettes, which he was never able to overcome. Over the last 18 months, it’s been difficult for those of us who knew Alan to watch him lose the vitality and unparalleled work ethic that had been his trademark. Despite his loss of physical ability, his trademark independent/stubborn nature would still not allow him to even accept help driving himself to chemo infusions and blood transfusions, which he did until he passed away. Alan was also never one to complain or bemoan his circumstances, only continuing to accomplish as much as possible in the time he had remaining.

After the initial shock of his diagnosis, Alan systematically began distributing massive amounts of his ex-situ conservation aroid collection to gardens and gardeners around the world, since he also believed that sharing is the most effective means of plant conservation.

One of his hybrids that Alan had shared and asked us to keep a special eye on was his cross of Amorphophallus kachinensis x konjac. We talked with him last week and shared that the first flower was almost open, and he was so excited to see his baby for the first time, but by the time it opened early this week, it was too late. So, here is the photo of his new cross, seen for the first time that would have made him so proud.

Alan Galloway new plant species discoveries:

Amorphophallus allenii (2019 – Thailand)

Amorphophallus acruspadix (2012 – Laos)

Amorphophallus barbatus (2015 – Laos)

Amorphophallus bolikhamxayensis (2012 – Laos)

Amorphophallus brevipetiolatus (2012 – Laos)

Amorphophallus claudelii (2016 – Laos)

Amorphophallus crinitus (2019 – Vietnam)

Amorphophallus crispifolius (2012 – Laos)

Amorphophallus croatii (2011 – Laos)

Amorphophallus ferruginosus (2012 – Laos)

Amorphophallus gallowayi (2006 – Laos)

Amorphophallus khammouanensis (2015 – Laos)

Amorphophallus malkmus-husseinii (2019 – Laos)

Amorphophallus myosuroides (2007 – Laos)

Amorphophallus ongsakulii (2006 – Laos)

Amorphophallus prolificus (2006 – Thailand)

Amorphophallus reflexus (2006 – Thailand)

Amorphophallus schmidtiae (2006 – Laos)

Amorphophallus serrulatus (2006 – Thailand)

Amorphophallus umbrinus (2019 – Vietnam)

Amorphophallus villosus (2019 – Vietnam)

Typhonium attapeuensis

Typhonium conchiforme (2005 – Thailand)

Typhonium gallowayi (2001 – Thailand)

Typhonium khonkaenensis (2015 – Thailand)

Typhonium rhizomatosum (2012 – Thailand)

Typhonium sinhabaedyai (2005 – Thailand)

Typhonium supraneeae (2012 – Thailand)

Typhonium tubispathum (2005 – Thailand)

Typhonium viridispathum (2012 – Thailand)

Aspidistra gracilis (2012 – Hong Kong)

Not only has Alan been a good friend for over 30 years, but he has been extremely generous in sharing with us at PDN/JLBG. Over 1500 plant specimens in our collection came directly from Alan. It still seems surreal that we have lost such a vibrant soul that has been so important to expanding our body of knowledge about the botanical/horticultural world. Farewell, my friend…you will be sorely missed.

We will be coordinating with his niece April and her husband Mark to plan a celebration of Alan’s life, which will be held here at PDN/JLBG at a future date, which we will announce when it is set.

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda Bought a Sedge

Back in 2004, I was botanizing in rural Bienville Parish, Louisiana, where I ran across this fascinating narrow-leaf native sedge, a small piece of which returned home for trials. After six years of trialing, we named it Carex retroflexa ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ (alluding to the location where the famous pair met their demise) and added it to our catalog offerings, where it sold a whopping 150 plants over a four year span, ending in 2013. The term “whopping” is used here as a point of sarcastical understatement. Not wanting to discard all of the unsold plants, we planted them around our new patio, where they were interspersed with Heuchera ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ and Penstemon ‘Blackbeard’. Here are a few images from that planting, taken this week. Maybe as the interest in carex increases, we can afford to offer this again.

Carex retroflexa ‘Bonnie and Clyde’
Carex retroflexa ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, Heuchera ‘Smoke and Mirrors’, Penstemon ‘Blackbeard’ (background)

How About a Skirt?

We’re always on the look out for great skirts in the garden. Skirt is the garden design term we use for groundcovers, which reduce the need for mulch, while still keeping with the textural integrity of the garden design. Here are a few images of plants that we consider great skirts.

Erigeron pulchellus ‘Meadow Muffin’

We love this US native groundcover. The foliage is great and the flowers in very early spring are superb. At our home, we used it as a skirt for Acer palmatum ‘Orangeola’.

Ajuga tenori ‘Valfredda’

One of the top ajugas ever introduced because it doesn’t spread quickly or reseed. Very durable, but truly thrives in moist, compost rich soil. Here it is in flower this spring.

Ajuga reptans ‘Planet Zork’

Another of the absolutely finest ajugas we grow. Ajuga ‘Planet Zork’ is a crinkled leaf sport of Ajuga ‘Burgundy Glow’, which is a miserable performer in our climate, but this sport is indestructible. It’s so mutated that we’ve never seen a flower, but who cares.

Nepeta ‘Purple Haze’

In our climate, Nepeta ‘Purple Haze’ is one of the best performing catmints, and one that is quite unique from others in the trade. We cut it back after flowering and it starts over and flowers again.

Pycnanthemum tenuifolium ‘Campbell Carpet

Our sales of this amazing PDN/JLBG selection of the US native fine-leaf mountain mint (Pycnanthenum tenuifolium) weren’t nearly what we’d hoped, so we planted the unsold plants out along the road in front of our home, here providing a nice textural contrast to another great US native plant, Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’. We’ve made several selections of mountain mint over the years, but this is truly the star. We sure wish more people had tried this amazing plant.

Sisyrinchium ‘Suwanee’

Another native that simply didn’t sell the way it should is the iris relative, Sisyrinchium ‘Suwanee’. This is unquestionably the best blue-eyed grass ever!!! Found native in north Florida, it’s solid winter hardy in at least zone 6 and never reseeds like the native Sisyrinchium angustifolium. We believe this represents an un-named species, that’s in full flower here now if you drive by the nursery and see the mass of unsold plants we planted in our roadside ditch.

You can find more great garden skirt possibilities at our Groundcover link.

Brexit Redux – Part V (final)

Our final stop was about 5.5 hours north of Tregrehan, when we had the honor to visit Kerley and Co. I didn’t actually make the connection when this was first mentioned to me, but when owner David Kerley mentioned us seeing his primrose breeding, it clicked that this was the home of the amazing Belarina primroses that perform so well in our hot, humid summers. Kerleys’ is not open to the public and they do not sell plants. They breed the plants and then license their genetics for sale.

Breeding Trials

Both Hans and I were duly blown away during our tour with David’s son, Tim. Primula are one of several crops bred by the Kerley’s. In their primula program, the Kerley’s focus on better vigor and branching, unlike what has been done with the inexpensive common annual primroses. They do so by going back to some of the older varieties that had better perennialization and branching qualities, and then working to upgrade the flowers without losing the vigor.

So far, all of the Belarina lines released are double flower forms, but after watching Hans and Tim in the greenhouses, it wouldn’t surprise me if a line of their amazing single colors will be coming in the future. I’ve grown a lot of primulas in my time, but I’ve never seen anything like the amazing plants we saw here.

After a quick, but exhilarating trip, it was time to return home…thankfully before Coronavirus fears began to grip the world.

Despite another significant bureaucratic shipping snafu, which was thankfully resolved after only a week of our plants being held hostage, we did receive our plants and most are recovering nicely.

Other than the bureaucratic landmines that await those trying to import plants, there are tremendous costs involved. For every $100 of plants we imported from this trip, we incur a landed cost of $250. In other words, each $10 plant we purchase actually costs us $25 by the time it arrives home.

We would be remiss if we didn’t thank the US Import Inspectors for their hard work in keeping American agriculture safe from new foreign pests. Now, if we can only have a productive conversation with their permitting division to revise a process and regulations that can only be described as draconian, overly complex, and barely functional.

Brexit Redux – Part IV

Our next focus was to re-purchase plants that we had picked up on our 2018 trip, but due to a bureaucratic shipping snafu, the majority of the 2018 shipment was killed during a six-week delay in transit. These pick-up stops included a couple of personal favorite nurseries, Cotswold Garden Flowers and Pan-Global Plants, as we worked our way south. One new stop was in Devon, at a wholesale woody plant propagator, Roundabarrow Farms, whose owner Paul Adcock had visited PDN/JLBG the year prior.

Although Paul had no electricity at his remote nursery location, he was kind enough to allow us to use his open potting shed for our bare-rooting chores. For those who have never shipped plants internationally, the process is at best arduous. First, you must check the extensive USDA list to see which plants are allowed entry into the US. Next, plants must be bare-rooted and scrubbed free of all soil and potential pests. For a shipment of 100+ plants, this operation takes about 8 hours. This was the first time I’d had the pleasure of doing the tasks outdoors in the snow, rain, and gale force winds. Thank goodness darkness coincided with the onset of frostbite.

Plant wrapping was finished that evening and the following morning at our room nearby, which wasn’t dramatically better than Paul’s potting shed, since the bathroom was not attached to the room and the strung out property manager kept turning off the heat to the room.

Our final stop in Southern England was at Tom Hudson’s Tregrehan Gardens in Cornwall. This was my first trip to Cornwall, but after hearing that Tregrehan was the finest woody plant collection in the entire UK from several of the UK’s best plantsmen, it was not to be missed. I will admit that all the talk I’d heard about the mild climate of Tregrehan, I wasn’t expecting the frigid weather we encountered including intermittent sleet and snow.

Tom Hudson, Owner

We had the pleasure of walking the amazing collectors garden with Tom and his dogs. Despite the difficult weather, we had an amazing visit as we walked among many of the towering specimens, many of which were 150 years old.

Boulevard Cypress (Chamaecyparis psifera ‘Squarrosa’ @ 150 years of age. Look ma…it isn’t so dwarf after all.
Fatsia polycarpa ‘Needham’s’ was in full flower
It was great to see the giant leaf selection of Fatsia japonica ‘Hsitou Giant’ as well. Tom had shared one of these for our 2019 Southeastern Plant Symposium auction. Perhaps another will show up for the 2020 auction.
Huodendron is a plant I’ve killed four times, but three of those times, it died before even making it into the ground. What an amazing specimen of this evergreen styrax relative.
Illicium simmonsii was in full flower, as was this still unidentified species.
Tregrehan has a wonderful collection of hardy scheffleras, most of which are sadly ungrowable for us because of our hot summers.
Not bad for a specimen of the US West Coast native Douglas Fir.
Rhododendron were everywhere including some early flowering species
It was hard not to be impressed by 150 year old specimens of Rhododendron arboreum.

The ideal time to visit Tregrahan is during their Rare Plant Fair and Sale, held every year in late May/early June (the plant fair is currently under review, due to the fast moving nature of the Coronavirus). Vendors and the foremost plant collectors come from all over the world to this amazing event.

Brexit Redux – Part III

The next morning, we were in for a weather event. The storm that had swept over North Carolina a few days before had followed us to the UK, and predictions were for torrential rains and 60-80 mph winds. For the night prior, we had stayed at the lovely Colesbourne Inn, part of the Colesbourne Estate and Gardens.

Colesbourne Inn
Our rooms were built in the 1100s, making it one of the older inns in which I’ve had the pleasure to stay in my travels. Despite the age, the rooms had been well updated with the modern conveniences on the interior and made for a delightful accommodation.
We enjoyed a lovely dinner with Sir Henry and Carolyn Elwes, the current heirs of the estate, along with Dr. John Grimshaw, who formerly managed and re-invigorated the estate gardens. The food at the Colesbourne Inn is quite extraordinary…highly recommended.

John Grimshaw was a trouper, agreeing to take us around Colesbourne in the difficult weather. Taking photos of galanthus in the pouring rain and 30-50 mph winds was quite an experience, but here are a few images that turned out reasonably well.
Naturalized drifts of galanthus at Colesbourne Gardens
Galanthus ‘E.A. Bowles’
Galanthus ‘Comet’
Galanthus ‘Hippolyta’
Galanthus ‘Lord Lieutenant’
Galanthus ‘Green Tear’
Galanthus ‘Nothing Special’
Galanthus ‘Primrose Wartburg’
Galanthus ‘Wasp’

We were also shown the first lilium monograph, The Genus Lilium, written by Sir Henry’s grandfather, the late plantsman H.J. Elwes, in 1880. Hans and I were both interested in tracking down a copy until we learned that when they are available, they usually fetch between 15k and 32k each. Oh well…

Across from the Colesbourne Inn was a public foot path (so designated by sign), so we took a walk to see what grew in the wilds of Colesbourne. Well, the answer is galanthus…non-native galanthus everywhere. In fact, much of the countryside has been taken over with these invasive exotics. It’s easy to see why they’re still on the CITES endangered list.

Brexit Redux – Part II

From Ashwood, we headed south, stopping for the evening near the town of Shaftesbury at the small, but lovely Coppleridge Inn. We arrived just after dark, which made the last hour of driving down narrow winding roads more treacherous than we would have preferred, but at least we arrived before the dinner hour wrapped up. The English love of drinking is legendary and sure enough, it seemed that everyone in the town was at the Coppleridge Inn pub for their evening rounds of drinking and socializing.

Coppleridge Inn Pub

After a lovely breakfast at the Coppleridge Inn, we headed out on the short 10 minute drive into the quaint town of Shaftesbury for the annual Shaftesbury Galanthus Festival…my first chance to see rabid galanthophiles in action. Galanthomania (maniacal collecting of snowdrops) has exploded in the UK, like coronavirus in the rest of the world, with both being quite costly once you become infected.

We arrived at the Shaftesbury Art Center, where we were asked to stand in a very tiny cramped lobby until time for the program to start. The lobby held only a dozen of the nearly 200 attendees of the program.
The registration table was guarded closely by the Galanthus King to make sure no one picked up their badge before the appointed hour. I’m assuming he must be royalty of some kind, by the size of the Mr. T starter kit that hung around his neck.
After two amazing talks, we were directed into the alley behind the Arts Center where we stood in line for nearly an hour to wait for the Snowdrop vending to begin. Perhaps some organizational assistance could help them in minimizing wait times…thank goodness the weather was decent.
The vending area was a bit of a madhouse, being far too small for the number of symposium participants to safely shop from the amazing array of vendors. Snowdrops ranged in price from $10 to several hundred dollars each.

When we arrived for the morning talks, we were informed that the town doesn’t have enough parking and because of that, the pay lots require that you leave for 1 hour, after a four hour stay.

At breakfast, we had discovered that we were only a 30 minute drive from Stonehenge, so we decided that it would be our lunch break. Neither Hans or I had ever visited Stonehenge, so this break allowed us to check out what should be a required mecca for all serious rock gardeners.

Despite not seeing a single road sign until we reached the turnoff to the stones, the site receives over 1 million visitors annually. We arrived to find a bright sunny, but brisk day, where for time’s sake, we opted to ride the buses from the visitor center to the stones. In recent years, the Stonehenge visitor center had been moved quite a distance away from the stones to preserve the integrity of the site.

Transportation to see the Stones….the Stonehenge Stones, not the other famous British Stones
We shot photos from virtually every angle and in every light exposure possible, since you never know if you will have another opportunity.

Time to return to Shaftesbury for the final talk of the day, a lecture by our friend Dr. John Grimshaw.

Brexit Redux – Part I

With the ink barely dry on the Brexit signing in early February, and well before Coronavirus panic hit, it was time for a return trip to the UK for another round of plant collecting. Accompanying me is Walters Gardens plant breeder, Hans Hansen of Michigan. Who knows how much more difficult it might become to get plants from across the pond into the US in the future. In reality, it’s pretty darn difficult even now.

Our trip started with a return to John Massey’s Ashwood Nursery, which is widely regarded as home to the top hellebore and hepatica breeding programs in the world. Although I’d been several times, I’d never managed to catch the hellebores in flower, and although it’s hard to predict bloom timing, we arrived at the beginning of peak bloom. We were able to visit the private stock greenhouses, where the breeding plants are housed, and what amazing specimens we saw. Below are the latest selections of Helleborus x hybridus from the handiwork of long-time Ashwood breeder, Kevin Belcher. We were able to return home with a nice collection of plants very similar to these to add to our gardens and breeding efforts.

I had long wanted to see some of Kevin’s special hybrids (below) with Helleborus niger. The first is Helleborus x ashwoodensis ‘Briar Rose’, a cross of Helleborus niger x Helleborus vesicarius.

Helleborus x ashwoodendis ‘Briar Rose’

The other is Helleborus x belcheri ‘Pink Ice’ , a cross of Helleborus niger x Helleborus thibetanus. I’m pleased to report that both are now in the US.

Helleborus x belcheri ‘Pink Ice’

Next we were allowed to visit the hepatica breeding greenhouse…an amazing greenhouse where plants were just beginning to flower. Below is Ashwood owner, John Massey (r) and Hans Hansen of Walters Gardens (l).

John Massey (r) and Hans Hansen (l) at Ashwood’s hepatica breeding greenhouse
Hepatica world…thousands of pots
Hepatica japonica carmine flower
Hepatica japonica pink striped flower
Hepatica japonica x maxima
Hepatica japonica ‘Benten’
Hepatica japonica Burgundy

Our final treat before we departed was a walk around John’s amazing home garden…a treat during any season…even winter. Although the light was too bright for good photography, I hope these photos can in some part convey the amazing wonder of his garden.

Cyclamen coum and C. hederifolium combo
Polystichum settiferum and galanthus
Fern stumpery
Betula utilis var. jacquemontii ‘Doorenbos’

For the Love of Hostas

Hostas are incredibly tough plants and will get along fine in almost any garden…but they look their absolute best with just a little extra attention. Here are some tips to grow beautiful hostas in your garden.

Despite hostas durable nature, there are many myths circulating about growing hostas, one of which is the term Originator’s Stock. Originator’s stock is simply a superfluous term for saying that the plant in question is the correctly named clone. Click here for more debunking!

Asarum – Wild Gingers

Plants in the genus asarum are small but exquisite, deer-resistant woodland perennials that thrive in moist but well-drained conditions with light shade. Many asarum species are evergreen and make a great ground cover in the woodland garden. Here are some images of asarum in the garden this morning.

Asarum are one of our specialty collections at Juniper Level Botanic Garden, with 86 species and 529 unique clones. Join Tony in the gardens during this Gardening Unplugged video garden chat about wild gingers.

The flower color of asarums are usually burgundy or purple, but we are always on the look out for variants. Towards the end of the video Tony shows a yellow flowered form, Asarum ichangense ‘Ichang Lemon’, which we hope to have available for 2021. We do have another yellow flowered form we are offering for the first time this year, Asarum ‘Tama Rasya’.

Asarum ‘Tama Rasya’

Adult vs. Juvenile

We get really excited about adult (mature) forms of ivy (Hedera) that are shrubs (arborescent). Juvenile (young) ivy vines, like a young child, run around the garden and get into things they shouldn’t. Like kids, ivy goes through puberty, which happens only after it crawls high (30-40′) into a tree or other tall object. It then settles down, stops running and becomes woody, with a compact, evergreen growth habit. It also begins flowering (an amazing pollinator attractant), sets attractive fruit, and we have seen no errant seedlings in our trials.

Just as adult people grow rounder with age, arborescent ivies also change shape and the leaves lose their lobed appearance and the growth becomes dense and woody. By propagating from these difficult-to-root adult parts of the plant, the adult ivy plant retains the mature characteristics and no longer feels the need to crawl around and conquer the rest of your garden.

We have offered selections of adult ivy in the past. We feel they offer a great year-round interest feature in the garden but they have not been particularly well received (maybe this is due to the stigma inherited from their younger siblings). Would adult forms of ivy be a plant you would like for us to offer again?

Holy Hosta!

Our hostas have happy roots!

Hosta ‘Apple Pie’

Hostas are often touted as the best shade-loving plants for the perennial garden. At Plant Delights Nursery our hostas are all container-grown and are multiple-division plants that you can immediately divide.

All of the hostas that appear in this post are from our own breeding program at Juniper Level Botanic Garden. Learn more about our breeding program here.

Surprise!

A cold front that came through Raleigh, NC yesterday brought much needed rain and cooler temperatures. Coupled with the hit and miss showers last week, the first of our lycoris (surprise lily, hurricane lily, spider lily) have started to emerge in the garden. We look forward to a steady procession of “surprises” as we move into late summer and fall.

Phil’s Gold

Lycoris have long been a geophyte (bulbs, corms, tubers, etc.) of interest, and since our climate is perfect for their growth, we are attempting to assemble a complete lycoris collection, and sort out some of the taxonomic misinformation, as well as to make many unavailable clones available to more gardeners. Here at JLBG, we currently grow all of the Lycoris species and over 650 unique clones, making this most likely the largest lycoris collection in the world.

We are currently working on our fall catalog and eleven lycoris made the fall catalog cut, including eight first time offerings. Keep your eyes out….we’re coming to a mailbox near you

Pink Floyd

Friday Morning Podcast

When designing your garden, incorporate as many visual treats as possible. So in addition to selecting plants for their attractive flowers and leaves, consider choosing some perennials for their ornamental seed or fruit.

Here are some decorative seed pods in the garden this morning!

Opuntia
Hosta
Yucca
Amorphophallus

The Smells of Summer

Fragrant flowers are an often overlooked (or under-smelled) feature of the garden. But planting a garden full of fragrant flowers delights the nose, both day and night.

The summer garden is full of wonderfully fragrant plants to tickle your nose and calm your senses. Here are some images taken yesterday in the garden…if only they were scratch and sniff!

Hymenocallis

Join us for our 2019 Summer Open Nursery & Garden Days, July 12-14 and 19-21 and experience the fragrances of the summer garden for yourself!

Echinacea

When thinking about fragrance in the garden, don’t forget about foliage as well. Plants like rosemary and Illicium are amazing additions to your fragrance palette.

Illicium ‘Florida Sunshine’
Crinum

Don’t Let Gardening Bog You Down

If you have a soggy area or damp soils, don’t drain it! We have marginal aquatic perennial plants for wet soil that are great for landscaping everything from rain gardens to bog gardens. These garden perennials love moist spots and will make you fall in love with perennials that dry soil gardeners only dream of growing. Damp soil plants range from carnivorous plants like sarracenia and bog plants like hymenocallis that need full sun.

Bog with pitcher plants (sarracenia) and crinum.

Many bog plants like sarracenia also do well in containers as long as they retain consistent moisture. Click here to learn more about their culture and growing sarracenia in containers.

Pitcher plants available in our sales house.

Pot Envy

Fear not! Life in an apartment, condominium, or rented house does not preclude you from having your own botanical garden. All you need is a little sunlight, proper potting media, and a good pot.
Join Meghan Fidler and Chris Hardison on Saturday, June 29 from 10am-noon for our Container Gardening workshop and learn how to create container plantings that will be the envy of all your friends and family.

Container plantings can liven up any patio, deck, or balcony.

The rules of creating a container garden are dictated by the amount of sun, heat, and cold that your container will experience as well as the plants you choose.

If you are limited on land space for planting, you may choose to plant a mixture of different herbs for culinary use. The combination of leaf textures, leaf color, and herbs of varying heights can create a planting combination that is both delicious and decorative.

Variegated foliage combined with long blooming perennials or annuals adds a splash of color or can create a focal point just where you need it. So, think inside the pot and explore the world of container gardening!

National Pollinator Week

Bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles are pollinators essential to sustain our ecosystem and food supply. Help preserve and celebrate the pollinators in your life.

Echinacea

With summer getting ready to begin, there are many plants that are at their peak and the pollinators are working tirelessly! Join our garden curator, Amanda Wilkins, this Saturday, June 22 from 10am-noon, for a personally guided tour of Juniper Level Botanic Garden. Take in the scents and vibrant colors of the late spring/early summer garden as the summer solstice begins. Register now!

Veronica

Coneflower Rainbow

We value the purple coneflower as a great summer-flowering perennial in the native plant garden as well as the mixed perennial border. Coneflowers attract both butterflies and hummingbirds. Purple coneflower species are easy to grow, heat- and drought-tolerant native perennials. Two things that echinacea plants do not like are heavy clay soils and poor winter drainage.


We hope you are as excited as we are about the new coneflower plants that greatly extend the range of colors and forms. Purple coneflowers are no long just purple; they are also pink, red, yellow, peach, copper, orange and there are single or double-flowered hybrids too. We continue to trial the spectrum of new echinacea selections, offering only the best echinacea plants for sale after verifying their garden performance.

Thinking Inside the Pot

Container gardening allows anyone to enjoy flowers and their beauty even if you live in an apartment, town home, or have very little usable land for planting.

Select plants that similar water and light requirements. Select plants with various flower and leaf color, bloom time, height and texture.

Sunny tropical plant selection.

A general rule of thumb when designing a container is to include a thriller, fillers, and spillers. The thriller is the focal point of the container (and yes you can have more than one thriller), the filler compliments the thriller and helps fill in space in the container, and spillers flow over the edge of the container and add another contrasting design element.

Thrillers
Fillers
More fillers and spillers.
Finished container.

False Red Yucca

True, not all false red yuccas are red!

Arizona Sunrise

The genus Hesperaloe is a small genus of just 7 species that are related to aloe, yucca, and agave. All 7 species of hesperaloe are native to the Chihuahuan desert in the southern US and the area around Coahuila in northern Mexico.

The “red” part of red yucca is the flowers that appear on spikes held well above the foliage during summer. Hesperaloe flowers are tubular too, just the way hummingbirds like them. Unlike agave and yucca, hesperaloe leaves do not have spines and are better for tight spaces or gardens that have children and pets running through them. Hesperaloe clumps are packed densely with narrow leaves and from a distance look like ornamental grass.

As with all desert plants, hesperaloe must have full sun and excellent drainage, especially in winter, to prevent root rot. They are also salt tolerant plants. Try pairing hesperaloe with other drought-tolerant colorful plants such as alstroemeria, crocosmia, and gaura to create a drought-tolerant wildlife haven.

Catch the Flame

Cercis ‘Flame Thrower’ – from the breeding work of Dennis Werner

You don’t want to miss the first annual Southeastern Plant Symposium, Friday, June 7 and Saturday, June 8.

Hosted by the JC Raulston Arboretum and Juniper Level Botanic Garden, this symposium caters to plant nerds from across the region and beyond. We are bringing in some of the best of the best to talk about cutting edge horticulture. We have plant explorers, plant breeders, nurserymen, and other experts for a two-day, plantaholic binge. This will also be a great opportunity to get your hands on some really rare, new, and very choice plants.

February 2019 Newsletter

February 2019
Greetings from wet Raleigh, where we’re making good progress with our arc construction after a record-setting year of precipitation that topped out at just over 60” of rainfall…the most ever recorded for Raleigh. Of course, both the east and west ends of North Carolina made our 60” look like a drop in the proverbial bucket.  
 
Our largest coastal town, Wilmington, set a yearly rainfall record of 102”, while at the far western end of our state, Mt. Mitchell recorded just over 140” of rain. I guess we picked a bad year to start growing dryland alpines, but if they survive this year, they should be great going forward.
In the News
A shout out to our friend Jackie Heinricher, founder of the bamboo tissue culture lab, BooShoots in Washington, who has added a new career to her resume…that of race car driver.  I can’t say we have many racers who are also nurserymen. 
 
After selling her business several years ago, and before restarting it after the post-sale went south, Jackie has taken up car racing. Having spent time with Jackie at her beautiful home, garden, and bamboo collection in Washington, this comes as quite a shock….for someone of our “experienced years.”
 
She started competing in 2015, and has now put together an all-female team that will compete in the open wheel and sports car series for 2019, with Caterpillar as a sponsor.  The season begins in January with Jackie on the sideline due to a back injury, but we wish her good luck as she heals and returns to the cockpit. Read more of Jackie’s inspirational story.
Jackie Heinricher – Garden Entrance
Back last fall, an article appeared in our local NC paper about a move to limit plantings in new county-owned properties to only native plants. While the move was hailed by native plant advocates, such decisions showcase a sad lack of critical thinking skills and emotional knee jerk decisions that have become sadly prevalent. Here is a link to the original article, followed by an unpublished letter that we wrote to the newspaper editor.

Native Plants Only…Diversity or Adversity?

It’s hard to know where to begin after reading the September 11, 2018 N&O article about new Wake County properties being restricted to using only native plants in landscaping. The article mentioned diversity, yet the entire focus was about restricting diversity.
 
We believe that diversity is not only desirable, but critical, since it brings together individuals which have unique traits that create a more robust and vital collective population.  We find it fascinating that our society promotes diversity when it comes to humans and edible plants, but decries the absolute need to restrict diversity when it comes to ornamental plants.
 
City, county, and state borders are geopolitical…they have absolutely nothing to do with plant nativity or adaptability.  Secondly, plant nativity is not a place, but a place in time. To call a plant native, you must consider nature as static (never changing), and then pick a random set of dates that you consider to be “ideal”.  Most of the plants currently considered native to Wake County today, actually speciated tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years ago. The current conditions are nothing like the conditions then.
 
Having been born in Wake County 60+ years ago with a passion for “native plants”, I spent my childhood roaming the woods, where houses now stand. As an adult, I have taken over 60 botanizing trips throughout the US, searching for great new garden plants.
 
Over the last 30 years, we have grown over 60,000 different plants from around the world in our Southern Wake County Botanic Garden, which currently houses, most likely, the most diverse collection of Southeast US native plants in the USA.  Our unique perspective comes from a mix of professional experience, observation, and on-site research. 
 
The News & Observer article advocates the concept of a horticultural ethnic superiority, ethnic isolation, and ethnic cleansing. This starts with an assumption that “native plants” are superior to non-natives, and that non-natives should be excluded in landscape situations.
 
If we were having this conversation about the species Homo sapiens instead of ornamental plants, we’d be laughed out of the town.  Also, if “native” plants were actually better adapted and preferred by wildlife, they would take over any site in the county where they were planted, meaning we could then have neither endangered native plants nor invasive exotic plants.
 
As for the superiority of native plants for both adaptability and for supporting pollinators, that is another great myth, which despite its popularity in the media has no basis in good research. A new book in the works detailing extensive research and pollinator counts from the South Carolina Botanic Garden will show that plants native to a specific region are neither favored by or required by native pollinators.
 
If you disregard all of the above, and just take the idea as presented in the paper to have all natives at County facilities, then to be consistent, all turfgrasses must also be banned…no lawns or athletic fields.  Bermudagrass (Africa), Tall Fescue (Europe), Zoysia (Asia), and Centipede (China), must never be allowed on county facilities using the same reasoning…or lack, thereof. 
 
To keep this non-native ban consistent, Wake County must also ban the planting of most fruits and vegetables, since almost none are US natives. That would leave only sunflowers, a single Texas native pepper, grapes, blueberries, cranberries, persimmon, and paw paws. Of course, Wake County Extension Agents should no longer plant or recommend planting any non-native fruits or vegetables.
 
Then there are those pesky honeybees (Africa by way of Europe) and earthworms (mostly Europe) that must also be banned from all county properties, since they both radically alter what grows and gets pollinated. Pretty much all of our domesticated animals, both food and pets would need to be banned…all except for turkeys.
 
Wait…there are still those non-native Homo sapiens, who got here via Africa. So, let me understand this….we clear land to build buildings and parks, creating non-native ecosystems for non-native Humans, and then require them to be planted with ornamental plants native only to the human-created county borders. Please excuse the excessive use of logic.
 
It’s disappointing that many in our country lack the ability to distinguish valid research from poorly constructed research, designed to support a pre-determined agenda. Indeed, it seems that if we hear anything enough times, read it in print, or see it in the media, it automatically becomes a fact. 
 
How about let’s embrace all diversity and create a better habitat for all, and for goodness sakes include plants that are currently “native” in our region.
 
Till next time…happy gardening
 
-tony

Cast iron makes a return

We now have so many aspidistra (cast iron plants), that there is at least one species flowering virtually every month of the year. Winter still has the most flowering species, and here are a few that are currently blooming in our collection. Most folks don’t see the flowers because they either don’t know to look or plant their plants too deep, so the flowers form underground. We like to snip off some of the oldest leaves for a better floral show.

Aspidistra fungilliformis ‘China Star’ is a Chinese collection from Jim Waddick

Aspidistra tonkinensis is a Dylan Hannon collection from Vietnam…not enough to share yet, but soon.

Aspidistra sp. nov. is an Alan Galloway collection from Vietnam.  We thought this was Aspidistra lutea, but we now think it may be a new undescribed species. This one offsets slow, so it may be a couple of years before we can share…hopefully by then we can get this named.

Aspidistra vietnamensis…a Japanese selection. Most of the plants in the trade in the deep south which go by a variety of species names are actually this newly described species. We’ve had plants like Aspidistra ‘Ginga’ keyed out previously by the world’s authorities as either Aspidistra elatior or Aspidistra sichuanensis, but to us, they never quite fit into those species. Now that Aspidistra vietnamensis has been published, we finally have a match.

So, how do we figure this out?  Our staff taxonomist, Zac Hill has become an expert on aspidistra by dissecting the flowers. Yes, leaves, growth habit, and rhizome are important, but it’s all about the flowers. The first image below shows the anthers inside the flower, and the bottom photo shows the stigma. Minor differences in the shapes and orientation are used to distinguish one species from another.  We have other collaborators in the UK, France, Germany, and Russia with whom we share images and identification thoughts.

There are several of us that travel around the world to find these new species, and then work to get them into cultivation for the purpose of ex-situ conservation. We hope you’ll try some of our amazing offerings.

Adore us some acorus

I was just walking through our woodland garden and stopped to snap this photo of one of my favorite perennials, Acorus gramineus ‘Minnimus Aureus’. No matter how many new plants hit the market, this will always be a favorite and a plant I wouldn’t garden without. The evergreen chartreuse gold foliage remains bright all winter in the shade or part sun garden, so there’s no need for a carpet of mulch. Each plant spreads slowly, eventually kniting together to form a solid weed-subduing mat.

The fine texture of acorus is a beautiful contrast to bold-textured plants like the aucuba in the foreground. Did we mention that it’s deer resistant? Acorus, zone 5a-9b, is moisture loving, but also pretty darn drought tolerant.  

Acorus used to reside comfortably in the aroid family, with the likes of peace lilies and jack-in-the-pulpits, but now DNA researchers all reach different conclusions on where it belongs taxonomically and how it is related to the rest of the aroids. Check out the tiny upright flower spikes in spring, but you’ll need to slow down for a close look.

We grow a large number of acorus clones in the garden, and would love to offer more if only folks would buy them in larger numbers. 

Growing Pitcher Plants in Containers

picture of pitcher plant grown in a container

Container grown Sarracenia ‘Hurricane Creek White’

In early summer of 2016, after my first couple of months working at Plant Delights Nursery, I bought my first pitcher plant, Sarracenia ‘Hurricane Creek White’. After reading the article Introduction to Sarracenia – The Carnivorous Pitcher Plant on PDN’s website, I followed the simple instructions on growing pitcher plants in containers.

I selected a decorative frost proof container that was equivalent to, or maybe a little larger than a 3gal container. I used sphagnum peat moss, as recommended, for the potting mix. The sphagnum peat moss is very dry and almost powdery when it comes out of the bag. Put the peat moss in a bucket and add water. Mix well, and allow the peat to soak up the water until it is no longer powdery and is more a spongy consistency.

Now you are ready to plant. I started off with one of our 3.5″ pitcher plants, which had one to two growing points and four to six pitchers, much like the plant pictured here.

picture of 3.5" pitcher plant

3.5″ container of Sarracenia ‘Hurricane Creek White’

Fill your decorative container about 2/3rd full with the moistened peat, gently break apart the root ball of the 3.5″ plant and spread the roots out on top of the peat and cover the roots with more moistened peat and firm up to stabilize the plant. I also incorporated a couple of small venus fly traps in the container. Place the container in a plastic tray that will hold water, so the peat can draw the water up from the base and not dry out. 

The container stays on our outdoor patio where it gets light morning shade and afternoon sun. It continued to grow the rest of the summer and remained outdoors all winter long. I trimmed off the old pitchers this spring as it began to flush. The first picture in this post is what it looks like today, one year later, easily tripled in size.

This was an easy project and a great and rewarding experience for my introduction to growing pitcher plants, not to mention the attention it garnered from friends who came over. I have now started my second container for the patio utilizing ‘Carolina Yellow Jacket’.

picture of potted Carolina Yellow Jacket pitcher plant

Recently potted Carolina Yellow Jacket pitcher plant

 

Baptisias: Great American Natives!

Baptisias, commonly known as false indigo, are North American native members of the pea family and quite drought tolerant once established. They provide amazing architectural form in a sunny garden or perennial border, and are deer-resistant and a butterfly magnet (See the top 25 flowers that attract butterflies here.).

image of Baptisia 'Blueberry Sundae'

Not only do baptisia come in blue, which many people are familiar with in the most common species, B. australis, but they are also available in a wide array of colors such as white, yellow, purple, and pink, and new breeding efforts are producing bicolor flowers such as those of Lunar Eclipse.

Baptisias have long been one of our favorite groups of sun perennials here at PDN. Through our trials of new varieties introduced  to the market, as well as our own breeding program, we continue to select for improved structure and habit as well as flower color. In 2017, we have introduced 2 new varieties in our Tower Series, Yellow Towers and Ivory Towers. These join our previous introduction, Blue Towers, all having a vigorous upright habit to 4.5-5′, terminating in 18-20″ spikes of flowers, true show-stoppers in the garden.

image of Baptisia 'Yellow Towers'

Baptisia ‘Yellow Towers’

Due to high demand, we quickly sold out of finished stock of Ivory Towers, but don’t fret, we have another crop coming along and they should be ready just in time for our Spring Open Nursery & Garden Days April 28-30 and May 5-7. And be sure to join us on Sunday May 7 at 2pm for our Gardening Unplugged garden chat series, where Tony will be talking about baptisias. You can also read Tony’s more in depth article about baptisias, here.

Agave winter protection experiment

MIcrowave covers over agaves2

One of the difficulties growing agaves in our climate is keeping them dry in winter.  Our biggest losses occur when temperatures drop below 20 degrees F, and the ground is damp. While we always plant agave on slopes, that only helps with the external drainage…it does not necessarily keep the soil dry.  Once agaves grow large enough, they are better able to shed water and keep the soil dry, so our dilemma is getting young plants to survive.  This year, we decided to experiment using microwave covers.  Keep in mind  we are not interested in cold protection, only protection from moisture.  We were also looking for something that would keep the soil dry, while not baking the plants when the sun was bright.  If the covers were not filled with holes, the heat underneath would actually make the plants start to grow and become more cold sensitive. We’re only half way through winter, but so far, our experiment is a great success. We only cover the agaves several days before the temperatures are predicted to drop below 20 degrees F.  This allows time for the soil underneath the cover to dry before the extreme cold arrives.  We’ve dropped to 12 degrees F once and 19 F once so far this winter.  Plants that died in previous uncovered winters at similar temperatures still look great.  The heights of the covers seem to range between 3″ and 4″, so size according to the height of you plants.