They Came, They Listened, They Learned, They shared

We’ve just wrapped up the 2022 Southeastern Plant Symposium in Raleigh, and were thrilled to have nearly 200 attendees. It was great to be back in person after two years of remote Zooming. The symposium is co-sponsored by the JC Raulston Arboretum and Juniper Level Botanic Garden, with all proceeds split between the two institutions (JCRA operations and the JLBG endowment).

Attendees were entertained and enlightened by fourteen of the top horticultural authorities in the country/world. This years symposium was focused on perennials, 2023 will be focused on woody plants (trees/shrubs), and 2024 will focus on geophytes (bulbs, tubers, etc.) as part of our three year rotation.

We hope you’ll join us for 2023, and mark June 9, 10 on your calendar. Not only are the speakers excellent, but the symposium includes a rare plant auction, which this year, offered over 430 plants, most of which aren’t available anywhere else in the world.

Mark Weathington, Director JC Raulston Arboretum
SPS lecture room
SPS speaker line-up
SPS attendees taking a break..speaker Adam Black on left
A few of the amazing SPS auction plants

Gold Anole

Carolina anoles are our most prolific garden pet, occurring by the thousands in our garden. It’s rare that a garden photography session doesn’t include several anole shots.

Carolina anoles are the only North American lizard with the ability to change color…usually ranging from green through brown. Despite being studied for years, researchers still have no idea what causes anoles to change color. Researchers know that their skin color has absolutely nothing to do with the material they are sitting on. The next best theory that anoles change color to regulate temperature has also been disproven.

Current research seems to link color change to stress, be that from entering the territory of another anole or relating to a pending sexual encounter. The natural world has so many secrets that we still don’t understand…ain’t mother nature grand!

The Accidental Green Meatball

Recently PDN staffer Chris Hardison, who heads up our marketing team, noticed an odd green meatball in a local shopping center parking lot. Upon closer examination, he found it to be a specimen of our native willow oak, Quercus phellos.

It’s obvious that the low-end mow and blow crew who take care of the plants in the parking lot assumed it to be another plant, like the hollies nearby, that needed to be butchered into the most unnatural shape possible…a green meatball.

We were curious if the oak was a natural dwarf, or was damaged when it was young, and was simply trying to resprout, when it caught the eye of the crew of horticultural butchers. It does have three smaller trunks than its nearby same age siblings, which seem to indicate damage during its youth.

To confirm this theory, we have taken cuttings and if we can get them to root, we’ll plant them out at JLBG and see if it maintains the dwarf form, which could actually be a fascinating option for homeowners. The second image below shows the green meatball oak in front of it’s sibling, planted the same time.

We love horticultural mysteries.

Quercus phellos green meatball form
Quercus phellos green meatball in front of its more typical sibling

Hostas don’t grow here…

We often hear and read that hostas won’t grow well in the mid and deep south, so we thought we should share a few garden photos from this week at JLBG (Zone: 7b), to bust yet another garden myth.

Starting with some small/miniature hostas, the first is Doug Beilstein’s Hosta ‘Baby Booties’, a superbly vigorous dwarf that has really been exceptional.

Hosta ‘ Baby Booties’

Hosta ‘Blue Fingers’ is a PDN/JLBG introduction of one of the very few tiny blue-leaf hostas with excellent vigor and a good multiplication rate.

Hosta ‘Blue Fingers’

Hosta ‘Wriggles and Squiggles’ is an exceptionally wavy-leaf, small, gold introduction from plant breeder, Hans Hansen.

Hosta ‘Wiggles and Squiggles’

Hosta ‘Fire and Ice’ is another Hans Hansen introduction that was a reverse sport of Hosta ‘Patriot’. It fares much better when given more light, even a few hours of sun in the morning.

Hosta ‘Fire and Ice’

Hosta ‘Swamp Thing’ is a PDN/JLBG introduction with great vigor and glossy foliage

Hosta ‘Swamp Thing’

Hosta ‘Beyond Glory’ is a Hans Hansen sport from Hosta ‘Glory’. This is just one exceptional hosta, which also benefits from a bit of morning sun or very open shade.

Hosta ‘Beyond Glory’

Hosta ‘Diamond Lake’ is a stunning new Hans Hansen creation with large blue corrugated leaves with exceptional leaf rippling.

Hosta ‘Diamond Lake’

Hosta ‘Gold Meadows’ is one of our favorite sports of Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’. When the weather warms, the central pattern fades to solid blue, but in spring, it’s absolutely stunning. It has also shown great vigor in the Southeastern US.

Hosta ‘Golden Meadows’

Hosta ‘One Last Dance’ is a Hans Hansen/Walters Gardens sport of Hosta ‘Dancing Queen’. We think it’s hard to beat this amazing plant. The vigor is evident in our photo.

Hosta ‘One Last Dance’

Calling all Plant Nerds

Just over a month remains before the 2022 Southeastern Plant Symposium kicks off in Raleigh at the Sheraton Hotel, downtown. This joint venture between JLBG/Plant Delights and the JC Raulston Arboretum brings together the top horticultural speakers from around the world to regale attendees with tales of their favorite new plants. Each symposium rotates a focus on either on woody plants, perennials, or geophytes. The 2022 symposium is perennials focused.

The dates are Friday, June 10 and Saturday June 11. Both the JC Raulston Arboretum and Juniper Level Botanic Garden/Plant Delights will be open for visitors on the Thursday prior and the Sunday morning after the symposium.

A few of the amazing speakers include:

Leftherios Dariotis – If you’re a sports fan, you’ve heard the nickname “Greek Freak” applied to NBA star, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Well, Leftherios (aka: Liberto Dario) is to horticulture, what Giannis is to basketball…a true superstar. Leftherios will travel from his home in Greece to dazzle you with an array of little-known plants that thrive in hot, dry climates.

Eleftherios Dariotis

Dan Hinkley, founder of Heronswood and Windcliff, plant explorer extraordinaire, and recipient of the world’s top horticultural honors, will join us to share his latest botanical adventures and plants that have potential for our hot, humid climate. Dan bring a new perspective from having experienced 117 degrees F. in his Washington garden in 2021.

Dan Hinkley

Patrick McMillan is a NC native, who spent two decades as a professor at Clemson. While there, he hosted the Emmy Award winning PBS show, Expeditions with Patrick McMillan, as well as directing the SC Botanical Garden. After a 1.5 year stint as Director of Heronswood, he has returned to his roots in NC, and joined the staff of JLBG. Patrick is widely recognized for his incredible botanical knowledge. His new book, Wildflowers of South Carolina will hit bookshelves soon.

Patrick McMillan

Peter Zale is the Associate Director of Conservation, Plant Breeding and Collections at Pennsylvannia’s Longwood Gardens. Peter specializes in a number of plant groups that include hardy orchids and phlox. You can’t help but be amazed at Peter’s conservation and breeding work as well as his extensive knowledge of the natural world.

Peter Zale

Plantsman Adam Black is known worldwide for his botanical exploits, primarily focused on the state of Texas. Adam has spent years traversing every corner of Texas, both re-discovering long lost plants and finding new ones. Adam’s horticultural background gives him a unique take on which Texas native plants will have great garden value for gardeners in the southeast. Adam has recently moved to NC to take a job as an Assistant Curator at the Bartlett Arboretum. We guarantee you’ll meet more new plants than you ever thought possible.

Adam Black (l)

Kelly Norris is a true renaissance horticulturist. Growing up in a Midwest iris nursery propelled Kelly into the public horticultural arena. After a stint beefing up the collections at the Des Moines Botanic Garden, Kelly now splits his time between landscape design, writing, and extolling the virtues of new plants on QVC. Kelly is one of the new wave of great thinkers in our industry who understands the need for the fields of botany and horticulture to collaborate.

Kelly Norris

On Saturday, the pace picks up even more, with shorter, but intensively focused talks. The list of Saturday presenters include Mark Weathington, Director of the JC Raulston Arboretum will speak on his favorite new perennials. Ian Caton, founder of Wood Thrush Natives in Virginia will speak on Underused and Little-known Appalachian Natives. Hayes Jackson, Alabama Extension Agent and Director of The Longleaf Botanical Garden in Alabama will speak on Creating a Tropical Garden Feel in a Temperate Climate.

We are pleased to welcome Richard Hawke, Manager of the Perennial Trials at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Richard’s detailed cultivar evaluations are prized by gardeners throughout the country. Shannon Currey, Marketing Manager for Hoffman’s Nursery, will share her passion for sedges, while Adrienne Roethling, Director of the Paul Ciener Botanical Garden will discuss her favorite vines. Yours’ truly, Tony Avent, will share more than you ever thought possible about the genus Baptisia.

Did I mention the symposium includes the now world-famous rare plant auction, which has garnered International attention? The auction and symposium will be available both on-line and remote.

We are pleased to welcome Proven Winners ColorChoice Flowering Shrubs as a presenting sponsor for 2022. Additionally, Ball Seed is offering 10 student scholarships to attend the symposium. You can find out more about these and apply here.

Mark and I truly hope you will join us for this incredible perennials-focused symposium, back in person for the first time in three years. The Symposium is an important fundraiser for both the JC Raulston Arboretum as well as the Juniper Level Botanic Garden Endowment. Here is the link to register for the Symposium. We’ll see you in June!

Hi Jacks

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on a plant survey of a local woodland area of about 30 acres. The low, moist areas are filled with Arisaema triphyllum, (Jack-in-the-pulpit) which is quite common in our area. The first image is what is typical for the species.

Arisaema triphyllum Wake County, NC

I’ve been studying patches of Jack-in-the-pulpit for well over 55 years, always looking for unusual leaf forms that showed any type of patterning. Until last month, I’d never found a single form with atypical foliage. That all changed with my first trip to this local site, where so far, I have found several dozen forms with silver leaf vein patterns. Up until now, there are only two pattern leaf forms of Arisaema triphyllum in cultivation, Arisaema ‘Mrs. French’ and Arisaema ‘Starburst’.

Each patterned leaf clone varies slightly as you would expect within a population including both green and purple stalk coloration.

Arisaema triphyllum silver veined clone
Arisaema triphyllum silver veined clone with green stems
Arisaema triphyllum silver veined clone with purple stems

While I’d never found any true variegation prior to this, I had found plenty of transient leaf patterning caused by Jack-in-the-pulpit rust (Uromyces ari triphylli). This site was no exception, with a number of plants showing the characteristic patterning. If you find these, turn the leaf upside down and you’ll see the small orange rust pustules.

While these may seem exciting, the pattern are not genetic and will disappear without the fungus. Fortunately, this rust can be cured by cutting off the top of the plant and discarding it where the spores can not spread via the wind. Infected plant should be fine, albeit smaller next year. The susceptibility of Arisaema triphyllum to jack-in-the-pulpit rust varies with genetics. Of the tens of thousands of plants I observed at the site, less than 10% were infected with the rust.

Arisaema triphyllum with rust induced pattern
Arisaema triphyllum rust induced pattern on leaf back

The House of Plant Science

We recently attended the dedication the new Plant Science Building at NC State. This $160 million dollar facility will house high level plant research where interdisciplinary researchers will work together to solve high level plant concerns. I can only imagine being a student and being able to work in such an amazing facility. The top floor is a high-tech greenhouse.

Flowers at Flower Hill

We’re just back from a quick outing to the Flower Hill Nature Preserve in Johnston County, NC…just a few miles from JLBG. This unique coastal plain site contains remnants of species more common in the NC mountains, nearly 5 hours west. The top of the bluff is a small stand of enormous Rhododendron catawbiense, while along the bottom of the hill is a bank of the deciduous Rhododendron canescens.

Rhododendron catawbiense
Rhododendron canescens

In the mid-slope area, we found Cypripedium acaule (pink ladyslipper orchid), just waiting to be photographed. Sadly, it’s one of the most difficult species to transplant, so just enjoy these in situ when you find them.

Cypripedium acaule

There were beautiful masses of the evergreen groundcover galax, growing on the eastern slope.

Galax urceolata

It was particularly great to see the Asarum vriginicum in full flower. True Asarum virginicum is rarely seen in cultivation, and the diversity of flower color was outstanding.

Asarum virginicum
Asarum virginicum
Asarum virginicum
Asarum virginicum

Playing 3 on 3

Here’s a fun combination this from the garden this week, where we combined two three-leafed plants together…a silver leaf Trillium cuneatum with the hardy purple-leaf shamrock, Oxalis triangularis. You can have all kind of fun making these little vignette combinations in your garden, using your school colors, or any other design scheme that suits your tastes.

Mama…where do fern babies come from?

If you’re a nursery, and you’d like to offer ferns, the plants at your disposal are somewhat limited. A large majority of ferns sold in America are still sadly dug from the wild. When you see a catalog listing primarily these ferns together…usually an very inexpensive prices, you can be pretty much assured they were dug from the wild: Osmunda regalis (royal fern), Osmunda cinnamomea (Cinnamon Fern), Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas Fern), Matteuccia Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich fern), Adiantum pedatum (Maidenhair fern), Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern), and Onoclea sensibilis (Sensitive Fern). These ferns are often sold bareroot, to save the nursery the expense of having to pot the collected plants, many of which are so large, they won’t fit in small containers.

The other majority of ferns in the market are produced by tissue culture, either by a couple of labs in Florida, one in Texas, and one in Holland. Without the amazing work of these labs, the fern selections available to homeowners would be limited to the wild collections. Even with their amazing work, these labs must focus on well-known ferns that sell in very large numbers.

While we make use of the lab offerings, we also made a commitment over 30 years ago to grow many of our own ferns from spores. Outside of a few small fern specialists, there are few nurseries who grow their own ferns from spores, since this is the most costly and time consuming option. The reason we do this is so that we can offer fern species and selected forms that are otherwise unavailable.

Below is a quick summary of how the process works. Fern spores (fern equivalents of seed) are collected through the summer, and are dried in paper envelopes until they separate from the foliage. They are then sown in pots with potting soil that is sterilized here, and then sealed in ziploc bags. The spore takes from 1 month to 6 months to germinate. Once the spores germinate, they are ready to have sex…a process that is reversed from more modern evolved flowering plants.

To assist the ferns have sex, we gently add water to the newly germinated sporelings, since ferns (other than desert ferns) only have sex while they are swimming. The water is swirled around to mimic the feel of a whirlpool, then the bags are then resealed, and put in the dark where they are subjected to a near constant montage of Barry White music.

Within a few weeks, tiny fern fronds begin to emerge. At this point, the ziploc bags are opened to allow the humidity to equalize with the ambient air. After another couple of weeks the pots are removed from the ziploc bags. If the spore were viable and cleaned well without contamination, and if germination was good, there will be up to several hundred plants per pot.

After a few weeks, the sporelings are transplanted into a cell pack flat. Here they grow out for another few months until they are ready to be planted into our 1 qt. pots, in which they will be sold. In all, it’s about an 18 month process, and a good bit of labor. We’re really quite passionate about our fern collection at JLBG, which the visiting British Fern Society declared one of the largest/most diverse in the world. We hope you find the results worthwhile.

Voles in Holes

This is the time of year (October – April) when voles are extremely active in the garden, as you can see below from this recently chewed aspidistra in the garden. Voles are vegetarian mouse relatives that tunnel underground eating the roots of plants…usually those with the most expensive price tags. Once the roots are gone, plant remains are then stealthily pulled underground so you won’t notice the damage.

The formulation of most commercial vole baits changed in the last few years and are now composed of Vitamin D (Cholecalciferol). While Vitamin D is quite effective on voles, it still needs to be kept away from pets, since too much Vitamin D isn’t a good thing. We prefer the large blocks, compared to the smaller pellets since they are less likely to be swallowed by pets.

We’ve also always recommended using PVC-tubes for vole feeding, or simply bury the bait underground or under a rock, etc. Of course, there’s always the option of using mouse traps to catch voles, which is much more labor intensive and not really really viable on a large scale.

Vole bate stations should be placed every 10′ apart in high problem areas, and must be checked every couple of weeks to make sure bait remains. We have been using various vole baits for 35 years, and have yet to have any issues with our fleet of garden cats, but it is important that you be careful with bait placement.

Once vole populations are under control, we recommend using traps around the edge of your property to prevent new intrustions. We do this by spreading a square of black plastic with bait underneath, along your property line…every 50′ or so seems to be adequate. The voles are attracted to the black plastic and the bait, so this way there never venture further into the garden.

Raisin’ Cain

I had a great visit recently with David Cain and Denny Werner. Most of you know Dr. Werner from his work at NC State, first as a peach breeder and later as the creator of a parade of amazing redbud hybrids.

David and Denny were both grad students together back at Michigan State. Dr. Cain went on to become a fruit breeder, and is the papa of the incredibly famous Cotton Candy grape. On the off chance you haven’t tried it, be sure to search for it at your local grocery store. David worked in academia and later the USDA, before embarking on his own venture, where he made several incredible fruit breeding breakthroughs.

I didn’t realize David is a long-time plant nerd and Plant Delights customer, and has recently moved from California to the East Coast for his next plant breeding adventure. We had a blast talking plant breeding and looking at a few of our crazy breeding projects at JLBG.

An Exciting New Expedition

Please join me in welcoming our newest JLBG team member, Dr. Patrick McMillan. I’ve known Patrick for 30 years, going back to his days as a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, and long before he became a legend in the plant world.

We’ve followed his amazing journey, most recently as Director of Heronswood Gardens in Washington. Prior to that, he was Director of the SC Botanical Garden and Professor of Environmental Sustainability at Clemson since 2000. Patrick was the Emmy Award winning host of the renown PBS series, Expeditions with Patrick McMillan. Patrick is a highly-respected botanist/naturalist, who has won far too many awards to mention, but we’ll let Patrick tell you a bit more about himself and why he decided to partner with JLBG.

My first experience with Juniper Level and Tony was sitting at the kitchen table in 1991, the inaugural year of Plant Delights Nursery, talking about Asarum and star-struck by Tony’s knowledge and passion that has continued to grow into one of the world’s premier gardens and nurseries. In those days I dreamed of the opportunity to work alongside such talented horticulturalists and intrepid explorers.

My love of plants and all things slithering, creeping, crawling, and flying came at a very early age. I can’t remember a time when my life wasn’t centered on them. Fast forward 31 years and I found myself sitting at the same table reminiscing about the past, marveling at how far JLBG has grown, and stirring excitement for the future. I am so enthusiastic about joining the staff at JLBG, learning from the lifetimes of incredible knowledge and skill that is assembled among the employees and sharing my own experience, passion, and knowledge to bolster the mission and the horticultural and conservation accomplishments of this magical place.

I’m probably best described as a plant nerd. I have never met a plant I didn’t love. Every plant has a story and each is connected to our lives and the lives of the biodiversity upon which we all depend. Much of my horticultural experience and focus in South Carolina and at Heronswood Garden in Kingston, Washington has been focused on generating and supporting insect, bird and other wildlife diversity in the home landscape.

My philosophy of natural community gardening and the generation of life is a fairly simple one based on filling every space with life – diversity generates diversity. My exploration of the plant world has taken me from pole to pole and over every continent except Australia. I was trained as a sedge taxonomist but my interests include anything with cells. I’ve described new species ranging from ragweeds to sedges and begonia.

I also believe strongly that our greatest gift is sharing knowledge and I have worked as a lifelong educator. You may also have seen me on your local PBS station, where for 15 years I wrote, hosted, and produced the series “Expeditions with Patrick McMillan” – distributed by American Public Television. Conservation, preservation and generation of life is at the core of my life’s mission and I can imagine no better place to be nested within than JLBG. I hope to meet you soon and share some hearty plant nerd conversation.

Beyond Bread

What do the plants pictured below have in common, and it’s not what you might think. These common plants are actually food crops…read more at the end of the photos.

Cosmos sulphureus
Nepeta (catmint)
Polymnia
Tanacetum parthenium (feverfew)
Cyperus (nutsedge)

These are a few of the plants that can be used to make wheat bread…and flavorful bread at that. Yes, the kind you eat.

A fascinating 2017 research study from Tavria State Agrotechnological University in Ukraine describes how common garden plants (and weeds) can be used in the production of bread. Most people probably have little idea of the amazing research that goes on in Ukraine. If you’re curious to give it a try, here is the link to the original research publication.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ukrainians as they endure the horrific invasion of their wonderful country.

Richer for Ritchie

I was scanning some older slides recently, and came across this image of the late Ritchie Bell from 1968. Dr. Bell was director of the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill for 25 years, from 1961 to 1986. Here he is in 1968, posing by a sign for the first nature trail opened at NCBG, just a couple of years earlier.

Ritchie is not just known for his work at the garden, but for his many books, most notably, his contributions to the revered, 1964 Manual of the Vascular Flora of North Carolina, with Al Radford and Harry Ahles. We’ve never forgot Ritchie’s motto of “Conservation through Propagation”…something that’s even more important today in the face of a changing climate. Ritchie passed away in 2013 and the age of 92, but his powerful legacy endures.. He was a good friend and an incredible inspiration.

Ritchie had just made a previous presentation to the Men’s Garden Club of America regional meeting in Reidsville about the new NCBG trail system. Below is an image from that 1968 meeting with MGC Regional President, Sam Fairchild (r) of Reidsville, NC. Most people don’t remember Ritchie prior to growing his trademark beard.

Ruscus Crazy

We love the evergreen ruscus in garden, but realize they are a plant that will never be found at most mainstream garden centers. A genus of only 6 currently recognized species, native from Europe into Eurasia, these horticultural oddities are so odd that they once qualified to have their own plant family, Ruscaceae.

Now, with improved DNA testing, they were found to actually be members of the Asparagus family. Exactly where within the Asparagus family is still an ongoing debate. Within the last decade, they were grouped with Nolina and Dasylirion, which to those of us who work with live plants, made no sense. Most likely, they will wind up in their own section, but as distant cousins to better know genera like Rohdea and Liriope.

Ruscus are great evergreen plants for dry shade, in regions where they are winter hardy, which is usually Zone 7b and south. Ruscus are unique in that they don’t produce leaves, but instead have leaf like structures known as cladodes, from which the tiny flowers emerge. All ruscus species have both separate male and female plants, although there are four hermaphroditic (bi-sexual) cultivars of Ruscus aculeatus in commerce, which produce the lovely red fruit without a mate.

The most common ruscus species in cultivation is Ruscus aculeatus, which has a wide range from Western Europe through the Caucuses. A handful of named cultivars of Ruscus aculeatus can be found in the gardens. Below is a photo this month of Ruscus ‘Sparkler’ a self-fruiting form, whose 2′ tall height is mid-way between Ruscus ‘Elizabeth Lawrence’ and Ruscus ‘Wheeler’.

Ruscus aculeatus ‘Sparkler’

Ruscus hypophyllum is a species, which ranges from Spain to Northern Africa, that’s rarely cultivated in the US. Other than the very tender Ruscus streptophyllus, this has proven to the be the next most tender species. Prior to trying these new forms of Ruscus hypophyllum, which were planted in early 2020, we had only grown a single clone, which had consistently died in our Zone 7b winters. These new plants are seedlings, grown from an Alan Galloway seed collection in Majorca, Spain.

Ruscus hypophyllum

Ruscus hypoglossum, which hails from Italy to Turkey, is a similar sounding species that we were fortunate to study in the wilds of Slovenia a few years ago, where it grew in mountainous open forests.

Ruscus hypoglossum
Ruscus hypoglossum flowers

Ruscus x microglossum (below) is a natural hybrid between Ruscus hypophyllum and Ruscus hypoglossum…quite a tongue-full.

Ruscus x microglossum

Ruscus colchicus is a species we fell in love with during a trip to Hillier’s Arboretum in 2005. Hailing from NW Turkey to the Western Caucuses, Ruscus colchicus is possibly the most elegant garden species. We are fortunate to have three different clones growing at JLBG, which we hope to one day have enough to share.

Ruscus colchicus

Voted least likely to be found in an ex-situ plant collection is Ruscus hyrcanus, a species, whose native range is from the Crimea into Iran. In appearance it somewhat resembles a dwarf, horizontal-growing version of Ruscus aculeatus. We are thrilled to have been able to offer this little-cultivated species in the past through Plant Delights.

Ruscus hyrcanus

We hope you’ll take notice of these great evergreens during your next visit to JLBG.

Mid-Winter Grotto

Here’s a mid-winter shot of our front grotto, showing what that section looks like during the most trying time of year. We try to emphasize to those building new gardens to treat gardens just like rooms of your home. Each should have a floor, ceiling, walls, furniture both large and small, and decorations. In the garden, we also try to emphasize year round interest, which in our area includes a good selection of evergreens. Our Winter Open Nursery and Garden Days coming up in a few weeks is a great time to get ideas and inspiration for your own garden. Below is a “before” picture of the same area.

JLBG grotto garden 2022

Below is the same shot when this section was begun in 1988.

JLBG grotto garden 1988

Information you can trust

With over 60% of retail plants now purchased at the box stores, we wonder if most consumers know you can’t trust much if anything you read on a label at a mass marketer. Our most recent example is this tag on an Illicium parviflorum at our local Lowes. I particularly love the common name, Japanese Anise. Unfortunately, Illicium parviflorum is native only to Florida…quite a few miles from Japan.

The tag mentions full sun, which Illicium parviflorum certainly tolerates, but in the wild, it grows naturally in moist woodlands.

Then, there is the note about cool temperatures and warm soil promotes root growth. Well, warm soil does promote root growth for some plants, but not for all. Wouldn’t the soil have been warmer in mid-summer than now? Just wondering…

And, if that wasn’t enough, our staff taxonomist, Zac Hill spotted this tag for our native bald cypress, Taxodium distichum at a different Lowes store. The problem is that the plant is actually a Chinese Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia instead of a Taxodium. I wonder if they thought…”what the hell, those dumb consumers will never know the difference.”. After all, it’s just another little green lie. As Anita likes to say, ‘The way you do one thing is the way you do everything.”

Sex for the Centuries

Since we are limited in the number of hardy century plant species, our only option for more agave diversity in the garden is to create it by crossing existing hardy species together. Here are a few of our recent successes.

Agave x amourifolia is a Plant Delights/JLBG creation from a cross we made in 2016 that combined the genes of three century plants, Agave ovatifolia, Agave lophantha, and Agave x pseudoferox ‘Logan Calhoun’. Our size estimates were that the offspring would mature at 3′ tall x 5′ wide. Here is one of our garden specimens photographed this week, which has already reached 2′ tall x 3′ wide.

Agave x amourifolia

Below is Agave x ovox, a 2017 cross of the two giants, Agave ovatifolia and Agave x pseudoferox ‘Bellville’. We expect this to get huge…perhaps 5′ tall x 10′ wide.

Agave x ovox ‘Large Ox’

Below is Agave x protifolia is a 2016 Mike Papay cross of Agave x protamericana x Agave ovatifolia. We also expect this to get quite massive.

Agave x protifolia

Below is Agave x ovatispina ‘Blue Arrows’, a 2016 Mike Papay cross of Agave ovatifolia x Agave flexispina. We would have expected this to be a mature size, but it’s achieved this in only 5 years, so we think we’re seeing some serious hybrid vigor.

Agave x ovatispina ‘Blue Arrows’

Below is Agave x ocareginae, our 2016 cross of Agave ovatifolia x Agave victoriae-reginae. Most likely, this elegant small grower will never offset.

Agave x ocareginae

Below is Agave x schuphantha, a 2015 Mike Papay cross involving three century plant species, Agave schidigera, Agave lophantha, and Agave lechuguilla. It’s formed a beautiful, symmentrical rosette, which should be getting close to mature size.

Agave x schuphantha ‘Wheel of Fortune’

The Case of The Beautiful Imposter

This is one of the rare summers we actually got flowers on Amaryllis belladonna in the gardens at JLBG. The only problem is that they aren’t really Amaryllis belladonna. This poor South African native has suffered a series of nomenclatural mix ups over the last 250 years, that sadly continues today.

First was the battle over which plant really belongs to the genus name, amaryllis. The mix-up started with the grandfather of modern taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, when he published the genus name Amaryllis in 1753. In his initial publication, Linnaeus applied the name amaryllis to a group of plants, which later turned out to include at least five different genera; amaryllis, nerine, zephyranthes, sprekelia, and sternbergia. A few years later in 1819, botanist William Herbert and others tried to clean up the mess using Linnaeus’s notes, and in doing so, assigned the genus name amaryllis to the solitary South African species, Amaryllis belladonna, which had been in Western cultivation since 1633.

Fast forward 119 years to 1938, when taxonomist Cornelius Uphof upset the proverbial apple cart when he published a paper in which he declared that the assignment of the name amaryllis for the South Aftrican plant was against Linnaeus’s wishes, since it was clear to Uphof that Linnaeus intended the genus Amaryllis to be applied to the American genus, Hippeastrum. Uphof’s paper renamed the American genus Hippeastrum to Amaryllis and the South African Amaryllis belladonna became Callicore rosea. This caused quite a taxonomic uproar which would continue for another 50 years.

The following year, 1939, taxonomist Joseph Sealy dug deeper into the original amaryllis name mix-up, and found it impossible to determine which plant Linnaeus intended to bestow with the genus name, Amaryllis, since most of Linnaeus’s original description referenced the South African plant, and only one small part referenced the American plant. Consequently, Sealy left the name amaryllis to apply to the solitary Amaryllis belladonna, and not to the much larger genus Hippeastrum.

The battle was far from over, and in fact, it turned into a war, led by American taxonomist Dr. Hamilton Traub, who from 1949 until his death in 1983, was defiant that the genus name amaryllis should instead apply to the American hippeastrums. Finally, in 1987, after Traub’s death, the International Botanical Congress confirmed the assignment of the name amaryllis to the South African species. Despite this resolution to 250 years of wrangling, most gardeners still refer to the plants that they grow widely in homes and gardens for their large flowers as amaryllis and not the proper name, hippeastrum.

One would hope that the 1987 decision would be the end of the mess, but not so fast…there was yet another taxonomic snafu. Amaryllis belladonna is a plant which is widely grown throughout California, where it thrives and flowers annually. But, is it really Amaryllis belladonna? While it’s certainly not a hippeastrum, the answer is no. To solve this mix-up, let’s step back a few years, to 1841, when Australian plantsman John Bidwill, first crossed Amaryllis belladonna with another African relative, brunsvigia, creating a bi-generic hybrid that would become known as x Amargyia parkeri. Because x Amargyia parkeri had more flowers, a more radial flower head, and better vigor, it gradually replaced true Amaryllis belladonna in cultivation, especially in California. I chatted with Californian Bill Welch (Bill the Bulb Baron), the largest grower/breeder of Amaryllis belladonna, prior to his untimely death in 2019. Bill admitted that everything he grew and sold as Amaryllis belladonna was actually the hybrid x Amargyia parkeri. Nurserymen have a bad habit of using incorrect names, because they realize that names which are familiar to customers always sell better.

If that’s not confusing enough, we should add that about half of the people who grow Lycoris x squamigera, a Zone 4 hardy bulb, also have their plants also labeled as Amaryllis belladonna, which is only winter hardy from Zone 8 south. We can thank several large mail order bulb catalogs who have no interest in either correct nomenclature or correct photography for that fiasco.

To quote the late Paul Harvey, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

So, do you see why plant taxonomist generally have little hair remaining?

Got Cicads? We’ve got Cicada Killers

I noticed this odd soil formation in the garden this week and checked with our staff entomologist Bill Reynolds, who identified this as the nest of a Cicada Killer Wasp. These large, yellow banded wasps which we see around the garden, capture and paralyze cicadas, then bring them back to their in-ground lairs. The wasps drag the stunned cicadas into the mound and proceed to lay eggs in their paralyzed bodies. The eggs, then hatch and use the cicadas for food, eating the non-vital body parts first, so their food source remains alive as long as possible. When the hole is full of cicada bodies (generally less than a dozen), the wasps seal up the entrance, leaving no trace of what’s going on underneath. Sounds like a real-life zombie storyline.

Bruce and his conifers

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

Visiting Kentucky in Texas

It was a real thrill last week to visit a population of Cypripedium kentuckiense (Kentucky Ladyslipper Orchid) in Texas with native plant guru, Adam Black. Adam has made numerous trips to this and other nearby sites, carefully pollinating the orchids to ensure seed set and enhance reproduction. While we’ve offered this species as seed-grown plants (8 years from seed to flower) for years, this was my first chance to actually study them in the wild. Cypripedium kentuckiense is one of the easiest ladyslipper orchids to cultivate, thriving in a wide variety of woodland conditions. Here, they were growing just above a seasonally flooded stream in very sandy soils.

Let’s talk cells

If you’re a gardener, especially one who likes to stay in touch, there are few things more annoying than those hard-sided cell phone cases that come standard when you buy a new cell phone. I constantly found those hard plastic swivel belt clips beyond aggravating, when bending down working in the garden. I lost track of how many time the clip and my belt separated, tossing my cell phone into everything from ponds to spiny cactus.

Searching on-line, I discovered these amazing soft side cell phone cases with dual belt straps, that turned out to be a godsend for a gardener. I’m now on my third, with each one lasting several years before I simply wore out the threads. So if you’ve cursed your current hard-sided case every time it leaps from your belt, give these a try. There are many brands out there, but our favorite is a Zeato Tactical brand.

Sweet as Snow Cream

One of our most popular introductions is Edgeworthia ‘Snow Cream’…a plant we first selected back in 1995…long before more than a handful of gardeners had even heard of the Chinese native genus.

The late JC Raulston grew a plant, known then as Edgeworthia papyrifera, just outside of the arboretum lath house back in the early 1990s, when I was Curator of the Shade House. It was a fascinating plant that I remember watching each winter as the tight white buds burst into yellow flowers. There was little detectable floral fragrance, the plant never exceeded 3.5′ in height, and it suffered mightily in cold NC winters. I was still entranced by the plant and propagated several and planted them around the NC State Fairgrounds, where I worked full time.

An interesting back story is that a population of Edgeworthia papyrifera was discovered along Wolf Creek in Rabun County, Georgia back in 1971. Author Wilbur Duncan and other native plant researchers were shocked and puzzled to find this new plant growing in the wild until it was later determined to be escapees, probably circuitously from an earlier 1903 introduction by the USDA..

In June 1995, I was visiting plantsman Roger Gossler at his family nursery, Gossler Farms, in Oregon. Roger had just received a shipment of edgeworthia from Piroche Plants in Canada. Since I had tried in vain to track down Edgeworthia chrysantha, I was thrilled at my luck in finally finding it. Going through their batch of seed-grown plants, I chose one that had the largest foliage and best form, which we eventually named E. ‘Snow Cream’.

Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Snow Cream’ – 1

For those who don’t know the Piroche Plants story, let me share. Back in the early 1990s, Canadian nurseryman/plantsman, Pierre Piroche was able to do what no one else had been able to manage and import quite a large number of very rare, commercially unobtainable plants, both woody and perennial from China. The story goes that Piroche first established a nursery in Bhutan that was able to import plants directly from China and then ship them on to Canada. Keen plant collectors around the country scooped up these gems until the Chinese import program sadly ended a couple of years later. Without his work, who knows if and when these superb forms of Edgeworthia chrysantha would have reached the US. A plantsman’s salute is in order for Pierre Piroche.

Edgeworthia taxonomy continues to be a moving target. The long known name Edgeworthia papyrifera was shot down when DNA studies showed that it was simply the diploid form of the triploid, and earlier published Edgeworthia chrysantha. Later, researchers dug up the yet earlier published name, Edgeworthia tomentosa (formerly Magnolia tomentosa)…a name which other researchers noted, is invalid since it was not correctly published.

Some folks have tried the orange flowered edgeworthia (‘Akebono’) that shows up in the market from time to time. Sadly, it’s the non-fragrant diploid form that has very little winter hardiness. We gave up on this in the mid-1990s after killing it our prerequisite three times. I am excited to share that a new orange-flowered form of the hardy fragrant form is finally poised to hit the market in the next few years.

Below are a few shots of Edgeworthia ‘Snow Cream’ at JLBG this week in it’s full blaze of glory. The daphne-like fragrance is akin to walking by a department store fragrance counter. Because of our consistently cool winter, flowering this year is about 2-3 weeks behind normal. We have found that edgeworthia grows equally as well in light shade or part sun…as long as the soil is well drained. Mature size seems to be in the 7-8′ range. To quote the late Paul Harvery…”Now you know the rest of the story.”

Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Snow Cream’ – 2
Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Snow Cream’ – 3
Edgeworthia chrysantha – new orange selection…top secret

What happened in Glandorf, thankfully didn’t stay in Glandorf

One of several breakthroughs in lenten rose breeding has been the development of the Helleborus x glandorfensis hybrids by the breeders at Germany’s Heuger hellebores. In the town of Glandorf, near the border with Netherlands, these amazing crosses of Helleborus x hybridus with Helleborus x ericsmithii (niger x lividus x argutifolius) were developed. While there are several H. x glandorfensis clones entering the market now, the first two were H. ‘Ice n Roses Red’ and ‘Ice n Roses White’, which you can see below. The special traits of the series are large, outfacing flowers, sterility, and extremely dark black-green foliage. We look forward to bring more of these excellent hybrids to markets as our trials dictate.

Helleborus x glandorfensis ‘Ice n Roses Red’ – our 4 year old clump
Helleborus x glandorfensis ‘Ice n Roses White’ – our 2 year old clump

Icebergs are breaking off, but Iburgs are breaking bad

Another recent dramatic improvement in hybrid lenten roses started at the small mom/pop nursery in England, RD plants. Here, Rodney David and Lynda Windsor created the first known hybrids of Hellleborus x ballardiae (niger x lividus) and Helleborus x hybridus. These revolutionary hybrids, previously thought impossible, are now known as Helleborus x iburgensis. They combine stunningly beautiful marbled foliage (from the H. lividus parent), with outfacing flowers (due to both H. lividus and H. niger), with a wide range of flower colors (due to Helleborus x hybridus). Because of the wide range of species used to create these gems, they have been effectively neutered so that no seedlings will be occurring in your garden. Below are a few from our gardens this winter.

Helleborus x iburgensis ‘Bayli’s Blush’
Helleborus x iburgensis ‘Charmer’
Helleborus x iburgensis ‘Cheryl’s Shine’
Helleborus x iburgensis ‘Dana’s Dulcet’
Helleborus x iburgensis ‘Dorothy’s Dawn’
Helleborus x iburgensis ‘Glenda’s Gloss’
Helleborus x iburgensis ‘Molly’s White’
Helleborus x iburgensis ‘Penny’s Pink’
Helleborus x iburgensis ‘Pippa’s Purple’

Ooops a Daisy

Many clonal plants we grow today are propagated by tissue culture…also known as micropropagation. In most cases, this involves taking tiny cuttings and growing them in a test tube filled with a goey algae product known as agar. Tissue culture allows many rare plants to be produced quickly and often inexpensively, which is great when it comes to making plants available far and wide. When vegatatively propagating plants through more conventional “macro” methods, it’s usually easy to notice when a mutation occurs. That’s not always the case in micropropagation since the plants are much smaller and don’t flower until they are grown out after leaving the lab. This is why daylily tissue culture has been disastrous. All kinds of floral mutation occur in the lab, only to be noticed years later after the plants are sold and grown out in home gardens.

All of the hellebores clones are micropropagated and so far, we have found almost no floral mutations…until this week. Below is a micropropagated double-flowered clone of the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger ‘Snow Frills’. The top image is the correct plant with two rows of petals. The bottom is a mutation we found in the garden in which the second row of petals is mutated. Honestly, we like the mutation better. As a plant producer, however, we don’t know what form we will receive in our next batch of plants from the lab, but that’s simply the nature of the process.

Helleborus niger ‘Snow Frills’
Helleborus niger ‘Snow Frills’ floral mutation.

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.

Take a Look at Our Fall Bloomers!

For many, fall is the best time of year to garden. The heat of summer has finally broken and the crisp autumn air is a delight to work in. Fall perennials take over for the summer flowers and keep the garden showy as the days get shorter.

Here are some fall bloomers from the garden this week. Be sure to check out all of our fall blooming plants during the Fall Open Nursery & Garden Days, September 18-20 & 25-27, 2020.

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!

Opuntia – Prickly Pear

Opuntia is a rather large genus of cacti, containing some 200 or more species native to the deserts of the Americas. Opuntia are amazingly adaptable and can be found native in almost every US state and Canada. Plant Delights Nursery at Juniper Level Botanic Garden has a large collection of opuntia with over 300 unique clones.

Many of our opuntia clumps have gotten quite large over the years and are in need of dividing. We will be offering pads of select clones to give away (pick up only) during our 2020 Summer Open Nursery & Garden Days. What a great time to start an opuntia collection!

Opuntia phaeacantha ‘Tahiti Sunrise’

Opuntia species have a distinctive look, with flat pads, beautiful, large flowers and fig-sized, maroon fruits. Both the fruits and the young pads are edible provided that you carefully remove all of the thorns and hairs.

Opuntia ‘Coral Carpet’
Opuntia mesacantha ssp. mesacantha

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.

Done goneii or Gone dunnii?

Amorphophallus dunnii has long been one of the stars of the winter-hardy love lily clan, but now we’ve gone and really “dun” something even more odd. Amorphophallus dunnii is in flower right now in the garden with it’s typical 1′ tall peculiar, but fragrantless flower spike. This year for the first time, our collection of Amorphophallus dunnii from Lai Chau in North Vietnam flowered, and we were thrilled to measure it at just over 3′ tall. The super-sized petiole and leaf last summer gave us a hint of what was to come. Evidently plants from this region in North Vietnam are dramatically taller than those of the same species from mainland China. We are now working to vegetatively propagate this special form so that we can share it in the future.

Who needs Viagra when you’re Soo hot?

Last week, I was innocently feeling up the spadix on our flowering Sauromatum, when I noticed it was incredibly hot…not in the biblical sense, you understand. We grabbed our new Covid thermometer to take its temperature, and with an ambient outdoor temperature of 61 degrees F, our Sauromatum spadix registered 96.3 F….that’s a 35 degree F fever!

In the plant world, this “fever” is known as thermogenesis. Pretend you’re a plant, and a pretty homely one at that. You’re ready for the big once-a-year moment and are probably wondering if you’ll get lucky in the short time window that your sexual parts will be functional. You also know you were born with an aphrodisiac to help you get laid, but it’s only good if you can get the word out. That’s where thermogenesis comes in handy. Many members of the aroid family (think anthurium and philodendron) were born with the ability to crank up the temperature in their sexual regions to disperse the fragrance of their aphrodisiac. In the case of aroids, that would be the smell of rotting flesh. Once our sauromatum got the heat going, there was a steady stream of incoming flies looking to get laid. Actually, they were looking for food and got tricked into satisfying the desires of our horny sauromatum. Isn’t nature amazing!

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)

A Fairy Wing and a Prayer

Epimediums have long been a staple of the woodland perennial garden, but it wasn’t until plantsmen like Darrell Probst (US) and Mikinori Ogisu (Japan) began discovering and sharing the amazing wealth of unknown Chinese fairy wing species that their popularity began to take off.

It wasn’t until 1998 that epimediums begin appearing in the Plant Delights catalog, because before that time, the available horticultural offerings just weren’t that impressive. Plants like Epimedium x youngianum ‘Niveum’ are just hard to get excited about…if you’ve got much of a horticultural pulse. Sadly, that’s still the most dominant choice at most garden retailers.

Epimedium x youngianum ‘Niveum’

Another reason epimediums have been slow to become mainstream is the difficulty in getting good images. Because epimediums are so three-dimensional and prone to flutter in the wind, it takes quite an effort to take good images. Single flower closeups, which are much easier to take, always make me skeptical about how nice the entire plant will look in the garden.

When we were preparing to offer epimediums for the first time, we were faced with the decision of which of the three common names to use; fairy wings, barrenwort, and horny goat weed. Well, it doesn’t take much marketing savvy to choose from that list. That said, if we’d known that porn megastar Ron Jeremy would soon have his own line of epimedium tablets for male enhancement purposes, we might have reconsidered.

PDN/JLBG epimedium trials and study area

Once we became enamoured with fairy wings, we did as OCD people are prone to do, and built an entire research structure for the study, development, and trial of epimediums. We currently grow over 330 different epimedium taxa…some for study, some for conservation, and some which have enough garden value to share. It usually takes us about five years to fully evaluate a new epimedium seedling, comparing it to all other varieties on the market.

Since 2000, we’ve introduced over 27 of our own epimedium selections with more in the queue. Here are a few that we’ve already introduced that have proven to be excellent performers. We hope you’ve tried them all.

So, what’s next? Here’s a sneak peak of some of selections that have passed the final stages of in-ground trialing and are ready to head to container production trials. Our standards include good garden vigor, good floral showiness, and uniqueness from all other epimediums on the market. We like to think our standards are pretty high. We’d love to hear which of these future introductions below are your favorites.

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.

Do You Remember Ginger?

There are lots of different gingers to keep straight, starting with a memorable one that was a part of the band of misfits stranded on Gilligan’s Island. Horticulturally speaking, however, ginger refers both to a group of plants in the Zingiberaceae and Aristolochiaceae (birthwort) families. Hardy members of the Zingiber family are plants who mostly flower in the heat of summer, while the wild gingers (asarum) of the birthwort family tend to be mostly winter/spring flowering.

So, while it’s late winter/early spring, let’s focus of the woodland perennial genus asarum, of which we currently grow 86 of the known 177 asarum species/subspecies. In late winter/early spring, we like to remove any of the winter damaged evergreen leaves, which makes the floral show so much more visible. Few people take time to bend down and observe their amazing flowers, so below are some of floral photos we took this spring. View our full photo gallery here.

Asarum arifolium (Native: SE US)
Asarum caudatum (Native: NW US)
Asarum asaroides ‘Jade Turtle’ (Native: Japan)
Asarum asperum ‘Fault Line’ (Native: Japan)
Asarum campaniflorum (Native: China)
Asarum caudigerum (Native: China)
Asarum hirsutisepalum (Native: Japan)
Asarum ichangense ‘Huddled Masses’ (Native: China)
Asarum magnificum ‘Bullseye’ (Native: China)
Asarum nobilissimum ‘Crown Royal’ (Native: China)
Asarum nobilissimum ‘King Kong’ (Native: China)
Asarum porphyronotum ‘Irish Spring’ (Native: China)
Asarum senkakuinsulare (Native: Japan)
Asarum speciosum ‘Bloodshot Eyes’ (Native: SE US)
Asarum splendens (Native: China)

A Concrete Idea

Unless you’ve been hiding under a piece of concrete, you’ve no doubt heard of our crevice garden experiment, constructed with recycled concrete and plants planted in chipped slate (Permatill). It’s been just over three years since we started the project and just over a year since its completion. In all, the crevice garden spans 300′ linear feet and is built with 200 tons of recycled concrete. The garden has allowed us to grow a range of dryland (6-12″ of rain annually) plants that would otherwise be ungrowable in our climate which averages 45″ of rain annually.

One of many plants we’d killed several times ptc (prior to crevice) are the arilbred iris, known to iris folks as ab’s. These amazing hybrids are crosses between the dazzling middleastern desert species and bearded hybrids. Being ready to try again post crevice (pc), we sent in our order to a California iris breeder, who promptly emailed to tell us that he would not sell them to us because they were ungrowable here. It took some persuading before they agreed to send our order, but on arrival, they became some of the first plants to find a home in the new crevices. Although we’ve added more ab’s each year, the original plantings will be three years old in August. Here are a few flowers from this week.

Iris are just a few of the gems that can be found in our “cracks”, continuing below with dianthus. As we continually take note of our trial successes, more and more of those gems will find their way into our catalog and on-line offerings…as long as we can produce it in a container. Please let us know if any of these strikes your fancy.

If that’s not enough, here are some more shinning stars currently in bloom.