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.
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.
There were beautiful masses of the evergreen groundcover galax, growing on the eastern slope.
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.
Wednesday, March 23, 2022 is the NC State University Day of Giving…a time for those who want to support activities at NC State. In our case, that means the endowment we are building to preserve Juniper Level Botanic Gardens. If you care about ensuring the gardens remain intact for future generations, please consider making a contribution to the endowment. You can do so at this link to the University Endowment Fund for JLBG.
A couple of weeks ago, we mentioned our landscaping project on the north side of Mt. Michelle to create more intricate planting pockets, while raising the planting heights significantly via the use of rock assisted berms.
Phase 2 of the project was to create a cut through on northwest side through a previously inaccessible bed. Phase 2 is now complete, and visitors can now traverse the new path, exiting into the northwest side of the Mt. Michelle waterfall. This path takes you under the large speckled-leaf loquat, Magnolia macclurei, and several large conifers, so be sure to look up as well as down.
Last week, Jeremy and his staff tackled phase 3 of the project, which was the two 50 degree slopes on the west side of Mt. Michelle. Despite being planted for some time, we had lost some soil due to runoff, and the plants were screaming for more compost, and we were screaming for more rock pockets.
In less than a week, Jeremy’s team stacked these new retaining planting walls, which provide hundreds of new planting pockets for small woodland treasures. Each is now filled with our garden compost mix as well as an array of small, little-known plants. Just remember, if you garden on flat ground and think you are out of planting space, the key is to learn to think like a Pythagorean…a² + b² = c²…go vertical.
You’ll be able to see these newly planted areas during our winter open house, although it will take a while for the plants to mature.
If you’ve visited JLBG, you know how much we love working with rocks, so we continue to find new areas to plant more. We’ve recently tackled two long overdue projects near the Mt. Michelle waterfall.
The first was re-working the Mt. Michelle watercourse we know as Mystic Creek (named after one of our late cats). When this was installed in 2003, we used concrete to form the water channel. Well, after 18 years, tree roots had their way with the concrete, which lost both the battle and the war.
After a fair amount of root excavation work, Jeremy and Nick installed a new rubber liner, with rocks along the edge. We’ll probably wait until spring to finish the replanting in order to avoid planting on top of something that was winter dormant. Below is the new rocked watercourse.
Phase 2 of the project was re-working an adjacent bed, where light levels had changed dramatically since it was installed in 1998. Originally a full sun bed, the shrubs on the west side have grown substantially, leaving us with a bed that only gets 3-4 hours of sun on one end, and a full shade area underneath the canopy.
Here, we raised the center of the bed, with more of Jeremy and Nick’s rock work, which was then filled with our on-site created compost. This created a visual barrier to much of the winding path that visitors use to get closer to the small plants, which are now tucked in the crevices.
One the back (west) side, Jeremy and Nick installed another small rock seating area, of which there are never enough.
There are a few more days of rock work to complete Phase 2, then we’ll start on Phase 3, which will rework the west face of Mt. Michelle, with more boulders to create additional planting pockets. We hope you’ll check out the progress at our upcoming winter open house.
We’ve been working on upgrading many of the temporary gates throughout the garden, our first few, which went in this year are all designed by NC sculptor Jim Gallucci, from photos we took in the JLBG Gardens. We all need more art in our gardens…Enjoy!
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If any of this seems interesting, you probably should be a member of the North American Rock Garden Society…a group of similarly afflicted individuals. If you are specifically addicted to cracks, check out the nearly 2000 strong, really sick folks on Modern Crevice Gardens on Facebook
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Time to return to Shaftesbury for the final talk of the day, a lecture by our friend Dr. John Grimshaw.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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’.
Humanity could not exist without plants. People’s interactions with plants have evolved throughout history from medicinal, to magical, to nutritional. These interactions often resulted in whimsical, fanciful tales tied to oral history passed from one generation to the next.
Take for example the genus Adiantum, maidenhair fern: The genus is derived from the Greek for “unwetted” because water rolls off the fronds. The individual pinnae were thought to resemble the hair of Venus, from Roman mythology, when she was born from the sea, fully formed and with dry hair, thus the common name maidenhair fern.
As part of our Gardening Unplugged garden chat series held in conjunction with our Open Nursery & Garden Days, assistant nursery manager, Dennis Carey, leads a brief tour through the gardens discussing the plant folklore surrounding some popular garden plants. Learn more about adiantum and other plant folklore here!
During each day of our Open Nursery & Garden Days, we offer a free garden chat as part of our educational outreach, “Gardening Unplugged”. These are 15 minute discussions walking through the gardens, focusing on seasonally prominent topics, plants and garden design ideas. Join Tony and our expert horticultural staff as we explore all that nature has to offer. Meet at the Welcome Tent near the parking lot to join us!
When will they develop scratch and sniff smart phones?
“I’ll never forget my first encounter as a preteen with Hedychium coronarium, when my dad took me to the garden of a local gardener, Rachel Dunham. There, in the midst of her lawn was a huge clump of hardy ginger plant in full flower. I was amazed how a plant that looked so tropical and had such fragrant flowers could be so winter hardy and easy to grow. Since Mrs. Dunham was overly generous, I went home with a huge sack of plants for my own garden. As with every OCD gardener, this would mark only the beginning of my hedychium collecting phase, which continues today. Thirty five years later, I would finally see ginger lilies in the wild on a botanical expedition to North Vietnam.” Tony Avent
What sweltering weather we have been having in Raleigh, NC the last couple of weeks. But the gardening must go on! We welcome you to the last weekend of our Summer Open Nursery & Garden Days. Saturday 8 am – 5 pm and Sunday 1 pm – 5 pm.
Don’t forget about our Gardening Unplugged garden chats: 10 am – Ex-situ Conservation, 2 pm – Hardy Palms, just meet at the welcome tent!!
Expect the unexpected around every turn at Juniper Level Botanic Garden! Yesterday, during our Gardening Unplugged garden chat with Garden Curator, Amanda Wilkins, we came upon a happy pair of white satin moths enjoying the sun and each others company upon an Echinodorus leaf in the sunken garden.
Simply meet at the welcome tent at 10 am and 2 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 pm on Sundays, and explore a wide range of seasonally pertinent topics such as Fragrant Plants in the Garden, Hardy Palms, and Floral Arranging.
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.
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!
It’s hard to believe that spring open nursery and garden days is almost here. Spring is always a busy time of year and our nursery and garden staff have been working tirelessly making sure the gardens are in prime condition and our sales houses are brimming with beautiful plants.
Take advantage of shopping our sales houses for many unique and rare perennials, many exclusively available at Plant Delights Nursery. We are offering nearly 20 varieties of Baptisia this year, more than you will find at most garden centers. Many are from our own breeding program at Juniper Level Botanic Garden and include two 2019 introductions you will find no where else.
Join Tony, Friday, May 3 at 10am for a stroll through the gardens as he discusses baptisias, part of our Gardening Unplugged garden chat series.
The hardy orchids also look amazing this year, with seven different bletilla and over 30 varieties of ladyslippers and calanthe available, you are sure to find one for that special spot in your garden.
As part of our Gardening Unplugged chat series, our nursery manager, Meghan Fidler, will be discussing hardy orchids in the garden and how you can be successful growing them in your garden.
The pitcher plants are blooming and our hosta house is bursting with color that will brighten any shady nook. Be sure to mark your calendars and join Tony Saturday, May 4 as he explores the fascinating world of our native pitcher plants, and come back the following weekend as Tony showcases hostas in the garden and our hosta breeding program at JLBG.
You will also have the opportunity to shop the sales houses at Plant Delights Nursery and take home and abundance of rare and unique perennials, as well as exclusive PDN introductions available nowhere else.
After all this exploring, shopping, and enlightened horticultural engagement, take time to refuel with local food trucks that will be available during both weekends. Current schedule is as follows:
In a matter of two days, most of our region went from abnormally dry to saturated, when an unusual weather system tracked across our area. Not to worry…we’ve loaded two each of every plant on the green arc for safe keeping.
We tallied 5.5″ of rain at the nursery, while areas a few miles away registered almost 9 inches. As you’ve no doubt seen on the news, areas in and around creeks and rivers are underwater. Fortunately, we’re fine as all our time spent on water management preparation paid dividends.
The gardens looks absolutely fabulous, so we hope to see you at our 2017 Spring Open Nursery and Garden which starts today (Friday). We’ve prepared a special display of the new xMangaves (agave x manfreda hybrids) on the deck area, so we hope you’ll stop by and check out this amazing new category of drought-tolerant succulents for both containers and the garden. See you soon!
October is a transitional month in the garden, as the plants of summer begin to fade and the stars of the autumn garden begin to shine. Join us Saturday October 8 from 10am – noon for a two-hour class…an interactive outdoor walk through our extensive botanical gardens, discussing the plants in the garden, and how and why they grow.
October is a transitional month in the garden, as the plants of summer begin to fade and the stars of the autumn garden begin to shine. Register online and join us for this two-hour class…an interactive outdoor walk through our extensive botanical gardens, discussing the plants in the garden, and how and why they grow. Come prepared to write as we send you on plant overload.
Here is a peek in the garden today. There’s always something new to see!
Tony Avent hosted Plant Delights Nursery’s Let’s Talk Plants Garden Walk yesterday at Juniper Level Botanical Gardens. Despite a steamy high of 93 degrees, the turnout was great and the enthusiastic gardeners kept Tony answering questions on a vast and … Continue reading →