Cryptomeria japonica ‘Little Diamond’ is one of our favorite dwarf Japanese cedar selections, this one from Holland Konjin Nursery prior to 1990. This specimen at JLBG is five years old and measures 2′ tall x 3′ wide. At maturity, we have seen these reach 4′ tall x 8′ wide.
Category Archives: Plant images from the garden and nursery
Weeping cast irons
Most gardeners know the genus aspidistra (cast iron plant) from one or two species, and if that’s the case, you probably only know those which hold their leaves vertically upright. There are equally as many species with pendant leaves, which provide a completely different form in the woodland garden. Here are two of those pendant-leaf species from the garden this week.
The first is Aspidistra sichuanensis, which is one of the larger growing species. A single clump can easily spread to 6′ in width in a couple of decades. This clump has topped out at 3.5′ in height.
Below that is Aspidistra ebianensis ‘Flowing Fountains’. With narrower, wavier foliage, it makes a large clump, albeit slightly smaller than Aspidistra sichuanensis. Both plants are winter hardy from Zone 7b and south.
Ice n’ Roses Dilemma
Below are more of the Ice n’ Roses snow roses flowering now in the gardens at JLBG. These amazing sterile hybrids were created in Germany by the Heuger plant breeding company. They have proven fabulous in our trials, but are still often difficult to find due to the screwy production cycle.
Because these snow roses, as Heuger calls them, are clonal and sterile, they can only be commercially produced by tissue culture, which is all done overseas. The non-rooted microplants are shipped in sterile containers to the US, where they are received at rooting stations (nurseries capable of putting roots on these microplants).
There are only three North American rooting stations used by Heuger, one in Canada, and one on each of the US coasts. Once the microplants have roots and have grown large enough, they are purchased by finish growers, who pot and grow them for 2-3 months before they are a saleable size.
For a finish grower or retail nursery to have plants available to sell in late winter or early spring, they would need to receive liners (small plants with roots) from the rooting stations in September/October. The problem is that these rooting stations usually get their unrooted microplants from overseas in fall, when their losses are less and the plants finish faster.
Consequently, these rooting stations only have plants available for the finish growers from February – April. This means that the finish grower and retailer will only have plants ready to sell at the beginning of summer, which is certainly not ideal unless you live in the northern tier of states or Canada.
The only option a finished grower has is to hold the plants through the summer and fall, to have them available in the late winter flowering season. This drives up the crop cost dramatically, since a nursery has an overhead cost per square foot per month of growing space. Until a change is dictated by the grower throughout the supply chain, it is unlikely that the supply will be able to keep up with the potential demand. Anyone think making plants available is easy?
The Spectrum of Siblings
Throughout the years, we’ve grown literally thousands…perhaps 10s of thousands of seedlings of the Japanese sacred lily, Rohdea japonica. Each one varies slightly, but we only save those at the far end of the bell curve. Here are three of our seedlings which well represent that dramatic variation at each end of the spectrum…a wide leaf form we named Rohdea ‘Stork Nest’ (15 yrs old), a very narrow leaf form we named Rohdea ‘Thin Man’ (16 years old), and a miniature that has yet to be named.
Arisarum in hiding
We were delighted to find a flower on our Arisarum simorrhinum in early February, tucked in a the base of a dwarf Chamaecyparis (false cypress). This little-grown Mediterranean native, dryland aroid is first cousin to the better known mouse plant, Arisarum proboscideum. This baby has been in the ground for 20 years, so slow is the operative word.
We have long loved small crevice-sized succulents, but have also killed far more than our share, due mostly to our wet, cold winters. The newest star in our trials is the South African, Rabiea albipuncta, a first cousin to the better known, Delosperma. We should mention, that new DNA research has actually suggested a name change to Nananthus vittatus would be more correct, so we’ll be re-tagging shortly.
This gift from Denver Botanic Garden plantsman extraordinaire, Panayoti Kelaidis, has thrived in the gardens since 2018. We actually tried this back in 2004, but our site simply didn’t drain well enough in winter. This image was taken here at JLBG on February 2 this year, which shows how insanely tolerant the flowers are of cold weather. We hope to make this available next year through Plant Delights Nursery. This gem forms a substantial caudex, and as such is highly prized by bonsai enthusiasts.
We’ve “enjoyed” frozen precipitation for three consecutive weekends this winter, with one producing a decent 3.5″ snow. There’s something magnetic about snow on century plants, that makes you grab your camera and snap away.
The white of the snow looks out of place on an agave, although it does wonders for accenting the architectural structure of the plant. We have worked for 35 years to identify and create agaves which are completely tolerant of such weather events. Below are a couple of our hybrids, created here at JLBG.
Where firs fear to tread
Here’s a photo we took during our recent snow event of the amazing Abies bornmuelleriana (Turkish Fir). Not bad for out hot, humid, Zone 7b climate! It’s hard to imagine that there are beds of agaves growing nearby.This specimen is now 24 years old. Winter hardiness is Zone 5a-8b.
No running allowed
Fargesia robusta is one of the many excellent clumping bamboos for the garden. Thriving in light shade to part sun, this evergreen gem tops out around 7′ in height. We know it’s still hard for some people to realize, but clumping bamboos truly cannot run. This garden specimen at JLBG is now 22 years old. We love both the texture and architecture of bamboos. Winter hardiness is Zone 7a-8b.
Early lenten rose
Every year, we grow thousands of lenten roses from our own seed collections in the garden. Most, we sell at our Winter Open Nursery and Garden as Helleborus x hybridus ‘Winter Delights’. All of our Winter Delights hellebores are hand selected by color after they flower. Every now and then, an incredibly unique form gets pulled for the gardens and here is one of those from a few years ago. This amazing plant has huge 3.5″ wide flowers, and was already in full flower by January 1. We hope everyone can visit our upcoming Winter Open House and see the amazing hellebore selections in the garden.
Finally, a ferner adapts
Since ferns are one of the groups on which we focus our ex-situ conservation efforts, we have collected a huge number of species and selections from around the world. One that has continually frustrated us is the miniature rock fern, Asplenium trichomanes. Although this small gem is native to every continent except Antartica, we have struggled to keep it alive.
In our travels, we have collected it from Europe to Africa, but have also managed to kill all of those collections in the garden. Since our first attempt in 2004, we have now killed Asplenium trichomanes 16 times. We believe, however, in the late JC Raulston’s mantra, “Unless you are killing plants, you aren’t growing as a gardener.” The key is how many times do you continue to try before giving up?
We’re pretty stubborn as long as we feel we keep learning from each failure. Our latest accession of this species, which came as spores from Russia’s south coast, is actually thriving in our crevice garden, where the pH is north of 8.0. It seems that the crevice habitat is the answer.
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 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 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 x microglossum (below) is a natural hybrid between Ruscus hypophyllum and Ruscus hypoglossum…quite a tongue-full.
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.
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.
We hope you’ll take notice of these great evergreens during your next visit to JLBG.
This winter has been an amazing one at JLBG for the mid-winter flowering, evergreen magnolias. Formerly known as Michelia, there are several species from warm temperature Asian climates, which flower in the mid-winter. The plant in the top photo is our oldest specimen of Magnolia platypetala, and below is Magnolia macclurei…both planted in 1999, and in full flower in January. Obviously, we will loose open flowers if winter night temperatures drop too far below freezing, but the remainder of the flower buds usually open shortly after temperatures warm.
Also, the bright gold shrub in the first image is the original plant of our introduction, Illicium parviflorum ‘Florida Sunshine’…the plant from which all plants in the world were propagated. To the lower right is the Mediterranean native, Phlomis fruticosa ‘Miss Grace’. All in all, a lovely winter garden combination.
Tender Mason’s Lily
Here is the reportedly tender Massonia depressa from South Africa in full flower in our crevice garden. I should add that this photo was taken 2 nights after we recorded 16 degrees F. I guess when the source of all worthwhile information, Wikipedia, says “When cultivated in a temperate environment, M. depressa does not tolerate freezing temperatures, so must be grown under glass in a cold greenhouse or similar.” we should take that as fake gardening news. Hmmm.
Massonia is a genus of bulbs in the Asparagus family, related to the more familiar genus scilla. Winter hardiness of this species is….well, still to be determined, but we’re good to at least Zone 8b so far.
Another of the mid-winter flowering species of wild ginger is the Chinese Asarum ichangense. Here is a green leaf form of this easy-to-grow wild ginger in late January from the top. If you push aside the leaves, you’ll see the amazing floral show, hidden beneath. Winter hardiness in Zone 6b-8b, and possibly colder.
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.
Below is the same shot when this section was begun in 1988.
A Characias Cracker
For years, we struggled to grow the Mediterranean/Balkan native spurge, Euphorbia characias…until we discovered its secrets. First, it isn’t a long lived plant to begin with…in most cases 3-5 years is it, so you’ll need to plant it where it’s likely to reseed. That would be well-drained slopes that are either mulched or covered with gravel.
Secondly, after it flowers in spring with its stunning show of yellow flowers, remove most of the flower stalks as soon as flowering has finished, except those needed to produce new seedlings (the flowers are also great to use in floral arrangements). If not, the seed stalks use up energy causing the plant to decline much faster. We’ve now allowed this to seed throughout the slopes in front of our house, and here is the result…a smattering of 3′ tall x 3′ wide clumps, photo taken mid-winter.
Although this section of the garden, planted in compost-amended sandy loam is irrigated, we typically don’t recommend irrigation for this spurge without excellent drainage. You’ll also read on-line that Euphorbia characias doesn’t like hot, humid summers…another example of fake gardening news that just keeps getting repeated without any concern for the facts.
We’ve also found Euphorbia characias to grow well in part sun under large trees, which keeps the soil dry. The plants will never be as dense as they are in full sun, but they survive and flowers. There is really not anything else that gives you this evergreen blue color and form in the winter garden.
Pittosporum tobira ‘Kansai Sunburst’ is looking lovely in the mid-winter garden. This Japanese selection emerges with brightly cream-edged leaves which age to green. This selection came to the US, via the former Asiatica Nursery, which brought so many wonderful Japanese selections to American gardeners.
This native of China, Japan, and Korea should mature around 10′ in height. Pittosporum tobira is prized for its spring-produced, intensely-fragrant small white flowers that smell like orange blossoms. We’ve had our plants in the ground since 2007, so they’ve passed the survival test of two winters with low temperatures in the single digits F. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
bloomin’ Ice n’ Roses
The Helleborus x gladorfensis hybrids, known as the “Ice n’ Roses” series have begun with the opening of Helleborus ‘Ice n’ Roses Barolo’. This is the earlies flowering and darkest clone in the series…just a shade darker than H. ‘Ice n’ Roses Red’. These are sterile hybrids derived from crossed of Helleborus niger with Helleborus x hybridus. Winter hardiness is Zone 5a-8b.
Artist’s Palette in Winter
Asarum hypogynum ‘Artist’s Palette’ is in full flower here at JLBG in late January. Despite being first published in 1915, this little-known species is very poorly represented in ex-situ plant collections worldwide. Our clone is a division from a wild plant we brought back from our 2008 botanical expedition to Taiwan. The foliage on this species is some of the largest in the entire genus. For us, Asarum hypogynum starts flowering in late summer and continues most of the winter. We are working to eventually be able to share this with other collectors. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
Bye Bye Borinda
We love busting horticultural myths, and here’s our latest. Borinda fungosa is another of the wonderful clumping bamboos from China, which, according to bamboo authorities, will not tolerate either our winter temperatures or our summer heat and humidity. Well, darn!
Excuse us for sharing this photo from late January, but here is our 2010 planting of a seed grown plant, and of course, it’s easy to see how poorly it’s growing. That said, we know that it will die to the ground at single digits F, and then re-sprout the following spring. The lesson…don’t believe everything you hear or read.
Winter Iris Parade
With a mild winter so far at JLBG, our numerous Iris unguicularis clones have been flowering beautifully. First is the clone Iris unguicularis ‘Francis Wolseley’ and then Iris unguicularis ‘Winter Echoes’. Colors in this species ranges from white to light blue to dark purple.
High on Loquats
We truly love loquats…both to grow and consume. I first met Eriobotrya japonica in 1976 on a walk around the NC State campus with the late Dr. JC Raulston. I was amazed to see a mature 30’+ specimen growing against one of the campus buildings. I was determined to grow one of our own, so in the mid 1990s, we planted our first specimen here at JLBG.
Loquats, a Chinese native member of the rose family, makes a lovely small tree with large, evergreen foliage that resembles a corrugated Magnolia grandiflora. Another exceptional feature is the fragrant white flowers that start to open around Christmas. These are followed by delicious orange fruit in early spring, when winter temperatures don’t drop below the mid-teens F. Loquat foliage is also brewed as a tea, in addition to its numerous medicinal benefits. We have always found loquats to be much more winter hardy than most of the literature indicates. Our oldest specimen planted in 1997, has never experienced any winter damage. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
Are you a blue fan?
We love our Mediterranean blue fan palms…one of the coolest palms we can grow outdoors. We’re right on the edge of winter hardiness for Chamaerops humilis var. argentea, so the key is to grow it to a larger size before planting in the ground. We’ve lost a few that we planted too small, and when that planting coincided with a cold winter.
This is a photo taken this January of our oldest clump, now 17 years old. This is a very slow growing palm, so a good bit of patience is required when getting it established. When we do experience single digits F winter temperatures, all of the foliage is burned back, but it re-sprouts from the base in spring. Mediterranean blue fan palm hails from high elevations in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, where it eventually makes a 15′ tall specimen. In our cold winter climate, we doubt it will ever top 4′ in height. It should be winter hardy from Zone 7b and warmer.
Perfume of the Princess
Quite a few really smart horticulturists told us we didn’t have a chance of succeeding with Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’ in our climate. We’ll, we’re almost 2 years in the ground with this New Zealand hybrid of Daphne bholua x Daphne odora. It’s already full of flowers, where it’s thriving in our crevice garden. In the sense of full disclosure, we’ve never been able to keep the Daphne bholua parent alive. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer to at least Zone 8b.
A Major Minus
Asarum minus ‘Cupid’ is one of our heavily silver patterned selections of our native wild ginger. When cold weather arrives, the evergreen leaves take on a lovely purple cast. This is an excellent clonal selection we made in 1994 from a construction site, and one we hope to offer in the future though Plant Delights Nursery.
Okay…everyone raise your hand if you’ve grown Mytilaria laosensis. This odd monotypic genus, native from Southern China to Laos, is first cousin to the also virtually unknown genus Exbucklandia, both in the Witch Hazel family, Hamamelidaceae . Since we’ve had our Exbucklandia in the ground since 1997, we though it was worth trying its cousin.
Our Mytilaria is Dan Hinkley’s collection from Huanan…probably the first accession in the country. Dan has actually never put one in the ground and told me that it would certainly die when we hit 27F. Well, we’ve dropped to 25 so far, and it still looks great, so we’ve already pushed the envelope. We truly have no idea what temperatures it will take, but that’s why we trial plants. As the late JC Raulston used to say, “Unless you’re killing plants, you’re not growing as a gardener.”
In full flower now at JLBG is Mahonia x lindsayae ‘Cantab’, a hybrid of Mahonia japonica and the virtually unknown Mahonia siamensis. The intensely sweet fragrance is truly intoxicating…the strongest in the genus Mahonia. Sadly, you’ll rarely find this available for sale, since it’s somewhat gangly form doesn’t curry favor with most nursery growers. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
Camellia japonica ‘Tama no Ura’ has been fabulous this winter, both when the flowers are attached as well as when they just fall to the ground below. This amazing plant was actually discovered in the wilds of China, so no breeding was involved in its creation. It was subsequently introduced to horticulture in 1947 by the Nuccio family of California, who have since worked to create a series of similar flowered selections using these same genetics…all superb.
Do the Limbata
Here’s an image taken this month of the wonderful Aucuba japonica ‘Limbata’. While most aucubas have yellow leaf specks, this old cultivar, first mentioned in historical literature in 1864, is sadly still quite unknown in gardens. That’s not too surprising, however, due to its slow production time as a commercial nursery crop. For dry shade in Zone 7a-9, this wonderful broadleaf evergreen is hard to beat.
Lithophytes, epiphytes, tigers, and bears…oh my
Just out in the garden in early January and wanted to share photos of a few of our favorite evergreen ferns that would rather not be growing in the ground. In our garden, these are all growing within a few feet of each other.
Each of these ferns are epiphytes, which grow attached to a tree, or lithophytes, which grow attached to a rock. None of these ferns actually need soil to grow, since they get their food and water from the atmosphere and accumulated organic debris. Epiphytes, however, don’t get nutrients from their host plant…only physical support.
All epiphytic ferns thrive in hanging baskets, especially the spaghnum-lined type, since this most closely mimics their natural preferences. In our case, we are a bit colder than their native haunts, so for us, we force these ferns to reside in the ground since that gives them a bit more protection during severe winter temperatures. The key for epiphytes to survive in the ground is to have very loose, organic soils and always plant them on a steep slope.
Neolepisorus fortunei ‘Green Ribbons’ is our 2017 introduction of a Chinese native epiphytic fern.
Pyrrosia lingua ‘Hiryu’ is also an epiphytic fern, native to Japan.
Lastly is Polypodium vulgare ‘Ulleung Island’. Instead of being an epiphyte, this evergreen fern is a lithophyte. Lithophytes are classified as either epilithic (growing across the rock surface) or endolithic (growing in cracks or crevices). Since we found this in the wild, growing across the surface of a giant rock, this fern is an epilithic lithophyte…say that three times fast. This is our 1997 collection from an island, far off the coast of South Korea.
We hope you’ll explore these unique ferns in your garden.
Unless you’re a serious plant nerd, you’ve probably never heard of the plant genus, Urophysa. This small genus of only two species in the clematis family (Ranunculaceae) is only found growing in Karst cliff crevices in a few limited provinces of South Central China. In other words, they are quite rare. Urophysa henryi was originally named Isopyrum henryi, when it was thought to be a brother of our native Isopyrum biternatum. Urophysa is now considered most closely related to the famed half-columbine, Semiaquilegia adoxoides.
While the Chinese people mostly use Urophysa henryi as a medicinal treatment for bruises, etc., we prefer it as a winter-flowering gem in the rock garden. Here are our plants, which began flowering in our rock garden, just as we turned the page on the new year, 2022.
We always love it when unexpected garden hookups yield unexpected results, and such was the case recently when, under the cover of darkness, two of our holly ferns took a liking to each other. The result of this conjugal interlude is our first hybrid of Cyrtomium fortunei x Cyrtomium falcatum, that we’ve named Cyrtomium x fortatum Spornication. The habit of the hybrid is intermediate between both parents. Now, we’ve just got to figure out how to get it propagated in order to share.
Since we’ve been growing agaves, one of the most fascinating things we’ve noticed is the incredible attraction of tree frogs and Carolina anoles to their leaf texture. There is hardly a day that goes by that we don’t spot one or the other, nestled on an agave leaf. Here is our most recent image of our native green tree frog, Hyla cinerea, basking in the sun on an Agave parryi hybrid. Ain’t nature grand!
Helleborus niger ‘Jesko’, aka: Christmas rose, has been looking fabulous in the woodland garden since late December. We find light, open shade results in the best flowering.
Following right behind Helleborus niger in our garden is Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Cinnamon Snow’…a hybrid with Helleborus niger. This is a photo from New Year’s day.
Too Straight and Narrow
It’s always interesting when we introduce a plant we think is an incredible addition to the garden, but virtually no one purchases it. Thank goodness, it doesn’t happen too often, but I’m reminded of one such case every day when I get home and admire our row of Agave x striateosa ‘Straight and Narrow’. This 2015 introduction was the first ever hybrid introduction of Agave bracteosa and Agave striata…both non-spiny century plants.
We couldn’t stand to throw out all the plants that didn’t sell, so we planted a row under a wide overhang along our home, where they never see any water, and are in shade for more than half the day. Here is one of those plants five years later, providing a texture and form that you simply can’t find with any other plants that tolerates those conditions.
We have a second seedling from the same cross, which we’ve never been able to share, but which flowered in 2015. Despite our best attempts, we were not able to get any seed set. Now, we await the first flowering of this clone in the hopes it is more fertile, so we can create some more unusual hybrids. Unlike most century plants, Agave striata is not monocarpic (doesn’t die after flowering), so we expect this hybrid to also live on in perpetuity after flowering. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-10, at least.
Rohdea japonica ‘Shishi’ is looking lovely in the woodland garden. Rohdea ‘Shishi’ is a dwarf Japanese selection of the evergreen sacred lily with leaves that curl downward creating an unusual bird nest like appearance. Winter hardiness is Zone 6b-8b.
Winter flowering Strawberry Tree
There aren’t a large number of trees that flower in winter in temperate climates, but one we can’t imagine gardening without is Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’. This amazing Mediterranean native has thrived for us since the late 1980s.
Arbutus is a member of the Ericaceae family, which is why the flower so closely resemble those of its cousin, Pieris.
The clusters of red fruit that ripen in late winter after months of flowering resembles miniature strawberries, hence the common name of strawberry tree. The shaggy cinnamon bark is also another striking ornamental feature. Our 30 year old specimen has reached 12′ tall x 12′ wide. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
Borinda macclureana is another superb clumping bamboo that has never received the good PR afforded other more popular species. Collected in Tibet at nearly 11,000′ elevation, it really has no business growing in the hot, humid southeastern climate, but that’s why we trial plants. Although Borinda macclureana can reach 25′ in its native haunts, our 15 year old specimen has only reached 8′ tall x 8′ wide.
It’s hard to imagine a better plant in the fall/winter garden than the southeast native woodland perennial, Gentiana saponaria. Looking quite amazing in our garden throughout December is Zac’s collection from Rockford, Georgia. We hope you’re growing this amazing plant in your garden. Hardiness is Zone 6b-8b, at least.
Flowering Tractor Seat
We recently had someone inquire if we grew tractor seat plant, a common name I had not heard prior. After a brief pause, I figured few plants, other than our 2000 introduction, could possibly fit that name. Sure enough, a quick web search confirmed that Farfugium japoncium var. giganetum ‘Marco’ is indeed their target. While wandering through the garden this weekend, I found one clump still in flower, that somehow avoided damage from several nights at 27 degrees F.
To our knowledge, this giant form of Farfgium japonicum, native Japan’s southernmost Ryukyu Islands, was first brought to the US by plantsman Marco Stufano, who rationed out one plant per year for a NY Rare Plant Auction. When Marco was ready to retire from Wave Hill, he finally shared a piece with us, so we could get it mass propagated, hence we named the clone in his honor. To our knowledge, all tractor seat plants sold in the US came from Marco’s original plant.
Green Giant in fruit
This is the best fruit set we’ve ever seen on the Chinese Disporum longistylum ‘Green Giant’. We love this semi-evergreen Solomon’s Seal, that was collected and introduced years earlier by our friend, plant explorer Dan Hinkley. On the West Coast, this reaches 7′ tall, but here in the hot, humid southeast, we’ve never had ours exceed 3′ tall. Nevertheless, we’ll enjoy our great crop of cobalt blue fruit this winter.
One of several rare wild gingers we grow is Asarum lewisii, which has a small native range limited to central NC and adjacent Virginia. In the wild, the evergreen Asarum lewisii is quite unique in only producing a single leaf every few inches to over 1′ apart when growing in leaf duff. In the garden, however, leaves are much more dense as you can see in the photo from the JLBG gardens this week. It’s ashamed it doesn’t sell better when we offer it through Plant Delights.
Mr. Butterfield’s Fern
We love the evergreen holly fern in all it’s species and forms. Cyrtomium falcatum ‘Butterfieldii’ is looking absolutely stupendous in the garden this month. This easy to grow shade lover glistens all winter with its glossy foliage with fancy serrated edges. Hardiness is Zone 7a-8b.
We love the tardily deciduous Ctenitis subglandulosa ‘Hoshizaki’, which remains looking great in the garden as we pass the winter solstice. This truly elegant fern came to us from fern guru, Judith Jones, who got it from California fern guru, Barbara Jo Hoshizaki. The airy texture and ease of growth make this a fern we wouldn’t garden without. Sadly, we offered this Asian native (Bhutan through China) once through Plant Delights and very few people purchased one, so we had to discard the remaining crop…ouch! So very sorry you missed a true gem. Hardiness is Zone 7a-8b (guessing).
Stingray in the Garden
One of our favorite winter hardy (Zone 7b) century plants is the non-spiny Agave bracteosa ‘Stingray’. Here is one of our garden specimens this week, which has been thriving in the ground since 2016. Unlike most agaves, which prefer full sun, Agave bracteosa is better in part sun (full sun for only a few hours during the day). Agave bracteosa ‘Stingray’ is also a fairly slow grower that only produces a few offsets. A mature rosette will top out around 15-18″ tall x 2′ wide. We love the unique texture, which differs from all other agaves.
Kaizuka! Bless you.
I first met Juniperus chinensis ‘Kaizuka’ on a mid 1970s student field trip to Florida with the late JC Raulston. As our caravan of University vans crossed from Georgia into Florida, these junipers suddenly appeared everywhere. Although, I was unfamiliar with this architecturally fascinating specimen, I was in love….despite it being common as the proverbial dirt in Florida landscapes. Everywhere from gas stations to the poorest home seemed to have at least one. Most locals know Juniperus ‘Kaizuka’ as either Juniperus ‘Torulosa’ or Hollywood Juniper…a common name it gained due to its ubiquitous presence around Los Angeles. It turns out that Juniperus ‘Kaizuka’ was an introduction from Japan’s Yokohama Nursery prior to 1920. Our oldest plants at JLBG are now 33 years old, and now measure 24′ tall x 16′ wide. The one pictured below is a new 5 year old planting in a new section of the garden. Forty-five years later and still in love!
The cast iron plant, Aspidistra tonkinensis ‘Hanoi Honey’ has been looking quite stunning recently during its December flowering period. Unlike many cast iron plant that have reddish cinnamon flowers, this dazzler has large bright white flowers that are impossible to miss. Where it isn’t winter hardy, cast iron plants make fabulous, easy-to-grow house plants.
Grapefruit time in the garden
We love December, since that’s when the grapefruits start to rain down from our xCitroncitrus ‘Dustan’ tree at JLBG. Few people who come to the garden actually look up enough to notice this fascinating plant. xCitroncitrus ‘Dunstan’ is a bigeneric hybrid between the hardy trifoliate orange, Poncirus trifoliata and a grapefruit. The result is a winter hardy fruit that’s pretty darn close in size, taste, and appearance to a grapefruit. To be technically correct, the fruit is known as a Citrumelo. Whatever you want to call it, it’s pretty darn cool to be harvesting hardy citrus here in Zone 7b. Last year, we harvested over 3 dozen fruit off our single tree.
Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’ is looking so hot this winter with its amazingly striped canes. This clumping bamboo is usually grown as a die-back perennial here in Zone 7b, since it goes to the ground when temperatures drop below 10 degrees F. Because we’ve had three mild winters, we are once again able to enjoy the amazing striping of the canes. I did get a chuckle last year, when I saw Bambusa multiplex show up on an invasive species list for North Carolina. As I explained in my letter to the group, Bambusa multiplex is first and foremost, a clumping species. Secondly, all truly invasive species (which invade functioning natural ecosystems, displacing natives and causing economic harm once population equilibrium has been reached) must be able to spread by seed, and bamboo clones only flower once in 100 years, and then die. It’s these emotionally driven lists, without any basis in facts or real science, that makes so many of the invasive lists a farce, and sadly untrustworthy.
Only the Green Shadow Knows
Here’s one of our favorite hollies, looking great in the garden this week. Ilex integra ‘Green Shadow’ is a variegated (creamy-edged leaves) form of the Mochi holly. This amazing columnar holly, that hails from oceanside mountain slopes in Japan, Korea, Southern China, and Taiwan, reaches 20′ tall x 7′ wide, which is the case with our 16 year old specimen. Although Ilex integra ‘Green Shadow’ will grow in both sun and shade, full to half day sun results in the most dense foliage. This is female clone, but we never see more than a dozen berries, so we assume it needs a male nearby to fruit better. For a narrow evergreen screening plant, it’s hard to beat. Hardiness is Zone 6b-9b.
Slim and Trim
Anyone who has visited JLBG, knows we are huge fans of the Japanese sacred lily, Rohdea japonica. While the variegated forms are certainly showy, we also love the solid green varieties, especially the narrower leaf forms, so here are a few of our favorites. The top is Rohdea japonica ‘Fukuju Kan’, followed by Rohdea ‘Feelin’ Groovy’, and finally Rohdea ‘Line Dance’. All photos were taken in our gardens this week. For us, these amazing evergreen plants remain looking great all winter and the orange-red winter fruit are a bonus. In the garden, they function like evergreen hostas. The first two are what is known as dragon-ridge (crested) varieties. Hardiness is Zone 6b-9b.
The dwarf groundcover Sedum tetractinum ‘Little China’ is superb throughout the growing season, but we particularly love when cold weather arrives and the olive green foliage turns to bright red in the sun…what a superb winter show. Hardiness is Zone 4a-8b.
Mama Mia…that’s a lotta ferns
We love fall and winter, when Woodwardia orientalis ‘Mama Mia’ starts producing baby ferns on the old foliage. Mama Mia can be propagated from the plantlets, but in our cold winter climate, the babies rarely mature unless taken indoors for the winter. The evergreen foliage of Woodwardia orientalis will show damage at about 10 degrees F and Zone 7b is the northern-most range of its cold hardiness.
The King’s Arum
One of the last plant exploration trips the late plantsman Alan Galloway made, was to Majorca, Spain. Alan was so excited to return home with some special selections of the fall-flowering Arum pictum, which typically has solid green foliage…except on Majorca. This beautiful form is known by collectors as Arum pictum var. sagittitifolium, although the name isn’t considered valid due to the natural variability in leaf patterns. This is Alan’s favorite form from his trip, to which we added the cutlivar name, A. pictum ‘King James’. It seems that back when Majorca had kings (thirteenth and fourteenth century), before its merger with Spain, they had a propensity for naming most of them, James.
One of many great attributes of mangaves, compared to one of their parents, agaves, is that they don’t die after flowering. Agaves are mostly monocarpic, which mean that they behave like bromeliads, where each rosette grows to maturity, then dies after flowering. Those species of agave which offset, live on after flowering, by means of un-flowered offsets. Those agave species which don’t offset are a one and done after they flower and reproduce by reseeding.
By incorporating manfreda genes to create xMangaves, the monocarpic trait disappears. After a mangave flowers, it dies to the ground, but like a good zombie, it soon pops back from the dead. Here is a current photo from the garden of two clumps of xMangave ‘Blue Mammoth’. The first, larger clump has not flowered, but should do so next year. The second clump with all the offsets, flowered in 2020, and re-grew to this point in 2021. Next year, the rosettes will continue to re-grow in size.
I’ve never been a huge fan of nandinas in the garden. I find the more typical forms very difficult to integrate from a design perspective, and I find the popular Nandina ‘Firepower’ to be near the top of the list of most grotesquely ugly plants used in American landscapes. Yes, it’s colorful, but the plant lacks any grace, and has the form of a pile of wet red Kleenex.
Of the older cultivars, I like Nandina ‘Harbor Dwarf’, with it’s low spreading form, but the paucity of fruit keeps most people from planting it. The only downside for us is that it spreads to cover a very large footprint, so can choke out other nearby plants. We continue to trial all of the new nandina introductions to see if anything strikes our fancy.
My favorite member of the genus, which I first met at the JC Raulston Arboretum back in the 1980s, is Nandina domestica ‘Filamentosa’. This cutleaf, slow-growing, non-fruiting selection from Japan is often marketed under the trade name San Gabriel. It adds a distinctly Japanese flavor to the landscape, which is why we planted a mass in our new Japanese garden. Here is a photo from this week with it’s lovely rosy winter color. Winter hardiness is Zone 6b-9a.
Most plants have Latin name epithets (the 2nd word) that describes/commemorates either a place, person, or plant characteristic. In this case, the foliage of this Greek wooly mullein (Verbascum undulatum) is ridiculously wavy. Here it is looking great in our rock garden during the early winter. This will be our first full winter with it in the ground, so fingers crossed that it survives.
Blue Ribbon Winner
One of many exciting new introductions for 2022 is Phlox divaricata ‘Blue Ribbons’ PPAF. This variegated version of our wonderful native woodland phlox was discovered here as a single sport in our garden by our plant taxonomist, Zac Hill. Instead of being all green, each leaf is edged with a wide creamy border and flushed with pink during the colder months. In early spring, the entire clumps are topped with sweetly fragrant blue flowers. We think Phlox ‘Blue Ribbons’ is an incredible design addition for the woodland garden. Hardiness is Zone 3-8. The new catalog, with this and many other amazing gems, goes on-line in 2 weeks!
Starring in the rock garden in early December is the amazing Allium virgunculae ‘Alba’. This delightful dwarf allium to 8″ tall is similar to the better known and slower offsetting Japanese Allium thunbergii. Allium virgunculae, which typically has lavender flowers, hails from Japan’s far south Kyushu Island.
Narrow-leaf Sweet Box
Sarcococca saligna is one of our favorite species of sweet box, but sadly one of the most tender. If winter temperatures drop below 10F, it dies to the ground, but has always resprouted. When we have mild winters, it becomes an extraordinary woodland garden specimen as is evidenced by this current photo.
Swept Away with Butcher’s Broom
One of our most cherished evergreens in the winter woodland garden is the narrow-leaf form of butchers broom, Ruscus aculeatus ‘Chenault’. Our plant came from the Elizabeth Lawrence Garden, and Elizabeth’s plant originated in France’s Chenault Nursery circa the 1960s. Our 20 year old plants are now 3′ tall x 4′ wide. Although they rarely fruit, they provided a unique texture compared to most other forms of the species.
A Rolling Stone gathers no moss, but a stationary stone…
Indeed the old proverb about a rolling stone is correct, but a stationary stone, especially in the water, gathers all kinds of amazing things. This rock in one of our garden streams has not only gathered moss, but several young maple trees, a carex, a couple of sanguinaria (bloodroot), and a handful of various ferns. Isn’t nature just grand if you stop long enough to pay attention.
Purple color echos
Here’s a photo we took right before our first big freeze of the year, with the purple-foliaged perennial, Tradescantia pallida and our Iris ensata gate, built by NC sculptor Jim Gallucci. Gardens are an amazing canvas on which to paint with both plants and structures.
Proud to be a Siberian
We don’t have many Siberian plants which thrive in the southeast US, so we get pretty excited when we find one that does. I was introduced to Microbiota decussata by the late JC Raulston, back in the mid 1970s, and actually still have one of my original plants that’s still alive. Many years later, a much improved form came to market under the name Microbiota decussata ‘Prides’.
Microbiota is a monotypic genus of conifer that has a textural appearance somewhere between a Juniper and a Selaginella. In the wild, Microbiota can only be found in one small region of the Sikhote-Alin mountains, which is about 500 miles north of Vladovostok, Russia, where it occurs between 6,500′ and 7,000′ elevation.
Although Microbiota was officially discovered in 1921, and published in 1923, the Russian government, long-known for its secrecy, kept it completely under wraps until the early 1970s.
Unlike most junipers, which need sun to thrive, microbiota prefers shade to only part sun. Consequently, it you like this texture and don’t have full sun, this is the plant for you. For us, it matures at 18″ tall x 6′ wide.
Fall Fatsia Flowers
Here is the wonderful Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’ in our garden on Oct 25. This fabulous shrub is a member of the aralia family, and a first cousin of the off-despised running ivies. Not only do we love Fatsia for its amazing bold texture and evergreen foliage, but we love it because it flowers in fall. The second photo was taken a mere four weeks later, when it had exploded in full bloom.
Fatsia japonica is a superb pollinator plant at a time when so little is in full bloom. Our winter low temperatures so far have been 27 degrees F, which hasn’t affected the flowers. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
A New Ironwood earns its mettle
It’s far more common for new perennials to be discovered than new trees…it’s a size thing. Botanists were excited in 1960, when Chinese professor H.T. Chang published a new small tree that he thought to be a witch hazel, named Hamamelis subaequalis. The original Jiangsu Province collection actually dated to 1935, but it took 25 years to be published based on a herbarium specimen of the fruit.
The new hazel hadn’t been seen alive since 1935, and was assumed extinct, when it was rediscovered in 1988 by a team from the Jiangsu Institute of Botany. After studying live flowering specimens for three years, it became obvious that It wasn’t a witch hazel at all, and a new genus, Shaniodendron was published for the plant. Here, it remained, until 1997, when DNA analysis revealed that Shaniodendron was actually a second species in the formerly monotypic genus Parrotia….only living some 3,500 miles from its nearest relative. Its sibling is the famed Iranian Ironwood (Parrotia persica).
Currently, there are only five known populations in China, so it is quite rare in the wild. The largest plants seen in the wild were 30′ tall, but Parrotia subaequalis should grow slightly taller in cultivation. The photo below is our 13 year old specimen. Most plants of Parrotia subaequalis in the US, including our specimen pictured below, trace back to famed Japanese plant collector of Chinese plants, Mikinori Ogisu. Fortunately, Parrotia subaequalis is quite easy to root from cuttings, so we hope its not long before this amazing plant becomes much more widespread in commerce. In trials so far, it came through -25 degrees F with only slight tip damage, so it looks like a solid Zone 5-8 plant.
The Osmanthus continue
The fragrance of the fall-flowering osmanthus continues. First, we saw good rebloom on Osmanthus fragrans ‘Tianxiang Taige’. This amazing cultivar has the largest flowers of any of the selections of this species.
The overpoweringly sweet fragrance of Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Kaori Hime’ has been hard to miss over the last couple of weeks. Despite having tiny leaves, this is not a dwarf. Our 8-year old garden plant is 6′ tall x 7′ wide.
I remember first meeting the golden foliaged Leyland cypress back in the early 1980s at the JC Raulston Arboretum, and falling in love. Despite eventually removing almost all of our other cultivars of Leyland cypress from the garden due to size issues, we still treasure this gem. For us, x Cuprocyparis leylandii ‘Golconda’, which was discovered in the UK in 1972 as a branch sport, has been a wonderfully slow grower in our climate….4′ tall in 25 years. We understand it grows much faster in climates with cool summer nights, but we’re thrilled ours is slow enough to stay garden-sized.
Washington’s Palm ready for winter
Due to having three consecutive mild winters, with no temperatures below 20 degrees F, we’ve actually been able to get a trunk on our Washingtonia filifera palm. Typically not hardy in our climate, our plant was grown from seed collected from a wild population in Arizona that had experienced 10 degrees F. We’ll see what this winter has in store.
In celebration of the obscure
It’s hard to imagine a plant more obscure that the Southeast coastal native Houstonia procumbens. You may recognize the name houstonia as belonging to one of the many more common bluets. Instead, this is a creeping white-et. We’ve had this in our alpine rock garden for a couple of decades, but barely notice it until November, when the flowering picks up as other plants around it are going dormant. In the wild, Houstonia procumbens can be found in moist pine savannahs as well as nearby disturbed habitats. We’re unsure if this is showy enough for anyone to actually purchase.
Reineckea…the unknown cousin
Most gardeners in mild winter climates are familiar with Liriope (monkey grass), and Ophiopogon (mondo grass), but almost no one is familiar with the third cousin, reineckea (false lilyturf). Like both better known cousins, reineckea is an evergreen groundcover, but unlike the others, here is our clump of Reineckea ‘Little Giant’ in full flower for Thanksgiving. Depending on your taxonomist, there is between 1-3 species in the genus. We’re certain of three and think there may be more. We have assembled a collection of nearly 30 wild collections and will be working with other researchers to sort out the taxonomy of this group.