Sac-a-who?

The native Camassia leichtlinii ‘Sacajawea’ is looking great at JLBG today. This selection of the US West Coast native thrives also here in the hot, humid, southeast US. This selection was named after Sacajawea, the a member of the Lemhi Shoshone tribe, who helped guide explorers Lewis and Clark in the early 1800s. When food became short due to cold weather, she taught them to collect and eat camassia to survive. We’re excited to grow her namesake in our garden.

Camassia leichtlinii ‘Sacajawea’

Color mixing

Here’s a fun combination at JLBG this week with Heuchera ‘Smoke and Mirrors’, Iris x hollandica ‘Red Embers’, and Carex retroflexa ‘Bonnie and Clyde’. So many plants, so many fun combinations.

Sex in the Pulpit

After being told several years ago that creating interspecific hybrids of arisaema (Jack-in-the-Pulpit) was virtually impossible, we started our own breeding program. Here are a few of our creations from our Contrarian Frankestein Lab that are looking quite nice this week.

Arisaema x heterburgii ‘Black Snake’ (heterophyllum x thunbergii)
Arisaema x heteroguineum ‘Pirate Sail’ (heterophyllum x consanguineum)
Arisaema x trigesii ‘Neptune’ (triphyllum x fargesii)

A ton of abutilon

Our 3-year old clump of Abutilon megapotamicum (flowering maple) is looking particularly splendid this week. Planted in full sun and compost amended soil, it has reached 6′ in height and 10′ in width. When grown in part sun or light shade, both flower production and size is reduced. In mild winters like we’ve had recently, Abutilon megapotamicum will flower for nine months, but in winters where our low temperatures drop into the single digits, it will die back to the ground and re-sprout in spring. Despite the common name, abutilon is not a maple, but instead is a member of the hibiscus family. I can’t imagine a garden without this amazing plant.

Hot as Ice

Here are more delospermas (ice plants) looking great at JLBG this week. The first two are the most moisture tolerant, Delosperma cooperi (purple), and Delosperma ‘Kelaidis’ (peach). At the bottom is Delosperma sutherlandii, which is a species that we’ve never been able to keep alive in our wet summers prior to building the crevice garden.

Delosperma cooperi (purple), Delosperma ‘Kelaidis’ (peach)
Delosperma sutherlandii

Redbud Lite

Here are two of our favorite new redbuds growing at JLBG…both from the NC State breeding program of Dr. Dennis Werner. The first is Cercis canadensis ‘Flame Thrower’, which boasts pumpkin colored leaves that emerge gold. The second is Cercis canadensis ‘Golden Falls’, a fabulous pendulous form, whose leaves remain gold all summer.

Cercis canadensis ‘Flame Thrower’
Cercis canadensis ‘Golden Falls’

Glad Baptising

Here’s a fun combination this week with Gladiolus byzantinus ‘Cruentus’ mingling with Baptisia alba. The European native glads, such as this and Gladiolus italicus are the earliest gladiolus to flower in our climate.

Dazzling vulgarities

Flowering in the garden now are the amazing and very rare white-flowered Dracunculus vulgaris. This wild and crazy aroid, which typically has a red/purple inflorescence, hails from the Mediterranean region, centered around Greece and Turkey. The late aroid guru Alan Galloway worked extensively to breed these, and since we now hold his collections, we wanted to share the wonder of his work. It is our hope that tissue culture will be able to make these amazing color forms available one day.

Rockin’ Rose

We’ve tried for years to grow Helianthemum, the European native rock rose, which is highly prized by rock gardeners. Over the last 35 years, we’ve failed miserably…until we built our crevice garden. Here, it is currently, thriving in our soil mix of 50% Permatill (popped slate).

Helianthemum ‘Belgravia Rose’

Horrid Asparagus

I’ve heard asparagus called lot of things, especially by young kids, but here’s one that really lives up to the name, Asparagus horridus. The large spines on this subshrub do a great job protecting the fruit from predators. We’ve long sought to collect as many asparagus species as can be grown in our climate and this is a collection from Majorca, Spain, thanks to the late plant explorer, Alan Galloway. Two years in the ground and so far, so good.

Asparagus horridus

Here’s looking at you, kid

Flowering this week is the fascinating Asarum speciosum, native to only three counties in central Alabama. In bloom, it resembles a mass of bloodshot eyes peeking out from beneath the skirt of anise-scented foliage.

Asarum speciosum

Staring at Ostara

Allium ‘Ostara’ is a new bulbous ornamental onion from a cross of the lovely, but difficult to grow (in the southeast US) Allium karataviense and Allium atropurpureum. We’re growing this in our crevice garden, which is working well…so far. We’re hoping the genes from Allium atropurpureum will make this more growable.

Allium ‘Ostara’

A Nutball of a baptisia

We first met the little-known Baptisia nuttalliana back in the late 1990s on a botanizing trip to the gulf coast, and found it fascinating. Unlike most baptisia species, it doesn’t produce terminal spike, opting instead for axillary flowers. It’s namesake is English botanist Thomas Nuttall (1786 – 1859), who discovered it back in the day. Most forms are a bit homely, compared to the modern hybrids, but this beanbag-shaped, dense plant is one we’ve selected for future clonal propagation under the name Baptisia ‘Nuttball’.

Baptisia nuttalliana ‘Nuttball’

Aucuba show

We find aucubas an invaluable evergreen shrub for dry shade, and one of our favorites is looking rather nice this week. Aucuba japonica ‘Ogon-no-tsuki’ is also one of the slowest growers due to the large amount of gold in the leaf center. It is our hope to perhaps finally have enough to share in the next couple of years.

Aucuba japonica ‘Ogon-no-tsuki’

With Fronds like these, who needs anemones?

The rare Dryopteris x australis is looking superb in the garden this week. This Southeast native, naturally-occurring hybrid will grow in sun or shade and in wet or average soils. Despite its deep southern roots, it’s fine outdoors in Zone 5a. 4′ tall..pretty amazing!

Dryopteris x australis

Redneck Lupines on Parade

Our baptisia introductions are looking absolutely fabulous this week. Here are a few in case you missed the first weekend of our open house. Baptisia ‘Aspriing’ (top) with its long spikes of lavender blue flowers, followed by the incredibly dense flowering Baptisia ‘Blonde Bombshell’. Next is our Baptisia ‘Cherry Pie’, which brings a new color to the genus, and ending with Baptisia minor ‘Blue Bonnet’ with it’s enormous blue flowers. Baptisia are a North American genus of long-lived perennials that can grow equally as well with cactus or as a marginal aquatic…as long as they have full sun.

Baptisia ‘Aspiring’
Baptisia ‘Blonde Bombshell’
Baptisia ‘Cherry Pie’
Baptisia minor ‘Blue Bonnet’

Still Got the Blues

Earlier we posted photos of wild collected Amsonia tabernaemontana, so here is a closely related species that’s been hopelessly mixed Amsonia tabernaemontana, thanks to mothball-sniffing herbarium botanists. Amsonia glaberrima is a gulf coast species that’s actually quite different…smooth leaves for a start, and different habit and flowering time. Here is our garden selection grown from a seed collection in east Texas. This is a truly exceptional plant, so I expect we’ll get our propagation staff to tackle this after flowering.

Living Mulch

We’re always looking for more “green mulch” plants, which cover the ground, reducing weed pressure, while not choking out desirable plants. One such plant we feel should be more widely grown is Erigeron pulchellus. This amazing perennial is native to every state east of the Mississippi River. So, why isn’t it grown in every garden? Inquiring minds want to know. The rosettes lay flat on the ground, but are topped right now with short 8″ spikes of blush pink daisies. Our photo from the garden this week is the clone Erigeron pulchellus ‘Lynnhaven Carpet’. Erigeron pulchellus is easy to grow in average soils in light shade to part sun.

Erigeron pulchellus ‘Lynnhaven Carpet’

Kale for Life

Blooming now in the crevice garden is one of our favorite edimentals. If you haven’t heard this word before, it’s the new combo term for edible ornamentals. Crambe maritima, known as sea kale, is a plant we first grew for its fragrant flowers, only to find it incredibly tasty, both fresh and cooked. We are constantly grabbing a leaf for a garden snack. Best of all, Crambe maritima is a perennial that doesn’t need to replanted yearly. We can’t imagine why every lover of kale doesn’t grow this. Dry full baking sun is all that’s required.

Crambe maritima

Chloranthus – Respect your horticultural elders

Few flowering plants are older than members of the genus chloranthus, which first originated between 22 and 150 million years ago, during a time that flowering plants were just evolving, and long before nurseries or garden centers came into existance. Chloranthus aren’t just interesting botanically, they also are unique textural plants for the spring woodland garden, where they are amazingly easy to grow. Here are two of our favorites in bloom this week…Chloranthus japonicus and Chloranthus sessiliflorus ‘Get Shorty’.

Chloranthus japonicus
Chloranthus sessiliflorus ‘Get Shorty’

White as China Snow

Chionanthus retusus ‘China Snow’, a heavy flowering selection of Chinese fringe tree has been stunning for several weeks in the gardens at JLBG. This amazing Don Shadow selection is far more floriferous than the species, which was already quite spectacular.

Ice Red

Looking truly superb this spring is the South African ice plant, Delosperma dyeri in the crevice garden. We can’t grow this in typical soil due to our high rainfall, but in our crevice garden where gravel is the main planting media, it performs like a champ.

Delosperma dyeri

A Phallic Spring

The bees are buzzing with excitement over the impending flowering of five clones of Agave ovatifolia here at JLBG. We’ve never had a year with quite this many whale’s tongue agaves spiking at once, so it should be quite a show. Here’s our Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue’, which was the first to spike, but the other four aren’t far behind. Full opening probably won’t occur until our summer open house, but in the meantime, they are still something to marvel over.

Chui hits the spot(s)

It’s hard to imagine a more spotted hardy plant than Arum x diotalicum ‘Chui’. Shared with us by UK plantsman John Grimshaw, this hybrid of Arum italicum and Arum dioscoridis shares the best traits of both species…the leaf markings of Arum italicum and the floral (spathe) staining of Arum dioscoridis. We hope to have enough to share in a couple of years.

Bold Awakening

Looking stunning today is Iris ‘Bold Awakening’. This is one of the arilbred iris (50% of the genetics are middle-eastern species that hate rain). The only place we can grow these is in our gravel-filled crevice garden, where they thrive.

A Blues Star

Just snapped this photo of the amazing Amsonia ‘Storm Cloud’ in the garden. This was a 2011 discovery in Central Alabama on a botanizing trip with Hans Hansen.

Amsonia tabernaemontana ‘Storm Cloud’

Lipstick on a pig

Most folks in the Southeast US consider sweetgums to be a less than desirable tree, while gardeners in most foreign countries consider Liquidambar styraciflua to be a garden gem. Over the years, we have collected cuttings of quite a few gold sports from roadside botanizing expeditions, but none have proved to have good enough garden value to introduce. Thankfully, an Australian gardener discovered and propagated this amazing golden selection, which is becoming more widely available in its native haunts under the cultivar name L. ‘Naree’. Here’s our selection at JLBG this spring…pretty impressive! That’s some fine golden lipstick!

My Ginger, your lips look…enhanced

If you’re only familiar with the smaller flowered asarum (wild ginger), check out the well-endowed Asarum nobilissimum flowering now. This is a selection of the different clones we grow in the gardens at JLBG. Most of the flowers are around 4″ wide.

Asarum nobilissimum; top l-r, ‘Crown Jewel’, ‘King Kong’, #14…mid ‘Netscape’, ‘Deep Throat’, ‘Super Shield’ (young flower)…bottom ‘Iron Butterfly’, ‘Super Shield’, ‘National Treasure. (delavayi).

We find Asarum nobilissimum (1985) is indistinguishable from Asarum delavayi (1895), so most likely the name will revert once the experts agree with our assessment.

Out of Africa….and possibly Outer Space

This weekend marked our first flowering of the rare aroid, Pseudohydrosme gabunensis. We inherited this weird tropical after the passing of our friend and adjunct researcher Alan Galloway last spring. Alan had grown it from seed acquired in 2008 from the famed aroid researcher affectionately known as Lord P. Our staff describe the floral smell as stale potatoes…a far cry from the fragrance of it’s sister genus, amorphophallus. Pseudohydrosme gabunensis is from Gabon, where is resides in tropical rain forests.

Jack of all trades

The Japanese Arisaema sikokianum (Jack-in-the-pulpit) posing with Hosta ‘Kabitan in this glamour shot.

Cymbidium time

The first hardy orchid to flower for us each late winter/early spring is the amazing Cymbidium goeringii ‘Early Riser’. The foliage looks similar to a liriope, until it’s topped with the fascinating flowers. This species is quite easy to grow in average to fairly dry shade.

Kay’s Early Hope

We are just in love with Cercis chinensis ‘Kay’s Early Hope’, a recent redbud release from the JC Raulston Arboretum. Here’s our specimen in full flower. The plant is named in honor of the late Kay Yow, longtime women’s basketball coach at NC State.

Golden Flowering Moment

Just captured the wonderful gold-foliaged Carex ‘Everillo’ in full flower by our front grotto waterfall…what a great landscape plant!

Memories of Wuhan

Although some may have unpleasant memories of Wuhan after a year of pandemic conditions, let’s not forget that many incredible joys come from the same town. We are delighted to share the floral show of Iris japonica ‘Wuhan Angel’ this week…a plant originally shared by gardening friend Hayes Jackson, from his trip to Wuhan, China years earlier. This makes a superb, vigorous woodland groundcover in Zone 7b and warmer.

Need an Inspiration?

Sometimes we’re all in need of inspiration, and this spring, ours came from its namesake, Magnolia ‘Inspiration’. This stunning evergreen hybrid between Magnolia doltsopa and Magnolia laevifolia was developed by our old hosta friend, Barry Sligh of New Zealand, who sadly passed away in 2019. Our amazing seven-year old specimen is now 10′ tall x 10′ wide and as you can see if absolutely loaded with deliciously fragrant flowers. Pat McCracken of Garden Treasures Nursery tells me that he produced it for a while, but stopped because it grew too fast in containers. I agree with his assessment that it is the proverbial ugly duckling when young, but it sure makes a heckuva swan when it ages.

Magnolia ‘Inspiration’
Magnolia ‘Inspiration’

Rock Garden Daphnes

While daphnes have a reputation for being tough to grow, many are actually quite easy if given proper siting. My life with daphnes changed significantly after my 2010 botanical expedition to Crete. I was shocked to find daphnes growing in full baking sun in bone dry regions among large rocks. Before then, I had obviously taken far too good care of my daphnes. Once we constructed the crevice gardens at JLBG, we replaced all the daphnes we’d killed in “better” garden locations. Here’s the Cretan native Daphne sericea in full flower.

And the pricks are off…

Yes, cactus flowering season has begun at JLBG with our two earliest specimens. Both Notocactus hasselbergii from Argentina and Pediocactus simpsonii from the Western US are the first two to bloom each season. We should have an incredible cactus flowering this year, which should still be in full swing for our spring Open Nursery and Garden days.

Notocactus hasselbergii

Where corydalis fear to tread

We live in a climate of heat and humidity where most of the really cool perennial corydalis fear to tread. One outstanding selection that has thrived here for the last quarter century is a discovery from our friend, Dan Hinkley, that he named and introduced as Corydalis leucanthema ‘Silver Spectre’.

Part of the secret to its survival is that it has the good sense to sleep through the summer months, emerging in late fall and grow through the winter months. Here’s a photo in the garden this week in full flower. We’ve found it very adaptable and easy to grow, although rich, slight moist compost is ideal. We haven’t offered this in a while, but if you think we should put it back in production, that wouldn’t take much arm-twisting.

Corydalis leucanthema ‘Silver Spectre’

Another cool corydalis that we love is one that came to us as a hitchhiker (we think), but one that we gladly adopted is Corydalis speciosa. Thanks to corydalis guru Magnus LIden for the identification. The winter foliage emerges heavily ruffled and then flattens, with flowering starting in late winter. I think this may make it’s way into propagation.

Corydalis speciosa foliage
Corydalis speciosa currently in flower

A Dilly of a Daffodil

Although narcissus are far from my favorite bulb…mostly due the terribly obtrusive foliage, we have grown quite a few species and cultivars through the years. My love is really for the smaller plants, which usually come with smaller foliage. One cultivar that has stood out through the years is Narcissus ‘Hawera’. Here is our oldest clump, planted in 1997, and despite not being regularly divided, it still puts on a fabulous show every year. Our plants are from our dear friends Brent and Becky Heath at Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.

A bleeding Ox….really?

There are several tiny rock garden-sized phlox, bred in the EU, and sold by specialist nurseries as forms of the Western US native, Phlox douglasii. The only problem is that Phlox douglasii isn’t really growable much outside climates similar to its native haunts. Phlox expert Charles Oliver determined these are actually hybrids between Phlox douglasii and the East Coast native Phlox subulata. This week, one of those hybrids, Phlox ‘Ochsen Blut’ is ravishing, and thriving in our crevice garden. The name, which translates to Ox Blood, indicates that the breeder most likely doesn’t have any training in marketing.

Bring Afghanistan into your garden.

Every year in late winter/early spring, one of the woody showstoppers at JLBG is the Afghan bush cherry, Prunus jacquemontii. This year was no exception as this stunning deciduous shrub is putting on an amazing show. Our twelve-year old plant is now 4′ tall x 6′ wide.

Loropetalums…not Low Petalums

Oh my goodness, how terrible these wonderful plants are treated by the hedge-clipper wielding masochistic masses! These amazing plants are large shrubs/small trees…not foundation shrubs…geez! We currently grow 27 cultivars, and need to replace three that we managed to kill. Purportedly some of these newer selections actually stay more compact, but that remains to be seen in our in-ground trials. Here are a few of our older specimens along with their actual measured size.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Crimson Fire’ (advertised as growing 4′ tall x 4-5′ wide) measures 6′ tall x 8′ wide after only 4 years. Growth rate is increasing and it looks like it should reach a mature size of 24′ tall x 32′ wide.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Crimson Fire’

Loropetalum chinense ‘Pippa’s Red’ (below) has reached 35′ tall x 20′ wide in 20 years.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Pippa’s Red’

The bicolor, genetically unstable Loropetalum ‘Ruby Snow’ (advertised as growing 6′ tall x 6′ wide) is 6′ tall x 8′ wide after 4 years, so mature size will probably be 24′ tall x 32′ wide. The dueling colors create an amazing effect.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Ruby Snow’

Loropetalum ‘Shang-hi’ (below), marketed as Purple Diamond, has reached 12′ tall x 16′ wide in twelve years, and the growth rate appears to be slowing.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Shang Hi’

Loropetalum ‘Snow Panda’ (below) is 7′ tall x 10′ wide after 5 years. The original plant, introduced by the US National Arboretum is 10′ tall x 8.5′ wide after fifteen years. It’s odd that our plant is growing so differently here.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Snow Panda’

Loropetalum chinense ‘Zuzhou’ (below) is our oldest remaining loropetalum at 26 years. Mature size is now 20′ tall x 24′ wide. We had older specimens of the original US National Arboretum introductions ‘Blush’ and ‘Burgundy’, but these were discarded to make room for more improved selections.

Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum ‘Zuzhou’

Please consider buying a tape measure to help get this sited so that they never need to meet a pair of mutilators (i.e. hedge trimmers) in person.

Swept Away

Sweeping sedge is in full flower in the garden today. The North American native (Canada south to Florida and west to Texas) Carex bromoides swept us off our feet! This delightful small evergreen sedge forms a 6″ tall x 30″ wide, delicate-textured patch of green hair-like foliage. Although it prefers moist to mucky wet soil, ours has fared beautifully in well ammended compost. Carex bromoides is a favorite meal food for a number of butterfly and skipper caterpillars, wood ducks, grouse, and several songbirds, which in turn eliminates any need for fertilizers. We think you’ll really love Carex bromoides, either as a solitary specimen or in mass.

Holy Arum, Batman!

The holiest of arums, Arum palestinum is in full flower at JLBG. We don’t grow many Palestinian natives, but this one has thrived since 1993. How’s that for a traffic stopper?

Safe Landing on Planet Zork

There are a number of very exciting new ajugas to hit the market in the last few years, but one of our favorites has a longer history. Ajuga reptans ‘Planet Zork’, which we first acquired in 2004, is a non-flowering, crinkled-leaf sport of Ajuga ‘Burgundy Glow’. It was brought to the US from Japan, and later named and introduced here by plantsman Barry Yinger. We first grew Ajuga ‘Planet Zork’ in light shade, but it really showed its true colors when we transplanted it into full sun and moist soils. It’s parent, Ajuga ‘Burgundy Glow’ is ungrowable in our climate, rotting at the sign of rain during our hot, humid summers. Unlike many ajugas, this is a tight clumper that doesn’t seed around…an ideal groundcover.

Pink Painted Buckeye

In 2019, our research staffers were botanizing in Montgomery County, NC, when Jeremy stumbled on this painted buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica) seedling with new pink growth. In the past, we have not had good luck transplanting seedling aesculus, but thankfully this one survived nicely and two years later, it looked great this spring as the new foliage emerged. When it gets larger, we’ll share scions with grafters so we can make this more widely available.

Gingers Wild

April is an amazing month for wild gingers of the genus asarum, in the garden. Here are a few that are looking particularly stunning this week.

Asarum forbesii
Asarum ichangense ‘Huddled Masses’
Asarum arifolium
Asarum senkakuinsulare
Asarum magnificum

Harper’s Trout Lily

Looking great in the garden today is our collection of the native spring ephemeral trout lily, Erythronium harperi. This native to a small region on the Tennessee/Alabama border is currently considered a subspecies of E. americanum, but will most likely be elevated to species status before long. Unlike many running species, this remains a tight clumper with a superb show of large yellow outfacing flowers.

Erythronium harperi

Welcome Pewter in the Garden

One of our garden finds from 2013 is this lovely pewter colored toothwort, that we believe to be a hybrid of two southeast US native species, Dentaria diphylla x heterophylla. If stock building up continues well this spring, we’ll be able to finally share next January. It’s hard to capture the color well in a photo, but we think this is a woodland garden treasure.

Dentaria ‘Come Pewter’

Six Shooter

We have long enjoyed the winter-flowering, evergreen Clematis armandii, but had no idea the variability that existed until we acquired this new form from China in 2012. Unlike the more commonly known Clematis armandii var. armandii, which has 4 petals per flower, the subspecies hefengensis from Southwest Hubei Province in China has six petals. We have given this exceptional clone the cultivar name Clematis ‘Six Shooter’. We haven’t started propagating this yet, but are thinking about doing so. Would anyone be interested?

Clematis armandii var. hefengensis ‘Six Shooter’

Snowshoe Lake is very white today

Epimedium sempervirens ‘Snowshoe Lake’ is looking particularly lovely today. We haven’t offered this before, so, do you like it enough that we should propagate a few from the garden?

Epimedium sempervirens ‘Snowshoe Lake’

Worth the Wait

One of my OCD exercises is keeping a list of desiderata plants for the garden, which I’ve either seen or heard about, and want to try. At this point, the list is closing in on a ridiculous 3,000 items. Some desiderata we find in less than a year, while others may grace the list for decades. One plant that had been on my list for about 20 years was Asphodelus acaulis…a fascinating stalkless species of asphodelus (most have tall stalks) from Northern Africa. Try as I might, I had been unsuccessful in tracking this down from any of my usual rock garden plant sources. It wasn’t until a 2018 plant shopping trip to the UK, that I finally found my grail plant in Bob Brown’s amazing Cotswold Garden Flowers. Now, going into its’ third season, it has settled in admirably, starting in late winter with its months long floral display of cupped light pink flowers nestled in the rain-lily like glossy green foliage. It is our hope to one day share this more widely…once we figure out the best propagation method.

Ogling Ogon

Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’ is one of our favorite garden shrubs for its’ golden summer foliage, but we also adore it for it’s late winter/early spring floral show. Here it is at JLBG this week before the golden foliage emerges. You can see why it’s known by the common name, Bridal wreath spirea.

Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’

Winter Bridal Bouquet

Flowering this week is our selection of Magnolia floribunda ‘Bridal Bouquet’. When we visited Yunnan, China in 1996, we were able to return with three seed of Magnolia floribunda, a species which seemed completely absent from American horticulture. The resulting seedlings were planted into the garden, where two promptly died during the first winter. Thankfully, one survived and is still thriving today 25 years later.

Magnolia floribunda ‘Bridal Bouquet’ forms an upright, somewhat open evergreen that sometimes starts flowering as early as mid-January. This year, thanks to our consistent cold, it waited until early March to start its floral show. The flowers have a distinctive and fascinating fragrance that we find unique among our magnolia collection. We have shared cuttings with several woody plant nurseries and donated plants to a few rare plant auctions in the hopes of getting this more widely cultivated.

Magnolia floribunda ‘Bridal Bouquet’
Magnolia floribunda ‘Bridal Bouquet’

Adonis – Beauty and Desire

Flowering this week is the aptly named Adonis amurensis ‘Sandanzaki’. This tiny spring ephemeral, whose genus is named after the God of Beauty and Desire, needs to be in a special place so it won’t get lost in the garden. The exquisite floral pattern of this Japanese selection is so amazing.

Winter Anise

Looking lovely this week is the winter flowering anise, Illicium anisatum. This clone is Illicium anisatum ‘Murasaki no Sato’, which has creamy-centered leaves and new purple growth that’s just scrumptious. The winter floral show is also truly spectacular! This is first cousin to the tender Chinese anise, Illicium verum, whose pods are used medicinally. Illicium anisatum, however, is best used only ornamentally, since it’s fruit are toxic when consumed.

Confused Sweet Box

We’re not sure why this sweet box is confused, but we love it nevertheless. Flowering now at JLBG with an insane fragrance emitted by the tiny white flowers. Here is our eight-year old evergreen clump in flower now.

Sarcococca confusa

Hellebored yet?

We’ve made several hellebore posts, which are hard not to do, since they put on such a great winter show in the shade garden. Here are some of our selections of the fertile Helleborus x hybridus from the garden this week. If you made it to our winter open house, you were able to see these in person. If not, this is the best we can do until next winter, when we hope you’ll add us to your travel calendar.

Helleborus x hybridus is a mixed group from a wide range of parents including Helleborus orientalis, viridis, atrorubens, purpurescens, torquatus, and probably others. The flower color of each seedling varies based on what other colored hellebore is growing nearby in combination with the genes of it’s past lineages. In the wild, most flowers from the hellebore species listed above are pendulous, since upright or outright flowers often doesn’t bode well for successful fruit set in snowy winter climates. Through the years, breeders have made incredible progress raising the faces of the flowers, and in other cases simply colorizing the petal exterior on drooping forms. We salute the amazing hellebore breeders who keep pushing the limits of what we thought possible.

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

Ginger’s Smiling Face

Just caught this perfectly posed Asarum splendens in flower on a recent photographing foray in the garden.

Balkan Beauty

After showing many of the hybrid hellebores, here’s where they started. Flowering now at JLBG is one of our Balkan collections of the stunning Helleborus multifidus ssp. hercegovinus, which we grow for the foliage. This clump was started from a single division of a special plant we found in Montenegro…just after we crossed the border from Bosnia. The small green flowers are typical for the species. This is a slow-growing, summer-dormant species, which is why your rarely see it offered. If these are growin from garden seed, you get all kinds of hybrids, but almost never any with the stunning foliage of the true species.

If you’ve never read any of our plant expedition logs, here is a link to our Balkan travels where this gem was found.

Mo Mas

Flowering now in the winter garden at JLBG is the winter-flowering dogwood, Cornus mas ‘Golden Glory’…also known as Cornelian Cherry. We’re not sure why this isn’t more widely used, since it’s quite easy to grow. Perhaps people don’t venture into garden centers enough in the winter.

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’

Blue Ice is Hot

One of our favorite blue-foliage conifers that thrives in the southeast heat and humidity is Cupressus arizonica var. glabra ‘Blue Ice’. This is a four year old planting of the Arizona native that’s already made a nice size specimen. Cupressus ‘Blue Ice’ is great to use for Christmas arrangements, due to it’s color, foliage fragrance, and ability to hold up very well after being cut.

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.

Emily is Berry Nice

Ilex ‘Emily Brunner’ is a superb fruiting holly hybrid (Ilex cornuta x latifolia) that can be used either as a specimen or as part of a hedge. This is our most recent planting, that’s now 4 years old. Our oldest specimens at JLBG, now 21 years of age, have matured at 18′ tall x 18′ wide. For best fruiting, a pollinator holly is recommended. We’re not sure who is providing the pollen for our superb fruit set, but it’s either a nearby Ilex ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ or a nearby Ilex latifolia.

Ilex ‘Emily Brunner’
Ilex ‘Emily Brunner’ fruit closeup

We are the Champion…of the hellebore world

You know a breeder (Hueger) thinks a lot of their introduction when they give it the name ‘Champion’, and we can’t argue with their selection of this fabulous form of the sterile Helleborus x ericsmithii, flowering currently in the JLBG gardens.

It’s nothospecific namesake recognized the late English gardener/plant breeder, Eric Smith, at Buckshaw Gardens. Eric’s enduring claim to fame are the Hosta x tardiana series of blue-foliaged hostas, most notably Hosta ‘Halcyon’. Smith was also a prolific breeder of helleborus and one that he first pioneered in the early 1970s was Helleborus x ericsmithii. This is a group of sterile hybrids of Helleborus niger, lividus, and argutifolius. Each of the three parents have outfacing flowers, so all selections of Helleborus x ericsmithii were given no choice but to face outwards.

Helleborus x ballardiae – Helen’s legacy

The late English gardener, Helen Ballard, carried the title, Queen of the Hellebores from the 1960s until her death in the mid-1990s. Although she worked primarily with Helleborus x hybridus, she also was one of the first people to cross Helleborus niger with Helleborus lividus. Those crosses, formerly known as Helleborus x nigerliv, now officially bear Helen’s name as Helleborus x ballardiae. These mostly sterile hybrids with outfacing flowers are well represented in commerce with several amazing selections. A couple of our favorites that are looking exceptional in the garden now are Helleborus ‘Merlin’ and ‘Camelot’.

Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Camelot’
Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Merlin’

It stinks to be ignored

With all the emphasis on the amazing colored flower hellebores, folks seem to have forgotten the amazing green-flowered Helleborus foetidus, commonly known as stinking hellebore or bear claw hellebore. To remind everyone how great it is, here is a photo from the garden this week of Helleborus foetidus ‘Krenitsky’. This easy-to-grow species forms a 2′ tall x 2′ wide plant that grows equally as well in full sun or light shade as long as the soil is well-drained. Each plant is short-lived (3-5 years), but it reseeds in place, so there’s always young plants to replace the senior citizens.

Helleborus foetidus ‘Krenitsky’

A Yew for You

Our 30-year-old plant of Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Duke Gardens’ has reached 3.5′ in height and 14′ in width. This amazing deer-resistant shrub, discovered at the nearby Duke Gardens, is a superb evergreen that tolerates both sun and shade as long as the soil is well-drained. As is our garden policy, our plant has never been sheared.

A whale of a story…mama told me not to tell

We grow many century plants at JLBG and one of our best is the amazing Agave ovatifolia…seen here. This 14-year-old clone will be flowering this May, so be sure to catch the amazing 20 foot+ flower spike at the Spring Open Nursery and Garden Days.

Some our agaves such as this are clones, while others are seed grown. We like the clonal selections for uniformity, but we love the variability we find when we grow plants from seed. A good example is the Agave ovatifolia below that we grew from seed shared by the Ruth Bancroft Garden. Obviously, the mama ovatifolia had an affair, so our job now is to figure out who the daddy might be. The best suspect so far is Agave montana.

Agave ovatifolia seedling, possibly with Agave montana

A little daffy

We absolutely adore the miniature winter flowering daffodils. Here is the tongue-twisting Narcissus romieuxii ssp. albidus var. zaianicus flowering in the garden. These wild species narcissus flower long before most other narcissus have thought about breaking ground.

Narcissus romieuxii ssp. albidus var. zaianicus

Does this witch hazel ring a bell?

Completely unlike its namesake, this dwarf beauty is a sight to behold. Flowering in the garden now, Hamamelis vernalis ‘Quasimodo’ is a miniature selection of the Midwest US native witch hazel. Our six-year-old specimen is a whopping 4′ tall, so this gem can be tucked into much smaller sites that full-size selections.

Hamamelis vernalis ‘Quasimodo’

In Camelot…

Truly magical, the aptly named Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Camelot’ in flower now at JLBG. This is yet another of the wonderful new sterile hybrids. Visit us during our 2021 Winter Open Nursery & Garden Days, Feb. 26-28 & March 5-7, 2021, and discover all the wonders of the winter garden.

A Crazy Horse

Because we’ve had another mild winter with regard to absolute low temperatures, the foliage on most of our hardy century plants is still looking good. In colder winters, foliar damage is often caused by our wet, cold winters. While we have been consistently cool and extremely wet (it has rained 50% of the days since January 1), the agaves look great…the well-drained soil is the key. We just took this image of Agave ‘Crazy Horse’, which is looking particularly architectural in the winter garden.