We’re just back from a quick outing to the Flower Hill Nature Preserve in Johnston County, NC…just a few miles from JLBG. This unique coastal plain site contains remnants of species more common in the NC mountains, nearly 5 hours west. The top of the bluff is a small stand of enormous Rhododendron catawbiense, while along the bottom of the hill is a bank of the deciduous Rhododendron canescens.
In the mid-slope area, we found Cypripedium acaule (pink ladyslipper orchid), just waiting to be photographed. Sadly, it’s one of the most difficult species to transplant, so just enjoy these in situ when you find them.
There were beautiful masses of the evergreen groundcover galax, growing on the eastern slope.
It was particularly great to see the Asarum vriginicum in full flower. True Asarum virginicum is rarely seen in cultivation, and the diversity of flower color was outstanding.
One of the fun reasons to grow plants from seed is that each seedling is different…unless you’re growing highly bred annuals. Most non-hybrid seedlings will be under the bell curve, meaning they all look and behave relatively similar. As plant collectors, we get excited when one appears that falls outside the bell curve. An example is our wild ginger selection, Asarum maximum ‘Floragasma’, which has both far more flowers than we typically see with the species, but it also flowers 2-3 weeks before our other clones. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-9b.
Please join me in welcoming our newest JLBG team member, Dr. Patrick McMillan. I’ve known Patrick for 30 years, going back to his days as a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, and long before he became a legend in the plant world.
We’ve followed his amazing journey, most recently as Director of Heronswood Gardens in Washington. Prior to that, he was Director of the SC Botanical Garden and Professor of Environmental Sustainability at Clemson since 2000. Patrick was the Emmy Award winning host of the renown PBS series, Expeditions with Patrick McMillan. Patrick is a highly-respected botanist/naturalist, who has won far too many awards to mention, but we’ll let Patrick tell you a bit more about himself and why he decided to partner with JLBG.
My first experience with Juniper Level and Tony was sitting at the kitchen table in 1991, the inaugural year of Plant Delights Nursery, talking about Asarum and star-struck by Tony’s knowledge and passion that has continued to grow into one of the world’s premier gardens and nurseries. In those days I dreamed of the opportunity to work alongside such talented horticulturalists and intrepid explorers.
My love of plants and all things slithering, creeping, crawling, and flying came at a very early age. I can’t remember a time when my life wasn’t centered on them. Fast forward 31 years and I found myself sitting at the same table reminiscing about the past, marveling at how far JLBG has grown, and stirring excitement for the future. I am so enthusiastic about joining the staff at JLBG, learning from the lifetimes of incredible knowledge and skill that is assembled among the employees and sharing my own experience, passion, and knowledge to bolster the mission and the horticultural and conservation accomplishments of this magical place.
I’m probably best described as a plant nerd. I have never met a plant I didn’t love. Every plant has a story and each is connected to our lives and the lives of the biodiversity upon which we all depend. Much of my horticultural experience and focus in South Carolina and at Heronswood Garden in Kingston, Washington has been focused on generating and supporting insect, bird and other wildlife diversity in the home landscape.
My philosophy of natural community gardening and the generation of life is a fairly simple one based on filling every space with life – diversity generates diversity. My exploration of the plant world has taken me from pole to pole and over every continent except Australia. I was trained as a sedge taxonomist but my interests include anything with cells. I’ve described new species ranging from ragweeds to sedges and begonia.
I also believe strongly that our greatest gift is sharing knowledge and I have worked as a lifelong educator. You may also have seen me on your local PBS station, where for 15 years I wrote, hosted, and produced the series “Expeditions with Patrick McMillan” – distributed by American Public Television. Conservation, preservation and generation of life is at the core of my life’s mission and I can imagine no better place to be nested within than JLBG. I hope to meet you soon and share some hearty plant nerd conversation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I grew up as a child spending most of my time botanizing the woods from a ridiculously early age. One of the native plants I’ve known since my earliest adventures is Asarum arifolium, which was the most common wild ginger in our region. Over the last 60 years, I’ve undoubtedly seen tens of thousands of this species.
I was fascinated by the variability in the amount of silver in the leaves, the contrast in the leaf pigmentation, the propensity to clump tightly or run, along with some slight variations in flower color and size. Below is a form that makes a particularly tight clump with good contrasting leaf markings. Despite the occasional solid green leaf forms, the one constant has always been the green leaf veins in between the silver blotching….until…
untill I found the oddball below in the woods north of Mobile, Alabama. In the middle of a patch of normal plants was one single individual with reversed leaf patterns…the leaves have a green base with silver veins. I certainly know the pattern, which is typical of several other native asarum species (minus, heterophyllum, lewisii, harperi, shuttleworthii, etc.), but this pattern simply isn’t allowed in Asarum arifolium. We watched impatiently as our plant first flowered, thinking it must be some odd hybrid, but the flowers told a different story…pure Asarum arifolium. We even grew a crop from seed to discover that 50% of the offspring had this same reverse pattern. As we chatted with other botanists about our find, we’ve discovered two other folks who have also found similar individuals, so these “off the bell curve” forms are out there, albeit quite rare.
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.
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.
There are lots of different gingers to keep straight, starting with a memorable one that was a part of the band of misfits stranded on Gilligan’s Island. Horticulturally speaking, however, ginger refers both to a group of plants in the Zingiberaceae and Aristolochiaceae (birthwort) families. Hardy members of the Zingiber family are plants who mostly flower in the heat of summer, while the wild gingers (asarum) of the birthwort family tend to be mostly winter/spring flowering.
So, while it’s late winter/early spring, let’s focus of the woodland perennial genus asarum, of which we currently grow 86 of the known 177 asarum species/subspecies. In late winter/early spring, we like to remove any of the winter damaged evergreen leaves, which makes the floral show so much more visible. Few people take time to bend down and observe their amazing flowers, so below are some of floral photos we took this spring. View our full photo gallery here.
Plants in the genus asarum are small but exquisite, deer-resistant woodland perennials that thrive in moist but well-drained conditions with light shade. Many asarum species are evergreen and make a great ground cover in the woodland garden. Here are some images of asarum in the garden this morning.
Asarum are one of our specialty collections at Juniper Level Botanic Garden, with 86 species and 529 unique clones. Join Tony in the gardens during this Gardening Unplugged video garden chat about wild gingers.
The flower color of asarums are usually burgundy or purple, but we are always on the look out for variants. Towards the end of the video Tony shows a yellow flowered form, Asarum ichangense ‘Ichang Lemon’, which we hope to have available for 2021. We do have another yellow flowered form we are offering for the first time this year, Asarum ‘Tama Rasya’.
While we’ll always grow the woodland asarum (wild gingers) for their foliage, we are equally as entranced by their flowers which occur from fall thru spring…based on the species. The only months we haven’t recorded asarum flowers in the garden are June-September.
One of our first time offerings this year is a selection we made of the Japanese Asarum kurosawae that we named Asarum ‘Saddleback’. (Zone 7a-8b, at least)In late winter, we remove the old foliage in the center of the clump so that we can enjoy the flowers as you can see below.
Most of our asarums start as single divisions, and after 3-4 years, we divide them for the first time, resulting in 5-10 plants. A second division 3-4 years later yields another 5-10 plants each, for a total of 25-100 plants. A third division is required 3-4 years later to finally have enough to offer. So, from start to commercialization is usually 9-12 years of production time.
Tony demonstrates how to divide asarum (wild ginger) during the winter.
Asarum takaoi ‘Ginba’ below is an old Japanese cultivar that we first offered in 2015, and again this year. We first obtained this in 2003, so that’s only 2 offerings in 16 years. There’s a reason that most nurseries don’t bother with these. At least now, we have been able to build up a stock block for future propagation. We hope you’ll take a peek below the foliage for a truly great floral show. (Zone 4b-8a)
A new asarum that will be coming in another year or so, is our yellow-flowered selection of the typically purple-flowered Asarum ichangense, that we named ‘Ichang Lemon’. It’s in full bloom now, so if you can make it to our Winter Open Nursery and Garden, be sure to take a peak. (Zone 5a-8a, guessing) To learn more about wild gingers in the woodland garden, join us for our free garden chat series, Gardening Unplugged, the second Sunday of our Winter Open Nursery and Garden, May 3 at 2:00pm
Here’s a new image of our 2017 introduction, Asarum ichangense ‘Silver Lining‘ in the garden this week. Our 17 year old patch is nearing 3’ wide…pretty special in the woodland garden. Hardiness is Zone 5b-8a, at least.
Asarum, also know as wild ginger, are a deer-resistant woodland perennial. They perform well in moist but well-drained soils. Many are evergreen and will slowly form a dense groundcover. Below is a selection of our North American native Asarum arifolium selected by Plant Delights in 2006 and introduced in 2015.
Asarum ‘Silver Spreader’ in the sales house
Asarum ‘Silver Spreader’ flowers
Asarum flowers are almost alien-like and are born at ground level in late winter. We have many new selections of asarum available this year, so check us out online when you are ready to add wild gingers to your woodland garden.
Spring is an amazing time in the woodland garden. We begin the final two days of our spring open nursery and garden with a few photos of some of our seasonal favorites. We hope you can join us this weekend to see these amazing plants in person, but if not, here are some recently taken images.
Here’s photo showing the flower size of Asarum ‘King Kong‘…it’s truly other-worldly…a wild ginger on steroids.Another of our favorite silver-foliage ferns, Athyrium ‘Ocean’s Fury‘…what a star in the woodland garden. We just love the color and texture. If you can’t visit us, we hope you’ll spend time in your own garden this weekend and embrace the joy that plants add to our lives.