Splendor in the Cracks – Urophysa

I’m betting that even the most seasoned plant collectors probably haven’t grown or even heard of Urophysa henryi. This odd generic member of the Ranunculaceae family hails from China, where it can be found only in a very few scattered populations, hanging out from cliff-side karst rock fissures in Guizhou, Sichuan, Western Hubei and into Northwestern Hunan.

Urophysa henryi is very closely related to the highly prized, but rather difficult to grow, rock garden plant, Semiquilegia adoxoides. I was particularly interested to read in a 2021 Chinese research paper, “In field observations and laboratory experiments, we found that U. rockii and U. henryi can not survive outside the karst limestone, which indicated that the karst limestone plays a significant role in their growth and development.” This is why you never send a botanist to do a horticulturist’s job!

In our garden, sans the Karst limestone, it has thrived in our rock garden, not blinking this year at 11F. The 4″ tall x 6″ wide evergreen clumps of columbine-like foliage are topped with clusters of small, outfacing white flowers, which resemble our native Isopyrum biternatum, Like Isopyrum, Urophysa flowering starts for us in early January, and continues through March. We think these are an outstanding addition to the winter garden and are going to do our best to get these propagated to share before words gets out that they can’t be grown in cultivation.

Urophysa henryi

Depressed Massonia

11 degrees F was a bit more than our clump of Massonia depressa had hoped for. Although the cold temperatures burned a bit of one leaf, it not only survived, but is now in full flower. That’s pretty amazing for a South African bulb that Wikipedia authoritatively states “does not tolerate freezing temperatures”. Rock on!

Massonia depressa in the rock garden
Massonia depressa

Tough Love Child

We were thrilled to see most of our plants of Trichocereus ‘Love Child’ come through the 11 degrees F unscathed. We hope to have enough of these in the next year or two to share. We had long wanted to grow and offer some of the ridiculously large flowered, tacky colored tropical trichocereus cactus, but they simply had no winter hardiness.

Enter our former volunteer curator, Mike Papay, who had the same idea, but was more determined to make it happen. Mike worked with Trichocereus bruchii, and the resulting second generation plants yielded one he named Trichocereus ‘Big Time’.

He created another winter hardy hybrid using Trichocereus bruchii and Trichocereus thelogonus that he named Trichocereus ‘Iridescent Watermelon’. We subsequently crossed both of Mike’s hybrids together to create a seed strain we named Trichocereus ‘Love Child’. Below is one of our garden plants after enduring 11 degrees F. Below that is the same plant in flower last spring. Hardiness zone 7b to 10b.

Trichocereus ‘Love Child’
Trichocereus ‘Love Child’

December Daphnes

I’ve posted about daphnes a couple of times this year, but can’t help post again now that we’re in December and still have two daphnes in full flower, despite two nights at 25 degrees F.

The top is Daphne collina from Southern Italy, and the bottom is Daphne x napolitana ‘Bramdream’…a hybrid of Daphne collina x Daphne cneorum var. pygmaea. These are growing in our dry crevice garden in a soil mix of 50% Permatill gravel. It seems obvious that the Daphne collina is the source of the continuous bloom. Winter hardiness is Zone 6a-8b (top), and Zone 5-8b (bottom).

Daphnes in the crevice garden
Daphne collina
Daphne x napolitana 'Bramdream' in the rock garden
Daphne x napolitana ‘Bramdream’

The Future is Now!

Season’s Greetings from all of us at Plant Delights and Juniper Level Botanic Garden. With the National Day of Giving on November 29, we thought we’d wade into the fray and make our case for a donation to our future operational endowment for JLBG.

Crevice garden in summer.
JLBG 2022

As you are probably aware, we are in the process of transitioning to our next phase of existence. Age and health issues catch up to all of us, and while our health is still fine today, we needed to put a plan in place to ensure the future of the gardens at JLBG.

Exit border in summer.
JLBG 2022

Several years ago, we (Anita and I) gifted the entire property, which includes both Plant Delights Nursery and Juniper Level Botanic Garden to NC State University for safe keeping, to which they have gladly agreed. The only thing remaining is to fund the yearly operational expenses of the gardens, since the University has no funds to do so. The University has established an operational endowment, for which we are currently raising funds.

Mystic creek late spring.
JLBG 2022

To maintain the garden at its current level of operation will require a $17 million dollar endowment. To date, we have raised $600,000. As you see, we have a long way to go, and with us continuing to age, the urgency to fill the endowment increases every day. We hope you’ll be willing to contribute to our year end appeal if you think the gardens are worth preserving. Please also help us to share the word with your gardening friends…especially those who have won the lottery and need a good tax deduction.

Crevice garden.
JLBG 2022

If you haven’t visited JLBG in a while, we have included some 2022 garden shots.

Here is the link to find out more about the endowment, our future plans, and to make a year end donation. If you’d like to chat with us further with questions or thoughts, please email us at info@jlbg.org.

-tony and anita

Dryland parking lot berms.
JLBG 2022
Woodland garden in spring with woodland phlox blooming and hostas emerging.
JLBG 2022
Patio garden.
JLBG 2022
Bog garden late summer 2022 with lobelia cardinalis in bloom.
JLBG 2022
Bog garden late spring 2022 with iris and crinum lily blooming.
JLBG 2022

If at first you don’t suceed, plant and plant again

One of my most lustful plants has been the super cute Euphorbia clavarioides var. truncata. I first ran into this fascinating poinsettia cousin at the Denver Botanic Gardens in the 1990s, and have subsequently killed it 5 times, prior to the construction of our crevice garden. Now, our specimen below is 2.5 years old and thriving. The key is perfect drainage and no water in the winter.

Below is a giant clump, which we saw in the wilds of South Africa in 2005. These massive clumps are considered to be well over a century in age, so our little patch has a lot of growing to do.

Image of Euphorbia clavarioides var. truncata HCG form growing in our crevice garden.
Euphorbia clavarioides var. truncata HCG form
Image of Euphorbia clavarioides var. truncata in the wilds of South Africa.
Euphorbia clavarioides var. truncata in the wilds of South Africa.

October Flower

Raise your hand if you grow the native October Flower? Polygonella polygama is a little-known, but absolutely amazing wildflower in the Buckwheat family, suited to well-drained, sunny gardens. Although completely non-descript through spring and summer, when people are buying plants, it bursts into flower in October, also when no one is buying plants. Below is our plant strutting it stuff in one of our full sun rock gardens in mid October. Polygonella polygama is native from Virginia southwest to Texas, along the coast. Winter hardiness should be at least Zone 7b and south.

Polygonella polygama - a favorite October flower
Polygonella polygama

Decumbent Brahea

Considered the hardiest of the genus Brahea, this rare endemic palm hails from the alkaline Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains in northeastern Mexico, where it’s endangered thanks to the abundance of hungry goats.

Brahea decumbens is ridiculously slow growing. Eventually, the immature green leaves turn a beautiful silvery grey and adorn the 6′ tall x 10′ wide specimen that, with age, develops creeping (decumbent) trunks…much like a blue-leaf Serenoa repens.

We’ve failed three times, loosing each in the winter. Zac mentioned that these need an extremely abusive and neglected environment to survive, so we planted our fourth attempt in our gravel crevice garden where it receives no irrigation. After 3.5 years, it’s actually thriving and looking particularly nice this fall.

Brahea decumbens in the crevice garden
Brahea decumbens

Agave ‘Prince of Whales’

Our 2016 century plant hybrid is looking quite lovely in the garden this month. This plant, which we named Agave x victorifolia ‘Prince of Whales’, is a hybrid of the Whale’s tongue century plant, Agave ovatifolia (male parent), and the Queen Victoria century plant, Agave victoriae-reginae (female parent).

Since both parents are non-offsetting, this means that the offspring will grow to maturity, flower, then die. Consequently, in order to be able to propagate and share, we will have to drill out the central core of the plant to trick in to offset. While this ruins the appearance of the original, it’s the only way for this to ever be shared and preserved. This plant has been in the ground since 2018, so we expect to have another eight years (guessing) prior to flowering. Consequently, so we’ll probably gamble on waiting a few more years before performing surgery. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.

Agave x victorifolia Prince of Whales
Agave x victorifolia ‘Prince of Whales’

Below is a photo of both parents.

Agave ovatifolia
Agave ovatifolia
Agave victoriae-reginae
Agave victoriae-reginae

Little Miss Sunshine

One of the stars of our late summer/early fall garden has been our selection of Chrysopsis mariana ‘Little Miss Sunshine’. We made this roadside collection of this East Coast native in 2020 in neighboring Orange County, NC, unsure of what we had collected, but loving the purple stems of this clone. This planting in our rock garden has produced an amazing 18″ tall x 2′ wide specimen that glows for months. Dry soils and at least half day sun are the keys to success. We’ll start propagating this showy, clumping native perennial in spring. Winter hardiness is Zone 4-8.

Chrysopsis mariana Little Miss Sunshine
Chrysopsis mariana ‘Little Miss Sunshine’

Stunning bergia

Looking lovely in the garden today is the fall-flowering geophyte, Sternbergia sicula. This Mediterranean native is found in the wild growing on alkaline hilly sites. Some taxonomists list it as a subspecies of the more common Sternbergia lutea, but it seems consistently smaller. At JLBG, our plant thrives in the crevice garden. Hardiness is Zone 6a-8b.

Sternbergia sicula flowering in the crevice garden
Sternbergia sicula in the crevice garden

Cat Whiskers Cactus

Our planting of Glandulicactus wrightii is looking quite lovely as we head into fall. Sadly, few folks take time to closely examine the fascinating and intricate arrangements of cactus spines. Glandulicactus wrightii, which is native to Texas and adjacent Mexico has amazingly long, hooked spines that resemble cat whiskers. Long term winter hardiness is hopeful here in Zone 7b, since the seed from which this was grown came from a population at 5,000′ elevation on the New Mexico/Texas border.

Glandulicactus wrightii in the crevice garden
Glandulicactus wrightii

Access to Albanian Acis

Just finished flowering in our crevice garden is the amazing member of the Amaryllis family, Acis ionicum. This little-known Albanian snowbell hails from small areas of Coastal Albania and Western Greece, as well as a few of the adjacent islands. The flowers of this species are quite huge, compared to the better known A. autumnalis. In the wild, Acis ionicum grows in rocky, calcareous hillsides, so it feels right at home in our recycled concrete crevice garden. Hardiness is probably Zone 7b and warmer…at least.

Acis ionicum in the crevice garden
Acis ionicum in the crevice garden
Close up of Acis ionicum
Close up of Acis ionicum

Purr-fect Pussy Toes

We love the miniature silver mats of Antennaria parviflora (little-leaf pussytoes). This little-known North American native (Canada south to Arizona) forms a tiny, 1″ tall groundcover that’s hard to the touch. In spring, the patch is topped with short fuzzy spikes of brush-like white flowers. The plant below, which measures 1′ in width, is only 18 months old from seed, and is growing in our rock garden in a well-drained mix of 50% Permatill. Hardiness is Zone 4b-7b.

Image of a mat of Antennaria parviflora (little-leaf pussytoes)
Antennaria parviflora (little-leaf pussytoes)

Suckin’ Daphnes

I’ve been surprised to see the black swallowtails regularly enjoying the nectar of the summer-flowering daphnes…in this case, Daphne x napolitana ‘Bramdream’. Our plants are thriving, growing in our full sun rock garden.

Image of a Black Swallowtail feasting on the nectar of one of our summer flowering daphnes
A Black Swallowtail feasting on the nectar of Daphne x napolitana ‘Bramdream’

Little Big Man

Most highly prized rock garden plants originated somewhere other than the Southeast US. One notable exception is Bigelowia nuttallii, or if you prefer common names, Nuttall’s rayless goldenrod. This fascinating plant resembles a whisk broom that just swept up a spilled bottle of mustard.

Named after English botanist/zoologist Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859), who lived in the US from 1808 until 1841, this fascinating plant, grown by rock gardeners worldwide, is native in only a few locations from Georgia west to Texas.

Bigelowii nuttallii makes a tight evergreen clump of needle-thin leaves, topped from mid-summer until fall with 1′ tall sprays of frothy yellow flowers…yes, those are actually flowers, but without the typical showy “rays”. Full sun for at least half a day, and good drainage are the key to success with this very easy native perennial. Hardiness is Zone 5a-9b.

Bigelowia nuttallii
Bigelowia nuttallii
Bigelowia nuttallii

Stingray in the Garden

We love the spineless Agave bracteosa ‘Stingray’ in the garden. We’ve had these dotted throughout the garden since 2017, and so far, with good drainage, they’ve handled our winters quite well, which is certainly not normal for a variegated century plant. This particular species prefers part sun to light shade. Hardiness is Zone 7b/8a and warmer.

Agave bracteosa Stingray in the garden
Agave bracteosa ‘Stingray’ in the garden

Finding Eustoma

It fascinates us that such a widespread native like Eustoma exaltatum isn’t more widely grown in gardens. Often known by the common names prairie gentian or lisianthus, eustoma is prized by flower arrangers, but not gardeners. Eustoma is native from coast to coast…Florida to California, and north to the Canadian border in Montana.

In the wild, Eustoma exaltatum is a short-lived perennial that can also behave as a biennial or even an annual in some sites. The key is to plant it where it can happily reseed as we have done in our gravelly crevice garden, which is odd, since in the wild, they are found in moist meadows and streamsides.

Below are our plants in peak flower now, during the brutal heat of summer. So far, we’ve struggled to keep this happy in a container, in the hopes we could make this available, but we continue to try.

Commercially, eustoma has been hybridized ad nauseam to create better cut flowers, but these hybrids seem to have lost all of their perennial nature compared to the wild genetics. Our plant pictured below is the large (2′-3′ tall) subspecies russellianum from wild collected seed from Bastrop County, Texas.

Bearing Flowers

Our tallest clump of Nelson’s bear grass has been in full flower for the last month, making a spectacular site. Our specimen, which has reached 10′ in height is now 23 years old from seed. This woody lily which hails from the state of Tamaulipas in Northern Mexico forms a yucca-like stalk in the garden. All of the other hardy bear grasses have green foliage, so the blue foliage of Nolina nelsonii is quite distinct. The common name of bear grass was coined on the Lewis and Clarke expedition, when nolinas were mistaken for yuccas, which at the time were known as bear grass. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.

Nolina nelsonii

Thyme Flies, Thymophylla Flowers

We are in love with the long-flowering Thymnophylla pentachaeta var. pentachaeta ‘Laredo Gold’, which graces us with masses of gold flowers from spring through fall, in our sunny, dry rock garden. This Patrick McMillan collection comes from a population in Texas. Not only is this short-lived, southwestern US native reseeding perennial great in flower, but the native Navajo Indians also used it as a drug for people who want to dream of being chased by deer….we are not making this up!

Baccharis-foliaged Beardtongue

We are enjoying the rare Penstemon baccharifolius this summer in our high/dry crevice garden. This species is native to limestone ledges up to 6,500′ elevation from the Edwards plateau in Texas south into Northern Mexico. This species hates our summer rains, and we had given up on growing this until we built our alkaline crevice garden a few years ago. Now it thrives, growing in 3′ deep Permatill gravel.

Baker’s Lily

We were thrilled to have Lilium bakerianum show up recently with a couple of flowers. This rare, dainty, woodland lily rarely exceeds 2′ in height. The arching stems are difficult to spot in the Chinese grasslands that they call home, unless you are lucky enough to catch them in flower. Lilium bakerianum, named after English botanist  Edmund Gilbert Baker (1864–1949), is quite variable, and as such is divided into five distinct varieties.

Our plants, which are Lilium bakerianum var. rubrum, are located at the top of our crevice garden so they are easy to appreciate when walking below.

More pricks

It’s been quite a floral extravaganza this spring in the dryland garden sections. Here are the latest of our flowering barrel cactus that have bloomed recently at JLBG. All of our cactus are growing outside without any winter protection in our zone 7b garden. The key for most is simply good soil drainage.

Coryphantha sulcata
Echinocereus coccineus
Echinocereus papillosus var. angusticeps
Echinocereus reichenbachii var. baileyi
Echinocereus stoloniferus
Echinocereus x roetteri
Echinopsis ancistrophora
Escobaria dasyacantha SB601
Escobaria vivipara var. neomexicana
Lobivia atrovirens var. ritteri
Lobivia haemantantha
Lobivia thionantha
Notocactus apricus
Notocactus floricomus
Notocactus x subluteus (submammulosus x roseoluteus)
Trichocereus 20-07 (‘Big Time’ x Iridescent Watermelon’)

Hot Ice Plants

Delosperma cooperi and Delosperma ‘Kelaidis’ have formed a lovely union in our crevice garden, where they grow in pure Permatill gravel. The key to growing ice plants in a hot, humid, rainy climate is excellent drainage.

Hi Ida Maia

Looking great in the crevice garden this month is the Pacific Northwest native, Dichelostemma ida-maia This odd little bulb is a member of the Asparagus family…so that makes it as cousin to agaves, hostas, and asparagus. In the wild, it is only found in coastal meadows and into forest edges and partial woodland openings in Northern California and Southern Oregon. As a rule, California natives typically aren’t climatically welcomed in the rainy Southeast US, but Dichelostemma ida-maia is an exception.

Ocoee Leatherflower

Clematis vinacea is a recently described species of non-vining clematis, published in 2013 by plantsman Aaron Floden. In the wild, it grows in a small region on the border of Eastern Tennessee/Northern Georgia. Closely allied to Clematis viorna/Clematis crispa, Clematis vinacea is a compact, non-climbing species. For us, it makes a sprawling mound to 18″ tall x 4′ wide that flowers from May through summer. In habitat, Clematis vinacea prefers a dry, alkaline site, but it has shown good adaptability to slightly acidic soils in our trials.

Clematis vinacea

Formanek’s Bellflower

The Greek bellflower, Campanula formanekiana has been superb in the crevice garden this spring. This amazing monocarpic (dies after flowering) species take three years to flower, and when it does, it puts on one heck of show. It’s namesake was Czech botanist, Eduard Formanek (1845-1900). We’re hoping for a good seed set. Hardiness is Zone 7a-9a, at least.

Staring into Starry Eyes

Nierembergia ‘Starry Eyes’ is looking particularly dazzling in the rock garden at JLBG. Starting to flower for us in late April, this incredible gem is from our 2002 botanical expedition to Argentina. I distinctly remember walking by as our friends from Yucca Do Nursery extracted a small piece of this nierembergia with only a single flower attached. I remember thinking to myself how poorly nierembergias, in particular Nierembergia repens perform in our climate and how I wouldn’t have wasted my time on such a plant. Two decades later, boy was I wrong!

In our climate, Nierembergia gracillis ‘Starry Eyes’ blooms continually through the summer months. It thrives in full sun and a well drained, gravelly soil. Thank you Yucca Do, for all the great introductions!

The Crevice is “Woke”

The crevice garden has “woke” for spring, with early flowering plants in full gear. Here’s a shot of one small section, featuring Delospema dyeri and Iberis simplex (taurica). We hope you can visit in person for the second weekend of our spring open house, May 6 – 8, 2022.

Check out our pricks

Spring is unquestionable peak cactus flowering season at JLBG. Although many of you are familiar with our large opuntia (prickly pear) collection, we thought we’d focus on the more diminutive barrel cactus, which you will see if you visit during our spring open house. Keep in mind that most close at night, not reopening until 10am-noon the following day. The photos below are just a tiny sample of the cacti that will be in flower.

Echinocereus adjustus
Echinocereus reichenbachii var. major Teddy Bear
Echinocereus viridiflorus
Escobaria albicolumnaria
Escobaria dasycanthus
Escobaria orcuttii
Rebutia miniscula ‘Senilis’

Do you have hairy puccoons?

I fell in love with puccoons several decades ago, when I first saw them growing on the Michigan dunes as I hiked around the shoreline. I was immediately smitten with this native member of the Borage (pulmonaria) family. There are 21 different species of Lithospermum (puccoon) in the US, where some go by the common name, stoneseeds.

It would take me five transplant attempts over the next three decades before we were able to successfully get one established in the garden. The photo below is our collection of Lithospermum caroliniense (hairy puccoon) from East Texas, flowering now in it’s new home adjacent to our crevice garden. This species is partial to acidic, sandy soils, so our next task is to figure out what other conditions it will tolerate and then to get it propagated, so we can share.

Asparagus kissin’ cousin

Ok…raise your hand if you’ve grown Aphyllanthes monspeliensis? This odd, monotypic (only member of the genus) is actually a member of the Asparagus family. Hailing from France south into Northern Africa, Aphyllanthes can be found growing in hot, dry, sandy soils, where it produces an amazing spring show of blue flowers on a 1′ tall clumper. The species name “monspeliensis” is named after Montpellier, France, where it grows naturally. Our plants are thriving in our crevice garden, putting on a superb flower show in mid-April.

Super Food Perennial

Will someone please explain to me why more people aren’t growing the amazing sea kale, Crambe maritima. This amazing perennial is a great tasting green that returns every year without replanting. It’s also a great flowering perennial, putting on a show now in our rock garden. We have also never seen any pest activity such as typically bothers other members of the cabbage family. Our plant is growing in half-day sun in pure gravel (in our crevice garden), and never receives any supplement irrigation. The economic return from Crambe maritima is huge. I guess some folks may not find it attractive, but darn, folks!

Mukdenia – a Rocky Sax

Mukdenia is an odd monotypic genus in the widespread Saxifrage family, along with cousins heuchera, tiarella, and the namesake saxifraga. The odd genus name honors the former city of Mukden in Manchuria, which is now known as Shenyang. Mukden was the site of the largest modern day battle, prior to WWI. In case you missed it, the final score was Japan 1, Russia 0.

Several on-line sites, including that purveyor of accuracy, Wikipedia, proclaims there to be two species of Mukdenia, which is sadly incorrect. Although I’m sure Mukdenia rossii would like a sibling, one simply does not exist. I think of Mukdenia like Smucker’s…with a name like that, it has to be good…and it is.

Mukdenia naturally resides in China and Korea, where it can be found in some rather inhospitable places. I had to laugh when I read countless on-line articles that repeat the myth that mukdenia needs water during summer drought. It certainly doesn’t mind summer water, and will probably look better as a garden specimen with some irrigation. My first encounter with mukdenia in the wild was in fall 1997 on South Korea’s Mt. Sorak, where it thrived, growing in the rock cracks of a nearly vertical cliff (below)

Mukdenia in situ, Mt. Sorak, Korea

When we built our concrete crevice garden, mukdenia was one of the first plants I wanted to plant to see if it would mimic what I had seen in the wild. Below is our 2017 planting of Mukdenia rossii ‘Karasuba’ in late March/early April 2022, as it emerges in flower. The foliage continues to expand around the flowers. Our plants get 3-4 hours of sun each morning, then shade the remainder of the day. Winter hardiness is Zone 4a-7b.

Mukdenia rossii ‘Karasuba’ in crevice garden – late March
Mukdenia rossii ‘Karasuba’ in crevice garden – early April

Deliciously Succulent – Bergeranthus

The South African (Eastern Cape) Bergeranthus vespertinus has been absolutely fabulous this late winter/spring season. Here it is growing in one of our rock gardens, where it is mostly protected from winter moisture. (Hardiness Zone 7b and warmer…at least)

Stock Split

Not only did we have 100% survival on our living stones (Lithops aucampiae ssp. koelemanii) in the garden, despite low temperatures of 15-16 degrees F, but they are now in the process of splitting, which is sort of like giving live birth. Splitting happens after flowering, and followed by a subsequent dormancy. The plant divides and the new plants absorb the of the old foliage…sort of like The Blob movie. We were fortunate to catch the process visually for the first time this week.

Lithops aucampiae ssp. koelemanii

Oh, Daphne

My visit to Crete in 2010 was eye-opening when I observed that most native daphnes of the region grew in full sun among rock, in the driest conditions imaginable. That prompted us to re-try many of the daphnes that we’d killed years earlier…obviously, with too much kindness. Now, all of our daphnes are planted in baking sun in our crevice garden, or similar rock garden conditions. Here are a few photos at JLBG from early April.

The first is the Mediterranean native, Daphne collina, which most authorities now subsume under Daphne sericea. All daphne pictured below should be hardy from Zone 6a – 8b.

Daphne collina

Daphne ‘Rosy Wave’ is a Daphne collina hybrid with Daphne burkwoodii

Daphne ‘Rosy Wave’

Daphne x napolitana ‘Bramdream’ is a hybrid of Daphne collina and Daphne cneorum.

Daphne x napolitana ‘Bramdream’

Red Kidney Vetch

Flowering now in the rock garden is the European native, Anthyllis coccinea…aka: red kidney vetch. This small rock garden legume (Fabaceae) is still in its first full year in the ground, having been planted last June…so far, so good.

Pussy Toes, all alone

Antennaria solitaria, the solitary pussytoes is looking great in the garden this week. This amazing native groundcover hails from Ohio south to Alabama, where it can be found in open shade or part sun, but always in dry soils. Despite being native in acidic soils, our plants below are thriving in our alkaline crevice garden.

NC State/JLBG Day of Giving

Wednesday, March 23, 2022 is the NC State University Day of Giving…a time for those who want to support activities at NC State. In our case, that means the endowment we are building to preserve Juniper Level Botanic Gardens. If you care about ensuring the gardens remain intact for future generations, please consider making a contribution to the endowment. You can do so at this link to the University Endowment Fund for JLBG.

For those who are relatively new to the gardens, here is a link to a historical timeline of the JLBG garden development.

You can find out more about the mission and future of the gardens here

Winter Pricks

Most hardy cactus have the good sense to wait until spring to flower, but not Notocactus haselbergii. This gem, which hails from Southern Brazil, started to bloom the first of March, and will continue on and off most of the summer. It has thrived for several years in our crevice garden.

Palm-leaf Oxalis

One of our winter garden favorites is looking so good right now, that we had to share. Oxalis palmifrons is an amazing, but slow-growing rock garden gem, that hails from the South African karoo. We offered this through Plant Delights almost a decade ago, and it will be some time before we have enough to offer again.

Oxalis palmifrons

Raising Rabieas

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.

Rabiea albipuncta

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.

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.

Unduly Undulate

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.

We don’t need no stinking leaves!

We’ve been experimenting to see how many species of asclepias will survive in our climate, and one that has been quite fascinating is Asclepias subulata. This odd species from the southwest deserts of the US has evergreen glaucous stems, and not much in the way of leaves. It will be quite interesting to see what the butterfly larvae actually consume. It did flower for us this fall for the first time. This will be our first winter, so fingers crossed it can take our cold and wet temperatures. We sited this on a slope in one of our crevice gardens, so it wouldn’t drown in our summer rains.

Happened on a Habenaria

Looking particularly good this week is one of the Southeast US (NC to Texas) native water orchids, Habenaria repens. This gem flowers through most of the growing season, and hasn’t slowed down as we enter November. Water spider orchid can grow both as a marginal or as a true aquatic. Our plant is growing in one of our crevice garden seeps. We’re working to get this really cool native propagated and available in the future.

Been Watching the Stones

We’ve tried growing living stones (Lithops) a few times over the last decade in the garden, but could never get them to last longer than a couple of years. We weren’t loosing them to cold temperatures, but to moisture. So, when we built the crevice garden, lithops were one of the first plants we wanted to try again. We designed the crevices with overhangs to keep water completely off certain special plants, and that’s where we planted our seed-grown living stones.

For those who haven’t grown these irresistible gems, Lithops are South African succulents in the Azoiceae family, native to very dry and mostly tropical regions. They are prized for their odd appearance that consists of only two camouflouged succulent leaves.

We’ve never been able to coax a lithops to flower until last week. In their new crevice home, several finally decided to bloom this fall, with a sucession of flowers that still continues. We are currently growing only one species, Lithops aucampiae, but now that we’ve been successful, we’ve planted seed of more species to try. It takes us about 18 months from seed to get a plant large enough to go into the garden.

Despite everything written about lithops being tropical, we have not found this to be the case. Like so many plants, not enough people have been willing to experiment in colder climates in the right conditions. Of course, if you believe everything written on line, you’ll know for sure that they can’t take anything below 40 degrees F. Hint…ours have made it fine in the garden to 13F, so we expect them to tolerate even colder temperatures if kept dry. Wish us luck and be sure to check out the stones growing in the crevice during our next open house.

Can you say Poo-yuh?

As an avid bromeliad collector back in the 1970s, I’ve had a long fascination with members of the bromeliad family. Although, I’m long past my house plant days, I continue to test bromeliads from cold climates for their adaptability in our Zone 7b NC garden. So far, we’ve had one member of the genus Puya to survive for well over a decade, so we’re trying more. Here is our trial clump of Puya caerulea var. violacea this week, where it is thriving so far in the crevice garden. This 2.5 year old plant is just waiting for a really cold winter to see how it fares, but so far, so good.

Zig Zag Fern

One of our favorite of the US native (Central Texas) desert ferns is Pellaea ovata. Here is our clump in the crevice garden looking quite nice this week. This is scheduled to return to the Plant Delights catalog in January. Hardiness should be at least Zone 7b and south.

Holy Zauschneria, Batman!

Try as we might, we have been epic failures trying to grow the showy southwest native Zauschneria (now epilobium) in our garden, due to the combination of high humidity and torrential summer rainfalls. No matter where we tried them in the rock garden, they quickly expired. That was in the years BC…before crevice. Here is our plant of Zauschneria canum var. arizonica ‘Sky Island Orange’, a David Salman selection, planted in early 2018 and still thriving in our urbanite crevice garden. Not bad for a plant that doesn’t grow here.

Long-leaf Buckwheet

We admit to a long-standing case of buckwheat envy. Every visit to the worlds great rock gardens, such as the Denver Botanic Garden, leave us lusting to grow the rock garden genus, eriogonum. We’ve killed many members of the genus, since they truly hate our humid and wet summers. Even our crevice garden was no help in keeping these alive, even including our reportedly easy-to-grow Appalachian native, Eriogonum allenii. After almost giving up several times, we can finally declare success with the Texas native Eriogonum longifolium, from our East Texas botanizing expedition. Here’s our clump in full flower, and quite happy in one of the rock garden sections. Granted, it’s not as stunning as some of the species that thrive in Denver, but hey, we can now check that genus off the list.

Eryngium longifolium

Starry Eyes

Looking good this week is Nierembergia ‘Starry Eyes’. We have special memories watching our friend Carl Schoenfeld collect cuttings of this on our 2002 botanizing trip to Argentina. While it’s only reliably winter hardy to Zone 8, it’s a flowering machine during the summer. Here it is growing in our new crevice planting near our Open House welcome tent.

Mongolian Heads Up

After a long spring/early summer flowering season, we’re now enjoying the seed head of Clematis hexapetala ‘Mongolian Snowflakes’. Here it is growing in our fully sun, gravelly crevice garden.

Cooperi…Aloe, not Alice

Our patch of Aloe cooperi has been beautiful in flower this summer, but every time I see it, my mind automatically associates it with rocker, Alice Cooper. I guess he made quite an impression on me as a child. Aloe cooperi is the hardiest of the aloes, first cousin to the better known Aloe vera. Aloe cooperi has been fine here in Zone 7b for decades, but we doubt it would be winter hardy much further north.

Michaux and Michauxia

Most keen botanist are familiar with the late French botanist, Andre’ Michaux (1746-1802). Michaux was a pioneer in botanizing North America, but how many people have actually grown the plant genus named in his honor. Michauxia is a genus of seven species, sister to campanulas, that hail from the Mediterranean though much of the Middle-East. We are fortunate to have his namesake, Michauxia campanuloides in flower this week for the first time, where it is thriving in the crevice garden.

Obscure and Ambiguous

To identify plants that are new to us, we start with the time-tested step of determining how close plants look to relatives we already know. This comes first, before we dive into floral dissection, etc. In most cases, we can get pretty close to a correct id, since we’ve grown and seen such a large number of plants. Two plants that threw us completely off the trail when we first saw them, are flowering now in the crevice garden here at JLBG.

The first, below, is Digitalis obscura, the Spanish Foxglove. I’d have lost big had I wagered on its identity when I first saw this, since I would have bet the farm that it was a penstemon, since the flowers and foliage share such an amazing resemblance to that genus. It’s taken us years to find a spot well-drained enough for this to survive in our rainy, humid, climate, but the wait was worth it.

Digitalis obscura

The second plant that doesn’t seem to fit its genus is also flowering now in the crevice garden…Penstemon ambiguous. This Southwest/Great Basin native, known as sand beardtongue, looks nothing like other members of the penstemon family, which are usually easily recognizable at first glance. Instead, it could easily be mistaken for a phlox. This is our third year for this gem, so perhaps this may appear in our nursery offerings one day.

Penstemon ambiguous

Little ledebouria

Most people are in too much of a hurry when they visit gardens and subsequently miss so many of the tiny gems in the garden. Here our clump of the South African native Ledebouria inquinata that was in full flower in the crevice garden during our recent spring open house. I wonder how many people actually walked slow enough to notice this tiny gem and its massive floral show. How about a “slow gardening” movement?

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’

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

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

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.

Kale by the Sea

When we finally discovered that sea kale (Crambe maritima) is indeed growable in our hot, humid climate, we’ve planted it all around. It’s also been rewarding that people have actually purchased it to try for themselves. Frankly, I’d grow sea kale for the ornamental value alone…a perennial with blue waxy foliage and an incredible show of white flowers in spring! Then, there’s the edibility, both cooked and raw. Also, for us, unlike other cabbages and kale, it has been virtually untouched by the pesky cabbage loopers.

Here is a photo of sea kale in our crevice garden this April, growing in a soil mix that’s 50% gravel, with no summer irrigation. Read my lips, I mean text…full baking sun and no irrigation after establishment. We recommend you never let your plants read the repetitive on-line sites that all tout that it only grows in cool, moist, climates…hooey!

A Concrete Idea

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

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