Looking and smelling scrumptious in the garden today is Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Orange Peel’. This splendid hybrid of Hamamelis mollis (China) x Hamamelis japonica (Japan) comes from Belgium’s Kalmthout Arboretum. I don’t know that I’ve ever smelled a witch hazel this sweet.
I’m just back from a recent plant trip to coastal Virginia and wanted to share some trip highlights and photos. Mark Weathington of the JC Raulston Arboretum and I headed north for a quick 2 day jaunt to the Norfolk area of Virginia.
Our first stop was the garden of long time garden friend, Pam Harper. For decades, Pam was probably the most prolific and knowledgeable garden writer in the country, in addition to having what was once the largest horticultural slide library.
At 92, and despite suffering from debilitating eyesight issues, Pam still gardens, including planting and pushing carts of mulch around the garden. It was such a joy to once again walk her amazing garden, listening to the both the historical details and performance of each plant we passed.
Pam was donating the remainder (20,000) of her slide collection, which previously numbered over 100,000 images, to the JC Raulston Arboretum. There, they will be digitized for public availability.
Her 45 year-old Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ was the largest either of us had ever seen.
We both also fell in love with Camellia x vernalis ‘Meiko Tanaka’…a plant we’d never encountered in flower, but seems to have good commercial availability.
The gold barked Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Bihou’ was also showing off its stunning winter color.
Pam’s garden has always yielded some of the most amazing Arum italicum seedlings I’ve ever seen. We are already growing two of her selections in hopes of future introduction, but we found a few more that we couldn’t resist.
Our next stop was the Virginia Tech Tidewater Arboretum at the Hampton Roads Experiment Station. It had been many years since either of us had visited.
What we found was an amazing plant collection that has been mostly abandoned, except for some minimal mowing maintenance. In most cases the labeling was somewhat intact, although some required Easter egg-like hunts, and others were simply nowhere to be found.
The late Virginia Tech researcher, Bonnie Appleton had worked to get homeowners to plant shorter maturing trees under power lines. To make her demonstration more authentic, she had faux power lines installed, which you can make out among the branches. It was interesting to see that virtually all of the plants she promoted as dwarf, had all grown well into the power lines. Mark recalled conversations with her decades earlier explaining that her choices weren’t really very sound.
There were a number of amazing older specimens including one of the largest Quercus polymorpha (Mexican Oak) that we’d ever seen in cultivation. This 75′ tall specimen dated to 1989, was originally gifted to them by the late JC Raulston, from a Yucca Do Nursery wild collection.
The old specimens of Ilex buergeri were absolutely stunning. This is a beautifully-textured, spineless broadleaf evergreen that’s virtually unknown in the commercial trade.
Another spineless holly, Ilex pedunculosa (long-stalk holly), is known for being difficult to grow in our hot, humid climate. Their specimen, however, looked absolutely superb.
We caught Fatsia japonica in full flower…always a great nectar source for honeybees in the winter months.
A highlight for me was catching the amazing stinkhorn fungus, Clathrus columnatus in full splendor…both visually and odoriferously.
Leaving the Hampton Roads station, we headed to the Norfolk Botanical Garden, where Mark worked before he came to the JCRA. Much of their efforts in the fall and winter are put toward their massive winter lights festival.
Norfolk Botanical Garden is home to an extensive and renown camellia collection, so we spent a good bit of time roaming the woodland garden where they grow. We were particularly interested in their Camellia species collection, several of which had questionable labeling. Here is one that was correct, Camellia gaudichaudii.
We spent a good bit of time studying a holly, labeled Ilex purpurea (syn. chinensis). The plant was amazing, but looks nothing like that species. Hopefully, a holly expert will be able to help us identify it from our photos.
This was my first time seeing the self-fertile idesia, Idesia polycarpa ‘Kentucky Fry’. I can’t imagine why this amazing, easy-to-grow plant isn’t more widely planted. I can think of few trees with more winter interest.
The shrub/small tree that blew us away from several hundred feet was a specimen of Arbutus unedo ‘Oktoberfest’. We’ve grown Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’ for decades at JLBG, but have never seen anything as stunning as this clone.
While we’re talking about plants with red fruit, I was fascinated with their specimen of Cotoneaster lacteus. I had mistakenly assumed that most cotoneasters fail in our hot, humid summers, but obviously, I’ve never tried this species, which is typically rated as hardy only to Zone 8a. I think we need to trial this at JLBG.
Finally, I was particularly fascinated with a Quercus nigra (water oak), that formerly had a planter built around it’s base. As you can imagine, the tree roots made short work of the planter, but once the planter boards were removed, the resulting tree root sculpture is simply exquisite.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the highlights of our recent trip.
We all love the color of leaves in fall…at least until they need to be raked. Here are a few that we enjoyed at JLBG recently.
Acer triflorum ‘Aureum’ really put on a lovely show with leaves that held on quite a while. It also colored later than most other maples.
Euonymus carnosus was quite stunning, although the effect really didn’t show up as well in the photo.
Parrotia persica is one of the last deciduous trees to color and drop in our garden. The typical color is yellow, although I’ve seem some pretty amazing red-leaf forms as well. We have not noticed much in the way of color on Parrotia persica ‘Vanessa’.
Parrotia subaequalis is the star of the genus when it comes to fall foliage, which is a brilliant purple red.
Although our row of Metasequoia ‘Ogon’ turn brown in fall, it’s still an amazing show. These are the oldest plantings of this cultivar in the US.
Gardeners typically curse fall leaf drop, but ginkgo trees often get a pass, not only because the golden fall leaves look so great on the tree, but they also look great on the ground, not displaying the disheveled look of other larger tree leaves. Here’s our ginkgo tree, planted just in front of our office, that’s been putting on quite a show for the last few weeks.
Despite what most folks think, the genus Ginkgo is indeed a North American native, but to understand that, requires a bandwidth that many native plant purists simply don’t have. Native is not a place in location, it is only a place in time. The first Ginkgos date back to the lower Jurassic period about 190 million years ago, when the genus was born in Mongolia. From there, it migrated around the world, based on dramatic climate change, with fossils found from what is now the UK to the US (Oregon to North Dakota).
Ginkgos continued to diversify through the Cretaceous period (65-145 million years ago), when they reached their maximum distribution, with 5-6 species currently recognized. By the Paleocene (56-66 million years ago), all of the species but one had gone extinct. Although that remaining species is known as Ginkgo adiantoides, it is almost identical to today’s Ginkgo biloba.
During the Oligocene (23-34 million years ago), Ginkgos moved south from their more northerly range, with the genus completely disappearing from North America around 7 million years ago. According to the fossil records, Ginkgos subsequently disappeared from Europe around 2.5 million years ago. The only vestiges of the genus that remained, holed up in three distinct refugia (botanical hideouts) in China until humans began to spread them out again and re-populate the rest of the now Ginkgo-less world. They returned to the Flora of both North America and Europe in the 1700s.
Last weekend, we were thrilled to host a bus tour from the International Maple Society, that was meeting in North Carolina. As you can imagine, it was fascinating to walk the gardens with such an amazing and diverse group from around the world. Here are a few of our visitors: Tim (l) and Matt (r) Nichols of Mr. Maple Nursery in NC. The Nichols brothers have set the woody plant world on fire with their amazing mail order nursery, based out of the Asheville area. Maples aren’t their only focus, but there hasn’t been a woody plant mail order nursery in my lifetime to do such a great job with both selection and customer service as the Nichols brothers.
Sandwiched in between them are Haruko and Talon Buchholz of Buchholz Nursery. Talon has long been one of my horticulture idols, and I’ve been blessed to have visited their nursery twice during the last 30 years. Although Talon has visited JLBG once prior, this was my first time to meet his amazing wife, Haruko. Like Mr. Maple, Buchholz Nursery in Oregon focuses on maples and conifers, but unlike Mr. Maple, Buchholz is strictly wholesale.
Few plants I’ve ever grown enchant me like Forestiera angustifolia ‘Woodlanders Weeping’. This incredible weeping selection of the Texas native is typically known as a scraggly upright bush that grows in dry alkaline soils. This special form was discovered in Calhoun County, Texas in 1992 by our friend Bob McCartney and the late Texas plantsman, Lynn Lowrey. In 1996, Bob, Lynn, and Patrick McMillan returned to the site for cuttings. It was subsequently propagated and introduced by Woodlanders Nursery. Surprisingly, it also thrives in moist acidic soils, and seemingly has no garden conditions where it doesn’t thrive.
We actually enjoy the incredible structure of the deciduous bare stems more in the winter time without the tiny deciduous foliage. The photo above was just taken at JLBG in late September. Mature size is 6′ tall x 25′ wide, so be sure you have a large enough space. I would think this is a plant that would be embraced by every native plant nursery, unless they have one of those bizarre hang-ups that man-made state political borders matter. Winter hardiness is unknown, but at least Zone 7b-9b.
We’ve long had an affinity for larches (probably due to a hangover from watching the Monty Python larch skit far too many times), but there aren’t many larches that will survive our hot, humid summers. We can, however, succeed with the false larch, which belongs to the monotypic genus, Pseudolarix. Both larix (larch) and pseuodlarix (false larch) are deciduous conifers, whose foliage turns golden yellow in fall prior to leaf fall.
Pseudolarix is known as an open, airy species, and having seen quite a few over the last 50 years, all were very similar. Imagine our surprise, when a new seedling we purchased in 2017 turned out to be incredibly dense and fast growing. The first photo is our oldest typical pseudolarix, now celebrating 29 years in the garden.
The new clone, which we’ve named Pseudolarix ‘Greensanity’, just 5 years in the garden, is pictured below that. We look forward to working with some woody plant nurseries to get this exceptional form grafted and into the trade.
Lagerostroemia ‘Gamad VII’ is looking exceptional in the garden this month. This dwarf selection, sold under the invalid trade name of Sweetheart Dazzle, is a gem of a plant, and one that has actually stayed dwarf. Our twelve year old plant is 4′ tall x 10′ wide.
If you’re like us, you never have enough purple-foliage plants in your landscape, so we’re always on the lookout for something new. One of our finds a few years back is this purple-leaf plum from our friend Dr. Dave Creech in Texas. Prunus ‘Purple Pride’, which Dave and his staff at Stephen F. Austin State University discovered, is a seedling of the widespread native, Chickasaw plum, Prunus angustifolia, with an unknown suitor.
Many purple-leaf trees loose their color during the summer, but not Prunus ‘Purple Pride’. Our specimen at JLBG, pictured below is 4 years old. We have also not seen any sign of diseases, which often plague many domesticated prunus. This should top out around 12′ in height and 15′ in width. Supposedly, our tree will fruit eventually, and reportedly, the fruit are rather tasty. Hardiness is Zone 7a and warmer.
Our mountain camellia (aka: Stewartia ovata) is in full flower this week at JLBG. Despite its reputation as being difficult to grow, our plant has reached 12′ tall after a decade in the ground. This native deciduous small tree can be found from Virginia south to Alabama, centered on the spine of the Appalachian mountains. Hardiness is Zone 5-8.
We’ve had a longstanding love affair with the genus styrax, thanks to their amazing spring display of fragrant white bell-like flowers. Of the 130 recognized species, we have so far tried 22, of which 9 remain alive.
The first featured below is Styrax japonicus ‘Evening Light’. This amazing, black-foliage form of the typical green-leaf Styrax japonicus appeared as a seedling in Holland at the nursery of Henny Kolster. When I first saw the photo, I assumed it to have been “photoshopped”, but after growing it for several years here at JLBG, the foliage is indeed jet black. This is one of the most stunning small trees in our collection.
Styrax formosanus, which hails from Taiwan (Formosa) is undoubtedly the most floriferous species we’ve encounterd. Here is our garden plant this spring. For us, this generally tops out at 15′ to 20′ tall.
Styrax americanus (Illinois south to Florida) is one of only four native US styrax species. Usually topping out around 10′ tall, this form introduced by Woodlanders Nursery has foliage with a lovely blue cast.
Here are a few of the many buckeyes that are looking good at JLBG this spring.
Aesculus pavia is native from Illinois south to Texas and east to Florida. Hardiness is Zone 4-8.
The European Aesculus hippocastanum has thrived for us, despite most sources claiming we are too hot in the summer. Aesculus ‘Hampton Court Gold’ emerges with ghostly yellow foliage for an amazing spring show.
Aesculus x carnea is a hybrid of the European Aesculus hippocastanum and the American Aesculus pavia. This cross was first discovered in Europe in 1812. It is quite stunning in our garden as you can see. Hardiness is Zone 5-8.
The dwarf form of Aesculus glabra only occurs in a small region of Northern Alabama/Georgia. Mature size is 5-6′ tall. Hardiness is Zone 5-9.
Aesculus sylvatica is one of our oldest buckeye specimens in the garden. This species is native from Virginia to Alabama. Hardiness is Zone 6b-8b.
Aesculus sylvatica ‘Sylvan Glow’ is Jeremy Schmidt’s discovery of an amazing seedling of Aesculus sylvatica that emerges rosy red, then changes to orange, before aging to green for the summer. When it gets a bit larger, we will try to propagate this so we can share.
Even when the sun isn’t out, the golden willow, Salix sachalinensis ‘Golden Sunshine’ provides a bright spot in the garden. We love this amazing tree. I see quite a few sources who list this on-line as maturing at 18′ tall x 7′ wide. Well, that’s not quite accurate. The five year old specimen pictured below is now 25′ tall x 25′ wide. Growth is much faster in moist, rich soils, but it seems someone needs to trade in their tape measure.
We’ll certainly remember 2022 for many reasons, but a highlight is the first flowering of our Davidia involucrata ‘Sonoma’. This incredible tree was named for French missionary and naturalist, Armand “Pere” David (1826-1900), who first discovered the tree in its native China.
Like dogwoods, what we think of as flowers are actually bracts, the effect is that of the tree in flower is like a dogwood on steroids. Interesting, davidia is in the black gum family, Nyssaceae, and although this tree is not common, it has acquired the common name of dove tree.
We’ve learned a bit about what davidia likes, having killed five plants since first trying it in 2002. Full sun is not ideal, as is deep shade. Our original plant, which as been in the ground since 2002 has yet to flower. The plant of Davidia ‘Sonoma’, which flowered this year, was planted in 2014, and is thriving in light shade/part sun.
Flowering in our parking lot now is the beautiful Halesia diptera var. magniflora, better known as big-flowered two-wing Silverbell. Native from Georgia across to Texas, this beautiful small tree can be found in low moist woodlands. That said, it thrives in average to dry garden conditions.
The variety “magniflora’ is distinguished from the more northern Halesia diptera var. diptera in that the gulf coast form has much larger flowers. This is our collection from Wilcox County, Alabama, where the foliage is much wider than what is typically seen in this taxa. Plants mature at around 20′ in height. Hardiness is Zone 5-8.
Magnolia ‘Forest’s Pink’ put on a splendid show this year in early to mid-March. Sold as a cultivar of the Chinese Magnolia denudata, some magnolia experts insist that it’s actually a hybrid, due to the intensity of the pink color as well as the form of the plant.
Magnolia ‘Forest’s Pink’ originated as an introduction from Treseder’s Nursery in Cornwall, England, who propagated and named it from an original introduction from China by Scottish botanist, George Forrest (1873 – 1932), that was growing at England’s Caerhays Castle.
Magnolia denudata, a typically white-flowered species, native to Central China, has been cultivated around Buddhist monasteries since 618 AD…in other words, nearly 1,500 years. Another long-cultivated Chinese native magnolia with pink flowers and an overlapping native range is Magnolia liliiflora. The commonly known hybrids of the two species are known as the Magnolia x soulangeana hybrids. Since plant explorer George Forest was known to collect both in the wild as well in cultivated areas, it is quite probably that the magnolia that bears his name is not pure Magnolia denudata, but actually a Magnolia x soulangeana hybrid. Looks like someone will need to do some DNA work to sort out this nomenclatural tussle.
Whatever you want to call it, our 25 year-old specimen of Magnolia ‘Forest’s Pink’ was rather stunning this March. Thankfully, the flowering was mostly complete before our mid-March freeze of 23 degrees F.
Flowering this week at JLBG is the amazing cherry red Hamamelis japonica ‘Tsukubana-kurenai’, also known as Shibamichi’s Red witch hazel. This gem was selected by legendary Japanese nurseryman, Akira Shibamichi, who also introduced Metasequoia ‘Ogon’. We were blessed to have Mr. Shibamichi visit JLBG back in the 1990s.
I borrowed the title from our good friend Jim Dodson’s book for this post about Ulmus parviflora ‘Golden Rey’. One of the most admired trees in our garden is our specimen of Gold-leaf lacebark elm. The bark, as you can see below is absolutely fabulous both in winter and summer.
The problem is that lacebark elm is a notorious seed producer, and in our garden, it seems like every one germinates. Our love/hate relationship with this species has so far resulted in the removal of four different mature cultivars from our garden so far.
Here’s where genetic engineering (GE) could actually help. Notice, we are using the term GE, as compared to the incorrectly used GMO. All, plants, unless they come directly from the wild, are genetically modified organisms (GMO). Humans would cease to exist as we know them without GMO’s, so, please try to use the correct terminology. What people are crusading against in food crops is actually genetic engineering (GE). Hoping down now from my soapbox.
It’s actually quite easy to sterilize a plant, using one of the genetic engineering tools known as CRISPR. Just think of this GE surgery as a horticultural vascectomy…a couple of snips and you’re done making babies. It will be interesting to see if public sentiment for non-edible crops allows genetic engineers to solve such problems with making some amazing plants like the widely planted lacebark elm more palatable to gardeners who are concerned about its potentially invasive tendencies.
We love December, since that’s when the grapefruits start to rain down from our xCitroncitrus ‘Dustan’ tree at JLBG. Few people who come to the garden actually look up enough to notice this fascinating plant. xCitroncitrus ‘Dunstan’ is a bigeneric hybrid between the hardy trifoliate orange, Poncirus trifoliata and a grapefruit. The result is a winter hardy fruit that’s pretty darn close in size, taste, and appearance to a grapefruit. To be technically correct, the fruit is known as a Citrumelo. Whatever you want to call it, it’s pretty darn cool to be harvesting hardy citrus here in Zone 7b. Last year, we harvested over 3 dozen fruit off our single tree.
I remember falling in love with the dwarf river birch, Betula nigra ‘Little King’, back around 1990 when it was first planted at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, NC. This amazing compact selection originated in the late 1970s at King Nursery in Oswego, Illinois, and starting in 1991, was adopted and formally marketed through the Chicagoland Grows plant introduction program.
After 20 years, the original plant in Illinois was only 10′ tall, but the 30 year old specimen at the JC Raulston Arboretum has now reached 30′ tall x 30′ wide So, while it is much slower growing, it’s not exactly a true dwarf. Most estimates conclude that Betula ‘Little King’ will grow about 1/3 to 1/4 the speed and size of the typical species, making it a much better choice around most smaller homes. That said, we love the compact, dense habit and have recently planted this specimen around our home on the JLBG property. Hardiness is Zone 4-9.
With over 60% of retail plants now purchased at the box stores, we wonder if most consumers know you can’t trust much if anything you read on a label at a mass marketer. Our most recent example is this tag on an Illicium parviflorum at our local Lowes. I particularly love the common name, Japanese Anise. Unfortunately, Illicium parviflorum is native only to Florida…quite a few miles from Japan.
The tag mentions full sun, which Illicium parviflorum certainly tolerates, but in the wild, it grows naturally in moist woodlands.
Then, there is the note about cool temperatures and warm soil promotes root growth. Well, warm soil does promote root growth for some plants, but not for all. Wouldn’t the soil have been warmer in mid-summer than now? Just wondering…
And, if that wasn’t enough, our staff taxonomist, Zac Hill spotted this tag for our native bald cypress, Taxodium distichum at a different Lowes store. The problem is that the plant is actually a Chinese Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia instead of a Taxodium. I wonder if they thought…”what the hell, those dumb consumers will never know the difference.”. After all, it’s just another little green lie. As Anita likes to say, ‘The way you do one thing is the way you do everything.”
I can’t speak to the truth that blondes have more fun, but on behalf of gardeners who grow blondes (gold leaf plants), we certainly have more fun when they’re around. One of our horticultural holy grails has always been a gold leaf elderberry we can actually grow. The horticultural market is dominated by northern cold climate selections of colored-leaf elderberries, which refuse to survive our hot, humid summers.
I can’t tell you how excited we were a couple of years ago to learn of a Keith Mearns discovery of a wild elderberry near Columbia, SC with beautiful golden foliage, Sambucus canadensis ‘Blonde Envy’. Although it took us a while to track one down (Keith says that less than a dozen exist in the world currently), it is now performing beautifully in a prize spot at JLBG. We’ve turned our Plant Delights propagators loose in the hope we can have enough to share in the 2023 Plant Delights spring catalog.
Just prior to the pandemic, we were plant collecting in UK nurseries, and made a stop at the always amazing Cotswold Garden Flowers. Founder Bob Brown’s son, Edmund, had taken up elderberry breeding, and now held the National Sambucus collection. We were able to bring back a couple of his complex hybrid introductions to trial, and to our shock, both are thriving in our summers. Here is a photo of our 2 year-old clump of Sambucus ‘Chocolate Marzipan’ in the garden. Finally, sambucus envy will be over for southern gardeners.
Outside of the nerdy members of the International Oak Society, few gardeners have ever heard of Quercus x vilmoriniana. This spectacular oak is a hybrid between the Asian Quercus dentata and the European Quercus petraea. Quercus x vilmoriniana has been known in European gardens since 1894, but is rarely seen in US gardens. The hybrid is named for the late French botanist Maurice Leveque de Vilmorin.
Our 20′ tall specimen at JLBG was planted in 2012 and has developed not only superb foliage, but splendid deeply-fissured bark. There is an old specimen at Cornell in NY, so it shows good cold tolerance in addition to loving our hot, sweaty summers. We have sown acorns from our plant, and if they grow, we will make this available though the Southeastern Plant Symposium Rare Plant Auction in June.
Sounding more like a soft drink/crayon combination, Orangeola is actually a stunning selection of weeping, dissected, purple-leaf Japanese maple. Our oldest specimen at JLBG is now 27 years old, and measures 5′ tall x 12′ wide…sorry that size doesn’t really match what you’ll find on-line. We think it’s one of the most handsome clones we grow.