Sweet little Bunchkin

Looking great in the gardens this week is our 2021 introduction of Baptisia ‘Blue Bunchkin’ (available again in 2023). Baptisias are North American native perennials and are equally at home in a bone dry site or as a marginal aquatic…as long as they get at least 4-6 hours of sun daily. Hardiness in Zone 4a-9b.

Take a peek inside our baptisia breeding and trial beds with Tony.

Baptisia Blue Bunchkin’
Baptisia ‘Blue Bunchkin’

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

Ruscus Crazy

We love the evergreen ruscus in garden, but realize they are a plant that will never be found at most mainstream garden centers. A genus of only 6 currently recognized species, native from Europe into Eurasia, these horticultural oddities are so odd that they once qualified to have their own plant family, Ruscaceae.

Now, with improved DNA testing, they were found to actually be members of the Asparagus family. Exactly where within the Asparagus family is still an ongoing debate. Within the last decade, they were grouped with Nolina and Dasylirion, which to those of us who work with live plants, made no sense. Most likely, they will wind up in their own section, but as distant cousins to better know genera like Rohdea and Liriope.

Ruscus are great evergreen plants for dry shade, in regions where they are winter hardy, which is usually Zone 7b and south. Ruscus are unique in that they don’t produce leaves, but instead have leaf like structures known as cladodes, from which the tiny flowers emerge. All ruscus species have both separate male and female plants, although there are four hermaphroditic (bi-sexual) cultivars of Ruscus aculeatus in commerce, which produce the lovely red fruit without a mate.

The most common ruscus species in cultivation is Ruscus aculeatus, which has a wide range from Western Europe through the Caucuses. A handful of named cultivars of Ruscus aculeatus can be found in the gardens. Below is a photo this month of Ruscus ‘Sparkler’ a self-fruiting form, whose 2′ tall height is mid-way between Ruscus ‘Elizabeth Lawrence’ and Ruscus ‘Wheeler’.

Ruscus aculeatus ‘Sparkler’

Ruscus hypophyllum is a species, which ranges from Spain to Northern Africa, that’s rarely cultivated in the US. Other than the very tender Ruscus streptophyllus, this has proven to the be the next most tender species. Prior to trying these new forms of Ruscus hypophyllum, which were planted in early 2020, we had only grown a single clone, which had consistently died in our Zone 7b winters. These new plants are seedlings, grown from an Alan Galloway seed collection in Majorca, Spain.

Ruscus hypophyllum

Ruscus hypoglossum, which hails from Italy to Turkey, is a similar sounding species that we were fortunate to study in the wilds of Slovenia a few years ago, where it grew in mountainous open forests.

Ruscus hypoglossum
Ruscus hypoglossum flowers

Ruscus x microglossum (below) is a natural hybrid between Ruscus hypophyllum and Ruscus hypoglossum…quite a tongue-full.

Ruscus x microglossum

Ruscus colchicus is a species we fell in love with during a trip to Hillier’s Arboretum in 2005. Hailing from NW Turkey to the Western Caucuses, Ruscus colchicus is possibly the most elegant garden species. We are fortunate to have three different clones growing at JLBG, which we hope to one day have enough to share.

Ruscus colchicus

Voted least likely to be found in an ex-situ plant collection is Ruscus hyrcanus, a species, whose native range is from the Crimea into Iran. In appearance it somewhat resembles a dwarf, horizontal-growing version of Ruscus aculeatus. We are thrilled to have been able to offer this little-cultivated species in the past through Plant Delights.

Ruscus hyrcanus

We hope you’ll take notice of these great evergreens during your next visit to JLBG.

Blackburn’s Palm

We love plant mysteries, and Sabal ‘Blackburniana’ fits the bill nicely. This pass-along seed strain has been considered by some to be an old hybrid of Sabal minor, while others consider it to be synonymous with Sabal palmetto, yet others consider it to be Sabal domingensis. Whatever it is, our plant is looking quite good in the garden. After growing it, unscathed, since 2008, we finally decided to propagate some for the upcoming Plant Delights catalog. If you know any more historical background about this curiosity, please share.

Casting about

Just snapped this photo of Aspidistra minutiflora ‘Leopard’…one of our favorite cast iron plants. Although it isn’t really winter hardy here in Zone 7b, it makes one heck of a tough house plant.

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’

Another Winter Combo

Here’s another favorite winter combination in our parking lot drought border, involving Opuntia aurea ‘Coombes Winter Glow’, Agave x loferox ‘Stairway to Heaven’, a new gold variegated Yucca flaccida, all backed by Phlomis monocephala and a lovely tan-colored Andropogon.

Got the blues? If not, we can help.

Amsonia (aka: bluestar) are one of the best temperate genera (18 species) of blue-flowered perennials for the spring garden. We’ve offered quite a few different species and selections through the years, rotating them in and out as propagation successes allow and as sales dictate. All but two of the species, (Amsonia orientalis from Europe and Amsonia elliptica from Asia) are North American natives. Most are extremely drought tolerant, while others like Amsonia rigida and Amsonia tabernaemontana can tolerate very wet soils.

Amsonia montana is a commonly grown plant of mystery, having just appeared in horticulture, but never been documented from a wild population. A few of the amsonia species have flowers so pale blue that they appear white in the garden with only a hint of blue on the flower corolla. Amsonia are quite promiscuous in the garden, so if you grow more than one species nearby, you will have hybrids from seed. We hope you’ll explore this amazing genus of perennials.

Hit gold with Solomon’s Seal

Several of the Solomon’s Seals age gracefully, but we’re usually too busy writing catalog copy to get photos. This year, we happened to catch Polygonatum infundiflorum ‘Lemon Seoul’ all lit up in its fall fines. 

Agave Mountain Man – the big moment

We posted this a few weeks ago as our Agave ‘Mountain Man’ (A. gentryi x montana) prepared to open. We’ll, the big moment is here…below are a few shot from today.

The seed were wild-collected in Mexico in the late 1990s by our friends at Yucca Do, and our seedling was planted in May 2000, so it took 17 years to flower.  Fingers crossed for good seed set, and fortunately we have many more agaves in flower (and a tall ladder) to help the process. 

Ark, Ark…is that rain we hear?

In a matter of two days, most of our region went from abnormally dry to saturated, when an unusual weather system tracked across our area.  Not to worry…we’ve loaded two each of every plant on the green arc for safe keeping.

We tallied 5.5″ of rain at the nursery, while areas a few miles away registered almost 9 inches.  As you’ve no doubt seen on the news, areas in and around creeks and rivers are underwater.  Fortunately, we’re fine as all our time spent on water management preparation paid dividends.  

The gardens looks absolutely fabulous, so we hope to see you at our 2017 Spring Open Nursery and Garden which starts today (Friday).  We’ve prepared a special display of the new xMangaves (agave x manfreda hybrids) on the deck area, so we hope you’ll stop by and check out this amazing new category of drought-tolerant succulents for both containers and the garden.  See you soon!

A View from the top – Agave flowering soon

Look what showed up in the garden.  Our specimen of Agave ‘Mountain Man’…a hybrid of Agave montana and Agave gentryi decidied to flower for our spring open nursery and garden.  This unusual hybrid starts its flower spike in the fall, which stops for the coldest part of winter, then starts growing again in spring.  The spike showed no damage despite a winter low of 13 degrees F.  Be sure to check this out when you visit…located just behind the welcome tent. 

Baptisias: Great American Natives!

Baptisias, commonly known as false indigo, are North American native members of the pea family and quite drought tolerant once established. They provide amazing architectural form in a sunny garden or perennial border, and are deer-resistant and a butterfly magnet (See the top 25 flowers that attract butterflies here.).

image of Baptisia 'Blueberry Sundae'

Not only do baptisia come in blue, which many people are familiar with in the most common species, B. australis, but they are also available in a wide array of colors such as white, yellow, purple, and pink, and new breeding efforts are producing bicolor flowers such as those of Lunar Eclipse.

Baptisias have long been one of our favorite groups of sun perennials here at PDN. Through our trials of new varieties introduced  to the market, as well as our own breeding program, we continue to select for improved structure and habit as well as flower color. In 2017, we have introduced 2 new varieties in our Tower Series, Yellow Towers and Ivory Towers. These join our previous introduction, Blue Towers, all having a vigorous upright habit to 4.5-5′, terminating in 18-20″ spikes of flowers, true show-stoppers in the garden.

image of Baptisia 'Yellow Towers'

Baptisia ‘Yellow Towers’

Due to high demand, we quickly sold out of finished stock of Ivory Towers, but don’t fret, we have another crop coming along and they should be ready just in time for our Spring Open Nursery & Garden Days April 28-30 and May 5-7. And be sure to join us on Sunday May 7 at 2pm for our Gardening Unplugged garden chat series, where Tony will be talking about baptisias. You can also read Tony’s more in depth article about baptisias, here.

Winter Gems for the Garden!

Hellebores are the gems of the winter woodland garden. Hellebores, also known as lenten rose, come in a wide range colors and flower forms, they are deer resistant and drought tolerant once established.

picture of Helleborus Confetti Cake

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Confetti Cake’

This year we are pleased to offer many new hellebore hybrids from the breeding work of Hans Hansen at Walters Gardens.

picture of Helleborus Blushing Bridesmaid

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Blushing Bridesmaid’

We are continuing to add new hellebores to our website monthly, including selections from our own breeding. Be sure to visit during our annual Winter Open Nursery and Garden, Feb. 24-26 and March 3-5, to enjoy the many hellebores blooming in the gardens as well as selecting a few gems for your own.

picture of Helleborus Pippa's Purple

Helleborus ‘Pippa’s Purple’ in the sales house with close-up of flower.

pictures of Hellebores being released soon

Hellebores that will be released for sale shortly – Rose Quartz, Golden Lotus, and French Kiss

The Marvels of Nature!

So what do you get when you cross Manfreda and an Agave?

Wait!!  Is that even possible?

It is!!  And, voila… we present… x Mangave!

x Mangave is an intergeneric hybrid combining the leaf spotting and perennial flowering nature of Manfreda and the leaf spines and evergreen nature (above freezing) of Agave. Like both parents, x Mangave is drought tolerant and has an aversion to winter moisture. In areas where x Mangave is not winter hardy, it makes a great container specimen.

picture of x Mangave Pineapple Express-garden

x Mangave ‘Pineapple Express’ in the garden

x Mangave ‘Pineapple Express’ is a 2016 introduction from Walters Gardens with fleshy, olive green leaves heavily spotted with purple. Pineapple Express will form a rosette 18″ tall x 24″ wide. Above is Pineapple Express in the garden and below is Pineapple Express in our sales house.

We have an exciting array on new varieties of x Mangaves in production with varying leaf shapes and variegation patterns, so be sure to look for them in the future. If you are not already growing x Mangave be sure to check out these horticultural gems.

picture of x Mangave Pineapple Express-sales

x Mangave ‘Pineapple Express’ for sale in our sales house

Agaves and Mangaves

Agave victoriae-reginae PDN018 winter before flowering

We are very excited to see that we have at least 9 agaves so far that will be flowering in 2016.  Above is a recent photo of Agave victoriae-reginae where you can see the bud forming in the center where the leaves have become reduced in size.  While we lose the agaves after flowering, we are able to make crosses and create more new and unqiue agaves.  We also share pollen with plant breeder Hans Hansen, who crosses them with manfredas to create some amazing mangaves as pictured below, which we are pleased to introduce for 2016

x Mangave Kaleidoscope - Jaguar with cream edge WG285-9 at Walters(64484)

Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’ makes a superb container plant where it isn’t hardy in the ground.  It should be fine outdoors from Zone 7b south.

xMangave Moonglow (M. Bloodspot x M. Choc Chip x )(Walters)(64486)

Mangave ‘Moonglow‘ with its large dark purple spots is the smallest of the three. The foliage of all is incredible pliable unlike most agaves.

xMangave Pineapple Express at Walters4(64487)A third introduction for 2016 is Mangave ‘Pineapple Express’…the fastest growing of these three.  These will fill out a container in no time and are great for summer patio containers.

 

 

 

Bluebell Giants – Our new agave hybrids

Agave x protoamericana 45-79 in spike

Agave x protoamericana

 

Agave Belleville3

 

Agave salmiana var. ferox ‘Bellville’

One of the fun projects our JLBG research division has been working on for several years is breeding for winter hardy century plants. One of our latest crosses is between the two plants pictured above, Agave x protoamericana (blue) and Agave salmiana var. ferox ‘Bellville’ (green).  These are the two largest agaves that are winter hardy for us, and we were able to cross them in 2014.  We are offering seed grown offspring while they last under the name Agave ‘Bluebell Giants’.  In most cases, our other hybrid agaves are larger and more vigorous than the parents, which in this cases could be HUGE!   These seed-grown plants have now filled our 1 qt pots and we’ll be planting our first plants in the garden in spring.  If you like giant agave and love to experiment along with us, don’t miss this once in a lifetime opportunity.

30′ tall Flowering Agave – a pollinators dream

Agave Grey Gator in full flower at top with ladderIt’s been absolutely amazing to watch the swarm of honeybees, ants, and hummingbirds feeding on our giant 30′ tall flowering agave.  Here’s an updated photo of the blessed event from yesterday.  This weekend’s final summer open house is the last chance to see it in person.

 

Giant Agave flowering

Agave Grey Gator flowering with ladder and staff4

Here’s our research staff getting the giant ladder in place for breeding as the giant Agave salmiana x asperrima begins to open. Agave Grey Gator flowers with Jeremy on ladderAnd here’s Jeremy, who heads up our Research Division, gathering pollen and making crosses.  Breeding agaves is a little different from breeding daylilies, iris, and hostas. We hope you’ll join us during our summer open nursery and garden to see this monster in person.

 

Giant agave flower spike ready to open

Agave salmiana x asperrima flower spike ready to openThe flower spike on our giant Agave salmiana x asperrima is timed perfectly for our Summer Open Nursery and Garden.  We measured the spike on this 15 year old monster this morning at a whopping 29′ tall.  The actually opening of the flowers should start around Friday and will continue for several weeks.  We hope you’ll drop by for a visit during open house and take the opportunity to marvel at this wonder of nature.

 

Agave ‘Grey Gator’ flower spike peaking @ JLBG

Agave Grey Gator in spike

Here’s a current photo of our spiking Agave ‘Grey Gator’.  The spike began four weeks ago today, and was measured yesterday at 22′ in height.  The bracts that surround the flower spikes are just beginning to unfurl, so we’re probably a couple of weeks from seeing flowers open.

This is the largest of the winter hardy agaves we’ve grown, and we still have some of our crop of seed grown plants from its sister seedling that flowered a couple of years ago…sold as Agave salmiana var. ferox x Agave asperrima. Each seedling will be slightly different in mature size…some a bit smaller and some even larger.  Don’t miss your opportunity to try these for yourself.  Hardiness Zone 7b-9b.

Baptisia in the garden

Baptisia Cherries Jubilee4

Here’s Baptisia ‘Cherries Jubilee‘ in the garden…a unique butterscotch and brown flower…a Hans Hansen hybrid.

Baptisia Lemon Meraingue12Here is another recent baptisia photo from the garden…Baptisia ‘Lemon Meringue‘ looking mighty fine.  Baptisia thrive in either dry or wet soils as long as they have 6+ hours of sun.

Giant agave flowering spike starting

2015 9249 patio with Agave Grey Gator in spike from garage4

From high above our Southwest patio garden, you can get a good perspective of our latest agave to flower.  This cross of Agave salmiana and Agave asperrima (scabra) is our largest agave to ever flower (7′ tall x 12′ wide).  We’re expecting the spike to reach at least 25′ before it begins to open in late June or early July.

Agave Grey Gater spike starting

Here is a ground level photo from 2 weeks ago, when the flower bud first emerged.

Agave Grey Gator in spikeHere, the flower spike is 10 days old and nearing 12′ tall.  The flowering of large agaves evokes both excitement and sadness….excitement that it will flower and hopefully set seed, but sadness that the parent plant will die soon after flowering.  Although it would take 100 years to reach flowering size in the wild, our plant is only 16 years old, growing faster because of our higher rainfall.  While they last, we are pleased to offer seed-grown plants from its sister that flowered a couple of years earlier.

 

 

New Agaves in the 2015 catalog

Agave Straight and Narrow PDN024 striata x bracteosa 2.cc

 

For those who love century plants, here are few that you’ll find in the 2015 catalog that is now only 8 days from going live.  The first is our hybrid of Agave striata x Agave bracteosa that we named Agave ‘Straight and Narrow’.  It’s a small agave, with virtually no offsets.  We’ve had this in the ground through single digits F with no problem.

Agave titanota Solar Eclipse - Mediopicta Aurea2.cc

Agave titanota ‘Solar Eclipse’ has been circulating among collectors for several years without a valid name, so we added one and finally have enough to include it in the catalog…not hardy outdoors, except in the mildest climates.

Agave potatorum Eye Scream PDN001.5.cc

Agave potatorum ‘Eye Scream’ is another century plant that has circulated in the collector market without a valid name.  This is truly a stunning century plant, we think you’ll enjoy, although it’s also only hardy outdoors in frost free climates.

Two favorite agaves – Agave bracteosa and Agave ovatifolia

Agave bracteosa Lyn Lowrey2 Agave ovatifolia Sierra Lampazos4

The Agaves are looking great in the garden today as we start our Fall Open Nursery and Garden.  Here are two of my favorites as they look today…the spineless Agave bracteosa (top) that looks like a stiff green squid, and the magnificent Agave ovatifolia. (botttom) Both of these were brought into the US from Mexico by the late plant explorer, Lynn Lowrey of Texas.  You’ll see them both on display when you visit during the next two weekends. Be sure to say hello while you’re here.

Agave ovatifolia mutant

Agave ovatifolia Killer partial mutant

Here’s a teaser for the morning.  We’ve assembled a rather fun collection of variegated agaves (century plants), and here is a one-of-a-kind mutation we found on Agave ovatifolia, where the chimeral pattern is stable on one side of the plant and unstable on the other side.  The next chance to see this in person is when we host the Southeast Palm Society Meeting on August 9.  Visitors and guests are welcome to attend.

Agave albopilosa

Agave albopilosa PDN001

I took this photo of our oldest plant of Agave albopilosa yesterday.  We sold out of our first crop quickly this spring, but our next batch is almost ready.  It’s one of the coolest century plants we grow…very slow growing, and on the small side even when mature, but what a conversation piece!

Agave ocahui in flower

Agave ocahui v. ochaui flowers closeup

The fourth of our eight century plants with flower spikes is now open.  This is a 10-year old specimen of Agave ocahui…one of the agaves with unbranched flower spikes.  We’re enjoying the amazing flowers, while also trying to make crosses with other species to create interesting new hybrids…wish us luck!  Since Agave ocahui doesn’t offset, the plant will die after flowering, so we’ll need to plant a replacement.

Agaves in spike at Juniper Level

Agave lophantha PDN029 in bud

While I was gone, one more agave produced a flower spike, bringing our total to 8 flowering century plants, equaling our 2013 total.  Here is Agave lophantha that had the decency to wait until I got home to open.  It looks like we’ve probably got another week or two before it starts to open and the agave breeding begins.

2009 Plant Delights Nursery May Newsletter

Greetings from Juniper Level, NC where the weather has simply been wonderful for gardening this spring. Overall, most of the country has enjoyed a good gardening spring, except for the terrible drought still persisting in southeast Texas. Florida had been suffering the same fate as Texas until the recent multi-day deluge that quickly brought most of the state out of a rainfall deficit. Even most of the Midwest has been calm this spring, leaving the poor caravans of storm chasers from the Vortex2 expedition exasperated…sorry folks…you can stay there permanently if it’ll keep the tornados away.

Our heart goes out to the staff of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden in California, which suffered extensive damage to both structures and the garden in the recent wind-driven Jesusita Fire. The gardens, which focus on California natives, are outstanding if ever have the chance to visit. We hope they can get reopened soon. You can read more about their damage in this news release.

May was the first month since last September that we have seen near normal sales levels and we can’t thank you enough. It was great to see so many of you here for our Spring Open House including a tour bus of wonderful gardeners from Utah, along with visitors from Germany, Russia, and China. It was also great to meet Keith Ferguson, retired Deputy Keeper of the Kew Herbarium and his wife Lorna, who even dropped by from the UK. The May Open House brought many first time visitors, whom we hope to see again in the future.

It was great to have Sally Walker drop by for a visit recently and to see her in good shape after hip surgery. Sally is co-owner of Southwest Native Seed, a small company based in Tucson that sells seed of plants native to Arizona. Sally has quite a horticultural background, having worked at nurseries such as Jack Drake’s Alpine Nursery in the UK and later for Marshall Olbrich at California’s famed Western Hills Nursery. Sally and her husband Tim have operated their seed business for 30+ years …. sorry no website or telephone.

Spring Open House visitors were treated to an amazing sight as four of our agaves are nearing flowering. These include Agave salmiana v. ferox ‘Logan Calhoun’, Agave lophantha (three spikes), A. striata (many spikes), and Agave parviflora. We’ve already started making crosses, although reaching the top of the 25′ tall A. salmiana spike has proven problematic…i.e., I don’t relish the idea of falling off a ladder and landing on something with that many spines. At least my pole saw allows me to sever flower clusters so they can serve as a pollen donor for the shorter-spiked species. It looks like we’ll also have a flowering overlap with several manfredas, as well as pollen from a xMangave ‘Macho Mocha’ that just couldn’t wait, thanks to magnolia specialist, Pat McCracken.

Congratulations are in order for NCSU Plant Breeder Dr. Tom Ranney for winning the American Horticulture Society’s Marc Cathey Award for ‘outstanding scientific research that has enriched the field of horticulture’. Tom’s released hybrids include Calycanthus ‘Venus’ along with the creations of two new bigeneric genera xSchimlinia floribunda (Schima x Franklinia) and xGordlinia (Gordonia x Franklinia). Many more exciting plants are in the pipeline.

I’m sure many of you know Bob Lyons, either from his days at Virginia Tech, as former JC Raulston Arboretum Director, or now as Graduate Coordinator for the Longwood Gardens program. On May 9, Bob’s home exploded and burned to the ground in a gas-leak fire. Bob was outdoors at the time, while the gas company was searching for the leak. Bob lost all of his possessions including his computer, camera, books, and collection of 15,000 slides. Fortunately, his digital images were saved on an off-site backup (let this be a lesson to us all). Bob tells me that his Plant Delights order was sitting on his deck at the time and the plants were not as heat-tolerant as promised. The plants can be replaced, but thank goodness, no one was injured. Longwood has provided Bob housing until he can recover. Here is a link to a UDaily article with images of the fire.

I mentioned in an earlier newsletter, that Bob Stewart of Arrowhead Alpines had been diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer. Although Bob’s chemo treatments continue, he tells me his tumors have shrunk and his treatments are proving very effective. We are thrilled at the news and wish Bob, Brigitta, and their family the best of luck in his continuing battle.

In another update from the world of horticulture, Fred Case, author of two excellent books, Trilliums, and Orchids of the Western Great Lakes Region is recovering at home after surgery for a severe aortic aneurism. Fred is suffering from limited mobility, but is improving all the time. Fred does still sneak out of the house and drive his golf cart around the garden when medical personnel aren’t around. You can read more about Fred at the Timber Press website and if you’d like to send get well wishes, address them to Fred at 7275 Thornapple La., Saginaw, MI 48609-4259.

Our condolences go out to gardener and author Bob Nold of Colorado in the death of his wife of 27 years, Cindy Nelson-Nold, who passed away suddenly of an apparent heart attack. Bob has two wonderful books to his credit, High and Dry: Gardening With Cold-Hardy Dryland Plants, and Penstemons. Cindy’s photographs and illustrations grace the pages of Bob’s books.

It’s been one of those springs that makes it hard to sit indoors at a desk, but at least I have the excuse of needing to take photos. I could write about something exciting in the garden every day, but due to time constraints, I’m limiting myself to once a month. We’re just wrapping up the early hymenocallis flowering and I sure wish more of you would try these gems. I think most folks get turned off by hymenocallis after trying the hybrids [mostly with the South American H. narcissiflora (aka: Ismene calathina) hybrids] typically sold by the Dutch, which, frankly don’t make great garden specimens. You will be so much more pleased with either the US or Mexican species. For us, the first to flower is H. liriosme, a clumping Gulf Coast species followed by H. traubii, a spreading species from Florida. Next in line is Hymenocallis pygmaea…a dwarf spreading species from here in North Carolina. Hymenocallis can be grown in typical garden soil, but they go really nuts when planted in a very moist site or a boggy situation. The white spidery flowers typically open around 4pm and are deliciously scented to attract pollinators…and gardeners. The next round of hymenocallis, which come later in the season are equally as wonderful. See the hymenocallis listed in our catalog.

One of my favorites that just finished flowering is the wonderful Aruncus ‘Misty Lace’. I’ve always loved the light airy nature of aruncus, but just couldn’t find many that would survive our hot, humid summers. This Allan Armitage introduction performs fabulously and has become a favorite in the late spring garden. See the aruncus catalog page.

Also flowering now are some of the late season Jack-in-the-pulpits. Four of my favorites are the tall stately, Arisaema tortuosum, A. consanguineum and A. heterophyllum along with the shorter, but very cute white-flowered Arisaema saxatile. A. heterophyllum, A. consanguineum and A. saxatile all offset and form nice clumps, while A. tortuosum remains solitary. Each of these species perform better in a light-filtered shade to several hours of full sun and in soils that don’t stay too wet. See the arisaema catalog page.

Arisaemas are members of a group of plants known as aroids, which include common house plants like philodendron and spathiphyllum. Other hardy family members that are outstanding now are the zantedeschias, known by the common name of calla lilies. Zantedeschia aethiopica is actually a winter grower, which in our climate keeps getting killed to the ground during the winter, but quickly regrows once the frosts end and is still in full flower. Z. aethiopica only comes in white (and a faintly pink-tinted selection). It’s hard to beat two giant-spotted leaved selections, Z. ‘Hercules’ and Z. ‘White Giant’. I’ve tried the commonly sold Z. aethiopica ‘Green Goddess’ and ‘Pink Persuasion’ but neither has performed well in our climate. This is the season where the cool winter growing Z. aethiopica overlaps with the warm season species that flower through the summer. My favorite of the summer bloomers has to be Z. ‘Picasso’, whose white-edged purple flowers have just started to open. Visit the calla lilies in our catalog.

Another superb plant in the garden now are the early- to mid-season daylilies. One of my personal favorites that we just added to the catalog is Hemerocallis ‘FreeWheelin’. In daylily circles, these types are known as spider flowers for their very long petals. I’m always amazed at the number of folks that don’t realize daylilies make great plants for wet soils. We have long been growing them as pond marginals alongside Louisiana and Japanese iris where they prosper in boggy conditions. If you have such conditions, give daylilies a try there. See more daylilies in our catalog.

For those who entered our Top 25 contest to compete for the $250 worth of plants, here are the results though late May 2009. The list changes each month, so if your picks don’t show up near the top yet, don’t despair. The Top 25 has been shuffled a bit since last month as Colocasia ‘Thailand Giant’ retook the top spot in a throw down tussle with Echinacea ‘Tomato Soup’, while Colocasia ‘Mojito’ edged ahead of Syneilesis into 3rd place. Big movers for the month include Dianthus ‘Heart Attack’ which leapt from 15th to 8th place, Salvia chamaedryoides moved from 18th to 14th, and Euphorbia ‘Nothowlee’ from 26th to 16th. Rohdea japonica and Tiarella ‘Pink Skyrocket’ both appeared out of nowhere to jump to 17th place and 20th respectively. We hope your choices are faring well as we countdown to the contest winner in December.

As always, thanks for taking time to read our rants and most of all, thank you so much for your support and orders this year!

Please direct all replies and questions to office@plantdelights.com.

Thanks and enjoy

-tony

2008 Plant Delights Nursery December Newsletter

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’s greetings from Plant Delights. We hope you’re having a great holiday season and are already anticipating the upcoming spring season. Much of the country has experienced an early blast of winter, unseen in some areas for decades. Much of the Pacific Northwest got blasted by both cold temperatures and snow, putting a quick end to the “zone denial” that has pervaded that area for decades. The winter storms didn’t stop there as they continued their march across the country, blasting the Midwest and then the Northeast.

Like Elvis, the 2009 Plant Delights catalog has left the building and is on the way to your mailbox. If you can’t wait, the updated website is also ready for your perusal. As always, the on-line catalog has nearly 1000 more items than can be found on the pages of the printed catalog…we hope you can find something to suit your needs. We’ve made a few changes this year due to customer suggestions, most notably a reduction in our minimum shipping charge as well as a reduction in the amount required for a minimum backorder from $35 to $20. For these changes to be economically viable and to remain permanent, they must result in more customers placing smaller orders…fingers crossed.

The writing and production of the catalog involves three all consuming months, so the great joy of completing the catalog is being able to get back into the garden and start reworking beds. Granted it is winter now, but that’s okay in our part of North Carolina. I actually prefer to rework beds in the winter because I can easily see the structure of the garden without the “clutter” of the plants that detract my eye in the growing season. I always advocated the idea that if your garden looks good in the winter, it will look good any other time of year. Unfortunately, most folks only garden for a particular season…most often spring, and the garden looks uninteresting during the remainder of the year.

For those unfamiliar with the gardens here at Juniper Level, all of our planting is done in beds. Each bed was initially prepared using compost so that the entire soil root zone is similar. This is preferable to the commonly used technique of planting in individual holes, which doesn’t take into account that the roots will ever grow outside of the prepared hole. In our renovations we focus on beds that are 10 years old, where we perform a nearly complete renovation by first removing all digable size plants. As a general rule, anything of a 2″ caliper or below is fair game to be dug. This means that deciduous, herbaceous plants must be well marked before they go dormant or they become very time consuming and difficult to locate in winter.

Twenty years ago when we began the gardens, we simply added compost to the mounds of soil and rototilled it in. What seemed like lots of compost 20 years ago turned out not to be nearly enough as the beds became established. Nowadays, we are fortunate enough to have equipment that allows us to mix our own garden/nursery generated compost together with native soil from our property, producing our own garden soil mix. To get enough native soil, we use a commonly established landscape architect technique of balancing cut and fill. In other words, if we want to make a raised bed, we have to construct an equal size sunken bed somewhere else in the garden. By blending our own mix of 40% soil and 60% compost, we create a mix that we can then add directly to our established beds. From fresh garden debris to finished compost mix usually takes us from 8-12 weeks. One of many things we learned decades ago is that old wives tales of not being able to fill around established trees is just that…an old wives tale. The key is to use a well-drained, microbially active soil mix. If you visit during one of our open house days, we’ll be glad to show you trees that have been filled around for more than a decade. These renovations allow us to enrich the soil as well as change the terrain and form of the beds. We have developed a real fondness for raised, sculpted beds which allow us to not only grow more plants (think Pythagorean theorem), but make the plants more visible. Have you ever noticed that some plants in your garden don’t seem to get noticed? Sometimes it’s simply a matter of how they are arranged in relation to each other, sort of like products on a grocery store shelf. Arranging plants in a garden is a bit like painting a picture. You must be conscious of how you use colors, textures, and forms…either by repetition or contrast. No doubt you’ve had some plants that got larger than expected, while others got crowded out by more aggressive neighbors. The renovation process allows these mistakes to be corrected while allowing underperforming plants to be moved around, hopefully to a place that they will grow better.

By spending virtually every winter weekend in the garden, I get to see up close which plants still look great in the winter. Now, those of you in the northern hinterlands, don’t expect me to talk about plants this time of year that will thrive in Zones 4 and 5…first, there are many evergreen perennials for your zones, and any hardy plants would be under snow anyway, so just skip this section unless you have a winter home in the south.

Here at PDN, we had our early blast of winter when we dropped to 17 degrees F on November 21. While it’s impossible to see damage on many plants for quite a while, agaves show damage soon after it happens. Weather too cold for a specific agave results in the leaves turning soft and mushy, while the fragrance of decaying plant flesh fills the air. Agave leaf spotting from cold moisture, on the other hand, may take several weeks to show up. Of the new agaves we were trialing, Agave inadequidens bit the dust along with Agave dasylirioides. Agave ‘Weirdo’, an A. bracteosa hybrid that we had high hopes for, doesn’t look like it will make it either. Plants that we expected to be damaged but were untouched, include Agave atrovirens var. mirabilis, A. durangensis, A. potrerana, A. applanata, A. shrevei, A. schidigera ‘Shiro ito no Ohi’, and the hybrids A. ‘Blue Glow’, and xMangave ‘Bloodspot’.

I talked last month about the wonderful Ruscaceae family members, danae and ruscus, which still look great with their bright red or orange Christmas berries as we reach the first of the year. Along with the arums that I also mentioned last month, these two are a great start for winter interest perennials. Other plants that are also wonderful in the winter garden include the aspidistras or cast iron plants. Aspidistras aren’t held in high regard by folks in the deep south, because they are so common there. But, as we like to say, these aren’t your grandma’s cast iron plants, as the range of available species and cultivars are increasing exponentially. Most aspidistra species are fine down to 0 degrees F, which makes them great garden plants from Zone 7b south, and great house plants for those of you in the northern zones. Even in our garden, aspidistras blend into the background during the growing season, only showing their true structural garden value in the dead of winter. Not only are aspidistras great in the garden, but their foliage is fabulous when included in Christmas wreaths or indoor holiday arrangements.

Another superb winter interest plants are the adult ivies. Thanks to the tireless work of Richard Davis, we are able to offer a number of superb cultivars. Every time I mention adult ivy, people shake their heads or launch into a diatribe about how they hate ivy. Once I get them calmed down, I get to explain about why these plants are so valuable to the landscape. When regular ivy grows up a wall or tree, the leaves become larger each year that the plant climbs. After a decade or so, the plant undergoes a horticultural puberty and switches from being a juvenile to an adult. This includes gaining the ability to have sex and reproduce, while losing the ability to run around. In other words, ivy becomes a shrub growing atop a vine. By taking cuttings from the shrub-like top of the ivy…assuming you can reach it, the resulting plant will act as a shrub instead of a vine. Some of our oldest adult ivies are over a decade old, resulting in 4′ tall x 4′ wide evergreen shrubs. There is a rare occasion that some adult cultivars will throw a juvenile running shoot, but we have found this to be quite rare and nothing a quick snip won’t cure. Just like the juvenile ivies, they come in an array of leaf patterns. Despite their prolific flowering in fall and attractive seed heads in winter, we have seen very little reseeding…less than a dozen plants in 15 years. In some parts of the country, such as the Pacific Northwest, ivies invade natural areas and should never be planted there.

Although not often thought of as winter interest plants, there are few that stand out more in the winter garden than the hardy palms. Palms are completely misunderstood, as evidenced several years ago with a less-enlightened supervisor for the Raleigh Parks and Recreation Department who issued an edict that no more palms could be planted in the city parks. It seems the supervisor didn’t find them regionally appropriate, not realizing that two species used (Sabal minor and Sabal palmetto) were both NC natives with S. minor historically occurring within an hour of Raleigh, and Rhapidophyllum hystrix (needle palms) being native to South Carolina. Palms are commonly grown in more tropical climates and are underappreciated for their winter interest, since in the tropics, few plants grown around them ever go dormant. In our temperate climate, they really stand out in the winter since so much else hibernates in the winter months. The best genera of palms for temperate climates include rhapidophyllum (needle palm), sabal (palmetto palm), chamaerops (fan palm), and trachycarpus (windmill palm).

Other great winter evergreens include the wonderful disporopsis. These evergreen Solomon’s Seals really stand out now, making wonderful 1′ tall x 2′ wide patches in the winter garden. They will get burned a bit if the temperatures drop below 0 degrees F, but until then, they look great.

Another winter favorite is the wealth of coral bells (heuchera). Since they look great all season, some folks forget that they are evergreen and can be used to great effect to brighten the winter garden. I love all the purple leaf forms that grow here, but am particularly entranced with the gold foliage cultivars, especially H. ‘Citronelle’.

While there are a number of evergreen ferns, not all remain attractively evergreen in the winter. Those that do include Dryopteris erythrosora (autumn fern), Dryopteris formosana (Formosan wood fern), Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern), Polystichum tsus-simense (Korean Rock Fern), Pyrrosia (felt fern), and Arachniodes standishii (upside down Fern)

Last, but not least is Helleborus niger, the Christmas rose. There are many different forms, some flowering in early winter, while many of ours are in full flower now. Their large pure white flowers are simply wonderful additions to the winter garden. H. niger prefers a rich, organic soil, but one that doesn’t stay too moist in the summer months.

I hope those of you who qualify as plant nerds are subscribers to The Plantsman magazine. This UK Royal Horticultural Society publication is head and shoulders above all other publications of which I am familiar when it comes to detailed plant information. That being said, it’s not a publication for the average backyard gardener. Editor Mike Grant does a superb job soliciting articles from experts around the world. I’m one of those people who rip articles from magazines and file them according to subject. I was particularly amazed that there were so many great articles in the September issue that I removed virtually the entire magazine and filed it. One great example was a wonderfully detailed article on Musa basjoo, explaining why it is really not native to Japan, but is instead from Sichuan, China. You can find out more and purchase your subscription on their website.

www.rhs.org.uk/Learning/Publications/pubs_journals_plantsman.htm

If you’re looking to sneak out of the house and get a plant fix, consider coming to the North American Rock Garden Society’s Eastern Winter Study Weekend, January 30-February 2 in Reston, VA…just outside of the nation’s Capital. These meetings are always great, but this year’s speaker lineup is quite impressive…despite the fact that your’s truly is included. Please check out the link below and I hope to see you there.

www.wsw09.org/EWSW09index.htm

In the world of gardening, I’m sad to report that the father of NC garden designer Edith Eddleman has passed away after an extended illness. Edith took leave of her Durham home and garden six years ago to return to Charlotte, NC to take care of her elderly parents. Her mom passed away a few years ago, and her father last month. The bright spot is that Edith has begun the process of packing up and moving back to her well-known Durham garden. I know lots of us look forward to seeing Edith back in the gardening world and on the speaker circuit.

A couple of years ago, I mentioned that Dr. Kim Tripp had resigned her post as Director of the NY Botanic Garden to switch careers and start medical school in Maine. Lots of folks had asked about Kim, so I was delighted to hear from her last week for the first time since she left NYBG as she wraps up her school work and prepares to start her first internship. We wish Kim the best of luck as she continues down her new life’s path.

I also mentioned last year that Mark and Louisa of Messenbrinks Nursery had closed down their business, both the wholesale side and their retail store at the NC Farmers Market. I thought that those of you who knew Mark and Louisa would like an update on their whereabouts. They have moved from their farm in the country to a house in the town of Nashville, NC. Louisa is an elementary school art teacher, with a sideline of selling herbs at the Rocky Mount Farmers Market, while Mark has started a new business, The Macho Taco, a Mexican food vending business…see link below. I’m glad to hear that we haven’t completely lost them from the gardening world.

eastnc.craigslist.org/eve/918758798.html

Other news comes from the world of NPR, where gardening doyenne, Ketzel Levine has been a victim of the wave of layoffs at NPR. I’m sure many of you remember Ketzel from her days in Maryland, before she headed to her current digs on the West Coast. I’m sure Ketzel will find enough projects to keep her busy and we wish her the best of luck. You can read more about her plans on her blog.

After 137 years, the New England Flower Show is no more. Plagued by directorship problems (3 fired directors in the last 6 years) and board oversight incompetence, the Massachusetts Hort Society awoke to suddenly realize they were once again deeply in debt and nearly bankrupt. The once-proud society has fired 18 of its 30 employees, including the Flower Show director. As one of many speakers who still have not been paid or reimbursed by the society for talks at the 2008 show, we are not amused. At least not until I received the letter from the society asking everyone who is owed money to consider the debt as a contribution to the society…now that’s funnier than anything I’ve seen on the Comedy Channel. This is the first time in 30 years I’ve been stiffed for an honorarium…shame on Mass Hort! This is the most recent debacle in a series of comical financial mismanagement problems, including the famed 2002 debacle when the society was forced to sell $5.25 million dollars of selections from their rare book collection just to pay bills. Perhaps they should get in line with everyone else for a government bailout.

We are also sad to report the passing (November 16) of lily guru, Edward Austin McRae at age 76. Ed was born in Scotland, but in 1961 went to work for Oregon Bulb Farm in Oregon, where he hybridized lilies for a quarter century. In 1988, he moved to Van der Salm Bulb Farms in Washington where he continued his hybridizing work until he retired in 1995. After retirement, he founded the Oregon based Species Lily Preservation Group, wrote numerous articles and his wonderful book, Lilies: A Guide for Growers and Collectors. McRae’s former wife Judith still breeds lilies for her company, the Lily Nook.

Finally, congratulations to Brian James of Elizabeth City, NC for having the best score in correctly guessing the Top 25 Best sellers for 2008. He wins a $250 gift certificate. For the year, six agaves made the top list along with three colocasias. Salvias, with two entries were the only other genera to be represented by more than one in the Top 30. We hope you’ll try to predict our Top 25 for 2009. You have until Feb 15 to submit your entry for the $250 gift certificate which will be awarded at the end of 2009.

Please direct all replies and questions to office@plantdelights.com.

Thanks and enjoy

-tony