It only took us five attempts to figure out how to successfully grow the North American native, Stanleya pinnata. For those who haven’t met Stanleya pinnata, it’s a native woody perennial from the Westernmost States (North Dakota west to Southern California), so it really doesn’t find the rainy southeastern US to its liking. After several siting failures (learning experiences), we have finally found a location where it is thriving, a dry sloped berm in partial shade.
Stanleya was named after Lord Earl Smith-Stanley, The English 13th Earl of Derby (1775-1851) , who was quite a naturalist and president of the Linnean Society. This Lord Stanley wasn’t the only member of the Stanley family to have important items named in his honor. The NHL Ice Hockey trophy, the Stanly Cup, is named after his relative Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley (1841-1908), who was the son of Lord Edward Smith-Stanley, The 14th Earl of Derby, so it’s all in the family…Lord have mercy.
It was great during our recent winter open house to see so many folks noticing the aucubas in the garden. Of course, they are hard to miss with our collection of over 140 different taxa. There are few evergreen plants better for year-round interest in dry shade than aucuba. Here is one of the most fascinating ones that’s in flower now in early March, Aucuba himalaica var. dolichophylla. This little-known, narrow-leaf species hails from 3,000′ elevation in several southern Chinese provinces. Winter hardiness Zone 7a-9b, and perhaps a bit colder.
Here are a couple of images this week from the garden of our older clumps of Cyclamen hederifolium. For garden areas that are dark and dry, where nothing else grows, cyclamen are your best bet. Of the plants below, one is at the base of a cryptomeria and the other at the base of a pine. Although they flower from August until Christmas, the winter foliage is just hard to beat. Hardiness is Zone 4a-8b.
Throughout the years, we’ve grown literally thousands…perhaps 10s of thousands of seedlings of the Japanese sacred lily, Rohdea japonica. Each one varies slightly, but we only save those at the far end of the bell curve. Here are three of our seedlings which well represent that dramatic variation at each end of the spectrum…a wide leaf form we named Rohdea ‘Stork Nest’ (15 yrs old), a very narrow leaf form we named Rohdea ‘Thin Man’ (16 years old), and a miniature that has yet to be named.
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 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 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 x microglossum (below) is a natural hybrid between Ruscus hypophyllum and Ruscus hypoglossum…quite a tongue-full.
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.
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.
We hope you’ll take notice of these great evergreens during your next visit to JLBG.
Here’s an image taken this month of the wonderful Aucuba japonica ‘Limbata’. While most aucubas have yellow leaf specks, this old cultivar, first mentioned in historical literature in 1864, is sadly still quite unknown in gardens. That’s not too surprising, however, due to its slow production time as a commercial nursery crop. For dry shade in Zone 7a-9, this wonderful broadleaf evergreen is hard to beat.
It’s always interesting when we introduce a plant we think is an incredible addition to the garden, but virtually no one purchases it. Thank goodness, it doesn’t happen too often, but I’m reminded of one such case every day when I get home and admire our row of Agave x striateosa ‘Straight and Narrow’. This 2015 introduction was the first ever hybrid introduction of Agave bracteosa and Agave striata…both non-spiny century plants.
We couldn’t stand to throw out all the plants that didn’t sell, so we planted a row under a wide overhang along our home, where they never see any water, and are in shade for more than half the day. Here is one of those plants five years later, providing a texture and form that you simply can’t find with any other plants that tolerates those conditions.
We have a second seedling from the same cross, which we’ve never been able to share, but which flowered in 2015. Despite our best attempts, we were not able to get any seed set. Now, we await the first flowering of this clone in the hopes it is more fertile, so we can create some more unusual hybrids. Unlike most century plants, Agave striata is not monocarpic (doesn’t die after flowering), so we expect this hybrid to also live on in perpetuity after flowering. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-10, at least.
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.
Over the last few years, we’ve been growing more and more aspidistra (cast iron plants) from seed in the garden. Here are a few of our more interesting seedlings. The first is from our search for a narrow-leaf selection of the common Aspidistra elatior, which has been christened A. ‘Thin Man’. The second is a streaked and spotted form that we named A. ‘Zodiac’. The third is a yet un-named seedling from Aspidistra ‘Snow Cap’. Surprisingly, the white leaf tip trait comes consistently true from seed.
At our home, we have a very wide overhang which never sees any moisture, so we were looking for plants that would stay low, ideally evergreen, and would tolerate seriously dry shade. The answer was Echeveria ‘Topsy Turvy’. These patches of the Northern Mexican succulent, with blue-green foliage, have absolutely thrived here. While they probably wouldn’t be happy in deep shade, they love this high canopy with good light, but no sun. These were planted in 2018. We’d rate these as Zone 7b/8a if kept dry in winter.