Hostas don’t grow here…

We often hear and read that hostas won’t grow well in the mid and deep south, so we thought we should share a few garden photos from this week at JLBG (Zone: 7b), to bust yet another garden myth.

Starting with some small/miniature hostas, the first is Doug Beilstein’s Hosta ‘Baby Booties’, a superbly vigorous dwarf that has really been exceptional.

Hosta ‘ Baby Booties’

Hosta ‘Blue Fingers’ is a PDN/JLBG introduction of one of the very few tiny blue-leaf hostas with excellent vigor and a good multiplication rate.

Hosta ‘Blue Fingers’

Hosta ‘Wriggles and Squiggles’ is an exceptionally wavy-leaf, small, gold introduction from plant breeder, Hans Hansen.

Hosta ‘Wiggles and Squiggles’

Hosta ‘Fire and Ice’ is another Hans Hansen introduction that was a reverse sport of Hosta ‘Patriot’. It fares much better when given more light, even a few hours of sun in the morning.

Hosta ‘Fire and Ice’

Hosta ‘Swamp Thing’ is a PDN/JLBG introduction with great vigor and glossy foliage

Hosta ‘Swamp Thing’

Hosta ‘Beyond Glory’ is a Hans Hansen sport from Hosta ‘Glory’. This is just one exceptional hosta, which also benefits from a bit of morning sun or very open shade.

Hosta ‘Beyond Glory’

Hosta ‘Diamond Lake’ is a stunning new Hans Hansen creation with large blue corrugated leaves with exceptional leaf rippling.

Hosta ‘Diamond Lake’

Hosta ‘Gold Meadows’ is one of our favorite sports of Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’. When the weather warms, the central pattern fades to solid blue, but in spring, it’s absolutely stunning. It has also shown great vigor in the Southeastern US.

Hosta ‘Golden Meadows’

Hosta ‘One Last Dance’ is a Hans Hansen/Walters Gardens sport of Hosta ‘Dancing Queen’. We think it’s hard to beat this amazing plant. The vigor is evident in our photo.

Hosta ‘One Last Dance’

Rooting for Buckeyes

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.

Aesculus pavia

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 hippocastanum ‘Hampton Court Gold’

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.

Aesculus x carnea ‘Variegata’

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 glabra var. nana

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

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.

Aesculus sylvatica ‘Sylvan Glow’

So Many Maples, So Little Time

Here are some of our favorite Japanese maples looking quite lovely in the garden this week, starting with Acer palmatum ‘Geisha Gone Wild’. This Buchholz Nursery introduction is a fascinating sport of Acer palmatum ‘Geisha’.

Acer palmatum ‘Geisha Gone Wild’
Acer palmatum ‘Geisha Gone Wild’

The leaf color of Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma Gaki’ has to be seen to be believed.

Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma Gaki’

Our favorite of the weeping cutleaf purple cultivars is Acer palmatum ‘Orangeola’. Our specimen is now 27 years old.

Acer palmatum ‘Orangeola’

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.

Glowing Podocarp

Podocarpus macrophyllus ‘Okina’ is looking lovely this winter. This Japanese selection has resided at the base of a large pine tree at JLBG since 2001. We love the white speckled foilage, which really shines in the winter months. Podocarpus macrophyllus is one of a short list of conifers that thrives in the shade of a woodland garden. Our 20 year old plant is now 6′ tall. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.

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

A Little Diamond

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Little Diamond’ is one of our favorite dwarf Japanese cedar selections, this one from Holland Konjin Nursery prior to 1990. This specimen at JLBG is five years old and measures 2′ tall x 3′ wide. At maturity, we have seen these reach 4′ tall x 8′ wide.

Arisarum in hiding

We were delighted to find a flower on our Arisarum simorrhinum in early February, tucked in a the base of a dwarf Chamaecyparis (false cypress). This little-grown Mediterranean native, dryland aroid is first cousin to the better known mouse plant, Arisarum proboscideum. This baby has been in the ground for 20 years, so slow is the operative word.

Arisarum simorrhinum

Perfume of the Princess

Quite a few really smart horticulturists told us we didn’t have a chance of succeeding with Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’ in our climate. We’ll, we’re almost 2 years in the ground with this New Zealand hybrid of Daphne bholua x Daphne odora. It’s already full of flowers, where it’s thriving in our crevice garden. In the sense of full disclosure, we’ve never been able to keep the Daphne bholua parent alive. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer to at least Zone 8b.

Meet Urophysa

Unless you’re a serious plant nerd, you’ve probably never heard of the plant genus, Urophysa. This small genus of only two species in the clematis family (Ranunculaceae) is only found growing in Karst cliff crevices in a few limited provinces of South Central China. In other words, they are quite rare. Urophysa henryi was originally named Isopyrum henryi, when it was thought to be a brother of our native Isopyrum biternatum. Urophysa is now considered most closely related to the famed half-columbine, Semiaquilegia adoxoides.

While the Chinese people mostly use Urophysa henryi as a medicinal treatment for bruises, etc., we prefer it as a winter-flowering gem in the rock garden. Here are our plants, which began flowering in our rock garden, just as we turned the page on the new year, 2022.

Winter flowering Strawberry Tree

There aren’t a large number of trees that flower in winter in temperate climates, but one we can’t imagine gardening without is Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’. This amazing Mediterranean native has thrived for us since the late 1980s.

Arbutus is a member of the  Ericaceae family, which is why the flower so closely resemble those of its cousin, Pieris.

The clusters of red fruit that ripen in late winter after months of flowering resembles miniature strawberries, hence the common name of strawberry tree. The shaggy cinnamon bark is also another striking ornamental feature. Our 30 year old specimen has reached 12′ tall x 12′ wide. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.

Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’
Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’
Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’ bark

Honey, I shrunk the River Birch

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.

Selective Love

I’ve never been a huge fan of nandinas in the garden. I find the more typical forms very difficult to integrate from a design perspective, and I find the popular Nandina ‘Firepower’ to be near the top of the list of most grotesquely ugly plants used in American landscapes. Yes, it’s colorful, but the plant lacks any grace, and has the form of a pile of wet red Kleenex.

Of the older cultivars, I like Nandina ‘Harbor Dwarf’, with it’s low spreading form, but the paucity of fruit keeps most people from planting it. The only downside for us is that it spreads to cover a very large footprint, so can choke out other nearby plants. We continue to trial all of the new nandina introductions to see if anything strikes our fancy.

My favorite member of the genus, which I first met at the JC Raulston Arboretum back in the 1980s, is Nandina domestica ‘Filamentosa’. This cutleaf, slow-growing, non-fruiting selection from Japan is often marketed under the trade name San Gabriel. It adds a distinctly Japanese flavor to the landscape, which is why we planted a mass in our new Japanese garden. Here is a photo from this week with it’s lovely rosy winter color. Winter hardiness is Zone 6b-9a.

Winter Onions

Starring in the rock garden in early December is the amazing Allium virgunculae ‘Alba’. This delightful dwarf allium to 8″ tall is similar to the better known and slower offsetting Japanese Allium thunbergii. Allium virgunculae, which typically has lavender flowers, hails from Japan’s far south Kyushu Island.

Swept Away with Butcher’s Broom

One of our most cherished evergreens in the winter woodland garden is the narrow-leaf form of butchers broom, Ruscus aculeatus ‘Chenault’. Our plant came from the Elizabeth Lawrence Garden, and Elizabeth’s plant originated in France’s Chenault Nursery circa the 1960s. Our 20 year old plants are now 3′ tall x 4′ wide. Although they rarely fruit, they provided a unique texture compared to most other forms of the species.

Proud to be a Siberian

We don’t have many Siberian plants which thrive in the southeast US, so we get pretty excited when we find one that does. I was introduced to Microbiota decussata by the late JC Raulston, back in the mid 1970s, and actually still have one of my original plants that’s still alive. Many years later, a much improved form came to market under the name Microbiota decussata ‘Prides’.

Microbiota is a monotypic genus of conifer that has a textural appearance somewhere between a Juniper and a Selaginella.  In the wild, Microbiota can only be found in one small region of the Sikhote-Alin mountains, which is about 500 miles north of Vladovostok, Russia, where it occurs between 6,500′ and 7,000′ elevation.

Although Microbiota was officially discovered in 1921, and published in 1923, the Russian government, long-known for its secrecy, kept it completely under wraps until the early 1970s.

Unlike most junipers, which need sun to thrive, microbiota prefers shade to only part sun. Consequently, it you like this texture and don’t have full sun, this is the plant for you. For us, it matures at 18″ tall x 6′ wide.

Captain Kirk’s Crinum

About the same time that America’s Captain Kirk blasted off into space recently, we were enjoying his namesake here in the gardens at JLBG. Crinum kirkii is a fantastic dwarf crinum lily to only 18″ tall, that is sadly almost never seen in commerce. Full disclosure…Crinum kirkii was actually named for botanist Sir John Kirk, who found and sent this previously undescribed species from his outpost in Zanzibar to Kew Gardens in 1879.

Crinum kirkii has thrived for us here in Zone 7b since 2012. Our plants of this African species are from Tanzania. Perhaps one day, we can produce enough of these to share.

Aster ‘Hillandschmidt’

Symphyotrichum pilosum

Here is a future introduction for Plant Delights, a 2018 Wilkes County, Georgia collection of a dwarf, compact form of our native frost aster, Aster pilosus (Symphyotrichum pilosum), collected by our research staff, Zac Hill and Jeremy Schmidt. It’s looking rather impressive in the trial garden this week, 30″ tall x 5′ wide.

Trolling in the garden

Trolls and trolling are generally associated with something unpleasant, so it’s quite bizarre to have such a name associated with an amazingly delightful plant. Gingko biloba ‘Troll’ is a superb dwarf gingko with lacy textured leaves that has been quite a star here at JLBG. Our six-year-old plant is now 3′ tall x 3′ wide as of this week.

A little purple meatball

We trial several hundred newly developed plants each year, and most never grace the pages of a PDN catalog, either because of performance or a lack of uniqueness. One that has fascinated us is Dahlia ‘Grandalia Burgundy Improved’. With a height and spread of 20″, you’d swear that this dahlia had either been regularly clipped or sprayed with growth regulators, neither of which are the case. The gem has been looking quite incredible in the garden, as it moves into its third year of trial. Obviously, it’s a perennial here in Zone 7b, but would be tender farther north. We’d love to hear your thoughts..

Bruce and his conifers

We recently visited conifer collector Bruce Appeldoorn at his nursery in the tiny town of Bostic, west of Charlotte, NC. Not only are the gardens amazing, but Bruce has transitioned from his career in landscape design/installation, to an amazing dwarf conifer nursery. He now sits atop the throne, having what is almost certainly the top conifer nursery in the Southeast US. Most everything is propagated here from either cuttings or grafting. He is part of a small contingent of regional broom hunters, who seek out and graft dwarf witches broom mutations from area pine trees. You can find out more about how to visit or order here.

Native green meatballs

While the focus of PDN is perennial plants, we have a strong woody plant focus in our surrounding botanic garden. A plant that’s really impressed us is a very dwarf form of our native yaupon holly, Ilex vomitoria ‘Oscar’, that was shared by Mobile, Alabama plantsman Marteen VanderGiessen. This is a photo of our 9 year old parent plant that’s never been sheared, forming a very tight 30″ tall x 44″ wide ball. Just think…native green meatballs with no pruning. We think this is so amazing, we’ve propagated a few to share with you in 2019.

Dwarf Formosa Lily flowering

Lilium formosanum HehuanFlowering now is our dwarf strain of Formosa lily from a seed collection at over 9000′ elevation in Taiwan.  Lilium formosanum ‘Hehuan‘ stays at 2’ tall, and has lovely burgundy keeled flowers…delightful!  It also comes true from seed.