Hear, Hear…lend me an ear

We always look forward to elephant ear evaluation day at JLBG, which was recently completed.

The colocasia trial gardens at Juniper Level
Colocasia trials

Each year, Colocasia breeder, Dr. John Cho flies in from Hawaii to study and select from our field trials of his new hybrids. This year we were joined by Robert Bett, owner of the California-based plant marketing firm, PlantHaven, who handles the Royal Hawaiian elephant ear program. The JLBG trials consist of all named colocasia introductions growing alongside Dr. Cho’s new hybrids created the year prior.

Robert Bett (l), John Cho (r) beginning the colocasia evaluation.
Robert Bett (l), John Cho (r)

JLBG staff members, Jeremy Schmidt and Zac Hill spent most of the morning working with Robert and John on the time-consuming evaluation process.

Robert Bett (l), Zac Hill (c), John Cho (c), Jeremy Schmidt (r) evaluating elephant ear plants
Robert Bett (l), Zac Hill (c), John Cho (c), Jeremy Schmidt (r)

After lunch, Jim Putnam from Proven Winners, joined us to see which remaining plants struck his fancy for potential introduction into their branded program. As you can see, lots of amazing plants didn’t make the final cut, which is necessary, since we’ll need more room for the new selections.

John Cho, Robert Bett, Jim Putnam inspecting the colocasia selections
John Cho, Robert Bett, Jim Putnam

Plants selected for introduction are then sent to a tissue culture lab to be produced for the next step, which is grower/retailer trials. If these are successful, and the plant can be multiplied well in the lab, the plants are scheduled for retail introduction.

Hopefully, by now, most folks are familiar with our 2020 top selection, Colocasia ‘Waikiki’, which hit the market this year. There are more really exciting new selections in the pipeline, but we can’t share photos of those quite yet…stay tuned.

 Colocasia 'Waikiki', our top 2020 colocasia selection
Colocasia ‘Waikiki’

Another possibly new elephant ear

Here’s another new elephant ear we’re thinking about introducing, but we’d love to hear your thoughts.  Mature height is 3-4′ and it does spread among other plants. We are calling it Colocasia ‘Smiley Face’. This is an unidentified species, probably from North Vietnam, that has been hardy for us for over a decade.  Thoughts?

New Elephant Ear

Here’s a new image of Colocasia ‘Aloha’ growing in our garden.  This 2017 introduction from the breeding work of Dr. John Cho is truly amazing and so unique. This plant is 8 weeks in the ground from a 1 quart pot.

Are There Giants in Your Garden?

Colocasias are a genus that can bring a taste of the tropics to your backyard garden. Colocasia ‘Thailand Giant’ is a huge strain of the giant elephant ear that can reach 9′ tall in the wild, and certainly makes its presence known in the garden. Can you say WOW factor! Each glaucous grey-green leaf is up to 5′ long and 4′ wide. It also produces abundant 8″ flowers with white spathes from summer into fall. Learn how to grow elephant ears here.

So if you’re looking for a tropical escape and want to make a bold statement in your garden, or just want to impress your friends and neighbors, get your very own Giant today!

picture of Colocasia Thailand Giant in the garden

Colocasia Thailand Giant in the Garden

picture of Colocasia Thailand Giant flower

Flowers of Colocasia Thailand Giant

picture of Colocasia Thailand Giant in sales house

Colocasia Thailand Giant in the Sales House

Colocasia ‘White Lava’ – stunning accent in the garden

Colocasia esculenta White Lava leaf (2)Here’s a photo we just took in the garden of the amazing Colocasia ‘White Lava’.  We love this hybrid from the amazing breeding program of Hawaii’s John Cho.  Hardiness outdoors is Zone 7b south. Learn how to grow elephant ears here.


Gold-leaf Bletilla and Giant Elephant Ear – New for 2015 Preview

Bletilla striata Ogon (63824).cc

As we continue to preview a few of our new plants for 2015, here is a plant we’ve lusted after for years, and are finally able to share.  Bletilla striata ‘Ogon’ is a very rare, gold-leafed selection of the hardy orchid.  It’s hard to really capture the color well with my photographic skills, but it’s really an amazing plant.

Colocasia gigantea Laosy Giant with Alan Galloway2 (63848).cc

In the world of giant elephant ears, here’s one you don’t want to miss.  Colocasia gigantea ‘Laosy Giant’ is an Alan Galloway selection from where else, Laos.  In our trials, the leaves are about 1/3 larger than Colocasia ‘Thailand Giant’, although the overall clump size is nearly the same.  Thanks to Alan for both posing for this photo and for allowing us to introduce this new giant elephant ear.  Remember that the new plants will go up on the website in 2 days…the countdown begins! Learn how to grow elephant ears here.

Colocasia esculenta White Lava’

Colocasia esculenta White Lava leaf6

I just snapped this photo of the amazing Colocasia esculenta ‘White Lava‘ in the garden…quite a stunner once it fully colors.  It only grows to 3’ tall and clumps unlike its similar patterned parent, Colocasia ‘Nancy’s Revenge’. Learn how to grow elephant ears here.

The greenhouses are full of great plants!

Greenhouse 9 Cannas Bananas Greenhouse 11 agaves Greenhouse 13 colocasias

Many folks don’t realize that we grow our own plants here at Plant Delights.  This allows better control of availability, quality, and trueness to name.  Here are current photos of three of our stock houses where the plants are grown…one with cannas and gingers, another with agaves and yuccas, and one with elephant ears.  Your orders are pulled from stock in these greenhouses.  Whether you order on-line or are able to visit during our final upcoming Open Nursery and Garden weekend, we hope you’ll be very pleased with our plant quality.  Thank you for being a Plant Delights customer.

Remusatia vivipara elephant ear

Remusatia vivipara A1VT-031A leaf back2

Here’s our Vietnamese selection of the elephant ear cousin, Remusatia vivipara.  I found this form with dark black leaf back patterns while sliding down a moist hillside in North Vietnam during monsoon season.  Not only has it survived our very cold winters, but it looks really cool when planted where it can be backlit by the setting sun. Learn how to grow elephant ears here.


2012 Plant Delights Nursery April Newsletter

I picked a lovely night to write to you from our home patio, where I’m sitting adjacent to the falling water sound of the Mt. Michelle waterfall, punctuated by the intermittent peeps from nearby mating frogs, each in search of a suitable companion. It’s not yet the cacophony that we’ll have in a few more weeks, where up to eight different species of poorly harmonized frogs will be trying to communicate simultaneously like a restaurant full of cell phone users. In the dark of this evening, it’s fascinating to watch the mosquitos continually trying to attack my cursor as it moves around the laptop screen. So, what is the best way to clean blood off laptop screens…inquiring minds want to know?

We’ve just added another three dozen new plants to the website, many available only in very limited quantities. Shop Now!

It’s been quite a start to the year in most parts of the country, with spring arriving far too soon. Many folks had their gardening chores recently interrupted by another round of winter including some major snows in parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania and surrounding states. We thought we were going to get by without a late frost, but on April 10 temperatures at the nursery dropped to 32 F and later on April 25 we hit a frosty 36 F, with many hostas in full leaf and even elephant ears beginning to grow. Our garden curator, Todd Wiegardt, the garden staff, and our wonderful volunteers spent a day and a half covering the most susceptible plants. So far, most of the plants we covered seem to have fared fine. We don’t bother covering plants like bananas, cannas, and elephant ears for such light frosts since they are engineered to bounce right back despite being rendered a temporary pile of black mush.

For those who follow us on Facebook, we detailed our experiments with the new product, Freeze-Pruf. It was our hope that it would serve as a replacement for the long, drawn-out process of covering plants, but no such luck. We’ve also posted our first video about the process of protecting sensitive plants in the garden from a late spring frost. You can find the video on our website here.

We continue to post an insane number of plant photos from the garden on our Facebook page. This has become an wonderful way for us to share exciting garden plants several times each week. You’re sure to be seeing lots of agave photos, as we have six blessed events that will soon take place on our Southwest-themed patio. Yes, our Agave palmeri ‘Cutty Shark’, Agave protoamericana ‘Blue Steel’, Agave victoriae-reginae, Agave striata, a second Agave protoameriana, and Agave ‘Stormy Seize’ began spiking recently…three on April 10, one on April 17, and two on April 24. Strangely, all started spiking on Tuesdays…hmmm. Based on our past experience, the taller agaves usually take 45-50 days to reach their full size and flower. We’ve got a couple more agaves that are looking sort of pregnant, so there could even be more. Spring is shaping up as quite a year for agave breeding.

We’ve recently added a really neat advanced search feature on the website. You can click boxes like “ferns” and “zone 6″ and get a list of ferns for zone 6, or find all the red-flowering hummingbird-attractive flowers for zone 5. We hope you’ll check it out and let us know what you think. Advanced Search

Especially busy is our shipping/customer service department as we enter what we affectionally call “snowball season”. Snowball season in the mail order business is when, no matter how fast you run, the giant snowball of incoming and pending orders rolling down the hill behind you is getting bigger, faster, and closer each day. The dilemma is that no matter how much staff we hire, customers still outnumber us by 1000:1. To help with the snowball season, we’ve hired lots of new shipping staff and welcome recent NCSU Landscape Architect graduate, Allison Morgan, to our Customer Service staff.

The nature of mail order is that most folks want their plants between late April and late May, which is sort of like squeezing a theater full of people out through one set of double doors during a fire drill. While we try to get orders out the door the week they arrive, this becomes a logistical impossibility for the next four weeks. This rush combines with our other annual nightmare where plants that have been ordered early but not shipped don’t emerge from dormancy in spring. While our growing staff does a great job, some plants simply don’t cooperate with our plans, which creates problem orders on our end and disappointment on your end. In some cases, we will have more of a particular plant ready in a later crop, but in other cases, the production time for a new crop may be several years. We thank for your patience and understanding during the next few weeks and thank you so much for keeping those orders coming. Trust us, there is nothing more anguishing for us that to not be able to supply an ordered plant.

At the same time, we’re excitedly gearing up for our Spring Open Nursery and Garden event, May 4-6 and May 11-13. Hours are 8am-5pm on Friday and Saturday and 1-5pm on Sundays. The gardens are looking particularly amazing, so we hope you can visit. On Open House days visitors are allowed to purchase plants on site, walk through the gardens, and have their gardening questions answered by our staff. The gardens have several areas to picnic, so we’d love to have you bring your lunch to enjoy in the gardens. If you are visiting from outside the local area and would like to car pool with others from your region, please use our Facebook page to connect. If you don’t have a GPS/navigation device, you can get printed directions, at http://www.plantdelights.com/Visiting.asp

We are holding our Plant and Garden Photography class during the second Saturday of our Open House on May 12 from 8am-4pm and have only a few spots remaining. If you’re interested in joining us, you can find out more online

Plant Delights was very blessed to have been featured in the March/April issue of “American Gardener” Magazine. If you aren’t a subscriber, we will have extra copies at Open House. You can also find a condensed version online

For a while, I’ve been following the recession-era demise of one of America’s top destination garden centers, Matterhorn Nursery of Spring Valley, New York, whose business is up for auction this weekend. It’s a very sad fall for Matt Horn and his wife Ronnie, who have operated the 36 acre garden center and display garden for over 31 years. Matterhorn filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in fall 2010 after the recession cut their sales by over 50% and a deal to raise money by selling off 15 acres of the property to a nearby municipality fell through. At the time, Matterhorn said they were in the midst of their “sustainable” renovations including installing solar panels, biomass boilers, green roofs, and other “feel-good”, but poor ROI’s (return on investments). After over a year in Chapter 11, it was unfeasible for the company to remain viable with such a high debt load so the property will be auctioned. If you have a desire to instantly own one of the country’s top garden centers, you can find the auction information here.

For the last couple of decades Matt was the poster boy, out-of-the-box thinker for everything a garden center could and should be. In short, Matterhorn was everything to everyone…if you could dream it, Matt had probably already done it. Matterhorn was set up like a European village with mini-shops throughout the property selling everything from outdoor furnishings to food and drinks.

I always enjoyed hearing Matt speak at trade meetings, but always marveled how they managed cash flow and debt load. Unfortunately, Matterhorn now joins an all-too-long line of nursery businesses to have finance issues collide head on with the economic slowdown. Matt and Ronnie will continue to run their landscape design and maintenance business, and knowing them, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them back in the retail business in the future…best of luck, my friends.

Calls are coming in from around the Southeast US about the latest horticultural scourge…kudzu bugs. These beetles are voracious, going through kudzu faster than Newt Gingrich does cash. Not only do kudzu bugs eat kudzu, but they also eat crops like soybeans and related ornamental legumes. When kudzu is dormant, these ugly light brown beetles, which are attracted to bright colors and heights can actually loiter on cars and homes, waiting until kudzu begins growing again. Research has shown that these tough critters can even hold onto a car going 80 miles per hour..now that’s a video I want to see. The kudzu bug infestation began in the Atlanta, Georgia area and has now spread from Alabama to the edges of southern Virginia. There really isn’t much to do to keep them out of your home other than to carefully caulk the cracks in your house. As far as damaging the ornamental legumes in your garden, we’re just going to have to see what they attack, but prime candidates are close relatives like lupinus (lupines), baptisia, indigofera, erythrina (coral been), amorpha (lead plant), and cytisus (scotch broom). Here’s a video of the critters. Finally, if you or your spouse are having trouble sleeping, especially after a hard day in the garden, your prayers have been answered. Move over Ambien, the long-awaited three volume set, Algae of the Ukraine is now available. This riveting 1639 page hardcover set, sure to make the NY Times best seller list, includes nomenclature, taxonomy, ecology, and geography of all the greats: Cyanoprocaroya, Euglenophyta, Chlorophyta and many more. You’ll be the life of the party when you whip out volume one and begin extolling the virtues of the Ukranian Dinophyta. If you hurry, the English language edition can be yours for the bargain price of only $235 as long as supplies last. www.koeltz.com Be sure to let me know if that doesn’t put you to sleep.

Enjoy, and until the next newsletter, we’ll see you on Facebook!


2010 Plant Delights Nursery July Newsletter

Dear PDN’ers:

Greetings from PDN! Thanks to everyone who visited our Summer Open House, especially those from the distant locales of New York, Michigan, Florida, Brazil, and even Algeria. It was very cool to chat with one of our brave soldiers, who was home on break from Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Force Base. He was particularly interested to learn that we grow a couple of Afghan native plants, including the bizarre Ficus afghanistanica.

There are probably quite a few other plants that we could grow from Afghanistan, although the prospects of botanizing there look grim for the foreseeable future. Interestingly, Bagram Air Force Base sits just below 5,000′ elevation, and is the same latitude as Greenville, South Carolina, so the prospects of a climate match is quite good.

We’re still experiencing some shipping delays due to seemingly incessant heat, so we thank you for your patience. Since we are dealing with live plants and we want them to arrive at your garden that way, we are simply unable to ship when the temperatures exceed much more than 90 degrees F. If our yearly averages hold, we are overdue for some cooler days soon.

We’ve spent much of the last month working on our fall catalog, deciding which plants to offer and which plants didn’t make the cut. We are very excited with our new offerings which you will see when our catalog goes in the mail in another week. Among our many exciting new introductions are five new rain lilies from Indonesia breeder Fadjar Marta. Fadjar continues to expand what we thought was impossible in the genus zephyranthes with these first new releases since 2007. You can see images of our entire rain lily collection including those slated for Fall 2010 and Spring 2011 introduction by clicking here.

In other plant news, let’s talk about Echinacea ‘Pink Poodle’, which we first listed in 2009. Well, as we say in the nursery business…woof, woof, woof. Yes, the name “Poodle” should have clued us in, but indeed, it turned out to be a real dog. While we first trial almost all of the new plants that we offer, there are a small number that we will occasionally list from trusted breeders, or from where we regularly monitor certain breeding programs. On a very rare occasion we find that a stray dog has made it into the nursery and such was the case with Echinacea ‘Pink Poodle’. After two years in our garden, only one flower out of several hundred turned out to be the nice double that was pictured by the breeder. The rest resembled the insanely ugly Echinacea ‘Doppelganger’, which must be in its parentage. Anyway, we have discarded our remaining stock and are offering credits to anyone who purchased this from us…just contact our office at office@plantdelights.com. We apologize for letting this one get past us.

Here at PDN, we’ve celebrated a milestone recently, as our database indicates that we have now passed the 20,000 mark for killing plants. 20,194 dead accessions (different plants) is actually our current total, so don’t even think about complaining that you have a brown thumb. Our dead/alive plant rate now stands around 50%, but since our goal is trialing, experimenting, and learning the possible parameters under which each plant will grow, these numbers are actually a good thing. Granted, if you look at the numbers from our cost for purchasing all of those plants, perhaps one might not consider this a success, but this is what allows us to offer better and often different cultural information than what you might normally read. I’m constantly reminded of the late Dr. J.C. Raulston’s quote, “If you’re not killing plants, you’re not growing as a gardener.” No truer words were ever spoken. I wonder if the Guinness Book of World Records has a category that we fit into?

So, why do plants die? Obviously, there are many causes, and sometimes isolating the specific reason isn’t as easy as we would like. When confronted with a dead plant, especially one planted within the last couple of years, the first step is to inspect the root system. Just like humans, plant autopsies must be done as soon as possible after death to get meaningful results. If you tug on the dead stem, you will find one of three things…no root system remaining, a root system that has never emerged from the original root ball/container shape, or roots which have spread nicely into the surrounding soil.

If you encounter no roots, then the roots were probably either eaten by a vole (thumb sized tunnel will be found nearby) or the roots rotted, which often indicates a poorly drained soil or soil borne disease. If the roots are still in the form of the original container, your plant dried up and died due to poor planting practices. Plants in containers are grown primarily in pine bark, and during the growing season in a nursery they are typically watered at least twice every day…anything less and the plant dies. By not breaking up the root ball and removing most of the potting soil, the roots assume they are still in the pot. It is virtually impossible to apply enough water to keep the root ball moist once it has been planted. If you are able to water enough to keep the root ball moist, the surrounding ground will most likely then be too wet.

When the roots on dead plants have grown out into the surrounding soil, it is more difficult to diagnose the cause, due to the large number of potential problems. These include adaptability in your climate, improper growing conditions, toxins in the surrounding soil, diseases, and propagation issues (i.e. on cutting propagated perennials, not having a growth bud below the soil surface).

At Plant Delights we try to determine the hardiness zone limits, so we kill quite a few plants simply because they aren’t winter or heat hardy in our climate. That being said, you can’t automatically assume that a plant isn’t hardy in a particular climate just because it dies once or even twice. Often, we kill the same plant several times until we get it in exactly the right location. Sometimes it’s just a matter of moving the plant a few feet away for it to be successful. Dr. Raulston once mentioned in a lecture that it was impossible to grow Romneya coulteri (California Poppy) in our climate. We took up the challenge and killed 15 plants over a 20 year period before we succeeded in getting it established. We could have easily given up after the first couple of times and assumed like everyone else that it simply didn’t like our climate.

Many plants were very late to emerge this summer, including many of our curcumas, bananas, and elephant ears. Our Colocasia ‘Illustris’ didn’t emerge until late July and some of our bananas didn’t resprout until mid-July. Obviously, the length of time the ground was frozen this winter had a great effect on many of our “hardy tropicals”. I was recently comparing colocasia survival notes with our neighbor and noted aroid expert Alan Galloway, bemoaning the fact that several of our colocasia, most notably Colocasia ‘Mojito’ and Colocasia ‘Diamond Head’, had died in what was a relatively mild winter…except for the long duration of frozen ground. Alan, who lives less than a mile away, had good survival on all of the plants we lost. He explained that the had noticed for years that elephant ear tubers work their way up through the soil, and after three years the tubers rise to the soil surface where they are most likely to be killed. He plants all his elephant ears 6-8″ deep, and in the fall re-checks the tubers after the first frost, replanting any shallow tubers. This is the obvious explanation why we would sometimes lose well-established colocasias during a seemingly mild winter. We are therefore changing our planting recommendations for elephant ears.

As a nursery, dying plants also create a problem when dealing with narcissistic gardeners, who by their nature, must blame their lack of success on someone else. We dealt with a particularly unintelligent gardener last year who, between constantly repeating his gardening credentials, insisted that it was our fault that several of his plants which came from us died…all after growing fine for an entire season. This lack of common sense kept the gardener from looking for what might have actually gone wrong. Several years ago we had another gardener who purchased plants at an Open House day and proceeded to leave them in her closed car while she stopped to shop on the way home…on a day when the temperature topped 100 degrees F. Sadly, this customer was also unwilling to take any responsibility for her lack of common sense and demanded that it was our fault. Thank goodness it wasn’t children that she left in the car.

While plants may not always die immediately, they often grow for a few years and then decline in health. Evaluating your garden conditions is the best place to start when your plants fail to thrive. Factors in their decline include changes in root competition, the amount of overhead light, soil nutrient balance, soil moisture, and the balance of fungi/bacteria in the soil. Many gardeners miss subtle changes such as these, which happen slowly over time. I recommend testing your soil every 2-3 years to keep an eye on soil nutrition. Remember that some short-lived plants prefer a soil that has a higher bacterial/fungal content. When soil is disturbed/tilled, the balance of bacteria as compared to fungi increases, since fungi resent soil disturbance. Conversely, the longer a soil stays undisturbed, the higher the fungi content becomes as compared to the bacterial population which favors longer lived plants. Other plants simply like to be divided every few years…great examples are farfugiums, daylilies, and Japanese iris. Because of these factors, we’ve been spending quite a bit of time this summer moving plants that were no longer performing as they should.

When moving plants in the summer, the key to success is good irrigation after the plants are transplanted. Obviously, soil moisture is important, but equally so is keeping some moisture on the foliage until the plants are re-established. For this purpose, I like to use sprinkler hoses. Compared to a drip hose, which leaks water under low pressure, sprinkler hoses spray tiny, short, fine streams of water at a slightly higher pressure, creating a modified misting effect. Sprinkler hoses can be used right side up or upside down, depending on the desired effect. Unfortunately, most of the sprinkler hoses available are cheap, very poor quality hoses such as what you will often find at the big box stores, where the price point is far more important than quality. My experience echoed the online reviews I found, describing cheap hoses which rarely lasted more than 1-2 waterings before becoming worthless when the holes blew out, resulting in no watering at the far end of the hose and a flood at the front end. My search led me to Flexon™ brand sprinkler hoses, which have performed wonderfully.

After transplanting a bed of plants, which we did in 100 degree F temperatures, we hooked a battery-powered timer to the faucet along with a string of sprinkler hoses. Most waterings are only 1-2 minutes long, but are repeated several times per day to keep the foliage moist while the plants re-root. Longer waterings to keep the soil from drying might be needed only once or twice per week.

We recently got a note from Wall Street Journal garden writer Anne Marie Chaker, who is working on a story about zone-denial gardening. She’s looking for hard-core gardeners who love to push the limits on what is possible in their zones. If you fit the bill and would like to be part of the story, please contact Anne Marie at amc@wsj.com

In yet another massive collapse in the horticultural industry, Skinner Nursery has now joined the all-to-long list of nurseries taken down by the recent faltering economy. Skinner Nurseries began its life in 1973 as a wholesale nursery in Jacksonville, Florida started by real estate developer Byrant B. Skinner Sr. In the late 1990s the company began expanding as a plant distribution center, quickly becoming one of the largest in the country, with 22 locations (2007) in seven southeast states. The original wholesale division, now encompassing 1300 acres in Florida, was renamed Flagler Wholesale Nursery and was run by brothers Russell and Bryant Skinner.

In 2005, Skinner Nurseries ranked No. 4 on The Jacksonville Business Journal’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies list. Company revenues increased from $12.4 million in 2000 to $110 million by 2007. Prestigious landscape projects included the J.C. Penney headquarters in Texas, the Merrill Lynch Southeast headquarters in Florida, the Jacksonville, Florida Municipal Stadium; the PGA World Golf Village and Hall of Fame in Florida, and the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. The company had done so well financially that they even got into stock car racing sponsorship (FASCAR) in 2007. Despite the slowing economy, Skinner was determined (obviously too much so) to expand and open new distribution centers until 2008, when the “nursery-friendly” folks at Wachovia slashed their line of credit. While a few of the Skinner Nursery sites were sold to other nurseries, most were just shuttered. As is usual in these cases, there is a ripple down effect to suppliers who never got paid. Since Skinner Nurseries never filed for bankruptcy protection, it is unclear if enough funds remain to pay all of the vendors…we certainly hope so. As of press time, it appears that the stock at Flagler Wholesale Nursery could also be headed for auction. Surely the bankers learned something after the Carolina Nurseries auction debacle…you can’t auction plants into an already saturated market at anything but giveaway prices.

In other sad gardening news, Diana Nicholls, 65, longtime owner of Nicholls Gardens in Gainesville, Virginia, (not to be confused with Nichols Garden Nursery), passed away suddenly on June 1, due to anaphylactic shock caused by an insect sting. Nicholls Gardens was a mail-order nursery specializing in iris, peony, and hosta. Our condolences go out to Diana’s extended family.

2010 Plant Delights Nursery June Newsletter

Dear PDN’ers:

Who turned on the heat? While we’ve had really good rains in June, they have been accompanied by abnormally high temperatures which arrived much too early in the season. Because of the hot weather, we have put all plant shipping on hold until temps drop back to the upper 80’s/low 90’s. As much as we are told that we can control the climate, we can’t get our operator manual to work correctly, so we will therefore resume shipping as soon as Momma Nature allows.

We’ve just finished our late spring inventory: the kick-off event for our fall catalog production season which is now underway. Catalog descriptions are nearly finished, as we now make sure we have good photos to go with each new introduction. In evaluating the spring season, sales were not quite what we had hoped for, so once again we have an excess of several items and unfortunately for us (fortunately for you,) we need the space for summer production. Consequently, it’s time for our summer overstock sale. This year, we’re dubbing it our “World Cup, Kick’em Out, 20% Off Sale”. Click here to find out what’s on sale.

We’ve also added several new plants to the web since last month, many of which are available in limited quantities.

In plant news, it was great to hear from plantsman Jim Waddick of Kansas City, who shared with us that his Helicodiceros muscivorus has been hardy outdoors and actually flowered this year. Since there are so few of these grown, there haven’t been many folks testing it for winter hardiness. We’ll get our Zone 7 rating changed to a Zone 5b … thanks, Jim.

Gladiolus ‘Atom’ was one of the few plants that we offered this year that we didn’t grow ourselves, and guess what … we received and sold the wrong plant! Once they flowered, we were greeted with nice pink flowers … not the brilliant red with a white picotee edge we expected. Therefore, if you got one of these before we saw them flower, please contact our customer service department for a refund or credit. Although we’ve discarded the off-type stock, we would like to know the identity of the plant we sold, so if you recognize this cultivar, please let us know.

In the latest news from the nursery industry, CEO Steve Hutton announced the closure of the Conard Pyle Wholesale Nursery in West Grove, PA, which is shutting down its 32 year old wholesale division. What will remain of the scaled back 113-year old company is only their rose and liner division. For those of you who don’t know the name Conard Pyle, these are the folks who market and license Mediland-Star Roses and Knockout Roses.

Another sad development is the liquidation plant auction this week of 5,000,000 container plants at Carolina Nurseries in South Carolina. Not only was Carolina Nurseries the largest nursery in South Carolina (700 acres), but president J. Guy was the founder of the Novalis program, which currently serves as a nationwide conduit and marketing program to get new plants from breeders to independent garden centers.

Carolina Nurseries was hit hard like everyone else during the economic downturn, but the nail in the proverbial coffin was their inability to maintain their financing due to the tightening credit market. Carolina Nursery had been a long-time customer of Wachovia, which as we know, went belly-up in the mortgage crisis meltdown due to risky loans. Although Carolina Nursery president J. Guy had actually been a long-term Wachovia board member, the “new” Wachovia (aka Wells Fargo) found that Carolina’s square peg no longer fit into Wells Fargo’s new round hole. I can relate, since we had the same experience with the original Wachovia when they merged with First Union in 2001. Fortunately, we were small enough to fire Wachovia and find a small town bank who understood and appreciated our business. As a friend reminded me, the Wachovia of the last decade wasn’t really Wachovia, but actually First Union in drag. It is unclear at this time what will happen after the plant auction at Carolina Nurseries this week, but if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t count J. Guy out after only one knockout. We’ve got our fingers crossed for a Freddy-Krueger like reappearance.

In related news, financial issues have put several botanic gardens and private gardens on the market this month including The Berry Botanic Garden in Portland, Oregon, the Harland Hand Garden in El Cerrito, California, and the 3 acre Western Hills Nursery and Garden in Occidental, California. I never made it to The Berry Botanical Garden, but have visited the other two and can’t say enough good things about them. Harland Hand was an amazing plantsman and designer, and the garden sits high atop a hill that overlooks the San Francisco Bay. You can find out more at www.harlandhandgarden.com. I have written in the past about Western Hills, which we thought was safe after a couple purchased it in 2007, but that didn’t work out since the garden and nursery went into foreclosure early this year. You can find out more at www.westernhillsnursery.com. If you know of anyone who might be interested in either of these properties, contact the Garden Conservancy at info@gardenconservancy.org.

I had mentioned in an earlier newsletter about the excellent bloom on many of the perennials this year due to the abnormally large number of chilling hours this winter. One benefit that I didn’t realize until recently was the increased height of our lilies. I have never been able to get many of our lilies to reach their “advertised” heights … until this year. Lilies that normally only reached 3-4′ are now 6-7′ tall with amazing flower heads.

On the opposite end of the winter spectrum were unexpected losses of some colocasias and bananas. Although our winter temperatures in 2008 (7-9° F) were much colder than 2009 temperatures (16° F), the ground was frozen for 6+ weeks this winter as we stayed below freezing for more than a week at a time. Despite mulching the colocasia clumps with small shredded leaf mulch “volcanos”, we still lost elephant ears that we shouldn”t have, including Colocasia ‘Mojito’, C. ‘Diamond Head’, and C. gigantea ‘Thailand Giant’ (which we view as marginal in our zone). Even hardy bananas such as Musa velutina didn’t re-emerge until mid-June. I’m betting that without the excess winter moisture, we wouldn’t have seen as many winter losses, so I’m considering covering the leaves with a fabric in the future to reduce the winter moisture from reaching the dormant corms.

Plants that have really impressed me this year are some of the new echinaceas, which just get better with age. The one that truly boggles my mind so far is Echinacea ‘Hot Papaya’. The flowers emerge orange and initially appear ho-hum, but then they quickly “fill out” while morphing into a dark scarlet red that is simply unreal. I have them planted alongside my driveway, and everyday I pass them, I can’t help but say “wow” … what an amazing breakthrough. Echinacea ‘Tomato Soup’ has also developed into an amazingly large clump, but the habit is much more open, making it better to blend into a perennial border with complementing colors and contrasting forms. Echinacea ‘Milkshake’ is another cultivar that never ceases to amaze me with its huge cones of double white … again, a clump that keeps getting better each year. If you haven’t tried some of these amazing new echinaceas, what are you waiting for?

The key to establishing echinaceas is to plant them before fall and be sure the planting bed is well-drained in the winter. I also recommend that you remove the flowers until the plant is well established. Tissue cultured clonal echinaceas tend to go to flower much more quickly than they should, often before developing a dense crown. By removing the developing flowers, the energy is sent back into crown development, which results in better survivability and a sturdier plant. I know removing the first flowers is tough, but get the bud vases ready.

Another plant that I gain a new respect for every year is the hardy gladiolus. I will admit to having never grown a gladiolus a decade ago, not caring much for the over-the-top annual funeral-spray glads. Fast forward a decade, and a trip to South Africa to see them in the wild, and I have a whole new respect for the genus. Despite the fact that all Holland-produced glads are now bred against being winter hardy, many of the old hybrids and species selections remain.

Having now grown a number of gladiolus species, I am particularly impressed with selections and hybrids of Gladiolus dalenii. G. dalenii seems to impart the best traits of spike form and hardiness into its offspring. Some selections such as G. ‘Boone’, which we hope to offer in spring, are reportedly hardy to Zone 5. While we list most of our gladiolus offerings as Zone 7b, that’s only because we don’t know how much winter cold they will tolerate. In a baptisia that we dug and sent to a friend in Minnesota, there were a few hiding corms of Gladiolus papilio. We were all surprised when they not only returned, but naturalized there at temperatures near -30° F, without the benefit of snow. Unfortunately, this was not an attractive form of the species, but it does show the incredible hardiness potential of the genus. A few years ago, some of our gladiolus clumps got so large that they finally produced enough stems for me to cut for indoor arrangements. Again, I was impressed at how nice they were as cut flowers, so if you’re looking for a few brownie points, especially if your spouse thinks you spend too much on plants, gladiolus are your answer.

We’ve spent the last few years bulking up some exceptional selections that will start appearing next year, along with raising some of our own gladiolus from seed. We discovered that if you grow gladiolus cultivars near each other, they are quite promiscuous and will cross pollinate. We’re in the process of making final selections, but there are some real gems in the pipeline. I hope you will give the hardy glads a try in your garden and, please, let us know your results if you are in an area that drops below 0° F in the winter.

In the Top 25 contest this month there weren’t many major moves. Canna ‘Phaison’ moves from 10th to 7th place while Begonia ‘Heron’s Pirouette’ moved from 16th to 13th, and Colocasia ‘Mojito’ jumped from 26th to 20th. Salvia chamaedryoides moved into 26th place from just outside the top 30. Echinacea ‘Tomato Soup’ slid up from 8th to 5th place, Echinacea ‘Green Envy’ moved from 20th to 14th, but the biggest movers were Dianthus ‘Heart Attack’, Agastache ‘Cotton Candy’, Adiantum venustum, and Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’ all of which moved from outside the top 30 to 7th, 15th, 21st, and 22nd place respectively.

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Again, we thank you so very much for your support and kind notes. Please send all replies to office@plantdelights.com.

Thanks and enjoy


2009 Plant Delights Nursery September Newsletter

Greetings from PDN and we hope you’ve all had a great gardening summer. Folks in much of the Northeast and Midwest still haven’t had much of a summer, many experiencing the coldest summer temperatures in recorded history. Many of you in this wet, cool corridor have seen an array of diseases along with heat-loving plants that just haven’t grown very quickly. In years like this, good soil preparation really pays off since good drainage is so important when the rains just won’t stop. Over the years, I’ve also found organically gardened soils that haven’t been “chemicalled” to death tend to fare better since they still have plenty of good microbes to fight off the damaging ones.

There are also going to be more foliar diseases in years like this, but be sure to determine what pathogen is causing the symptoms before embarking on a course of action. Some plants with foliar damage may simply go dormant early and be fine next season, while other may need more air movement to keep diseases at bay. Consequently, some perennials may fare better if they are cut back or thinned to allow more air to penetrate the constantly damp foliage. I find most foliar problems can be solved with improving the cultural conditions, so please don’t adopt the philosophy of “spray first and ask questions later.” Given the choice, I’ll always take a drought instead of a monsoon since you can always add water, but it’s so hard to remove it. Years like this may be a good time to re-examine our planting schemes, opting more for plants like hibiscus that will take both wet and dry conditions.

We’re almost ready for our Fall Open House that begins soon and we hope to see both many of our regular gardening friends, as well as many out-of-towners that haven’t visited in a while. The greenhouses are chocked full of great looking plants, just waiting for you to select your favorites. We’ve got a special guest this year who will be here to greet Open House visitors…yes, it’s the barrel monster. Unless you were hiding under a rock or in Iraq for the last few months, you’ve heard the story of a NC State student who creatively rearranged traffic barrels at a road construction site into the now world famous barrel monster. If you did miss it, you can find out more at www.thebarrelmonster.com.

Our staff is also busy potting many new plants for the spring catalog. Unlike many mail-order nurseries who don’t actually grow their own plants, such is not the case at PDN. Growing our own plants allows us more control over timing, quality, and trueness to name. There are only a few plants we aren’t able to produce in our climate and some others where the patent owners limit the production of liners. We’ll spend the next month analyzing sales figures from this year to determine which plants have earned their way back into the catalog and which will be relegated to an on-line offering only. Then, we’ll look at the pool of new plants we have selected and try to guess which ones will generate enough income to also make it into the print catalog. We’re getting our crystal ball professionally cleaned before the process moves into high gear.

We hope you’re enjoying our fall catalog supplement and finding some cool new plants that you can’t live without. A couple of errors crept into the catalog for which we’d like to apologize. First, Phlox ‘Triple Play’ actually is from iris breeders Jan Sacks and Marty Schafer of Joe Pye Weed Gardens and not from Darrell Probst (they’re all friends and neighbors). We apologize for the incorrect information. Also, the liners we purchased of Crocosmia ‘Walcroy’ turned out to be another cultivar, so we have pulled them from the sales area until we get the correct plant re-propagated. If you are one of the eight folks that purchased this during our July open house, give us a holler so we can get the error corrected.

One of the many cool plants from our fall catalog is the breeding breakthrough, Tom Ranney’s Hydrangea arborescens ‘Spirit’. I had the fortune of spending a couple of days with Tom Ranney recently, looking through his amazing breeding creations. Tom is getting closer to a release time for his hybrid x Gordlinia grandiflora (gordonia x schima). Meanwhile, his work continues on sterile miscanthus and even hybrids between miscanthus and sugar cane (saccharum/erianthus)…who knew? There are a number of other amazing plants including some wild mahonia hybrids, but I don’t want to get you too excited too early. If you have the opportunity to hear Tom speak about his amazing breeding work, don’t miss the chance.

Another interesting trip this month was to the home of the late rain lily guru, John Fellers. I was presented with the opportunity to help salvage some of John’s breeding work. I wasn’t quite prepared for what I found when I arrived…a greenhouse with nearly 10,000 pots of rain lilies, each labeled with a nonsensical code. John was a code breaker in WWII and obviously truly loved his craft and consequently, managed to leave us with a puzzle that will take months…maybe years to solve. Due to John’s declining health, his rain lily collection had declined dramatically in vigor, so it will take a couple of years to regrow the plants to flowering size so we can figure out what we have. Our goal is to share John’s breeding stock with other rain lily breeders, which will hopefully lead to more new rain lilies for our gardens.

For those who haven’t heard, Mike Dirr’s new Manual of Woody Landscape Plants (2009) has just been published by Stipes Press, replacing the 1998 version. I’ll direct you to Stipes website www.stipes.com – but be warned, their website is so old and outdated it doesn’t even have a shopping cart. One thing is for sure…they don’t believe in spending a lot of money on marketing. While you’re ordering, you’ll also want to pick up the most recent edition of Allan Armitage’s Herbaceous Perennials, also revised and released last year.

If you’re planning to attend the Garden Writers Association meeting here in Raleigh in September, we are pleased to announce that Hawaiian elephant ear breeder, Dr. John Cho will be at the PDN morning tour to talk to attendees about his breeding work and show you around the colocasia trials here at Plant Delights. We’ve spent this week together deciding which selections make the final cut, so don’t miss this great opportunity.

Another local event not to be missed is the JC Raulston Arboretum Green Industry Reunion. JCRA Director, Ted Bilderback has invited all past students of the NCSU Horticulture Department along with anyone who was involved with the arboretum to attend a party on Friday October 9, from 5-9 pm. Ted promises a barbeque dinner and fun for all, while reconnecting with folks you may not have seen for a while. For more information or to register ($50 each), call or e-mail Anne Porter at (919) 513-3826 or anne_porter@ncsu.edu.

On a sad note, another retired Director of the US National Arboretum has passed away…also in North Carolina. Dr. John Creech, 89, of Columbus, NC passed away after a period of declining health. Dr. Creech retired from the Arboretum in 1980, and moved back to the mountains of NC. His legacy includes a number of plants he introduced to the trade including a sedum bearing his name and the well-known southern staple, Lagerstroemia fauriei that he collected on one of his early plant expeditions. Memorials can be made to the Western North Carolina Arboretum, 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville, NC 28806-9315 or Hospice of the Carolina Foothills, 130 Forest Glen Drive, Columbus, NC 28722.

There continue to be a number of changes in the world of horticulture…many the result of the economic downturn. Northwest Bulb and Perennial of Oregon, one of a handful of wholesale producers and distributors of perennials has been sold to a competitor, DeVroomen of Holland. DeVroomen has their US headquarters in Illinois and will use the Oregon operation to grow domestic perennials. Former Northwest Bulb owner, Rene Heuermann is now a DeVroomen employee.

In other plant people news, plantsman John Elsley has departed as Director of Horticulture for Klehm’s Song Sparrow mail order nursery in Wisconsin. John tells me he doesn’t have any specific new projects in mind, but is open to offers. If you’re interested in John’s services, just drop us a note and we’ll put you in touch.

Also in the mail order world, Carroll Gardens of Westminster, Maryland has closed their doors according to President Alan Summers (son of the recently deceased American Hosta Society founder, Alex Summers). Carroll Gardens always had an amazing listing, although on line chat groups didn’t always find the customer service to match their amazing offerings. Another small, but delightful nursery, Canyon Creek has also closed their doors to mail order.

While many nurseries are struggling to keep their financing in place, this will not be a problem for Monrovia Nurseries based in California, who secured $100 million in working capital from GE Capital Markets. Do you ever wonder what the interest payments would be on $100 million dollars?…it’s certainly beyond my comprehension.

In other some good news, The Northwest Flower and Garden Show has been purchased by O’Loughlin Trade Shows, who will continue to operate the show. O’Loughlin Trade Shows is a producer of consumer shows that already operates the Portland and Tacoma Home and Garden Show. The San Francisco Flower & Garden Show was also sold, but to a different group of business investors from the Bay Area.

The Southeastern Flower Show is also back in action for 2010 after taking a sabbatical in 2009. The 23rd annual show is scheduled for the Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta, GA from February 4-6, 2010.


The sponsoring organization, the Southeastern Horticultural Society is also holding a fund-raiser next month at the garden of Vince and Barbara Dooley. Known as “Coach” to his friends, Vince became enamored with plants, thanks in large part to Dr. Mike Dirr, who became a close friend during his tenure at the University of Georgia. Vince was the football Coach at the University of Georgia for 25 years before becoming Athletic Director. The event will be held on Sunday, September 13 from 5-8 pm at the Dooley home in Athens, GA. You can find out more about tickets at www.sehort.org.

Many of you may be familiar with the late NC garden writer Elizabeth Lawrence, who was a true horticultural pioneer/plant nerd in the Southeast US. Alan Bush, founder of the former Holbrook Nursery in NC, wrote a wonderful piece about visiting Elizabeth that you can find by clicking here.

And in case you missed it, there have been increasing incidents of the use of manure causing toxic effects on plants, even after the manure has been composted. The common thread seems to be if the animals have eaten hay treated with the herbicides Milestone, Forefront, or Grazon. Typically, the active ingredients from most herbicides are either broken down by the animals’ digestive system or during the composting process, but this is not the case with this group of chemicals. As it turns out, these chemicals degrade best with exposure to light, but in the meantime, their use may kill valuable ornamentals. Obviously, we all need to perform due diligence to track down the source of our composts.

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. To Subscribe, Unsubscribe, or change your email click on www.plantdelights.com/mailinglist.html. Thanks and enjoy


2008 Plant Delights Nursery July Newsletter

We hope everyone is having a great summer and preparing for your visit to PDN for our Summer Open House, July 11-13 and 18-20. The gardens look fabulous and I’m sure you’re likely to see a few things that will strike your fancy. It got a little warm after our last email with four straight days in the 100’s … a record for June in our part of NC. Those in the Pacific Northwest are enduring the opposite problems … daytime highs in some regions hadn’t risen out of the 50’s by the end of June. At that rate, their tomatoes won’t ripen until 2010. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who live along the Mississippi River and watched their homes and livelihoods swept away or buried under the swollen waters. We’ve had a good year from a rainfall perspective and are actually finally running slightly ahead of normal for the year … a far cry from 2007. I wish we could share more rain with our friends in Atlanta, whose main supply, Lake Lanier, is still 15′ below normal. I spoke with folks from the Georgia Green Industry last week who told me that 20% of the nurseries in Georgia went out of business in 2007, and they anticipate some larger nurseries may bite the dust this year … a sad fate for a once vibrant industry.

In other items of interest, if you didn’t see it this spring, we wrote an article in the News and Observer newspaper about the senseless annual butchering of trees, especially crape myrtles.

In other cool stuff … if you live in or near the Triangle region of NC, check out Larry Hatch’s Google Map of Great Trees of the Triangle, which locates significant specimens of cool trees. This would be a great project for neighborhoods around the country.

If you haven’t checked out our shipping cam in a while, we have upgraded our camera to give you a much better view of your plants being shipped. We hope you will take a peek as time permits. Most of our shipping and packing takes place Monday-Thursday, 8am-4:30pm EST and in summer, mostly Monday and Tuesday.

Many of you have heard of our collaboration with elephant ear breeder, Dr. John Cho of Hawaii, to bring new unique elephant ears to gardeners around the world. John’s real job is working as a plant pathologist for the University of Hawaii and developing disease resistant varieties for commercial taro production. I thought I’d share a note from John about a recent non-gardening project.

Letter from Dr. Cho:

Just returned from a successful mission to the Dominican Republic (DR). I have been working with the IDIAF (DR’s counterpart to our USDA) to develop strategies to return the country’s taro (they call yautia coco) production back to what it was before taro leaf blight was introduced into the country in 2004 and essentially eliminated taro production since 2004.

My first visit was in October 2006, where I developed short term and long term strategies using cultural and breeding tactics to return their production to what was a $10 (with potential for $25) million industry where taro was grown on about 4,000 acres.

As a result of my recommendations, IDIAF research and extension scientists have initiated a breeding program using my elite taro hybrids as parents to use in crosses with their local taro variety. Because the breeding program would probably take at least 2 to 3 years, I recommended to jump start their taro production and that they identify cooperator-growers located in drier parts of the Dominican and away from the affected taro growing areas to grow taro using only clean tissue cultured plant materials under drip irrigation.

In September 2007, IDIAF identified one grower in a distal, dry part of the island and helped plant 4,000 tissue cultured plantlets generated from their laboratory. When I returned to the Dominican last week, IDIAF scientists and I visited this farmer. The grower since September had aggressively taken also very lateral shoots from the 4,000 tc plants and their progeny and we found that he had over 2.3 million plants in the ground, was planting 300,000 plants (lateral shoots) every month, would be harvesting his first crop of about 300,000 plants in June 2008. This grower from our estimates stands to make over $3 million this year with the potential of over $7 million in two years.

We had to conclude that this was a success story in the making and that the Dominican Republic would be back to their 2003 production levels before taro blight was introduced into the country within two years. At the present time another grower has been identified by IDIAF and planting will be initiated some time this year.

I feel good about helping the Dominican Republic and I have a clear conscious about Hawaii’s taro growers because the Dominican production will not compete with Hawaii in any way since their taro is produced for a different food use, different market, and uses a different type of taro.

In sad news, we regret to report children’s book illustrator Tasha Tudor of Vermont passed away at the spry age of 92. Fans of the book, The Secret Garden are familiar with her work, which graced nearly 100 books including non-garden favorites like Little Women and The Night Before Christmas. You can leave messages for the family at www.tashatudorandfamily.com.

If you have an interest in ferns, you most likely encountered the dynamic Richmond, VA fern guru, Nancy Swell. I’m saddened to report we lost Nancy last week after a long illness. If you’d like to send your condolences or have questions, you can contact Gina McMillan at (804) 245-0518 for more info.

On a happier note, we’d like to wish a Happy 100th Birthday to the delightful Ruth Bancroft. If you don’t know Ruth, her garden was the first in the country selected for preservation by the Garden Conservancy. I’ve had the pleasure of several visits to Ruth’s Walnut Creek, California garden and Ruth has generously shared many plants that now grow here at PDN. There will be a big bash/symposium on July 18 and 19 to celebrate. To find out more, go to www.ruthbancroftgarden.org/. I hope you will all have the opportunity to visit the garden and meet this special lady.

For those who are worried about having enough water for your garden, you may want to consider growing more geophytes. Geophyte is a fancy word for herbaceous plants with underground storage organisms which include bulbs, tubers, tuberous roots, rhizomes, and corms. Plants developed these underground storage organs to assist in surviving adverse conditions such as extended droughts.

Last month I wrote about the wonderful spring-flowering martagon lilies, but now I’d like to focus on more of the wonderful species lilies that pick summer to flower. If you’ve purchased dried up, virused bulbs often shipped in from overseas, you’ll have a surprise when you purchase one of our vigorous specimens, many of which are seed-grown. In addition to their beauty, another of the great characteristics of lilies is they are very drought tolerant. Consistently, one of our top sellers is Lilium formosanum. This native to Taiwan not only flowers the first year from seed, but reaches an amazing height of 7′ tall when grown in full sun and decent soil. It’s one of the latest flowering of the lily species, starting for us around August 1. Lilium rosthornii, a close relative of the Chinese L. henryi, is another favorite. These lilies will be opening any day now and have large clusters of orange flowers on arching stems. You shouldn’t have to stake a Lilium rosthornii if it is grown in full sun, but it will arch, so plant accordingly.

Lilium brownii ‘Sichuan Splendor’ is another superb species that will be opening shortly. The sturdy upright stems are topped in early summer with huge clusters of white flowers with a dusty purple back. Another recent Chinese species to be re-collected is Lilium sargentiae. This 5′ tall specimen is topped right now with large white trumpets. While this species does produce a few axillary bulbils to aid in reproduction, its numbers are tiny compared with the vigorous bulbil-producing species like Lilium lancifolium.

While I’ve started with the Asian species, let’s not forget some of our great natives, starting with Lilium michiganense. This 6′ tall lily spreads by horizontally-growing rhizomes, and is topped now with pendent orange flowers. This species prefers a moist, rich soil to perform its best. Another native lily with the same preference is the new species, Lilium pyrophilum, which was discovered growing with pitcher plants in NC. Although it adapts well to drier soils, this lily is stunning when well-grown and it bursts into flower with large clusters of bright orange in July.

Another bulbous star of the summer garden is the summer-flowering hymenocallis. Hymenocallis are members of the amaryllis family numbering around 50 species which occur from North American south through Mexico and into South America. A few of the species flower in early spring but most are summer flowering and in bloom now. Most hymenocallis prefer moist soils and are right at home in a bog. That being said, they are amazingly tolerant of dry soils, although flowers will not be as prolific. All hymenocallis have similar white flowers with long white tepals at the base of a white cup (corona), held in multi-flowering umbels at the end of tall stalks. We are pleased to offer 7 different hymenocallis with many more in the pipeline.

One of the smallest of the summer-flowering species is the NC native Hymenocallis pumila, which is found in scattered ditches along the coastal plain. In the ground, it makes a nice sized patch of 8″ tall rosettes that spread by underground rhizomes.

H. maximiliani is a Mexican species and has been tremendously vigorous and floriferous in our trials. The narrow, dark green glossy leaves are topped with a cloud of 30″ tall flowers for much of the summer … a clump is simply amazing.

Hymenocallis ‘Tropical Giant’ is the largest of the hymenocallis we currently offer. Most folks consider this to be a selection of H. caribaea, but that species is completely confused in the trade with the tropical H. littoralis. Compared to H. maximiliani, the leaves are much wider and lighter green. The flowers, which are also in full bloom now, are much larger in all parts than H. maximiliani, but like the aforementioned, have a long flowering period in summer.

Crinums are another member of the Amaryllid family that are superb at withstanding drought. Many of the species hail from the deserts of Africa, where they form huge underground bulbs able to withstand months and even years with little moisture. A mature crinum bulb can easily exceed the size of a large softball. Some crinum species such as C. bulbispermum start flowering in May, but July is without question one of the peak flowering months. You’ll find some crinum bulbs offset quickly, while others grow solitary for years … hence the variability in price. We have been successful with multiplying some in tissue culture, which allows for a much lower price than would be otherwise possible. We have also had very good success with others by slicing the basal plate … basically cutting the bulb into four pieces. We hope you will enjoy our extraordinarily large offering of these amazing bulbs.

Many of you have been kind enough to purchase our nursery-propagated trillium, which also have an underground storage organ … in this case, a rhizome. If you’ve never tried growing trilliums from seed, you can’t imagine what is involved. First, the trillium flowers need to be hand pollinated to get maximum seed set. Sure, you’ll get a few if you don’t, but recent research shows 40% more seed will be produced if you hand pollinate. Then you wait until they are almost ripe before they are gathered. I say almost ripe, because ripe trillium seed are covered with a sweet substance, known as an eliasome. Eliasome makes the seeds attractive to pollinators, which in turn help with distribution. In doing so, the eliasome create headaches for nursery folks trying to gather and plant the seeds as ants usually commandeer the seed capsules a day before you are ready to harvest them.

When we were planting the seed this week, PDN Research Horticulturist Jeremy noticed insects were stealing the seed in the rows as fast as we could plant them. According to Jeremy, 1 large ant or 1 wasp could handle a seed each, while it required 5 smaller ants to work together to haul a single seed. I should mention trillium seed are about the size of an okra seed. These eliasomes have been called Ant Nip by Alabama trillium guru Harold Holmes, but we think it’s more like Insect Crack. If you’ve got some extra ripe trillium seed nearby, spread them on the ground, grab your camera, and get ready for some great photos. Did I mention … from seed, it takes 4-5 years to produce a flowering-size plant?

As always, we thank you for your continued support and patronage.

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

Thanks and enjoy


2007 Plant Delights Nursery April Newsletter

Dear PDN’ers:

Greetings from Plant Delights, where after two weeks of late spring weather, we have once again plunged back into the grip of winter. For nurserymen, it is the month of April that results in the most premature grey hair accompanied by high blood pressure due to the worry about late spring frosts. After two weeks of temperatures in the 80’s, a cold front has once again gripped our area, with predictions of five consecutive nights of freezing temperatures and lows of 24-26 degrees F, which will shatter our old low temperature records for most of those dates. Where’s global warming when you really need it?

Since we haven’t uncovered the overwintering greenhouses yet, the containerized nursery plants are fine, other than causing some heating bills that we could have done without. Our primary concerns are for plants in the display garden, where some arisaemas are in full flower and early hostas are in full leaf. Our crew has spent over 24 man hours covering tender vegetation with spun-bound polyester frost fabric (I’m glad nursery folks never got the memo that polyester went out of fashion). Frost cloth is made for this purpose and can offer several degrees of protection for tender plants in just such a situation. The key to how much damage we will see is a combination of how cold the temperatures drop and how long they stay there. Typically, frost clothes can offer protection down to about 27 degrees F, but below that, cold injury could still occur.

There is also the issue of trees and shrubs that have already developed spring growth. While these are virtually impossible to protect with frost cloth, they can be very sensitive to frost damage. Japanese maples are one of many trees that are particularly sensitive and can be killed outright by late spring freezes when they are at a susceptible stage of growth. In such cases, there are really only two options for protection. One is the application of irrigation, which, while the water is freezing actually releases heat that protects the plants. This technique is most commonly used on field grown crops such as strawberries. The downside is that water must be applied at the proper rate and the application must continue continuously until the temperatures rise above freezing. The other option is to rent kerosene space heaters and simply heat up the night air around the plant. This is similar to the smudge pots that are used in Florida orange orchards when frosts are imminent. These heaters can usually be rented from stores who specialize in the rental of construction equipment. If you would like to know more of the technical details about water application to protect plants, the following NCSU website is quite useful:


We’d like to thank everyone who has ordered this spring, and we hope you have been well pleased if you have received your order. We are currently shipping most orders within 7 days of receipt, and we anticipate being able to continue this turnaround until the week of April 23-27, when a one-week delay is possible. Due to the volume of orders, there is a possible two-week delay for orders received between April 28 and May 11. We will always work to get your orders out as fast as possible, but be aware that our shipping staff and facilities are near capacity during this three-week period. Thanks in advance for your understanding.

We are delighted to announce that Raleigh resident and PDN cover artist Jack Pittman has been nominated for another Reuben Award. The Reuben Awards (named after Rube Goldberg) are the cartoonists’ equivalent of the Emmys or Oscars. Jack has previously won Reubens in 1995, 1998, and 2004. We are truly fortunate to have Jack create our catalog covers. It’s quite rewarding to know that other businesses who have seen his PDN creations have subsequently used his artwork. I’ve included a link to Jack’s site as well as to the Reuben Awards site.


There’s so much going on in the garden now, it’s hard to even cover a fraction of it. As you know, I’m a big fan of arisaema and am glad to see the interest in these cool plants increase each year. In the garden, arisaema sikokianum is one of the first species up each year, and its stunning flowers are certainly a reason that it’s consistently among the most popular. A. sikokianum is one of the few species that does not produce offsets, so you’ll need two plants to produce a seed crop. The same is true for species like A. engleri, A. tortuosum, and A. sazensoo. Even having two plants won’t always do the trick, since flowering size plants tend to be female. Arisaema are among the original transgender plants, changing from male (when they are young and weak) to female (when they are vigorous and ready to reproduce). Occasionally small flowering plants can be male, and you can easily check by snorting inside the spathe. If your nose is subsequently covered in white pollen, you snorted a male. Exhaling onto the spadix of the female is a primitive but effective way to pollinate your plant, although a small paintbrush works better and results in less strange looks from your spouse and neighbors. In case you have a garden of all females, simply behead one of your females. Yes, cut your flowering plant to the ground. This sounds drastic (be aware that you won’t see any growth until the following season) but when your plant re-emerges next year, it will be a male and will be ready to tackle its reproductive responsibilities. The penalty, if you get caught, is only ten years hard labor, and for a gardener, that’s a moot point.

Other early flowering species include four of the most vigorous growers: A. ringens, A. urashima, A. amurense, and A. taiwanense. Unlike A. sikokianum, each of the species is a rapid multiplier and after a few years can be split into dozens of individual clumps. These are all superb garden specimens and because they multiply, they are much more likely to have male and female flowers in the same clump. If you order arisaema for early shipment, you will get them as a dormant tuber in a plastic bag of peat moss. Once they begin to sprout, we pot them and ship them growing in the container. You can take a look at more arisaema species at

I promised to update you on the progress of our Wollemia nobilis (Wollemia Pine), which we planted outdoors in early January. So far, it’s endured several nights of 15 degrees F, with no damage, so we are optimistic about our long-term chances in our climate.

We had a little faux pas with one of our new offerings, Colocasia ‘Royal Cho’. We have trialed a number of colocasias and were sent incorrect information about which cultivar was ready for release; we have just become aware of the error. Everyone who received this cultivar should have been notified about the error, and we appreciate your help in returning these. We apologize and appreciate your understanding in solving this problem. We still have plenty of other colocasias including our new introduction, C. ‘Coal Miner’, which I think is one of the most exciting new elephant ears that I’ve ever grown. See our listing at

We’ve had a number of folks requesting the 2007 Gardening Jihad t-shirt, and they have just arrived at the nursery. They aren’t available on-line yet, but give the office a call and we can add them to your order.

We’d also like to invite you to visit our new garden site, http://www.juniperlevelbotanicgarden.org. We included much more about the garden, the collections, and our greatly expanded photo gallery of the garden and its early development.

Over the last few months, I’ve mentioned many of the mail order nurseries that have closed around the country; regrettably I must add another name to that increasing list. Porterhowse Nursery of Oregon has closed to deal with family illness. Plantsman Don Howse started his wonderful nursery, which specialized in conifers, after working at the large wholesale conifer specialist, Iseli Nursery. If you never had the chance to visit Porterhowse, you missed a fantastic, well-designed collector’s garden that despite the time I allotted on each visit, I never had enough time to see everything. If you ever get the chance to hear Don speak, you’ll find it a real treat. Be sure to ask him what it was like being on a botanizing trip in Pakistan on 9/11/2001.

As always, we thank you for your continued support and patronage.

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

Thanks and enjoy