Our clump of Coniogramme emeiense ‘Green Energy’ is looking fabulous at the end of August. This is one of our selections of bamboo fern we’ve yet to introduce. We love it’s distinctive look, but am not sure if anyone would actually purchase it. What say you? Hardiness Zone 7b – 10b.
We’ve played around with growing cast iron plants from seed, curious if the white-tipped pattern of Aspidistra elatior ‘Asahi’ was heritable. Turns out that it is. Aspidistra ‘Blizzard’ is our seedling with well over half of the leaf being white. That makes it both beautiful, but insanely slow growing. The plant below has been in the ground for 5 years, planted as a two year old seedling.
Looking great in the summer garden is the stunning cast iron plant, Aspidistra elatior ‘Asahi’. This amazing woodland evergreen is a plant we can’t imagine gardening without. The leaf patterning is brightest as the new leaves emerge in June/July. Grown as a house plant, it needs to get some size before you will see the leaf patterns in containers. The Japanese name, ‘Asahi’ translates to “morning light”. Hardiness is Zone 7a-10b.
Below is a variegated sport of M. ‘Mission to Mars’. These have reached 5′ in width.
Mangave ‘Foxy Lady’ is a variegated sport of M. ‘Silver Fox’
Looking great in the garden despite our high temperatures is the Siberian native, Microbiota decussata. While the species typically struggles in our climate, the cultivar ‘Prides’ has been outstanding. Microbiota is essentially a groundcover juniper replacement for shade. For us, it matures with a 4′ wide spread, after 10 years. We have found that it does best in areas that stay slightly on the dry side, and in soils that are well-drained. There really isn’t another evergreen shrub that gives you the same texture in the woodland garden.
One of my favorite plants when I strolled through the woods as a young child was resurrection fern, Pleopeltis michauxiana. If the Latin name sounds unfamiliar, it was originally published in 1939 as a member of a different fern genus, Polypodium polypodioides var. michauxiana. It’s natural distribution range is quite large, from West Virginia south into Central America.
From the time I first saw this fern, nearly 60 years ago, I found it fascinating that this native evergreen fern could grow on both trees and rocks, without being rooted into the ground. Through the years, I’ve tried to cultivate it many times, both in containers and in the garden, failing repeatedly.
Finally in 2004, we took a small piece and glued it to a water oak in the garden using the commercial outdoor adhesive, Liquid Nails. Below is that same plant, almost 20 years later at JLBG. When the weather dries, the clump quickly shrivels and looks dead, only to revive when rain arrives or the garden is irrigated. We’re still trying to figure out how to get this into the nursery, so we can share it more widely.
We’ve been fortunate to grow a huge number of hardy garden ferns through the years, but it’s hard for any to top the amazing Pleopeltis lepidopteris, to which, we’ve given the common name, Brazilian hairy sword fern.
Below is a patch at JLBG, composed of three individual clumps, looking great, despite the ravages of summer. This sun-loving lithophytic (rock grower) also grows fine in well-drained soils. In habitat, it hails from the sandy, acidic coastal (restinga) habitats in southern Brazil (Rio Grande du Sul). Our plants came from our friends at the former Yucca Do Nursery, who made a beach front collection in Brazil in 2012. It doesn’t appear that fern had been in cultivation prior to that time.
The 18″ tall x 2″ wide, rigidly upright fronds emerge covered in thick silver hair, to which I can now relate. As the fronds age, the hair thins and the green leaf surface becomes more visible. Pleopeltis lepidopteris spreads slowly from surface rhizomes. We’ve grown this evergreen Pleopeltis in our rock garden since 2012, where it has thrived even through winter temperatures of 7 degrees F. Hardiness Zone: 7b to 9b, at least.
We have long loved the evergreen, tri-lobed, Asian (China, Korea, Japan) epiphytic fern, Pyrrosia hastata. Our favorite clone, pictured below, is one we purchased many years ago from an on-line Japanese plant auction, and subsequently named Pyrrosia ‘Storm Watch’, due to its dark black central leaf vein. Unlike the rhizomatous Pyrrosia lingua, Pyrrosia hastata forms a very tight clump, and is extremely adaptable to growing both epiphytically as well as in the ground, as long as the soil doesn’t stay too moist.
Most of us plant geeks marvel at the genetic diversity of plants as we drive, and one of my passions is studying the incredible diversity our our native red cedar, Juniperus virginiana. Below is an exceptional been pole-like form, Juniperus virginiana ‘Taylor’, selected from a population in Taylor, Nebraska, and released in 1992 by the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. Mature size should be around 20′ tall x 4′ wide. Our plants below are five years old.
The North American native Thuja plicata ‘4Ever’ is looking particularly stunning in the garden this summer. Of all the forms of Thuja plicata we’ve trialed, this is undoubtedly the brightest. Reportedly maturing at 12′ tall x 3.5′ tall, I’m left to wonder what they used the measure the size. Our 4 year old specimen is 5′ tall x 5′ wide. Based on the current growth rate, we’d expect 12′ tall x 12′ wide in 10 years, so if you’re looking at “forever”, I’d probably put these on 15-20′ centers.
Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘MonSan’ is looking quite exceptional in the garden. Since we live in the community of Juniper, NC, we thought we should have a significant collection of the our namesake genera. This Monrovia Nursery introduction, which is a hybrid between the Asian Juniperus chinensis and the Eurasian Juniperus sabina, is truly stunning. Although it’s marketed by the introducer as maturing at 3′ tall x 4′ wide, our six-year-old plants are 3′ tall x 12′ wide. Could someone be trying to trick you in to buying many more plants that you actually need…hmmm? Hardiness is Zone 3b-8b, at least.
The Southeast Plant Symposium rare plant auction has begun. More plants will be added every other day until the symposium starts Friday. The auction ends mid-afternoon this Saturday. Many of these plants are simply unavailable anywhere else in the world. All auction proceeds are split between the JLBG Garden Endowment Fund at NC State and the JC Raulston Arboretum.
You do not have to be present or registered for the symposium to bid. Attendees who win can pick up their plants at the end of the symposium, while those not in attendance can have their plants shipped. Only plants in 3 quart pots and smaller may be shipped. Others will need to be picked up in person. Enjoy the bidding and hope you get some really great plants!
For those who regularly attend our Open Nursery and Garden days, you have no doubt watched the evolution of our new dryland rock garden by our welcome tent. I thought it would be fun to look back at its short evolution. Below is Jeremy’s bed outline from late January 2021, when this new bed was only a vision in our heads.
In late January 2021, Jeremy broke ground by digging down until we reached undisturbed subsoil, which was then loosened.
The next step was to add our planting mix, which consists of 25% native soil, 25% compost, and 50% Permatill (a popped slate gravel). The planting media was thoroughly mixed with the subsoil, which ensures continuous drainage by not layering different soil types. The final height of our bed was 5.5′, with the knowledge that we would loose about 6″ in final height to settling. Planting began in early March 2021.
Below is the same area taken this week–27 months after construction. The bed is 35′ long with an average width of 15′, which would give us 525 square feet of bed space–if the bed was flat. With our finished height of 5′, we actually have close to 800 square feet of planting space–50% more surface area, all because we raised the bed height.
Because these are dryland plants, this section of the garden is un-irrigated, except during extended periods of severe drought and above normal heat. We hope this “peaks” your interest in both the science and art of rock gardening. If so, the North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS.org) is an amazing group of like-minded folks with an incredible seed list of treasures for this type of garden.
Here’s an early June shot from the garden. The conifer in front left is Picea abies ‘Glauca Pendula Oxtail’. The weeping conifer in the distance is Cupressus glabra ‘Raywood’s Weeping’. The bright shrub in the distance is Ligustrum lucidum ‘Marble Magic’. Delve more into the world of woody ornamentals during the upcoming Southeastern Plant Symposium and Rare Plant Auction, June 16-17, 2023, hosted by JLBG and JCRA. Register now for in person or online attendance.
We were thrilled to have a great flower show this year on the most winter hardy honey myrtle we grow, Melaleuca ‘Wetland’s Challenged Mutant’. This introduction from Desert Northwest, is either a selection of Melaleuca paludicola, or a hybrid with that species. Most of the other “hardy” melaleucas (formerly, Callistemon) died to the ground this year, but this clone of the alpine honey-myrtle from Southeastern Australia didn’t even suffer burned foliage, and flowers buds were obviously fine. Our 11 year old plant is 7′ tall, and has endured two single digit winter temps; 7F, and 9F. Hardiness Zone 7b-10b.
The Serbian spruce, Picea omorika ‘Blue Sky’ is looking lovely at the base of the Mt. Michelle waterfall this week. We think the color of the spruce foliage nicely echos the nearby agave–a combination you won’t see in most gardens. We’re always on the lookout for more spruces that tolerate our heat and humidity.
In the hot, humid south, the word Dianthus is jokingly translated as “prepare to die”. As of this spring, we’ve grown 169 different dianthus taxa (different accessions). Of those, most are dead, a few are hanging on, and then a much smaller subset are absolutely thriving. Below are a few images from the spring garden of some (but not all) which are thriving spectacularly.
The first image is Dianthus anatolicus, planted in 2020. Virtually unknown by most gardeners, this species is native from the Black Sea region into the West Himalayas. Typically, plants from this region don’t thrive in our heat and humidity, so this was a pleasant surprise. This is growing in our typical compost amended garden loam.
Dianthus arenarius is a Baltic Sea species that has thrived for us since 2018 in our crevice garden.
Dianthus Dianthus kuschakewiczii, aka: D.tianshanicus, a Central Asian native, has also fared amazingly well in our compost ammended beds since 2015. The idea that this tolerates our heat and humidity is quite shocking.
Dianthus plumarius is a well-known garden species, originating from the Northwest Balkan peninsula. It has been grown as a pass-along perennial throughout the Southeastern US for over a century. This species has been cultivated in the UK since 1100AD, and in the US since 1676. Our clone is one that has been passed along in the Birmingham, Alabama area.
The horticultural world has been replete with an array of dianthus hybrids through the years. We’ve managed to kill quite a few, but the ones below have been exceptional in our tough conditions. Dianthus ‘Bright Light’ (aka: Dianthus Uribest52), is a Korean hybrid from the breeding firm, Uriseed, which was derived from crossing Dianthus alpinus (from the Alps) with Dianthus callizones from Romania. Our clumps have been in since 2018, and excelled in unirrigated sections of the garden. This is one of the finest garden dianthus we’ve ever grown.
Dianthus ‘Cherry Charm’ is a Dutch hybrid of Dianthus gratiopolitanus , which has been every bit as exceptional as Dianthus ‘Bright Light’. Our clumps, which are now four years old are nothing short of outstanding.
Dianthus ‘White Crown’ is the smallest of the excellent performing selections in our trial. We have had this in the crevice garden since 2017, growing in 3′ of Permatill, so we doubt this would thrive in typical garden soils. This is a Wrightman Gardens introduction of unknown parentage.
Looking really lovely in the garden now is Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Daub’s Frosted’. This selection of the hybrid between Juniperus sabina and Juniperus chinensis was introduced by Oregon’s Mitsch Nursery in 1987. Our 18″ tall patch has spread to 10′ wide in less than 5 years. All of those trusted on-line sources say it matures between 5 and 6′ wide…Ooops.
One of the newest discovered species of our native asarum (formerly Hexastylis) is Asarum finzelii, from northeastern Alabama. In foliage, the plant resembles both Asarum arifolium and Asarum speciosum. The flowers, however, are quite different from both, as you can see below. It is our hope to get this propagated before too long, so we can work to make it more widely available.
Our patches of the evergreen radiating sedge, Carex radiata, are looking lovely in the spring garden. Ranging natively from Canada south to Louisiana, our plants are from a NC population in Halifax County. Although they will tolerate full sun, they are best in light open shade.
A couple of years ago, we were thrilled to acquire seed of Euphorbia ‘Rubicund’ from the Hardy Plant Society seed exchange. That little-known clone is a selection from a cross of Euphorbia myrsinites x E. rigida made by Rhode Island’s Issima Nursery. While the clone doesn’t come true from seed, we love our offspring and look forward to seeing what our seed crop from the plant below will have in store.
For this hybrid, we’ve settled on the nothospecific name E. x myrsida, going forward. Over 15 years ago, we acquired a similar cross from California salvia guru, Betsy Clebsch, but we unfortunately let our plant get shaded out. Both plants we’ve grown of this cross produced much larger seed heads with a form similar to both parents. It has been stunning in our our rock garden for the last month. Hardiness is probably Zone 6a-8b.
The last several weeks have been a floriferous blur in our epimedium collection house. These amazing woodland perennials flower for 4-8 weeks, depending on the variety. Below is a small fraction of the exceptional clones we grow.
Epimedium ‘Rise and Shine’ is a 2020 PDN/JLBG introduction of a hybrid of Epimedium ‘Domino’. The leaves are extremely glossy, and in early spring have a magenta border, along with a great floral show.
Epimedium ‘Songbirds’ is our 2014 introduction of an extremely floriferous selection.
Epimedium ‘Pumpkin Pie’ is a potential future introduction with long sprays of large peachy flowers. This is a hybrid of Epimedium wushanense.
Epimedium ‘Picture Frame’ is one of our later flowering introductions that hit the market in 2014. This has probably the best edged foliage of any fairy wing we’ve grown.
Epimedium ‘Totnes Turbo’ has been really impressive in our trials. This hybrid from the former UK’s Desirable Plants Nursery, is a cross of Epimedium latisepalum x pinnatum ssp. colchicum.
One of the finest epimediums we grow is Epimedium x versicolor ‘Cupreum’. Although this selection has been around since 1854, it’s still near the top of our list of favorites.
We have really enjoyed the sprig foliage show of Osmanthus fragrans ‘Qiannan Guifei’ for the last few weeks. This spring-emerging variegated foliage adds a whole new level of “wow” to the sweetly fragrant tea olive shrub, Osmanthus fragrans. This new selection, introduced from China to the US by our friend Ted Stephens of Nurseries Caroliniana, is from Qiannan-based plant breeder, Tan Zhi-ming. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-9b.
We love the miniature Coptis japonica var. dissecta in full seed now. This dwarf, evergreen, woodland-growing member of the Ranunculus family (Clematis, Helleborus), has small white flowers in the winter, but we adore the seriously cute seeds heads that are adorned in March and April. Not only is this Japanese endemic a cool garden plant, but it’s highly prized as a medicinal plant, thanks to chemicals harvested from its roots, which are used to treat an array of ailments, from infections to pain, dysentery, fevers, and much more. Hardiness Zone 5a-8b.
We’ve been enjoying our giant Photinia serratifolia, which has been in full flower for the last few weeks in the garden. We love this giant evergreen, which hails from China, Taiwan, Japan, and a few adjacent countries. This behemoth matures at 30′ tall x 25′ wide, although our 9 year old plant has yet to reach full size. Flowering typically begins for us in mid-March with large, showy panicles of white. We love the unique floral fragrance, although not everyone feels the same. We’ve never experienced any of the disease issues that bother the more commonly grown, Photinia x fraseri, of which this is one of the parents. Hardiness is Zone 6a-10b.
Looking great in the garden now is the false red agave, Beschorneria. Beschorneria is a small, little-known genus of only 8 species of plants in the Asparagaceae family–first cousin to the better known genus, Agave. Beschornerias are native from Northern Mexico, south to Honduras. Through the years, we’ve grown 7 of the 8 species, having not bothered to try B. wrightii, due to it’s tropical origin.
The only species that has proven reliable and evergreen here is Beschorneria septentrionalis–a species introduced by the former Yucca Do Nursery from their collections in Northern Mexico.
Several years ago, we were given seed of hybrids of B. septentrionalis x B. yuccoides ssp. dekosteriana. Most of the hybrid plants died because they inherited too many genes from the more tender B. yuccoides, but two plants still remain. Below is one we named Beschorneria ‘Fire Towers’, which appears close to B. septentrionalis in appearance, but perhaps with a bit more vigor.
Ajuga ‘Cordial Canary’ is one of the new generations of well-behaved bugleweed selections, this from the work of Chris Hansen. It looks pretty amazing for mid-March at JLBG. We love colorful groundcovers that play nice with their surroundings. Zone 4a-9b.
We’ve been fascinated with the woody plant genus Loropetalum since the late J.C. Raulston first distributed the pink-flowered forms, which had just come into to cultivation in the US, back in 1989. Since those original plants were propagated and sold, many nurseries have tried to one up each other with a barrage of new introductions. Today, we have documented 68 named cultivars of Loropetalum, of which we currently grow only 22. Below are a few from JLBG, which are currently in full flower.
Sadly, most folks mistakenly think these are foundation shrubs, thanks to unscrupulous retailers. Most, are in fact, either large shrubs or small trees. Yes, if you’re into plant mutilation as a form of legal S&M, you can shear them into bizarre boxes and meatballs, but do you really think this is a good idea? Do you really hate natural beauty that much?
Below are a few named selections with their advertised sizes and their actual sizes, so you can plant them in the proper place. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-9b.
Loropetalum ‘Snow Panda’ has been truly outstanding for us. It was introduces as maturing at 10′ tall x 9′ wide, and our 7-year-old plant is now 7′ tall x 12′ wide.
Loropetalum ‘Zhouzhou‘ is sold as ‘Zhoushou Fuchsia‘ and as ‘Pipa’s Red’. These are listed as maturing at 5′ tall x 6′ wide and 12′ tall x 12′ wide, depending on which name is on the tag. The reality is that it matures at 30′ tall x 20′ wide, as you can see below with our 27-year -old specimen.
Loropetalum ‘Ruby Snow’ is a fascinating chimeral misfit (think schizophrenic) selection with both white and pink flowers. The introducer touts it as maturing at 6′ tall x 6′ wide, but our 6-year-old specimen is already 8′ tall x 14′ wide, so this will get far larger than the tags indicate.
Loropetalum ‘Daruma‘ is an extremely heavy flowering selection that is sold as maturing at 5′ tall x 5′ wide, but this isn’t even close. The 6-year-old specimen below is already 6′ tall x 9′ wide, and our oldest specimen had to be removed from its original location after it reached 16′ tall x 16’ wide.
Loropetalum ‘Shang Hi’, sold under the marketing name Purple Diamond, is touted as maturing at 5′ tall x 5′ wide. Ooops–our 14-year-old plant is already 15′ tall x 15′ wide. Perhaps we need to give remedial measuring courses to some of our nursery folks.
Loropetalum ‘GrifCRL‘, marketed as Little Rose Dawn, is incredible in flower, but it’s marketed as maturing at 10′ tall x 10′ wide, and our 16-year-old specimen is now 18′ tall x 18’ wide.
Loropetalum ‘Crimson Fire’ is much more red than most selections. The introducer claims it will mature at 4′ tall x 5′ wide, but our 6-year-old plants are already 10′ tall x 10′ wide.
These are just a few of the amazing selections, but keep in mind to never trust plant tags when it comes to where you should plant your plants to keep from needing to butcher them.. Until nurseries and plant introducers learn to care more about the end consumer’s success, it’s always a good idea to visit botanic gardens and determine the true size for yourself.
Here are a couple of groundcovers that are looking nice in the garden in early March. The first is the Western US native, Cerastium beeringianum (Western Snow in Summer), which is a close relative of the Italian Cerastium tomentosum. We selected this form from seed we grew, originally purchased from a native plant nursery as the US native, Arenaria stricta–oops! Both genera are at least members of the dianthus family, Carophyllaceae.
We’re still pretty excited, despite the misname, since this is an alpine species that typically grows above 10,000′ elevation. We’ve added the name ‘Southern Snowstorm’ to this exceptional clone.
Below is the Balkan native, Arabis procurrens. This member of the Brassicaceae family makes a superb groundcover. Our 5 year old, well-behaved, evergreen clump pictured below is almost 4′ wide.
We love the late winter flowering Drabas, which thrive in our dry crevice garden. Below is the miniature Draba hispanica, which has been in flower since late February. This Spanish species likes to grow in dry limestone cracks, such as the one we provided here. Unless you’re an avid rock gardener, you may not realize that draba is actually in the cabbage family, Brassicaceae. Once the flowers finish, you’re left with a fuzzy evergreen bun of foliage for the rest of the season. Zone 5a-8a, at least.
Looking fabulous in the garden now is Veronica umbrosa ‘Georgia Blue’. We’ve grown this amazing groundcover in the garden since 1990, and find it as great now as it was 33 years ago. This superb introduction was originally collected in the wild in Georgia (the country, not the state) by England’s legendary plantsman, Roy Lancaster in 1979. In 30+ years of growing it, its never misbehaved or thrown a single seedling. Flowering time for us is usually from mid February through March, so it can be used as a background for spring bulbs.
Flowering in the garden now is the wonderful US native Pachysandra procumbens (Allegheny spurge). Native from Indiana south to the gulf coast, our selection, Pachysandra ‘Angola’ comes from the woods near that well-know Louisiana prison. This stunning evergreen, variegated, slow-spreading, woodland groundcover, is quite different from its better known and much faster spreading Asian cousin, Pachysandra terminalis. The flowers are also sweetly fragrant, what more could you want? Hardiness is Zone 5a-9b.
Our plants of the shrubby Distyllum myricoides has been in stunning flower for the last few weeks. This fascinating evergreen shrub, mostly native to China, is in the same family, Hamamelidaceae, as its’ better-known cousins, Hamamelis (witch hazel) and Fothergilla (witch alder).
Due to the breeding efforts of Dr. Michael Dirr, distyllum has actually begun to show up in box stores…something that was unthinkable two decades earlier. We love it for the evergreen foliage, but what really excites us is the amazing winter floral show as you can see below.
We’ve grown the native loblolly bay, Gordonia lasianthus for several decades, but I’d never stumbled on one as large as the one we spotted last week while botanizing in coastal southeastern North Carolina.
The specimen we ran across has a 26″ diameter and a height of 70′, which although huge, turned out to be slightly smaller than the state champions in Currituck County, which top out at 85-90′ tall. Posing by the trunk is the landowner, Vince and his son Vinny, who moved to coastal Carolina from Brooklyn, NY.
Also, on the same site, we found a population of Chamaedaphne calyculata, a bog-loving, blueberry relative with a circumboreal distribution in mostly cold and sub-arctic regions. When we returned, Patrick told me that it was quite rare in NC, but he found a singole documented record for North Carolina on Hwy 211 in Brunswick County (Vince’s property), that we’d accidentally stumbled upon. Sadly, Hwy 211 is being widened, so this population, along with many other amazing natives are in jeopardy. Fortunately, we now have a small division now growing in our ex-situ conservation garden at JLBG.
So often we think we know all about a plant, when we’ve only grown a single clone, and we all know what happens when we assume! A good example is the Southwest US native Agave parryi ssp. truncata, which is now grown around the world. 99.9% if the plants in commerce are a single clone, know as the Huntington form. Unfortunately, this clone is not reliably winter hardy north of Zone 8b.
Many years ago, we received a new clone via the late nurseryman, George Hull. Having survived for us without damage since 2010, including two winters of single digit F temperatures, we have christened this Agave parryi ssp. truncata ‘Hardy Boyz’. Below is a photo taken last week. It’s been very slow to offset, but we feel this an exceptional clone worthy of propagation and distribution. Stay tuned.
We’re several years into an experiment to see how well the epiphytic (grow mostly on trees) tongue ferns of the genus Pyrrosia fare in hanging, moss-lined baskets when left outdoors all year. This is our coldest winter to date since the test began, with a low of 11 degrees F. Here is a photo of one of those baskets taken today. They were not protected in any way during the cold. We have 17 clones on trial in this manner, and some do show a bit of foliar damage, while others are untouched. We think it’s quite amazing to have evergreen hanging baskets of live plants that can remain outdoors here in Zone 7b.
Platycladus orientalis ‘Van Hoey Smith’ is looking absolutely fabulous in our garden this winter. This fascinating selection of Oriental arborvitae, Platycladus orientalis was named after the late Dutch conifer guru, Dick van Hoey Smith (1921-2010), by an American nurseryman, who reportedly received these cuttings, unlabeled, from Dick. Some conifer folks think this is actually an old cultivar, Platycladus orientalis ‘Aureovariegata’. I understand this is not a good performer in climates with low humidity, but it sure likes it here in NC. Winter hardiness is Zone 5b-9b.
So, who is Van Hoey Smith? Born, James Richard Pennington van Hoey Smith, Dick’s family started the famed Trompenberg Arboretum in Holland, which Dick later ran from 1950 until he handed over the reins to his successor Gert Fortgens, in 1996. If you haven’t visited, I highly recommend a visit for any keen plant lover.
Dick was a founder of the International Dendrology Society, a membership society of the worlds keenest woody plant aficionados. He also wrote/photographed several reference books including Maples of the World, Conifers, and Rhododendron Portraits. He was awarded the worlds’ top horticultural prizes, including the Doorenbos Medal from the Dutch Dendrological Association and the Veitch Memorial Medal from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Flowering today is the deliciously fragrant Mahonia gracilis, a little-known species from the mountains of northern Mexico. Maturing at 8′ tall x 12′ wide, this evergreen species burst into full flower usually in late January/early February. The flowers buds have great resistance to cold snaps after they open, and the overpoweringly sweet fragrance is legendary. Virtually all of the mahonias in commerce in the Southeast US are from China, so this is quite different from those. In 30 years of growing these, we have never seen a single garden seedling. Hardiness is Zone 7b-9a, at least.
Here are a couple of dwarf pines in garden that are looking particularly great in mid-winter.
The first is PInus strobus ‘Mini Twists’ is a dwarf seed-grown selection of our native white pine that matures at 6′ tall x 4′ wide. This is a 2005 introduction from Vermont conifer specialist, Greg Williams. Good drainage is a key to success with white pines in our hot, humid climate. Hardiness is Zone 3a-8a.
Below is Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’, a 1987 introduction of a selected seedling of Japanese black pine from Angelica Nurseries of Maryland. In 10 years, it reportedly will reach 15′ in height x 20′ in width. Although it’s known commercially as Pinus ‘Thunderhead’, that cultivar name was actually used six years prior for a different pine, and according to International nomenclatural rules, can only be used once per genus, so the correct name would become Pinus ‘Angelica’s Thunderhead’. Hardiness is Zone 6a-8b.
Looking great in the garden now is a dwarf witches broom selection of Norway spruce, Picea abies ‘Hereny’. Discovered by Hungary’s Józsa Miklós, and first published in 2010, it reportedly matures at 2′ tall in 20 years. Our 4 year old specimen has already reached that size, so we expect our warm summers will make it a much larger plant here.
The Dryopteris kinkiensis is still looking fabulous in the garden as we inch closer to spring. This little-known Chinese native fern was first brought into the country as spore by plantsman Hans Hansen in 2005. It is also native to Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. The name was originally published for the material in Japan, named after the Kinki region. The foliage is a very glossy dark green with a nearly plastic texture. We estimate hardiness to be zone 7a-9b, but we could be greatly underestimating its potential in that regard.
The variegated wide-leaf holly, Ilex latifolia ‘Snow Flash’ is loaded with berries and looking quite spectacular in the garden this month. We’ve shared cuttings with several nursery folks, so hopefully, this will be making its way into the market. The plant was originally brought to the US from Japan by plantsman Barry Yinger. Our specimen below is now 18 years old. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
We’ve long been a fan of the central Japan native conifer, Thujopsis dolobrata, which we’ve grown for decades. For those, who aren’t students of the Latin language, the ending -opsis, means “looks like”. When Thujopsis was formally named in 1894 by Franz von Siebold and Joseph Zuccarini, they chose a name that could be translated to “looks like the American genus, Thuja”.
On a 2012 trip to Joann Currier’s former Unique Plant Nursery in NC, we noticed a plant of Thujopsis that looked unlike any we’d seen. Since the genus only has a single species, the variant was either a mutation or odd seedling. The very thick, plastic-like foliage on this selection gives the appearance of a ploidy mutation (extra chromosomes).
The cutting they shared was rooted, and subsequently went in the ground here in 2013. A decade later, our plant is pictured below this month, topping out at 10′ in height. Joann originally got the plant from Randy Plante at Greener Visions Nursery, who got it from NC conifer nurseryman Geoff Driscoll, who got it from someone “up north”. That’s where the trail goes cold. We’ve shared cuttings with several NC nursery folks, in the hopes this amazing selection becomes more commercially available in the future.
Ilex ‘Magiana’ has made a superb plant in our garden. Below is a photo this week. This 2003 introduction form Mississippi’s Evergreen Nursery has never been touched by a pruner. The patent expired this year, so we anticipate more nurseries will be propagating it in the future. It originated as a seedling of Ilex ‘Mary Nell’ and was originally sold under the trademark name Acadiana. In the garden, expect a mature size of 14′ tall x 8′ wide. Our specimen is now 16 years old.
I’m betting that even the most seasoned plant collectors probably haven’t grown or even heard of Urophysa henryi. This odd generic member of the Ranunculaceae family hails from China, where it can be found only in a very few scattered populations, hanging out from cliff-side karst rock fissures in Guizhou, Sichuan, Western Hubei and into Northwestern Hunan.
Urophysa henryi is very closely related to the highly prized, but rather difficult to grow, rock garden plant, Semiquilegia adoxoides. I was particularly interested to read in a 2021 Chinese research paper, “In field observations and laboratory experiments, we found that U. rockii and U. henryi can not survive outside the karst limestone, which indicated that the karst limestone plays a significant role in their growth and development.” This is why you never send a botanist to do a horticulturist’s job!
In our garden, sans the Karst limestone, it has thrived in our rock garden, not blinking this year at 11F. The 4″ tall x 6″ wide evergreen clumps of columbine-like foliage are topped with clusters of small, outfacing white flowers, which resemble our native Isopyrum biternatum, Like Isopyrum, Urophysa flowering starts for us in early January, and continues through March. We think these are an outstanding addition to the winter garden and are going to do our best to get these propagated to share before words gets out that they can’t be grown in cultivation.
One of the nice surprises this winter has been the performance of our hybrid Magnolia grandiflora x Magnolia coco. This 2019 seedling came through the recent 11 degrees F looking great, despite half its parentage being rather tender.
While Magnolia grandiflora is certainly winter hardy here, the other parent, Magnolia coco is “reportedly” not hardy. Magnolia coco is a small tree/shrub hailing from Vietnam, Southern China, and Taiwan. Those reputable on-line sources consistently write that it isn’t hardy north of Zone 9. Well–hmmm!
The bottom image is our plant that has been in the garden since 2003…that’s 20 years. Yes, after 11F, the foliage is brown, but the stems are fine and it will re-flush well in spring. We can’t wait to see the flowers on the hybrid, which is still a few years away from being old enough to have sex.
The earliest of the lenten roses, Helleborus x hybridus, have just opened. Depending on the genetics of each clone, they will continue to open until mid-March. Flowering on each variety continues for many weeks to over a month if the temperatures remain cool. Only a few weeks remain before our Winter Open Nursery and Garden, when you can visit and see these first hand in the garden, and even select your own flowering plants from our on-site nursery, Plant Delights.
We thought we’d share a photo taken this week of the original plant of Illicium parviflorum ‘Florida Sunshine’ from our garden. All plants sold worldwide originated with cuttings taken from our specimen. The original plant has now been in the ground here for 22 years and measures 8′ tall x 8′ wide. The foliage becomes brightest in the cool temperatures of winter. Who says Southeast US native plants look ugly? Hardiness zones 6a to 9b.
We were thrilled to see how well our Mexican bear grass, Nolina hibernica fared through our recent cold. We had lost this ten times previously, and were close to giving up, but decided to plant this one in a partially shaded site. Previously, we had only planted these in full sun, where they thrived except during cold winters. By growing this partially under shade, it reduces the amount of cooling on cold nights by having a tree canopy nearby. This 8 year old specimen has a way to go before it reaches its potential mature height of 20′. Fingers crossed.
Agave ‘Crazy Horse’ is an amazing agave hybrid we purchased back in 2005 from an Ebay seller in Texas. The vendor had found the plant growing at a real estate office in Montgomery County, Texas. It’s obviously a hybrid, but we still don’t know the parentage for sure. If we had to guess, it appears to be a hybrid of Agave x protamericana and Agave cupreata. In the 18 years, we’ve grown it, it’s been an exceptional plant, forming 3.5′ tall x 5′ wide rosettes, and suckering tightly against the main clump. This year, it sailed though our winter cold of 11F. It’s been almost a decade since we’ve offered this, so perhaps it’s time we propagate a few more to share.
In 2011, we spotted a tiny creamy white streak on a single leaf of a small pup, which was potted for further observation. After several years, and thanks to crown cutting, we were able to produce a highly-streaked plant, which we call Agave ‘Craziness’…see below.
Several years later, we were able to isolate the streaked leaves into a stabilized central variegation we named Agave ‘Bareback Rider’. Although winter hardiness also disappears with the creamy white foliage, it still makes a superb container plant. With that much white in the leaf, the growth rate has also slowed dramatically. It’s our hope that within the next year or two, we can finally release this amazing form through Plant Delights.
I was just admiring our specimen of the East Coast native, Thuja occidentalis ‘Concessarini’ today. I find this a fascinating plant in the garden, sadly never promoted by those who claim to extoll the virtues of native plants.
Our oldest specimen below is now 10 years old and measures 3′ tall x 6′ wide…quite a bit larger than it’s introducer claims it to be at 1′ tall x 2′ wide. If you dig deeper, you’ll see that the plant patent application shows they only measured a three year old plant, and have never bothered to update the mature size in their marketing or on their tags. It shows how little many plant introducers think of the end consumer, when they set them up for failure by promoting these fake mature sizes. Commercially, it is marketed under the fake trade name of Pancake arborvitae. That’s one seriously lumpy pancake.
This juvenile-foliage sport of Thuja ‘Linesville’ was discovered by nurseryman, Gabriel Cessarini. We think it’s pretty cool, just allow enough room in the garden. Winter hardiness is Zone 3a-8b.
We have been very impressed with the very narrow selection of our East Coast native arborviatae, Thuja occidentalis ‘Brobeck’s Tower’. This has been in the garden now for 4 years, and is 6′ in height and just over 1′ in width. This seedling selection was made by Sweeden’s Anders Brobeck, where the same plant takes 20 years to reach this height, due to a lack of summer heat.
One of the nice surprises after our 11 degree F freeze was how well our Escallonia ‘Iveyi’ fared. Few people on the US East Coast are familiar with these South American woody members of the Escalloniaceae family.
Escallonia ‘Iveyi’ is actually a hybrid that originated at the UK’s Caerhays Castle, where it was discovered as a seedling between Escallonia rosea and Escallonia rubra. Our plant should mature at 10′ x 10′. In mid summer, this amazing selection is smothered in fragrant white flowers.
All the literature we’d been able to find, indicates it is only hardy to 14 degrees, but that’s another reason we don’t let our plants read gardening books or browse the Internet. Our plant was grown from cuttings from an old specimen at the SC Botanical Garden in Clemson.
Looking quite lovely atop our crevice garden is Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Hariyama’. This incredibly heavily-spined seedling of Osmanthus ‘Sasaba’ was brought to the US by plantsman Ted Stephens, who acquired it from Ishiguro Nursery in Japan. Our 15 year old plant has topped 10′ in height. Earlier in the fall, it was adorned with small, fragrant white flowers. Despite the small congested foliage, this is not a small plant, but where an oriental specimen plant is needed, this is very special.
We were thrilled to see that our Euonymus myrianthus sailed through our recent cold snap. This fascinating species was first introduced to Western horticulture by renown plant explorer, Ernest Wilson in 1908, and has been quite slow to get around. Recent collections have finally made this available for trial in the US.
This small evergreen tree matures at 12-15′ tall, adorned with a show of bright orange fruit. We have tried a couple of collections, but this recent one from a Dan Hinkley, Ozzie Johnson, Scott McMahon collection is thriving for us. Hardiness is unsure, we we expect it will be fine from Zone 7a and south.
Every year when we have a significantly cold winter, we are reminded of the wonder of the Southeastern native needle palm, Rhapidophyllum hystrix. This native of Northern Florida and nearby areas in the adjacent states of South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, is the most winter hardy palm in existence.
Established needle palm clumps have been documented to have survived -15 F to -20F. I still remember checking on the old specimen at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh after we dropped below 0F for two consecutive nights in January 1985 (-3 on Jan 20, and -9 on Jan 21). I was amazed I was to find the plant undamaged by the cold. Below is one of our many specimens in the garden after our 11 F freeze a few weeks ago.
Needle palm is generally considered to be a non-trunking palm, although with great age, it will develop a short trunk, that will eventually become decumbent. I’m fascinated why this and other native palms are never promoted by the native plant enthusiasts.
Few gardeners outside of California and the Pacific Northwest have tried growing Cupressus sargentiae (Sargent’s Cypress). We often assume that plants endemic to California won’t grow on the East Coast, but our trials have found such a broad assumption to be quite false. Our specimen from Patrick’s collection north of San Francisco still looks great after our recent 11F temperatures. The amazing lemon-scented foliage fragrance is quite incredible, and as such, should make it a great plant for making holiday arrangements/wreaths. The plant should mature size should be between 40-70′ in height. Taxonomy of this Cupressus is stuck in a taxonomic tug of war, with one camp, who wants to rename it Hesperocyparis sargentii. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-10, guessing.
Cryptomeria is a monotypic genus (only one species) of conifer, native to Japan. Despite many reports that it hails from China, DNA has shown that these were brought from Japan and planted over 1000 years ago.
For over 40 years, we have been fascinated with the genus and have worked to collect as many cultivars as possible, currently 49 different ones in the garden. One of our long-time favorites is Cryptomeria japonica ‘Mitama’, an old Japanese dwarf selection that’s sold under the name ‘Globosa Nana’. Without any clipping, these retain a slightly informal green meatball shape, maturing at 6′ tall x 10′ wide. Below is our garden plant this week. Hardiness zone 5a to 9b.
Looking wonderful in the garden this week is Ilex x attenuata ‘Pack’s Weeping’. This superb, but almost unknown cultivar, is a selection of the naturally occurring North American native hybrid of Ilex cassine x Ilex opaca, and was selected by Alabama’s Pack’s Nursery. Foster’s holly is prized for being parthenocarpic (produces fruit without the need for a male pollinator).
Our 13 year old clump of the evergreen Japanese Asarum asperum is looking superb in the garden this week. Looks like it’s about time to divide this for the first time and start to build up stock so we can share in the future. Winter hardiness is Zone 6-9.
Sadly, folks who have a predilection to butcher evergreens like yews (Taxus) into green meatballs completely miss the beauty of their bark as they age. Here is our plant of Taxus mairei (Nepal to Vietnam) in the garden this week, looking absolutely stunning. Woof Woof!
We can’t imagine there are many people who grow cast iron plants from seed, but we have found the results quite fascinating. Below are a couple of our seedling which we found good enough to name. Neither has been divided yet, and are still under evaluation, but we think they have good potential.
Aspidistra ‘Bright Lights’ is a 2015 seedling from Aspidistra ‘Okame’ and has a similar variegation pattern, although it has more white banding than its parent.
Aspidistra ‘Illumination’ is a 2016 seedling of Aspidistra ‘Sekko Kan’, and inherited the white tips from its mama, but has also pickup up more streaking that wasn’t present in the preceding generation, so perhaps it outcrossed to a nearby streaked parent. If you’re interested in trying this yourself, the seed are found in a 1-2″ wide green ball at the base of the plant now. The seed should be mature in the next 4-6 weeks.
In 2014, Plant Delights introduced this amazing, wild collected mondo grass, which we think is one of the coolest ophiopgons we’ve ever grown. This Darrell Probst collection from China has formed a 20″ tall x 4′ wide mound of foliage. This image was taken in the garden this week after our 11 degree F freeze, and is looking absolutely fabulous. Although it keys out to Ophiopogon japonicus, it doesn’t phenotypically (what it looks like) that species. We’re pretty sure it represents a new undescribed species.
We love the texture, both in the woodland garden and in half day full sun. Although it’s winter hardy throughout Zone 6, it was one of the worst selling plants we ever offered. Sometimes we just want to throw our hands up trying to figure out why people don’t purchase some of these amazing plants.
We love camellias, but we really love the amazing banded leaf, variegated camellias, of which we’ve assembled a decent collection. Here is our plant of Camellia japonica ‘Taiyo’ in the garden now, which is just absolutely striking.
We’ve long been enamored with the Southwest native genus of slow-growing woody lilies belonging to the genus, Dasylirion. Since the early 1990s, we’ve been growing these, trialing as many species as we could obtain to see how well they adapted to our climate here in the colder, wetter Southeast.
So, far, we have grown 16 of the 21 recognized species and succeeded with 12. We found four unable to survive our coldest winters, including Dasylirion durangensis, Dasylirion longissimum, Dasylirion lucidum, Dasylirion sereke.
The five species we have yet to try in the garden are Dasylirion graminifolium, Dasylirion longistylum, Dasylirion micropterum, Dasylirion palaciosii, and Dasylirion simplex. We have seed planted of both Dasylirion graminfolium and micropterum, so those will be next in line for our in ground trials. That leaves us still searching for seed of the final three.
Sotols, like agaves, are members of the Asparagus family. They are becoming wildly popular, but not because of gardeners. Instead, their popularity is driven by those who are driven by a need/desire to imbibe alcoholic spirits. First, there was Mescal, a Mexican drink made from one of a number of different agave species, depending on what grew in proximity to each village. Of the Mescals, the most popular is Tequilla, which is made from a single species, Agave tequiliana.
Now, Sotol alcohol has joined the ranks of the “hot new spirits”. Made from agave’s cousin, plants of the genus Dasylirion, Sotol is rapidly becoming the new “flavor of the month”. Sotol alcohol certainly isn’t new, and if you regularly travel south of “the wall” you probably already know that Sotol is the state drink of Mexican states Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Durango.
Not so long ago, Sotol alcohol had a history that somewhat parallels moonshine in the Southeast US. For years, Sotol alcohol was illegal and subject to government raids, during which master sotoleros were punished or imprisoned. During the US prohibition of the 1920s, Sotol sales in the US skyrocketed, but soon after its repeal, Sotol sales plummeted back into obscurity. Now, with not only social acceptance, but a wide wide embrace of virtually anything that can be used to produce alcohol, Sotol has been mainstreamed with the assistance of the Mexican government and willing marketers.
Most agaves for Tequila production are now commercially grown in massive farms, and most plants are now produced from tissue culture for a more consistent yield and to take pressure off wild popuations. Even under ideal farming conditions, it take 5-7 years to get an agave large enough to harvest for tequilla production. With dasylirions, the same process takes at least 12-15 years according to Sotol marketers. Based on our 30 years of work with the genus, I’d say the time involved is more likely 24-30 years, even in a high rainfall climate like ours.
I’m not aware of many farm operations that can afford to grow a plant for that long before expecting a return on investment. This means that poaching of plants from the wild is very likely to increase. With such a low rate of return, i.e. 1 pint of liquor for each plant harvested, I can’t see the plants coming out on the good end of this industry. While making alcohol from dasylirions isn’t new, it’s been done on a very limited scale in Mexico, prior to word spreading around the world via social media.
Reportedly Sotol spirits taste quite different based on the species used, and whether it’s from an exceptionally dry region or an area with better rainfall. Sotol conniseurs describe the tastes as being a bit like menthol or pine/mushrooms if the plants are grown well hydrated, while those from drier regions taste more like leather. To quote Dave Barry, “I’m not making this up!” And this sounds appealing to who???
Supposedly, the spirit producers are cutting off the wild dasylirions and leaving the bases to resprout, but I’ve got my doubts about how well that works. Assuming the cut dasylirion does resprout, there will be a decade of lost seed production, so plant populations in the wild are almost certain to decline. I’m left to wonder if we really are so desperate for a new taste in alcohol that we are willing to sacrifice another genus of plants in the process.
In celebration of these amazing plants, here are photos of those we have grown in our ex-situ conservation gardens at JLBG.
Dasylirion acrotrichum, named in 1843, is native to Mexico’s Chihuahuan desert. Of the seven plants we planted, only one survived, which is now over 20 years old. This widespread sotol, which occurs on igneous soils, has been split by various authors into several subspecies. Undoubtedly, winter hardiness varies based on the seed procurement location. At maturity, the trunks can reach 5′ tall.
Dasylirion berlandieri, named after French/Mexican naturalist, Jean-Louis Berlandier (1803-1851), was first published in 1879. Native to steep rocky hillsides in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon in Northeastern Mexico, it’s one of the largest species in the genus in width, but with a trunk that never exceeds 1′ in height. Below is our plant in bud. Unlike agaves, dasylirion rosettes do not die after flowering.
Below is a fully open flower spike, which is abuzz with a large number of bees