Here’s a winter-flowering shrub that few people have grown. Flowering now in the garden is the evergreen Chimonanthus zhejiangensis, a little-known relative to the more popular, deciduous Chimonanthus praecox. This is a small genus of only six species in the Calycanthaceae family, all native to China. Our plants originated from seed from the Shanghai Botanical Garden.
While we value it for its uniqueness, rarity in the wild, and winter flowering appeal, we can’t see this ever becoming a horticultural staple, due to it rank growth habit to 6′ each year, and it’s maturing size of 15′ tall x 15′ wide. The fragrance is also quite musty, and probably not something that would appeal to the masses.
We’ve planted quite a few forms of our native Sabal palmetto through the years. Only two have survived long term; the the form from Bald Head Island, NC, and one propagated from an ancient specimen in Mt. Holly, NC, just west of Charlotte. Taken recently, our Mt. Holly specimen is now 22 years old. It’s been almost that long since we’ve had any to share, so we’re hopeful our plants are getting old enough to flower soon.
Flowering now in the garden is Dan Hinkley’s Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Indianola Silver’. This incredible plant is one of Dan’s collection with pewter foliage, that just glows in the fall garden. Mature size is 4′ tall. I picked this up on a 2006 visit to Heronswood, just before the nursery was shuttered by George Ball. Because this never made the catalog, it’s virtually unknown in most plant circles. Hardiness Zone 7b-9.
Here’s an October shot from the garden, showing the textural possibilities of foliage. Front to back are Heuchera ‘Grande Amethyst’, Microbiota decussata ‘Prides’, Rhododendron ‘Elizabeth Ard’, Athyrium angustum, Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Brooklyn Gardens’, and Metasequoia glyptostroibes ‘Shirmin’s Nordlicht’ in the rear.
Agaves are an amazing architectural addition to the garden with their form and radial symmetry. We just captured this image of one of our Agave x loferox hybrids, that we named ‘Magical Moments’. The result turned out very artsy.
I can honestly say that no plant perfumes the garden better than the amazing Osmanthus fragrans ‘Conger Yellow’. We currently grow nine cultivars of tea olive, but none can hold a candle to the fragrance of this yellow-flowered clone. Anyone visiting the garden in September/October is dazzled by the fragrance from up to 200′ away…a feat that no other plant can match. Our 20 year old specimen is truly a sight and fragrance to behold.
The lovely variegated evergreen shrub, Fatsia japonica ‘Murakumo Nishiki’, is really looking fabulous now, as we move into fall. The commercial availability of this woody ivy relative, has been a bit sparse, but hopefully propagation protocols will continue to improve. There are so few cuttings per plant that the only real answer for better availability is to use tissue culture. Hardiness Zone 7b-10.
Our oldest, 21 year-old Cycas taitungensis finally decided to flower this year, but it waited until three months after all the other cycads had finished coning. Plants in the genus Cycas are dioecious, with male and female cones on separate plants. Our specimen turned out to be a female, and by the time we finally located pollen on the west coast and had it flown in, it was too late to have meaningful sex this year. At least we finally know what sex we have. Let’s hope it gets back on a more normal schedule in the future.
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.
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.
Just over a month remains before the 2023 Southeastern Plant Symposium kicks off in Raleigh, NC. This joint symposium between the JC Raulston Arboretum and Juniper Level Botanic Garden will be held on June 16, 17 at Raleigh’s North Raleigh Hilton Hotel.
We’ve got thirteen of the world’s top speakers, as our 2023 symposium focuses on the coolest woody plants on the planet. You’ll find the schedule and speakers here, where you can also register. The rare plant auction now has a worldwide following, since quite a few of the plants simply aren’t commercially available anywhere, or in some cases are very new to the trade. We hope you’ll join us for a chance to hear and meet other passionate plant people and learn about trees and shrubs.
Symposium attendees will also be able to visit both Juniper Level Botanic Garden and the JC Raulston Arboretum before and after the symposium. The lovely folks at Ball Horticulture are also funding 10 college students to attend the symposium. You can apply on line here. We hope to see you there!
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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 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
Dasylirion cedrosanum, first documented in 1911, hails from 3,000′ – 6,000′ elevation on rocky, gypsum-laced hillsides in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. They are restricted to the Mexican states of Chihuhua, Coahuilla, and Durango. At maturity, they produce a 3′ tall trunk.
Dasylirion durangensis is another species first described in 1911, which hails from the dry alkaline/limestone-gypsum deserts of Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durango, and Zacatecas. In parts of its range, it interbreeds with Dasylirion wheeleri. We flowered this prior to losing it during a particularly cold winter. Below is our Obit photo.
Dasylirion gentry was only published as a species in 1998. It has a very limited range between 3,500′ – 4,000′ in Sonora, Mexico, where it grows on rocky slopes in openings of pine/oak woodlands.
The inflorescense of Dasylirion gentryi is one of the most spectacular we’ve ever seen.
Dasylirion glaucophyllum is a species whose discovery dates back to 1858. It can be found naturally, only in Sonora, Mexico, growing on rocky hillsides at elevations to almost 8,000′. At maturity, trunks measure up to 6′ in height.
Dasylirion leiophyllum, published in 1911, only grows north of Mexican border in Texas and New Mexico. Based on where it grows, it should be one of the most winter hardy sotol species. The first photo is at JLBG, and the second in situ at 5,400′ elevation. The second image is from the late plantsman, David Salman, of a Zone 5 population he discovered and shared seed with us just prior to his untimely death. Plant Delights is currently offering this as Dasylirion leiophyllum ‘Chaves’.
Dasylirion miquihuanense, only described in 1998, hails from Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon in Northeastern Mexico. Also occurring on rocky slopes, this sotol is one of the tallest species, producing massive 8′ tall trunks. We have succeeded long term with only 2 of 8 specimens we planted.
Dasylirion parryanum, published in that banner year of 1911, hails from up to 8,000′ elevation in the San Luis Potosi State in Northern Mexico, where it produces 3′ tall trunks.
Dasylirion quadrangulatum (1879) hails from the Southern (warmer) end of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon. It is much too tender for us to grow in the open here in Zone 7b, but we’ve kept it alive for a couple of decades by siting it in a microclimate adjacent to a brick wall house foundation. It is one of only two species lacking leaf spines. With great age, it produces trunks to 9′ in height.
Dasylirion serratifolium, first described in 1838, is from Oaxaca, Mexico, where is grows on rocky, alkaline hillsides to 6,600′ elevation. The location and elevation means it really shouldn’t survive our winter. That said, our only remaining specimen below is now 20 years old, but is still far from reaching the 6′ tall trunk height it does in the wild.
Dasylirion texanum (1850) is another very winter hardy species, found on rocky slopes, ranging from Central Texas into the mountains of Northern Mexico. It is one of the shortest species, with a trunk that doesn’t exceed 1′ tall.
Dasylirion wheeleri, first documented in 1878, ranges from Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico south into the mountains of Northern Mexico. It matures at 6′ tall, and in situ, can be found in both grasslands as well as openings in pine/oak forests. It is another of the most cold hardy species.
An old clump we planted years ago in flower is quite remarkable.
We hope you’ll limit your consumption of Sotol as a drink and instead join us in becoming an ex-situ conservation garden for this amazing genus of plants.
Mahonias have long been garden staples, but few people have ever seen or tried the rare Mahonia russellii. Discovered in 1984 in Vera Cruz, Mexico by the UK’s James Russell, this member of the “paniculate” clan of mahonias is more closely related to other Southern Mexico and Central American species, than anything most of us grow in our gardens. In other words, there is no way we should be able to grow this outdoors.
Below is our specimen flowering in the garden just prior to our low of 11 degrees F and three consecutive nights in the teens. Surprisingly, it escaped with what appears to be minor foliar damage, and of course a loss of the floral show.
Here’s our oldest specimen of xFatshedera ‘Curly’ in the garden this week. This fascinating bi-generic cross between the vining English Ivy (Hedera helix) and shrub Fatsia japonica ‘Moeseri’, was originally made 110 years ago this year, at France’s Lizé Frères Nursery. Since that time, we have been able to track down seven foliar mutations that have been named from the original hybrid.
Our specimen of xFatshedera ‘Curly’ has reached 6′ tall x 6′ wide in 10 years. The hybrid is no longer is capable of running like the ivy parent, but also has trouble looking exactly like a shrub. We enjoy it for its unique form, which is the anthesis of round green meatballs. .
xFatshedera ‘Pixie’ is a “dwarf” sport from F. ‘Curley’. Although the leaves are slightly smaller, the plant is actually larger. Our 10 year old specimen measures 6′ tall x 11′ wide this week.
I’m just back from a recent plant trip to coastal Virginia and wanted to share some trip highlights and photos. Mark Weathington of the JC Raulston Arboretum and I headed north for a quick 2 day jaunt to the Norfolk area of Virginia.
Our first stop was the garden of long time garden friend, Pam Harper. For decades, Pam was probably the most prolific and knowledgeable garden writer in the country, in addition to having what was once the largest horticultural slide library.
At 92, and despite suffering from debilitating eyesight issues, Pam still gardens, including planting and pushing carts of mulch around the garden. It was such a joy to once again walk her amazing garden, listening to the both the historical details and performance of each plant we passed.
Pam was donating the remainder (20,000) of her slide collection, which previously numbered over 100,000 images, to the JC Raulston Arboretum. There, they will be digitized for public availability.
Her 45 year-old Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ was the largest either of us had ever seen.
We both also fell in love with Camellia x vernalis ‘Meiko Tanaka’…a plant we’d never encountered in flower, but seems to have good commercial availability.
The gold barked Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Bihou’ was also showing off its stunning winter color.
Pam’s garden has always yielded some of the most amazing Arum italicum seedlings I’ve ever seen. We are already growing two of her selections in hopes of future introduction, but we found a few more that we couldn’t resist.
Our next stop was the Virginia Tech Tidewater Arboretum at the Hampton Roads Experiment Station. It had been many years since either of us had visited.
What we found was an amazing plant collection that has been mostly abandoned, except for some minimal mowing maintenance. In most cases the labeling was somewhat intact, although some required Easter egg-like hunts, and others were simply nowhere to be found.
The late Virginia Tech researcher, Bonnie Appleton had worked to get homeowners to plant shorter maturing trees under power lines. To make her demonstration more authentic, she had faux power lines installed, which you can make out among the branches. It was interesting to see that virtually all of the plants she promoted as dwarf, had all grown well into the power lines. Mark recalled conversations with her decades earlier explaining that her choices weren’t really very sound.
There were a number of amazing older specimens including one of the largest Quercus polymorpha (Mexican Oak) that we’d ever seen in cultivation. This 75′ tall specimen dated to 1989, was originally gifted to them by the late JC Raulston, from a Yucca Do Nursery wild collection.
The old specimens of Ilex buergeri were absolutely stunning. This is a beautifully-textured, spineless broadleaf evergreen that’s virtually unknown in the commercial trade.
Another spineless holly, Ilex pedunculosa (long-stalk holly), is known for being difficult to grow in our hot, humid climate. Their specimen, however, looked absolutely superb.
We caught Fatsia japonica in full flower…always a great nectar source for honeybees in the winter months.
A highlight for me was catching the amazing stinkhorn fungus, Clathrus columnatus in full splendor…both visually and odoriferously.
Leaving the Hampton Roads station, we headed to the Norfolk Botanical Garden, where Mark worked before he came to the JCRA. Much of their efforts in the fall and winter are put toward their massive winter lights festival.
Norfolk Botanical Garden is home to an extensive and renown camellia collection, so we spent a good bit of time roaming the woodland garden where they grow. We were particularly interested in their Camellia species collection, several of which had questionable labeling. Here is one that was correct, Camellia gaudichaudii.
We spent a good bit of time studying a holly, labeled Ilex purpurea (syn. chinensis). The plant was amazing, but looks nothing like that species. Hopefully, a holly expert will be able to help us identify it from our photos.
This was my first time seeing the self-fertile idesia, Idesia polycarpa ‘Kentucky Fry’. I can’t imagine why this amazing, easy-to-grow plant isn’t more widely planted. I can think of few trees with more winter interest.
The shrub/small tree that blew us away from several hundred feet was a specimen of Arbutus unedo ‘Oktoberfest’. We’ve grown Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’ for decades at JLBG, but have never seen anything as stunning as this clone.
While we’re talking about plants with red fruit, I was fascinated with their specimen of Cotoneaster lacteus. I had mistakenly assumed that most cotoneasters fail in our hot, humid summers, but obviously, I’ve never tried this species, which is typically rated as hardy only to Zone 8a. I think we need to trial this at JLBG.
Finally, I was particularly fascinated with a Quercus nigra (water oak), that formerly had a planter built around it’s base. As you can imagine, the tree roots made short work of the planter, but once the planter boards were removed, the resulting tree root sculpture is simply exquisite.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the highlights of our recent trip.
You remember the rest of the line…with boughs of holly… Here’s one of many amazing hollies looking great today. Ilex ‘Conty’ has been a fabulous performer in our garden here in Zone 7b. This holly selection was discovered in Mississippi’s Evergreen Nursery in 1989, as a open pollinated seedling of Ilex ‘Mary Nell’. The mom, Ilex ‘Mary Nell’, is a holly hybrid that originated as a controlled cross of Ilex cornuta × Ilex pernyi ‘Red Delight’.
Our plant, pictured below is 11 years old that has never seen a hedge shear. Mature height is 15-20′ tall x 12-15′ wide. The natural form is incredibly dense with a good fruit set. Commercially, this was marketed under the name Liberty holly, which is a proprietary trademark name. The actual cultivar name is Ilex ‘Conty’. Learn more about the misuse of trademarks in horticulture.
We love Sundays in late fall and early winter when we can observe brilliant performances from both Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, as well as his plantsake, Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’. Here’s a 6 year-old clump in full bloom now in the JLBG gardens. This is a superb way for honeybees to get needed nectar in an otherwise difficult time of year. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
I’ve posted about daphnes a couple of times this year, but can’t help post again now that we’re in December and still have two daphnes in full flower, despite two nights at 25 degrees F.
The top is Daphne collina from Southern Italy, and the bottom is Daphne x napolitana ‘Bramdream’…a hybrid of Daphne collina x Daphne cneorum var. pygmaea. These are growing in our dry crevice garden in a soil mix of 50% Permatill gravel. It seems obvious that the Daphne collina is the source of the continuous bloom. Winter hardiness is Zone 6a-8b (top), and Zone 5-8b (bottom).
We love the fall-flowering show of Camellia sasanqua, that’s underway now at JLBG. Here are a few of our favorites, starting with the amazing Camellia sasanqua ‘Fall Fantasy’. This hybrid from the late Chapel Hill camellia guru, Cliff Parks is unlike anything we’ve seen both in number of flowers as well as the incredible double pink form.
Camellia sasanqua ‘Ginba’ is Japanese introduction with lovely frosted-tipped leaves. This is also a slower growing selection.
Camellia sasanqua ‘Leslie Ann’ is truly breathtaking. With a much more open habit, this cultivar is truly elegant. In form, it resembles a flowering cherry, far more than a camellia. This is an introduction from Alabama’s Ray Davis in 1960.
I’ll end up with another truly unique selection, also from the late Cliff Parks. Camellia sasanqua ‘William Lanier Hunt’ is the closest to blue flowers we’ve seen. Each pink flower has a blue cast that increases as the flowers age. This selection is named after the late NC plantsman of the same name.
Looking wonderful in the fall garden is the evergreen Choisya ‘Limo’, known commercially as Goldfingers choisya. This gold-leaved selection is from a cross of two Southwest US native shrubs, Choisya arizonica and Choisya ternata, subsequently referred to as Choisya x dewitteana. The genus Choisya is named to honor the late Swiss botanist/philosophy professor Jacques Denis Choisy (1799-1859) This gold-foliaged selection from the UK’s Peter Moore forms a 3′ tall shrub in 5 years.
The fragrant white clusters of axillary flowers adorn the plant starting in April (NC). We have our specimen planted in a full sun rock garden, where it thrives in very well-drained soils. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
Flowering now in the garden is the fabulous Fatsia japonica ‘Ripple Effect’. Although this isn’t currently on the market, we’re working diligently on propagation. Thanks to the US National Arboretum for sharing this amazing selection, which we hope to introduce in the next couple of years.
We love the various shades of green displayed by the fascinating Fatsia japonica ‘Murakumo Nishiki’. This amazing Japanese selection of tree ivy is looking rather stunning in the garden this month. This is a slow-growing shrub, which should mature at 4′ tall x 6′ wide. There is a shortage of these in commerce currently, because of a problem with tissue culture lab production. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.
If you think you know mahonias, then check out this little-known species, flowering now at JLBG. Mahonia nitens is endemic to Guizhou and Sichuan, China. This is a form selected by Japanese plant explorer, Mikinori Ogisu. For us, the plant matures our at 4′ tall x 5′ wide, with flowers that appear orange, due to the color of the flower buds. Hardiness is unknown north of Zone 7b.
Our 2008 introduction of a selection of our native Yucca x gloriosa ‘Lone Star’ has been absolutely splendid in the garden as the fall season begins. Yucca x gloriosa is a natural hybrid of Yucca aloifolia and Yucca filamentosa. We absolutely love that these flower spikes appear at a time when most other plants are past their seasonal prime. Winter hardiness is Zone 7a-9b.
The false yew, Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Gold Dragon’ is looking particularly lovely during the fall season here at JLBG. This is one of our six year old specimens. We find that half day sun seems to bring out the best color without foliar burn. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
Chamaecyparis ‘Red Velvet’ is a juvenile-leaved selection of our native white cedar, Chamaecyparis thyoides, discovered and introduced by Florida’s Blue River Nursery. This recent introduction looks similar to the 1960s introduction, Chamaecyparis ‘Rubicon’, except that ‘Rubicon’ dies in the garden on a bad day, and on a good day looks like death would help it. Chamaecyparis ‘Red Velvet’, on the other hand, is a superb garden plant.
So, why is this the case? Well, there are two distinct forms of this US coastal native wetland species, Chamaecyparis thyoides. Some botanists recognize the southern ecotypes as a separate species, while other make no distinction. We agree with those who recognize the southern plants as a subspecies,.Chamaecyparis thyoides ssp. henryae, which has a natural distribution centered in the Florida panhandle, and is dramatically easier to grow in the garden. Chamaecyparis thyoides ssp. thyoides, which ranges from Maine to Georgia, is much more difficult to grow in most garden conditions.
Because white cedar is native to cool fresh-water wetlands, very few cultivars perform fine in average to moist garden soils, while others fail miserably. What we need are more selections of the better adaptable Chamaecyparis thyoides ssp. henryae. The only named cultivars we know to exist is Chamaecyparis ‘Webb Gold’, and the afformentioned Chamaecyparis ‘Red Velvet’.
The cultivar ‘Red Velvet’ matures at 12-15′ in height. Our four year old plants have reached 6′ in height. In winter, the foliage color changes from green to a reddish purple, hence the name. Thanks to Georgia conifer guru, Tom Cox for spreading this amazing selection around to collectors and nurseries. Estimated winter hardiness is Zone 7a-9b, and probably much colder.
We have a fairly decent collection of conifers at JLBG, but one that has really caught our eye is Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Baby Blue Ice’. This charming dwarf was found in 1998 by Oregon nurseryman Larry Stanley as a sport of Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Baby Blue’. Our oldest plants are now four years old and are 3′ tall x 2′ wide. The naturally dense growth and conical shape give the impression that it’s been sheared, which is not the case.
Word on the street is that it should mature around 6′ tall, but with newly discovered plants like these, we take those size predictions with a large grain of salt. Undoubtedly, mature size in the Southeast US will be quite different than in the heat-deprived Pacific Northwest.
Our 12 year-old stone oak, Lithocarpus glaber is looking fabulous this month, as it has come into full flower in early September. We love the stone oaks, which contrast to regular oaks in the genus, Quercus, by having upright insect-pollinated flowers, compared to wind-pollinated, drooping flowers in the genus Quercus, and by having exclusively evergreen foliage. Lithocarpus glaber is native to China, Japan, and Taiwan.
Blooming recently at JLBG is Patrick’s compact, silver-leaf collection of Leucophyllum frutescens from Uvalde, Texas. Leucophyllum frutescens is an evergreen, dryland shrub to 5′ tall, which bursts into an amazing show of flowers after summer rains. We’ve long-loved leucophyllums, but had failed in several attempts to grow them…0 for 7 prior to this attempt with his collection. Our plants have been in the ground for just over a year, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed for long-term success. They key to success is very good drainage in both summer and winter.
Looking particularly lovely in the late summer garden is Fatsia japonica ‘Murakumo Nishiki’. This irregularly gold variegated form of the typically solid green tree ivy is a star in the light shade garden. This evergreen gem is a great way to add a spot of color in the woodland garden year round. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.
One of our favorite evergreen shrubs is the queen of the variegated boxwoods, Buxus sempervirens ‘Elegantissima’. This plants thrives in part sun to light shade, where it looks great every month of the year. This excellent clone, which has been grown in Europe since the mid-1800s, matures at 5-6′ in height. Not only is it great in the garden, but if you have enough, you can cut some to use as a foliage filler in flower arrangements.
Ever since I saw my first dragon’s-eye pine over 40 years ago, I was smitten, and throughout the years have been fortunate to collect several different named cultivars with this unique trait where the new needles emerge bicolor white and green. Here is our young specimen of Pinus densiflorus ‘Burke’s Red Variegated’ looking lovely in the gardens this week. This selection of the Japanese red pine, originated as a seedling from Long Island’s Joe Burke, from the cultivar Pinus densiflorus ‘Occulis Draconis’. Hardiness is Zone 5-8.
We’ve long collected conifers of the genus Chamaecyparis (false cypress). We grow all six recognized species, but the one which is best represented in horticulture is Chamaecyparis obtusa (hinoki cypress). Selections from this species range from giant 100′ specimens to tiny dwarfs.
Our favorite has to be the the dwarf Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Juniperoides’…the juniper-like hinoki cypress. Introduced from the UK around 1920, this century old selection has yet to be surpassed. Below is our 23 year-old specimen this spring, which thrives in our un-irrigated rock garden, planted among agaves, having achieved the massive stature of 2.5’ tall. This is certainly not where we usually recommend planting hinoki cypress, since many cultivars don’t thrive in western sun, especially without any sign of irrigation. This plant, however, continues to amaze us without any browning typically seen with chamaecyparis grown in the combination of sun and bone dry soil.
If you’re able to visit during this years spring open house, it will be hard to miss the look of love in the air. We have a record 20 century plants in spike in the garden…a number far surpassing any flowering record we’ve set previously.
Agaves are a genus of mostly monocarpic plants…they live their entire lives to flower once, then after experiencing a giant-sized orgasm, they fall over dead. In the wild, many species take up to 100 years to flower, which is why the name century plant stuck as a common name. In our more rainy climate, our century plants typically flower in 12-15 years. Several of our current crop are actually less than a decade old, but their enormous size has already been achieved, so they’re ready to reproduce.
Some species of agaves offset, and in this case, only then central rosette dies, and the offsets continue as is the case with bromeliads. Those agave species which never offset are one-and-dones, but hopefully will leave behind a plethora of seed for the next generation. From the start of the spikes to full flower is usually about 8 weeks. Below are a few of our babies in spike.
It was great during our recent winter open house to see so many folks noticing the aucubas in the garden. Of course, they are hard to miss with our collection of over 140 different taxa. There are few evergreen plants better for year-round interest in dry shade than aucuba. Here is one of the most fascinating ones that’s in flower now in early March, Aucuba himalaica var. dolichophylla. This little-known, narrow-leaf species hails from 3,000′ elevation in several southern Chinese provinces. Winter hardiness Zone 7a-9b, and perhaps a bit colder.
Podocarpus macrophyllus ‘Okina’ is looking lovely this winter. This Japanese selection has resided at the base of a large pine tree at JLBG since 2001. We love the white speckled foilage, which really shines in the winter months. Podocarpus macrophyllus is one of a short list of conifers that thrives in the shade of a woodland garden. Our 20 year old plant is now 6′ tall. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.
The superb (and spineless) Ilex ‘Cherry Bomb’ is looking amazing in the garden this week. Our specimen is now 22 years old, and measures 35′ tall x 15′ wide. It originated at the US National Arboretum as part of Dr. William Kosar’s breeding program, and is a 1959/1960 seedling from Ilex ‘Nellie R. Stevens’, most likely a hybrid with the spineless Ilex integra.
It was sent around to different growers for evaluation trials under a code #, and was later determined to not have enough value for northern US growers, so a destruction notice was sent by the National Arboretum.
Like some characters in the slasher flicks, it wasn’t completely destroyed, as propagations from the holly managed, quite improperly, to make its way to the deep south, where growers found it quite extraordinary, and in the 1980s, it was given the name Ilex ‘Cherry Bomb’ by Dr. Dave Creech of Steven F. Austin University. This wonderful plant is now a staple in the Southern nursery industry.
Cryptomeria japonica ‘Little Diamond’ is one of our favorite dwarf Japanese cedar selections, this one from Holland Konjin Nursery prior to 1990. This specimen at JLBG is five years old and measures 2′ tall x 3′ wide. At maturity, we have seen these reach 4′ tall x 8′ wide.
Here’s a photo we took during our recent snow event of the amazing Abies bornmuelleriana (Turkish Fir). Not bad for out hot, humid, Zone 7b climate! It’s hard to imagine that there are beds of agaves growing nearby.This specimen is now 24 years old. Winter hardiness is Zone 5a-8b.
Fargesia robusta is one of the many excellent clumping bamboos for the garden. Thriving in light shade to part sun, this evergreen gem tops out around 7′ in height. We know it’s still hard for some people to realize, but clumping bamboos truly cannot run. This garden specimen at JLBG is now 22 years old. We love both the texture and architecture of bamboos. Winter hardiness is Zone 7a-8b.
We love the evergreen ruscus in garden, but realize they are a plant that will never be found at most mainstream garden centers. A genus of only 6 currently recognized species, native from Europe into Eurasia, these horticultural oddities are so odd that they once qualified to have their own plant family, Ruscaceae.
Now, with improved DNA testing, they were found to actually be members of the Asparagus family. Exactly where within the Asparagus family is still an ongoing debate. Within the last decade, they were grouped with Nolina and Dasylirion, which to those of us who work with live plants, made no sense. Most likely, they will wind up in their own section, but as distant cousins to better know genera like Rohdea and Liriope.
Ruscus are great evergreen plants for dry shade, in regions where they are winter hardy, which is usually Zone 7b and south. Ruscus are unique in that they don’t produce leaves, but instead have leaf like structures known as cladodes, from which the tiny flowers emerge. All ruscus species have both separate male and female plants, although there are four hermaphroditic (bi-sexual) cultivars of Ruscus aculeatus in commerce, which produce the lovely red fruit without a mate.
The most common ruscus species in cultivation is Ruscus aculeatus, which has a wide range from Western Europe through the Caucuses. A handful of named cultivars of Ruscus aculeatus can be found in the gardens. Below is a photo this month of Ruscus ‘Sparkler’ a self-fruiting form, whose 2′ tall height is mid-way between Ruscus ‘Elizabeth Lawrence’ and Ruscus ‘Wheeler’.
Ruscus hypophyllum is a species, which ranges from Spain to Northern Africa, that’s rarely cultivated in the US. Other than the very tender Ruscus streptophyllus, this has proven to the be the next most tender species. Prior to trying these new forms of Ruscus hypophyllum, which were planted in early 2020, we had only grown a single clone, which had consistently died in our Zone 7b winters. These new plants are seedlings, grown from an Alan Galloway seed collection in Majorca, Spain.
Ruscus hypoglossum, which hails from Italy to Turkey, is a similar sounding species that we were fortunate to study in the wilds of Slovenia a few years ago, where it grew in mountainous open forests.
Ruscus x microglossum (below) is a natural hybrid between Ruscus hypophyllum and Ruscus hypoglossum…quite a tongue-full.
Ruscus colchicus is a species we fell in love with during a trip to Hillier’s Arboretum in 2005. Hailing from NW Turkey to the Western Caucuses, Ruscus colchicus is possibly the most elegant garden species. We are fortunate to have three different clones growing at JLBG, which we hope to one day have enough to share.
Voted least likely to be found in an ex-situ plant collection is Ruscus hyrcanus, a species, whose native range is from the Crimea into Iran. In appearance it somewhat resembles a dwarf, horizontal-growing version of Ruscus aculeatus. We are thrilled to have been able to offer this little-cultivated species in the past through Plant Delights.
We hope you’ll take notice of these great evergreens during your next visit to JLBG.
This winter has been an amazing one at JLBG for the mid-winter flowering, evergreen magnolias. Formerly known as Michelia, there are several species from warm temperature Asian climates, which flower in the mid-winter. The plant in the top photo is our oldest specimen of Magnolia platypetala, and below is Magnolia macclurei…both planted in 1999, and in full flower in January. Obviously, we will loose open flowers if winter night temperatures drop too far below freezing, but the remainder of the flower buds usually open shortly after temperatures warm.
Also, the bright gold shrub in the first image is the original plant of our introduction, Illicium parviflorum ‘Florida Sunshine’…the plant from which all plants in the world were propagated. To the lower right is the Mediterranean native, Phlomis fruticosa ‘Miss Grace’. All in all, a lovely winter garden combination.
Here’s a mid-winter shot of our front grotto, showing what that section looks like during the most trying time of year. We try to emphasize to those building new gardens to treat gardens just like rooms of your home. Each should have a floor, ceiling, walls, furniture both large and small, and decorations. In the garden, we also try to emphasize year round interest, which in our area includes a good selection of evergreens. Our Winter Open Nursery and Garden Days coming up in a few weeks is a great time to get ideas and inspiration for your own garden. Below is a “before” picture of the same area.
Below is the same shot when this section was begun in 1988.
Pittosporum tobira ‘Kansai Sunburst’ is looking lovely in the mid-winter garden. This Japanese selection emerges with brightly cream-edged leaves which age to green. This selection came to the US, via the former Asiatica Nursery, which brought so many wonderful Japanese selections to American gardeners.
This native of China, Japan, and Korea should mature around 10′ in height. Pittosporum tobira is prized for its spring-produced, intensely-fragrant small white flowers that smell like orange blossoms. We’ve had our plants in the ground since 2007, so they’ve passed the survival test of two winters with low temperatures in the single digits F. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
We love our Mediterranean blue fan palms…one of the coolest palms we can grow outdoors. We’re right on the edge of winter hardiness for Chamaerops humilis var. argentea, so the key is to grow it to a larger size before planting in the ground. We’ve lost a few that we planted too small, and when that planting coincided with a cold winter.
This is a photo taken this January of our oldest clump, now 17 years old. This is a very slow growing palm, so a good bit of patience is required when getting it established. When we do experience single digits F winter temperatures, all of the foliage is burned back, but it re-sprouts from the base in spring. Mediterranean blue fan palm hails from high elevations in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, where it eventually makes a 15′ tall specimen. In our cold winter climate, we doubt it will ever top 4′ in height. It should be winter hardy from Zone 7b and warmer.
Quite a few really smart horticulturists told us we didn’t have a chance of succeeding with Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’ in our climate. We’ll, we’re almost 2 years in the ground with this New Zealand hybrid of Daphne bholua x Daphne odora. It’s already full of flowers, where it’s thriving in our crevice garden. In the sense of full disclosure, we’ve never been able to keep the Daphne bholua parent alive. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer to at least Zone 8b.
In full flower now at JLBG is Mahonia x lindsayae ‘Cantab’, a hybrid of Mahonia japonica and the virtually unknown Mahonia siamensis. The intensely sweet fragrance is truly intoxicating…the strongest in the genus Mahonia. Sadly, you’ll rarely find this available for sale, since it’s somewhat gangly form doesn’t curry favor with most nursery growers. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
Camellia japonica ‘Tama no Ura’ has been fabulous this winter, both when the flowers are attached as well as when they just fall to the ground below. This amazing plant was actually discovered in the wilds of China, so no breeding was involved in its creation. It was subsequently introduced to horticulture in 1947 by the Nuccio family of California, who have since worked to create a series of similar flowered selections using these same genetics…all superb.
Here’s an image taken this month of the wonderful Aucuba japonica ‘Limbata’. While most aucubas have yellow leaf specks, this old cultivar, first mentioned in historical literature in 1864, is sadly still quite unknown in gardens. That’s not too surprising, however, due to its slow production time as a commercial nursery crop. For dry shade in Zone 7a-9, this wonderful broadleaf evergreen is hard to beat.
There aren’t a large number of trees that flower in winter in temperate climates, but one we can’t imagine gardening without is Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’. This amazing Mediterranean native has thrived for us since the late 1980s.
Arbutus is a member of the Ericaceae family, which is why the flower so closely resemble those of its cousin, Pieris.
The clusters of red fruit that ripen in late winter after months of flowering resembles miniature strawberries, hence the common name of strawberry tree. The shaggy cinnamon bark is also another striking ornamental feature. Our 30 year old specimen has reached 12′ tall x 12′ wide. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
I first met Juniperus chinensis ‘Kaizuka’ on a mid 1970s student field trip to Florida with the late JC Raulston. As our caravan of University vans crossed from Georgia into Florida, these junipers suddenly appeared everywhere. Although, I was unfamiliar with this architecturally fascinating specimen, I was in love….despite it being common as the proverbial dirt in Florida landscapes. Everywhere from gas stations to the poorest home seemed to have at least one. Most locals know Juniperus ‘Kaizuka’ as either Juniperus ‘Torulosa’ or Hollywood Juniper…a common name it gained due to its ubiquitous presence around Los Angeles. It turns out that Juniperus ‘Kaizuka’ was an introduction from Japan’s Yokohama Nursery prior to 1920. Our oldest plants at JLBG are now 33 years old, and now measure 24′ tall x 16′ wide. The one pictured below is a new 5 year old planting in a new section of the garden. Forty-five years later and still in love!
Here’s one of our favorite hollies, looking great in the garden this week. Ilex integra ‘Green Shadow’ is a variegated (creamy-edged leaves) form of the Mochi holly. This amazing columnar holly, that hails from oceanside mountain slopes in Japan, Korea, Southern China, and Taiwan, reaches 20′ tall x 7′ wide, which is the case with our 16 year old specimen. Although Ilex integra ‘Green Shadow’ will grow in both sun and shade, full to half day sun results in the most dense foliage. This is female clone, but we never see more than a dozen berries, so we assume it needs a male nearby to fruit better. For a narrow evergreen screening plant, it’s hard to beat. Hardiness is Zone 6b-9b.