Cinnamon in the Garden

Ever since seeing cinnamon trees (Cinnamomum camphora) planted throughout the parking lot at Florida’s Disneyworld in the 1970s, we have been fascinated to see how many species of Cinnamon trees are winter hardy here in Zone 7b. Cinnamomum jensenianum, from Southern/South Central China has been one of the stars in our trials. Here is our 15 year old specimen looking great in mid-winter.

All spruced up and nowhere to grow.

Picea rubens (red spruce) is one of only 8 US native spruce species, and the only one whose natural ranges includes North Carolina. The entire range of red spruce starts in Nova Scotia and continues south to high elevations in the NC mountains. Genetic testing indicates that our red spruce evolved due to climate change during the Pleistocene (12,000 years to 2.5 million years ago), when it split off from Picea mariana (black spruce). Black spruce is now the only other nearby spruce, which currently resides from New Jersey north with a small population in Northern Kentucky.

Surprisingly, red spruce is virtually absent from piedmont gardens, probably due to the common wisdom that it doesn’t tolerated heat and humidity. As long as it’s given adequate amounts of Calcium (we aim for a pH of 6.5), it grows beautifully. Here is our 26 year old specimen, that didn’t get the memo that it’s shouldn’t grow here. Hardiness is Zone 3a-8a.

Red spruce wood is used to make high quality wood instruments like violins and acoustic guitars, but to avoid cutting down your lovely specimen, we recommend you stick with products that can be made from the foliage, like the infamous Red Spruce Beer.

Cherry Bomb

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.

Where firs fear to tread

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.

Winter Magnolias

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.

Mid-Winter Grotto

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.

JLBG grotto garden 2022

Below is the same shot when this section was begun in 1988.

JLBG grotto garden 1988

High on Loquats

We truly love loquats…both to grow and consume. I first met Eriobotrya japonica in 1976 on a walk around the NC State campus with the late Dr. JC Raulston. I was amazed to see a mature 30’+ specimen growing against one of the campus buildings. I was determined to grow one of our own, so in the mid 1990s, we planted our first specimen here at JLBG.

Loquats, a Chinese native member of the rose family, makes a lovely small tree with large, evergreen foliage that resembles a corrugated Magnolia grandiflora. Another exceptional feature is the fragrant white flowers that start to open around Christmas. These are followed by delicious orange fruit in early spring, when winter temperatures don’t drop below the mid-teens F. Loquat foliage is also brewed as a tea, in addition to its numerous medicinal benefits. We have always found loquats to be much more winter hardy than most of the literature indicates. Our oldest specimen planted in 1997, has never experienced any winter damage. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.

Winter flowering Strawberry Tree

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

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

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

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

Kaizuka! Bless you.

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!

Only the Green Shadow Knows

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.

Washington’s Palm ready for winter

Due to having three consecutive mild winters, with no temperatures below 20 degrees F, we’ve actually been able to get a trunk on our Washingtonia filifera palm. Typically not hardy in our climate, our plant was grown from seed collected from a wild population in Arizona that had experienced 10 degrees F. We’ll see what this winter has in store.

Podocarpus ‘Miu’

We have been very impressed with this stunning new selection of Podocarpus from Japanese nurseryman, Yoshio Sato. Podocarpus ‘Miu’ is a wonderfully variegated selection that has shown a good dense habit, great coloration, and no burning in full sun.

Since so many Americans purchase plants based on the name, and Japanese cultivar names make plants a very difficult sell in the US, the US marketing folks sell this as Roman Candle podocarpus. No matter what you call it, it’s a heckuva plant. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer. The marketing folks say this will mature at 15′ tall x 4′ wide, but the in the patent, the originator says it matures at 50′ tall x 25′ wide. Hmmm…that’s quite a discrepancy. Sounds like someone is fibbing.

Podocarpus macrophyllus ‘Miu’ (Roman Candle)

The Monkey’s Puzzle

Back in 2010, Plant Delights made a limited offering of a hybrid monkey puzzle tree…a cross of Araucaria araucana x angustifolia, which we hoped would have the hardiness of A. araucana and the moisture tolerance of A. angustifolia. Well, a decade later, here is the result…exactly what we’ve hoped for. Our tree is now about 45′ tall.

Sadly, no seed has ever been available again, but our tree is finally coning, as is its sister, growing at the JC Raulston Arboretum. Fingers crossed that we get seed set and can off this gem again.