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.
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’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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
If you’ve lived in the deep south…the land of palmetto palm trees, you know that they typically don’t flower until they have at least 5 feet of trunk. Of course, flowering can be sped up by a combination of precocious genes and good growing conditions. Those who have studied Sabal palmetto in the wild have noted that the earliest populations to flower are those from the most northern, naturally-occurring population on North Carolina’s Bald Head Island.
Well, sure enough, our oldest specimen of Sabal palmetto ‘Bald Head’, planted in 1999 finally decided to produce flower this summer, and will hopefully seed. We’ve only had enough plants of this cold hardy form to offer through Plant Delights three times in 36 years. Fingers crossed, we’ll be able to make it available more regularly now. Hardiness Zone 7b and warmer.
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.
People, especially male landscape architects love to use Italian Cypress in their garden designs. Few evergreen plants have the insanely narrow, upright, bean-pole shape, without benefit of pruning. We can now add a North American native counterpart to that short list, which will be welcomed since Cupressus sempervirens (Italian Cypress) doesn’t thrive in our climate.
The photo below is Juniperus virginiana ‘Silver Spear’, a Mark Weathington selection of our native red cedar. Our original plant pictured below is now 8 years old and has never been sheared. Winter hardiness should be Zone 4-9.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.