Those old enough to remember the incessant Volkswagen commercials of the 1990s probably still can’t get the word Fahrvergnügen out of their brain. We’ve commandeered the term, which means “The Joy of Driving” to Farfugnügen…the joy of growing Farfugium.
We think more people should be growing this amazing genus of plants in the aster family. While most named selection are made for foliage only, with a less than stunning floral show, here is one of our favorite flowering selections, Farfugium ‘Jagged Edge’, that we’ll make available for the first time next year through Plant Delights. These fall-bloomers put on quite a show, which in most climates, ends with the first hard freeze. Hardiness zone 7b to 10b.
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.
For several years, we’ve been fascinated with the genus, Hemiboea, a collection of 23 species of African Violet relatives, all native to China. We currently grow five of those, and two others that are still to be identified. On a 2020 trip to England, we picked up Hemiboea strigosa, which has been flowering beautifully here at JLBG, starting in early fall. The Latin word “strigosa” means stringy, which certainly describe the mat of stolons which lie right at the soil surface. So far, our plants have been through two winters, where they fared very well. If the good performance continues, we will start propagation soon.
Begonia U-521 is a species we got from a customer in Alabama, which has sailed through our winters at JLBG since 2017. Flowering begins for us in early fall, with clusters of large pure white flowers, which hide just below the leaves. For those unfamiliar with Begonia U-numbers, these are assigned by he American Begonia Society for plants new to cultivation that represent potential new species.
This amazing begonia was purchased by begoniaphiles Charles Jaros and Maxine Zinman from the Bangkok Market in Thailand. For those who haven’t visited this amazing marketplace, it’s a massive venue where local vendors (nurserymen and collectors) sell their wares.
It turns out that this species came from the wild via a collector who lives on the border of Thailand and Cambodia, where no plants should be winter hardy here in Zone 7b. We’re not aware of anyone currently working on naming new begonias from that region, so to offer it, we’ll need to assign a cultivar name, which will remain connected to the plant, once it becomes a published species.
Have you ever been seated by someone who exercised no self control when it came to their application of perfume to the point that they left you gasping for fresh air? Well, there’s a shrub with the same degree of insanely sweet scented flowers, Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Kaori Hime’.
This fascinating Japanese selection of the Japanese/Korean/Taiwanese native shrub is renown for its tiny foliage as well as the multitude of tiny white flowers with an over-the-top perfume sweet fragrance. Our plant has been flowering for nearly a month…an incredible treat for the fall garden. Our 10 year-old specimens measure 7′ tall x 12′ wide…much larger than most on-line vendors indicate.
Most folks have grown butterfly bushes in the genus buddleia, yet few garden visitors recognize this fascinating species from our 1994 botanizing trip to Northern Mexico. I should add that most buddleias on the market are developed from the Asian species, and virtually none from the less colorful North American species.
Buddleia cordata ssp. tomentella grows in rocky, bone-dry hillsides in the mountains of Northern Mexico near the town of Los Lirios at 7,000′ elevation. I was only able to find a single seed, but fortunately, it sprouted, and 28 years later, this amazing specimen is the result.
One of the cool things about Buddleia cordata ssp. tomentella is the insanely fragrant flowers, which start for us in early fall, and continue all winter…a trait you won’t find in any other temperate shrub of which we’re aware. As you can imagine, it is awash with an array of pollinator insects The flower color is a dusty white, so this will never be a plant that will make it to the shelves of your favorite box store. That said, it’s a plant we wouldn’t be without in our garden.
Here’s a garden shot just prior to our expected first freeze of the year. Foreground to back: Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, Salvia darcyi, Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’, Cuphea micropetala, Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’.
Elliott’s aster (Symphyotrichum elliottii) is the absolute last of our asters to flower at JLBG. It doesn’t begin to flower until the first of November and withstands the mild frosts of October like they didn’t even happen. It is naturally found in tidal freshwater marshes and other moist open sites from the Virginia and Carolina coastal plain south to Florida and west to Louisiana. Though it hails from moist environments it thrives under general garden conditions if the soil isn’t allowed to become too droughty.
The plant has a lot to recommend it besides the time of flower. It forms stiff stems rising 5-6’ tall crowned with a dense pyramidal arrangement of inflorescences of pale pink with a hint bluish-purple ray flowers and bright yellow disk flowers. The lack of lanky branches allows this tall aster to display its flowers without flopping all over the rest of your garden in the manner typical of asters. It spreads via rhizomes, so you need to be sure to give it space to roam a bit. It provides a dramatic impact when planted at the back of borders. Though it spreads, it doesn’t roam far from the parent plant and can be easily kept in place by yearly thinning of the outer edges of the clumps.
The most outstanding feature of this beautiful aster to me is the number and diversity of pollinators it supports. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a plant that attracted more. In addition to swarms of honeybees, bumblebees, carpenter, and solitary bees the flowers draw in numerous pollinating flies, halictids, moths and skippers. I love plants that extend the color season and though we all think about early spring, we really should also plant to extend our love affair with color into the leafless season and Elliott’s aster does this is a big way.
Raise your hand if you grow the native October Flower? Polygonella polygama is a little-known, but absolutely amazing wildflower in the Buckwheat family, suited to well-drained, sunny gardens. Although completely non-descript through spring and summer, when people are buying plants, it bursts into flower in October, also when no one is buying plants. Below is our plant strutting it stuff in one of our full sun rock gardens in mid October. Polygonella polygama is native from Virginia southwest to Texas, along the coast. Winter hardiness should be at least Zone 7b and south.
With enough plant diversity, there are all kind of possibilities to target floral interest for certain seasons or even holidays. Since the Halloween season is just past, here are a couple of seasonal favorites.
If there’s ever been a plant designed for the Halloween holidays, Cuphea micropetala has to be near the top of the list. This amazing perennial hails from the subtropical regions of Central and Southwestern Mexico. Below is our plant on Halloween this year. Flowering for us typically starts in early October. Despite its warm origins, it’s a reliable perennial here in Zone 7b.
The other can’t miss seasonal favorite, is our 2005 introduction of Gladiolus ‘Halloweenie’. This crazy gladiolus from South Africa, skips the typical spring flowering season, and instead, starts flowering the week of Halloween.
Mid-October is flowering time for the widespread (Canada south to Texas) native oblong aster, Aster oblongifolius (aka: Symphyotrichum oblongifolium). This amazing plant forms a large clump to 2′ tall x 8′ wide. This is the clone Aster ‘October Skies’, which is quite similar to the other widely grown clone, Aster ‘Fanny’. Average to dry soils in full sun is the key to success. Hardiness is Zone 4a-9b.
The shrubby North American native salvias including Salvia greggii and Salvia microphylla are spectacular plants in the fall garden. The same goes form the hybrids between the two species, known as Salvia x jamensis. Here is our clump of Salvia x jamensis ‘Blast’ looking absolutely stunning in late October. Flowering is heaviest in spring, slowing in summer, but again equaling it’s spring show in fall. Hardiness is Zone 7a-9b, and possibly a good bit colder.
You go straight through to the round of botanical superstars if you recognize this little-known southeast native (SC to Florida), Piriqueta caroliniana. This Patrick McMillan collection from coastal SC has thrived all summer in our full sun rock garden, flowering constantly, with new flowers opening every other day. This oddity is a member of the Turneraceae family, which comprises nine other equally obscure genera. We’ve yet to determine if this will actually make a good garden plant, but evaluation continues. Hardiness north of Zone 8a is unknown.
One of the stars of our late summer/early fall garden has been our selection of Chrysopsis mariana ‘Little Miss Sunshine’. We made this roadside collection of this East Coast native in 2020 in neighboring Orange County, NC, unsure of what we had collected, but loving the purple stems of this clone. This planting in our rock garden has produced an amazing 18″ tall x 2′ wide specimen that glows for months. Dry soils and at least half day sun are the keys to success. We’ll start propagating this showy, clumping native perennial in spring. Winter hardiness is Zone 4-8.
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.
Looking lovely in the garden today is the fall-flowering geophyte, Sternbergia sicula. This Mediterranean native is found in the wild growing on alkaline hilly sites. Some taxonomists list it as a subspecies of the more common Sternbergia lutea, but it seems consistently smaller. At JLBG, our plant thrives in the crevice garden. Hardiness is Zone 6a-8b.
Looking good in the garden now is Begonia taiwaniana ‘Alishan Angel’, which is our 2008 collection from 6,500′ elevation in Taiwan’s Yushan Province. This specimen has now been in the ground since 2010, and is thriving in a fairly dry woodland location. We introduced this selection in 2020 and will be offering it again in 2023. Hardiness is Zone 7b-9b at least.
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.
Most folks are familiar with the mysterious Howard Hughes, but we have an equally mysterious “Howard” in horticulture. Flowering well now in the gardens at JLBG is the amazing xHowardara ‘Riley Kate’. This fascinating hybrid was created by Texas bulb guru, Dr. Dave Lehmiller, who crossed a Hippeastrum (amaryllis) and a Sprekelia (Aztec lily), and a Zephyranthes (rain lily). Lehmiller’s cross resulted in five different named cultivars and were subsequently named after the late Texas bulb guru, Dr. Thad Howard.
Creating a trigeneric hybrid is beyond rare, since it isn’t supposed to happen according to the rules of botany. Consequently, the introduction of the first clone sent taxonomists into a frenzy trying to publish new research to re-combine the genera involved into a single genus, so as not to have their rules violated. xHowardara’s occasionally flower for us in mid-summer, but peak flowering is always in September and October in our climate. Hardiness is Zone 7b – 9b, at least.
We love the genus Hydrangea, but are really fascinated by those at the far end of the family tree. While most hydrangeas flower in late spring, we actually have a couple flowering now we’d like to share.
The first is Hydrangea involucrata, a native to both Japan and Taiwan. The word “involucrata” indicates it has some serious involucres (the bracts surrounding the inflorescence). The first image shows the plant in bud, the second in full flower, and the third image is after the flower color has faded. All three stages are on display at once in the garden this week. They typically reach 6′ in height and width. Winter hardiness is Zone 6a-8b.
Hydrangea amamiohshimensis (below), from Japan’s southern Ryuku Islands, was once considered a hydrangea cousin, until a 23andMe test confirmed it was actually a true hydrangea. Prior to the test, it belonged to the genus Cardiandra, which was effectively a perennial hydrangea, dying back to the ground each fall like most perennials. It too is in full flower in the woodland garden this week. Perhaps now that it has a recognizable name, more folks will be willing to grow it. This is the only one of the four former cardiandra species that has survived in our climate.
Raise your hand if you grow the woodland perennial, Collinsonia? These mostly fall-flowering, clumping perennials in the mint family (Lamiaceae) are wonderful elements for the woodland garden at a time when little else is flowering. Named by Linnaeus to honor English botanist Peter Collinson (1694–1768), the genus Collinsonia contains 11 species of which 4 are native to North America. Five species are native to China, 1 to Taiwan, and 1 to Japan. Pictured below in flower this week is Collinsonia punctata, which hails from South Carolina west to Louisiana. Winter hardiness is unknown, but we guess Zone 7a-9b, at least.
Now that fall has arrived, we’re all enjoying peak plume season for many of our favorite ornamental grasses. Unfortunately, there are a few significant mix-ups in the trade. The top photo is our native Eragrostis spectabilis, known as purple love grass. I’ve long admired this beautiful, but short-lived native, but have declined to offer it because of its propensity to seed around much too vigorously in the garden. In prairie restorations or less-tended gardens, it can be a spectacular addition. Hardiness is Zone 5-9.
Because most nurserymen aren’t plant taxonomists, you can perform a Google images search and find several on-line vendors who pretend to offer Eragrostis spectabilis, but show photos of the grass below, known as Muhlenbergia capillaris. Who knows which of the two they are actually selling.
If that’s not confusing enough, the plant below is known in the trade as Muhlenbergia capillaris or Gulf Coast muhly grass/pink muhly grass. The only problem is that this is actually a different muhlenbergia species. All of us have taken this name for granted, but as our Director or Horticulture/Gardens, Patrick McMillan taught us, all commercial plants labeled as such are actually Muhlenbergia sericea. We are updating our records and this name change will be implemented in the near future.
The misidentification originated with a Florida taxonomist, who mistakenly lumped three muhlenbergias together…a problem that can occur when you only study dead/smashed plants in a plant herbarium. As it turns out, the two plants, Muhlenbergia capillaris and Muhlenbergia sericea (also formerly known as Muhlenbergia filipes) are nothing alike.
The true Muhlenbergia capillaris is a rather homely plant that few folks would want in their garden. Muhlenbergia sericea, on the other hand, is a stunning ornamental plant, commonly known as sweet grass, and used for making those amazing hand-woven baskets that you find for sale in towns like Charleston, SC.
Such nomenclatural faux pas take decades, at least, for nurseries to get the names corrected since the public knows and purchases plants under the wrong name. This problem is far too common. The shrub, Ternstroemeria gymnanthera, was originally mistakenly identified as Cleyera japonica, and that mistake still persists over five decades later. Most gardeners despise name changes, often not realizing that many instances like these aren’t changes, but instead corrections of an earlier identification mistake.
You can learn more details about the mix up by reading Patrick’s article about pink muhly grass.
In our hot, humid climate, we really struggle with keeping most cultivars of Caryopteris x clandonensis alive for very long. A lovely exception in our trials has been Caryopteris ‘Gold Crest’, a recent introduction from the plant breeders at Ball Hort. Here is our three year old clump in the garden this week. The foliage is deliciously fragrant…more so than any other caryopteris we’ve ever grown, and the native bees find it incredibly attractive. We’ll be adding this to the new Plant Delights catalog in January. Winter hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
I’d grown quite a few eryngiums…49 different ones, in fact, before Patrick shared Eryngium ravenelii with us in 2015. Who knew we were missing one of the best eryngiums in the entire genus! Today, Eryngium ravenelii holds several places of honor in our garden, where we can watch the myriad of pollinators who regularly stop by for a nectar snack during flowering season (mid-August to late September).
Eryngium ravenelii was named for American botanist, Henry William Ravenel (1814-1887). In the wild, Eryngium ravenelii grows in standing water in flooded ditches, alongside sarracenias (see bottom photo). We’ve now seen them in the wild in both North Florida and South Carolina, where they grow in calcareous-formed soils. In the garden, they thrive in an array of slightly acidic soils as long as the soil is reasonably moist.
Flowering this week at JLBG is the amazing Miscanthus transmorrisonensis. Many gardeners, who blindly believe everything they read/hear think the genus miscanthus is the horticultural version of the devil itself. Like everything in life, it’s all about those pesky details, which so many people simply don’t want to be bothered with.
Most miscanthus in the horticultural trade are selections of the species Miscanthus sinensis. Some selections of that species reseed badly and should be avoided in gardens. Others are sterile or nearly so, and unquestionably still deserve a place in American landscapes.
If we make good/bad evaluations at the species level, what would happen if visitors to the earth had their first encounter with a Homo sapiens that was a less than ideal representative of the species at large. They could easily assume that the entire species was a problem and should be eliminated. It’s fascinating that such species based prejudices are acceptable with ornamental plants, but not with people.
Then there are species, which have proven themselves to be complete without seed in our climate, such as Miscanthus transmorrisonensis. All plants in cultivation all appear to be derived from a 1979 Ferris Miller (Chollipo Arboretum)/ Paul Meyer (Morris Arboretum) collection at 9,500′ elevation on Taiwan’s Mt. Daxue. We have grown this for 30 years in rather good conditions, and have yet to see a single seedling. The beauty of this species is that it flowers continuously from summer into fall. I guess it’s too much to ask for environmental fundamentalists to actually pay attention to facts.
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.
Flowering today at JLBG is Liriope gigantea ‘Lynn Lowrey’. This selection is named after the late Texas plantsman, and is the largest form of the largest species of monkey grass. This tight clump former can reach 3.5′ tall, when happy. The flowers don’t emerge until early September, making it one of the latest liriope species to flower. We offered this a couple of times, but so few people purchased it, we dumped out most of the crop and planted the rest around the garden. We think it’s pretty darn cool. Winter hardiness is at least Zone 7a-9b.
The amazing Hedychium deceptum from India, has recently burst into flower here at JLBG. This species is fairly new to commerce, but has proven to be an amazing, compact-growing specimen that thrives even in our full sun. The dark cinnamon calyces really make the scarlet flowers stand out. We rate this as hardy to Zone 8a, but that’s because we simply don’t have enough data yet, but we’ll be very surprised if it’s not fine in Zone 7b.
Here are a couple of images this week from the garden of our older clumps of Cyclamen hederifolium. For garden areas that are dark and dry, where nothing else grows, cyclamen are your best bet. Of the plants below, one is at the base of a cryptomeria and the other at the base of a pine. Although they flower from August until Christmas, the winter foliage is just hard to beat. Hardiness is Zone 4a-8b.