One of our favorite ferns, known as Cat’s claw fern, is putting on quite a show this fall. Onychium japonicum is a plant I’d never met until a 1996 expedition to Yunnan, China. Although it was a bit depauperate in the wild, the potential I saw, was far exceeded by its garden performance. We now grow four different wild collections, all of which have somewhat similar growth and appearance.
We have found Onychium japonicum to thrive in everything from light shade to full sun, even in our brutal summers. The foliage is tardily deciduous, meaning it usually looks great here until early-mid January. The plant spreads via rhizomes, but the spread is not fast, so it’s easy to reign in, if your patch gets too wide. We think the incredible texture and ease of growth makes this a fern that should be in every garden where it’s growable. Hardiness Zone 7a-9b, at least.
Our patch of Ajuga ‘Tropical Toucan’ is certainly lighting up the fall garden. There aren’t many groundcovers that can give a garden this kind of color and not try to take over the garden. Hardiness Zone 4a-8b.
We love it when people tell us that certain plants won’t grow in our climate. As gardening contrarians, we thrive on proving gardening experts wrong. Below is a great example–our combination of Globularia repens (Spain, Italy) and Acantholimon halophilum (Central Turkey) thriving in the dryland crevice garden. Both have sailed through out rainy, humid, hot summers, and are now enjoying the cooler temperatures of fall.
Looking great in the garden despite our high temperatures is the Siberian native, Microbiota decussata. While the species typically struggles in our climate, the cultivar ‘Prides’ has been outstanding. Microbiota is essentially a groundcover juniper replacement for shade. For us, it matures with a 4′ wide spread, after 10 years. We have found that it does best in areas that stay slightly on the dry side, and in soils that are well-drained. There really isn’t another evergreen shrub that gives you the same texture in the woodland garden.
Over a decade ago I decided to try planting the native Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) in the maritime grassland exhibit at the South Carolina Botanical Garden. To my amazement, this species that I knew of from the fringes of saltmarsh in the Lowcountry thrived in both wet and dry soils of the upper Piedmont of South Carolina! The plant has proven to have incredible versatility and grows well in sand or clay and can be flooded for weeks and completely dry as well. Unlike many other plants that can accommodate such diverse conditions it isn’t so ugly that only a mother could love it, in fact, it’s charming.
Frogfruit is a low (4” tall) trailing groundcover with 1.25” long leaves that forms a solid mass of foliage but lacks deep root structures and thus does not compete with deeper rooted structural element plants. The flowers are pale pink to lavender and resemble tiny lantanas (a close relative). The flowering season here in the south begins in April and can continue through hard freezes (typically November) but may produce flowers year-round in mild winters.
Our plants, Phyla nodiflora ‘Ramble On,’ are from a Charleston County, South Carolina collection along the margins of a wet ditch (freshwater), but the species has an amazingly wide range being found from New Jersey west to California and throughout the tropical regions of the world. Another species, Phyla lanceolata, is a more upright plant, with a similar range (but extending north to Ontario) it has longer leaves and is generally less showy as a groundcover.
This is the ideal living mulch for tough areas of your landscape. It spreads rapidly but is easy to keep contained by trimming the edges of your patch. We placed it in one of our pond overflow pits and were amazed to see it completely transform a time-sink of constant weeding into a mass of lovely little flowers while allowing the Hymenocallis and Hibiscus to continue to rise through the groundcover without obstruction.
The flowers are favored by skipper butterflies, particularly the smaller species and there is an all-day-long collection of hundreds on our patch every day. In addition, small flies, native bees, sweat bees and tiny wasps are fond of their constantly produced flowers. The leaf and stem color ranges from green to deep purple depending on the environmental conditions—generally, the more exposed to sun, intermittent drought or salty soils, the more purple in the plant. If the goal of your garden is to increase the production of life by filling all your spaces with plants that are loved by insects while at the same time reducing the need for mulch and weeding, this plant is definitely worth a try. Look for this in the near future. – Patrick McMillan.
We love the way Laurentia fluvitalis forms a flowery skirt around the base of Tricyrtis lasiocarpa. This combination has thrived for years in a part sun garden location, where it receives full sun for 3-4 hours daily. The soil moisture is average to dry.
The lovely Lysimachia ‘Persian Chocolate’ is looking scrumptious in the garden this week. This amazing 2004 Darrell Probst introduction is 20 years old this year. Here is one of our original patches, still thriving. We have found slightly moist soils and part sun produce the best specimens. It also makes a great hanging basket/container specimen. Hardiness Zone 6a-9b.
We’re always on the lookout for great garden groundcovers, that don’t try and take over the garden. One that’s impressed us is the North American native, Antennaria parlinii ssp. fallax. The photo below is of our 2020 collection, Antennaria ‘Buckhorn Babe’, from nearby Orange County, NC. This widespread plant ranges natively from Maine to Texas, so, as they say, it’s common as dirt.
Despite it’s wide native range, I couldn’t find a single legitimate commercial offering on-line. Perhaps, it’s like several other great plants we tried to commercialize and no one will actually purchase it. That would be a shame, since we think this deserves to be grown in more home gardens.
The foliage emerges silver, and ages to glaucous green as the weather warms. It also rarely looks this nice in the wild, which is possibly why it’s been overlooked for a garden specimen. Our clump receives regular irrigation during dry periods, which although unnecessary, makes it much happier, as long as the drainage is good.
Here’s a trial plant growing in the garden that exceeded our expectations by miles. Heliotropium ‘Augusta Lavender’ is a Brent Barnes hybrid that has to be seen to be believed. Promoted as an annual, this 1 year old clump sailed through our 11F winter with no issues. A little bird tells me that this will be included in the upcoming Plant Delights catalog.
Clematis ‘Sapphire Indigo’ is looking quite stunning in the garden. This fascinating clematis isn’t a vine or a clump. It could be best referred to as a short sprawler. We’ve used it throughout the gardens as a groundcover filler between both shrubs and other perennials. It doesn’t actually spread, because in the winter, it dies back to a tight rootstock. We find this absolutely exceptional, flowering for us from spring through early fall. Hardiness is Zone 4a-8b.
In the hot, humid south, the word Dianthus is jokingly translated as “prepare to die”. As of this spring, we’ve grown 169 different dianthus taxa (different accessions). Of those, most are dead, a few are hanging on, and then a much smaller subset are absolutely thriving. Below are a few images from the spring garden of some (but not all) which are thriving spectacularly.
The first image is Dianthus anatolicus, planted in 2020. Virtually unknown by most gardeners, this species is native from the Black Sea region into the West Himalayas. Typically, plants from this region don’t thrive in our heat and humidity, so this was a pleasant surprise. This is growing in our typical compost amended garden loam.
Dianthus arenarius is a Baltic Sea species that has thrived for us since 2018 in our crevice garden.
Dianthus Dianthus kuschakewiczii, aka: D.tianshanicus, a Central Asian native, has also fared amazingly well in our compost ammended beds since 2015. The idea that this tolerates our heat and humidity is quite shocking.
Dianthus plumarius is a well-known garden species, originating from the Northwest Balkan peninsula. It has been grown as a pass-along perennial throughout the Southeastern US for over a century. This species has been cultivated in the UK since 1100AD, and in the US since 1676. Our clone is one that has been passed along in the Birmingham, Alabama area.
The horticultural world has been replete with an array of dianthus hybrids through the years. We’ve managed to kill quite a few, but the ones below have been exceptional in our tough conditions. Dianthus ‘Bright Light’ (aka: Dianthus Uribest52), is a Korean hybrid from the breeding firm, Uriseed, which was derived from crossing Dianthus alpinus (from the Alps) with Dianthus callizones from Romania. Our clumps have been in since 2018, and excelled in unirrigated sections of the garden. This is one of the finest garden dianthus we’ve ever grown.
Dianthus ‘Cherry Charm’ is a Dutch hybrid of Dianthus gratiopolitanus , which has been every bit as exceptional as Dianthus ‘Bright Light’. Our clumps, which are now four years old are nothing short of outstanding.
Dianthus ‘White Crown’ is the smallest of the excellent performing selections in our trial. We have had this in the crevice garden since 2017, growing in 3′ of Permatill, so we doubt this would thrive in typical garden soils. This is a Wrightman Gardens introduction of unknown parentage.
Looking really lovely in the garden now is Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Daub’s Frosted’. This selection of the hybrid between Juniperus sabina and Juniperus chinensis was introduced by Oregon’s Mitsch Nursery in 1987. Our 18″ tall patch has spread to 10′ wide in less than 5 years. All of those trusted on-line sources say it matures between 5 and 6′ wide…Ooops.
The Spanish snapdragon, Antirrhinum glutinosum ‘White Hot’ looks great in the garden this month. For us, this is one of the longest-living snapdragon species, provided the soil is well-drained and remains fairly dry. The more typically sold Antirrhinum majus simply doesn’t thrive through our hot, humid summers.
Here’s a golden moment from JLBG this spring. The gold tree in the back is Salix ‘Golden Sunshine’. In the foreground is Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’. The small tree in the center is Acer palmatum ‘Koto-no-ito’, and the purple foliage shrub is Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Seward’. Garden scenes can be tied together by repeating colors, even with different plants.
Looking lovely now is the new NC selection of the native (Pennsylvannia to Tennessee) woodland groundcover, Meehania cordata ‘Roby Rose’. This lovely light pink selection of the typically purple-flowered species was discovered by our friend, NC plantsman Mark Rose, who allowed us to introduce this to commerce.
A couple of years ago, we were thrilled to acquire seed of Euphorbia ‘Rubicund’ from the Hardy Plant Society seed exchange. That little-known clone is a selection from a cross of Euphorbia myrsinites x E. rigida made by Rhode Island’s Issima Nursery. While the clone doesn’t come true from seed, we love our offspring and look forward to seeing what our seed crop from the plant below will have in store.
For this hybrid, we’ve settled on the nothospecific name E. x myrsida, going forward. Over 15 years ago, we acquired a similar cross from California salvia guru, Betsy Clebsch, but we unfortunately let our plant get shaded out. Both plants we’ve grown of this cross produced much larger seed heads with a form similar to both parents. It has been stunning in our our rock garden for the last month. Hardiness is probably Zone 6a-8b.
The last several weeks have been a floriferous blur in our epimedium collection house. These amazing woodland perennials flower for 4-8 weeks, depending on the variety. Below is a small fraction of the exceptional clones we grow.
Epimedium ‘Rise and Shine’ is a 2020 PDN/JLBG introduction of a hybrid of Epimedium ‘Domino’. The leaves are extremely glossy, and in early spring have a magenta border, along with a great floral show.
Epimedium ‘Songbirds’ is our 2014 introduction of an extremely floriferous selection.
Epimedium ‘Pumpkin Pie’ is a potential future introduction with long sprays of large peachy flowers. This is a hybrid of Epimedium wushanense.
Epimedium ‘Picture Frame’ is one of our later flowering introductions that hit the market in 2014. This has probably the best edged foliage of any fairy wing we’ve grown.
Epimedium ‘Totnes Turbo’ has been really impressive in our trials. This hybrid from the former UK’s Desirable Plants Nursery, is a cross of Epimedium latisepalum x pinnatum ssp. colchicum.
One of the finest epimediums we grow is Epimedium x versicolor ‘Cupreum’. Although this selection has been around since 1854, it’s still near the top of our list of favorites.
The skirt of leaves of the European Geranium phaeum (mourning widow) are always a favorite in the early spring garden. We truly love this clump-forming hardy geranium, that behaves superbly in the woodland garden.
In the wild, the amount of black pattern on the foliage varies, but Geranium phaeum ‘Samobor’, is an exceptional clone, originally discovered in the wilds of Croatia. The foliage is topped in early spring, with short stalks of small purple flowers, but it’s the foliage that makes this a standout. Hardiness is Zone 4a-8b.
Looking lovely in the gardens today is the incredible Epimedium ‘Pink Champagne’. This 2007 Darrell Probst introduction still remains one of the finest fairy wing cultivars ever introduced. Our plant below is growing where it receives a couple of hours of mid-day sun. A mature clump will reach 2′ tall x 3′ wide. Winter hardiness is Zone 5a-8b.
Ajuga ‘Cordial Canary’ is one of the new generations of well-behaved bugleweed selections, this from the work of Chris Hansen. It looks pretty amazing for mid-March at JLBG. We love colorful groundcovers that play nice with their surroundings. Zone 4a-9b.
Sedum palmeri ‘Mendoza’ is looking superb in the garden in late winter. This northern Mexico native is one of our favorite species, flowering far earlier in the year than any of the other sedum species we grow. We had tried Sedum palmeri prior to to growing this clone, and never succeeded in getting it to survive our winters.
In 2002, we were eating lunch at a ski lodge near the border with Argentina and Chile, when I spotted this compact form growing in a flower bed. We have no idea how a plant from Northern Mexico got so far from its’ home, but we’re glad it did. This patch in the garden was grown from a single cutting we legally brought home from the trip. We subsequently named this after the nearby town of Mendoza, and introduced it through Plant Delights in 2013. Zone 7b-10b, at least.
We love the amazing winter flowering toothworts of the former genus, Dentaria. The latest taxonomic work moves these into the genus Cardamine, which means quite a few tag changes here at the gardens. It’s fascinating that more native plant nurseries don’t have a better offering of these amazing plants.
Flowering below this week are two of our collections from a botanizing expedition to Arkansas a few years earlier. The first is a very nice, compact form of the native Dentaria laciniata from Yell County. Below that is a new, un-named species that we discovered in Montgomery County, Arkansas.
Looking absolutely fabulous in the garden now is the superb new fairy wing introduction, Epimedium ‘Lyrical Lemonade’, from the handiwork of plantsman, Hans Hansen. It’s hard to imagine where you’d fit any more flowers. Hardy in zones 5a to 8b.
Here are a couple of groundcovers that are looking nice in the garden in early March. The first is the Western US native, Cerastium beeringianum (Western Snow in Summer), which is a close relative of the Italian Cerastium tomentosum. We selected this form from seed we grew, originally purchased from a native plant nursery as the US native, Arenaria stricta–oops! Both genera are at least members of the dianthus family, Carophyllaceae.
We’re still pretty excited, despite the misname, since this is an alpine species that typically grows above 10,000′ elevation. We’ve added the name ‘Southern Snowstorm’ to this exceptional clone.
Below is the Balkan native, Arabis procurrens. This member of the Brassicaceae family makes a superb groundcover. Our 5 year old, well-behaved, evergreen clump pictured below is almost 4′ wide.
Flowering in the garden this week is our Macon, Georgia collection of the southeast US native Asarum arifolium ‘Macon Jars’. Other forms of A. arifolium from further north in it’s range won’t be flowering for several more weeks. We trim the old anise-scented foliage of our asarums so we can better enjoy the amazing floral show of this native woodland perennial. The new leaves will emerge in just a matter of days.
One of our favorite woodland spring ephemerals has to the be the Black Sea cardamine, which has been simply glorious for several weeks in the woodland garden. Below is a photo of our patch, taken today. This amazing perennial doesn’t make an appearance above ground until early February, but soon after its emergence, it’s in full flower. Cardamine quinquefolia is a slow spreader, so put it in an area, where it’s free to move, since it will form a 6″ tall x 3′ wide patch in 4 years.
As a spring ephemeral, it will go completely dormant in May, resting during the hot summer months. We like to use later emerging plants throughout the patch, which emerge as the cardamine is going dormant. Hardiness zone 6a to 8b.
One of our favorite borage family members, Trachystemon orientalis is flowering this week in the woodland garden. Native to Bulgaria and Turkey, this late winter-flowering groundcover is quite tough. The foliage dies away in fall, but not long before the emergence of flowers and a new round of foliage. Hardiness Zone 6a-8b.
Looking fabulous in the garden now is Veronica umbrosa ‘Georgia Blue’. We’ve grown this amazing groundcover in the garden since 1990, and find it as great now as it was 33 years ago. This superb introduction was originally collected in the wild in Georgia (the country, not the state) by England’s legendary plantsman, Roy Lancaster in 1979. In 30+ years of growing it, its never misbehaved or thrown a single seedling. Flowering time for us is usually from mid February through March, so it can be used as a background for spring bulbs.
Flowering in the garden now is the wonderful US native Pachysandra procumbens (Allegheny spurge). Native from Indiana south to the gulf coast, our selection, Pachysandra ‘Angola’ comes from the woods near that well-know Louisiana prison. This stunning evergreen, variegated, slow-spreading, woodland groundcover, is quite different from its better known and much faster spreading Asian cousin, Pachysandra terminalis. The flowers are also sweetly fragrant, what more could you want? Hardiness is Zone 5a-9b.
Winter is peak flowering season for many of the amazing wild gingers. We caught Asarum porphyronotum ‘Irish Spring’ in full bloom recently. We remove the old foliage just as they come into flower for better photography. The new foliage begins to emerge just as the flowers fade. Amazing as these are, it requires slowing down to actually notice their amazing flowers, which are pollinated by pill bugs and slugs.
Flowering in the garden this week is the fascinating, but little-known Houstonia procumbens. This Southeastern US coastal native (South Carolina west to eastern Louisiana) is a spreading, winter flowering bluet. We collected cuttings in Clay County, Florida in 2003, and this patch has been thriving in our sunny alpine garden since then, forming a 1.5′ wide patch.
A first cousin to the better known aroid, arisaema is the lesser known aroid, arisarum. While arisaema has a distribution that is primarily North American and Asian, arisarum is primarily European. We planted our first arisarums back in 1994, and since then have tried quite a few and killed quite a few. The best species for our climate is Arisarum vulgare, a Mediterranean native, found naturally in the countries of Albania, Algeria, Baleares, Corsica, Crete, Cyprus, East Aegean Islands, France, Greece, Italy, Lebanon-Syria, Morocco, Palestine, Sardinia, Sicily, Sinai, Spain, Transcaucasus, Turkey, and the former Yugoslavia.
With such a wide range of occurrence, some forms are naturally going to be more adaptable to our Zone 7b climate than others. The star in our trials has been a 2010 Crete collection of Arisarum vulgare from near the town of Lakki. From a tiny rhizome piece, it has spread to a 3′ wide patch. Like its’ other cousin, arum, arisarum goes summer dormant, re-emerging in fall. All of the previous forms of Arisarum vulgare we’ve grown have flowered only in early spring, but this amazing form flowers quite well every fall, in addition to being incredibly vigorous. We’ve just dug some of our patch today, and will work on propagating them for a future PDN catalog under the name Arisarum vulgare ‘Lady Lakki’. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
Juniperus communis is a common landscape juniper with a wide natural distribution…one of the widest of any woody plant in the entire world.
In the North American part of its range, it’s widespread throughout the Western US, and across the northern tier of the country all the way to Maine. East of the Mississippi River, however, it’s virtually not-existent south of the Great Lakes.
Patrick McMillan had been telling us about a population he rediscovered from an earlier Henry William Ravenel (1814-1887) documentation of a single clone growing naturally in Aiken, South Carolina. Last week, we made the 4 hour drive to visit this ancient living fossil. Here is all that remains, growing in an amazing nature park, known as Hitchcock Woods, where it grows surrounded by a forest of Kalmia (mountain laurel).
We have this propagated and growing at JLBG, and hopefully in the future, when our plants get larger, we can share these amazing genetics with a wider audience.
One of our most amazing dwarf ferns is our 2008 Taiwanese spore collection of Microsorum brachylepis ‘Datun’. Our garden patch pictured below, which is looking great this month, was planted outdoors in 2017, and is now 4″ tall x 3′ wide. We offered this personal favorite a few years through Plant Delights, but the sales were rather miserable…what a shame. This delightful evergreen makes a superb, dense groundcover. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.
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.
Ajuga ‘Parrot Paradise’ is one of many new next generation colorful ajuga groundcovers that have hit the market in the last few years. These have been amazing in our trials, as you can see from the October photo below. Best of all, we haven’t seen any seedlings, which have been a problem with several of the more common clones in commerce. We think both the color and growth habits are truly outstanding.
Adiantum capillus-veneris ‘Bermuda Run’ is looking exceptional in the garden this fall. Actually, it looks exceptional most of the year for us. Until the temperatures drop below 12 degrees F, this amazing fern remains evergreen. This fern has a huge native range, being found on every continent except Antarctica.
Adiantum capillus-veneris, along with a couple of pteris fern species are often found growing in mortar cracks in many of the Southeast coastal cities and adjacent tropical islands. It is thought that some of these populations may have been spread along the early trade routes. This particularly dense form is our collection from the mortar walls on Bermuda. The same species is native to North Carolina, but only in a solitary population. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.
With the trend for green mulch (i.e. groundcovers), we continue to trial a number of new introductions that fit the bill. One of the top performers continues to be Sedum ellacombeanum ‘Cutting Edge’ PP 28,926. This 2016 Brent Horvath introduction has thrived in both sun and light shade, making a perfect ground-hugging mat. Despite being a top performer, sales were miserable when we offered it a few years ago. We’re not sure why it sold so poorly, but we now have some lovely drifts in the garden.
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.
I wonder if the late Atlanta nurseryman, W.L. Monroe had any idea what would become of his white-flowered monkey grass, that he selected as a seedling and subsequently introduced to the gardening world in 1957?
In the 65 years that’s passed since it’s introduction, Liriope muscari ‘Monroe White’ is still the gold standard by which all white-flowered liriope are judged. Here are our plants flowering this week at JLBG. Unlike most liriope, which thrive in sun, this cultivar needs light shade for most of the day to prevent foliar scorch. Our plants in the photo only get a couple of hours of direct sun, where they thrive. Winter hardiness is Zone 6a-10b.
We love the miniature silver mats of Antennaria parviflora (little-leaf pussytoes). This little-known North American native (Canada south to Arizona) forms a tiny, 1″ tall groundcover that’s hard to the touch. In spring, the patch is topped with short fuzzy spikes of brush-like white flowers. The plant below, which measures 1′ in width, is only 18 months old from seed, and is growing in our rock garden in a well-drained mix of 50% Permatill. Hardiness is Zone 4b-7b.
I’m always amazed that so many people don’t realize that turmeric (Curcuma longa) is an amazing garden perennial. We’ve had our plants in the garden for nearly 30 years. This week, the flowers of this delightful ginger lily from Southern India emerge, looking like fancy pink pine cones. Curcuma longa is very easy to grow, as long as the soil is reasonably well-drained. Just mark the planting spot, since it usually doesn’t break ground before June. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10.
There is a “growing” trend toward using groundcovers to reduce the need for bark mulch in gardens. As with any trend, there is a time and place where it is appropriate, and other times when it is not. One plant that we absolutely love for that purpose is the evergreen Carex flacca ‘Mini’. This blue-foliaged sedge is a Mediterranean native marsh grass that spreads very slowly, so it is not a problem in overrunning other plants in the bed, as long as they aren’t placed too close. These pictured below were planted six years ago on 1′ centers, and are just now knitting together.
We have studied a few reports of this sedge being invasive in parts of the northeast US, but our trials have shown quite the opposite, with nary a seedling in over six years. We can find no scientific research that shows this sedge qualifies as being invasive using any commonly recognized definitions of an invasive plant. Our skepticism of these reports comes because some of the ridiculous listings that appear on invasive species lists, which have no scientific basis. Our favorite invasive faux pas was a listing a couple of years ago of the genus Bambusa on a state invasive list. Never mind the plant is a strict clumper and only flowers once every 100 years. Winter hardiness is Zone 4-9.
Gardeners interesting in attracting pollinators to the garden have no doubt experimented with one of the 20 native species of Pycnanthemum (mountain mint). While they are all lovely, most are too vigorously spreading to fit in a typical home garden. Enter Pycnanthemum flexuosum…the curvy mountain mint, is native from Virginia to Alabama, where it is found on moist to damp sites. This tightly clumping species is absolutely perfect for the garden, flowering now in July. This is our collection from Beaufort County, NC. We’ll be propagating this selection for a future PDN catalog. Hardiness is Zone 5-9a.
We always look forward to late June with the patches of Sinningia tubiflora burst into flower. This rhizomatous perennial, first cousin to African Violets’, is rock hardy to 0 degrees F. This South American native (Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay) forms a dense deciduous groundcover, topped with these long-tubbed, honeysuckle-fragranced flowers that attract nocturnal moths with a really long proboscis.
Nierembergia ‘Starry Eyes’ is looking particularly dazzling in the rock garden at JLBG. Starting to flower for us in late April, this incredible gem is from our 2002 botanical expedition to Argentina. I distinctly remember walking by as our friends from Yucca Do Nursery extracted a small piece of this nierembergia with only a single flower attached. I remember thinking to myself how poorly nierembergias, in particular Nierembergia repens perform in our climate and how I wouldn’t have wasted my time on such a plant. Two decades later, boy was I wrong!
In our climate, Nierembergia gracillis ‘Starry Eyes’ blooms continually through the summer months. It thrives in full sun and a well drained, gravelly soil. Thank you Yucca Do, for all the great introductions!
The crevice garden has “woke” for spring, with early flowering plants in full gear. Here’s a shot of one small section, featuring Delospema dyeri and Iberis simplex (taurica). We hope you can visit in person for the second weekend of our spring open house, May 6 – 8, 2022.
Iris ‘Gerald Darby’ is one of those iris that doesn’t even need to flower to be garden worthy. Here it is in our garden this week, emerging with its’ purple leggings. This gem is a North American native hybrid of Iris versicolor and Iris virginica, known as Iris x robusta. This introduction of Iris breeder Gerald Darby was actually named for him after his death by another iris breeder R.H. Coe of England. Iris x robusta ‘Gerald Darby’ is equally at home growing in standing water as it is in typical garden soil. Hardiness is Zone 4a-9b.
False lily-of-the-valley (Speirantha gardenii) is one of our favorite early spring-flowering evergreen groundcovers for shade, but one that just hasn’t caught on with customers. Every time we put this back in production at Plant Delights, we wind up throwing out most of the crop. Perhaps one day, folks will realize what a gem this is. Hardiness is Zone 5b-8b.
Here is a clump of Calanthe ‘Takane’ in our garden in early April. This amazing and easy-to-grow terrestrial ground orchid forms a dazzling clump with age. This mass started as a single division in a 4″ pot, 17 years ago. Not only do they thrive in the ground, but in Japan, they are prized as container plants.
Calanthe ‘Takane’ is a group of hybrids between Calanthe sieboldii and Calanthes discolor, so each seedling is slightly different in flower color. The foliage remains evergreen during most winters for us, but when temperatures drop near 0 degrees F, the foliage will die back completely. Calanthes thrive best in light shade. Winter hardiness is Zone 7a-9a.
Here are images of three of the “next generation” ajuga cultivars, all selections of the Italian Ajuga tenorii. These in-ground photos were all taken at JLBG on April 1. These new ajugas don’t spread wildly or seed around like many of the older, more commonly grown offerings. We think they are pretty darn amazing! The top photo of Ajuga ‘Blueberry Muffin’ represents several plants, planted on 1′ centers. The second image is a single plant of Ajuga ‘Cordial Canary’, and the third is a single plant of Ajuga ‘Petite Parakeet’. These are actually non-staged images, unlike the highly staged, completely unrealistic, manufactured photos you often see in the Dutch-centric catalogs. Hardy from zone 4a to 9b.
Flowering for the last few weeks is the late winter-flowering groundcover, Arabis procurrens. This Balkan native is a rather amazing evergreen groundcover in the cabbage (Brassicaceae) family. For those who never took Latin in school, procurrens = spreading. We grow this in a fairly dry spot in the garden where it gets 2-3 hours of sun each morning. Winter hardiness is Zone 3-8.
Flowering now in the rock garden is the European native, Anthyllis coccinea…aka: red kidney vetch. This small rock garden legume (Fabaceae) is still in its first full year in the ground, having been planted last June…so far, so good.
Antennaria solitaria, the solitary pussytoes is looking great in the garden this week. This amazing native groundcover hails from Ohio south to Alabama, where it can be found in open shade or part sun, but always in dry soils. Despite being native in acidic soils, our plants below are thriving in our alkaline crevice garden.
One of the fun reasons to grow plants from seed is that each seedling is different…unless you’re growing highly bred annuals. Most non-hybrid seedlings will be under the bell curve, meaning they all look and behave relatively similar. As plant collectors, we get excited when one appears that falls outside the bell curve. An example is our wild ginger selection, Asarum maximum ‘Floragasma’, which has both far more flowers than we typically see with the species, but it also flowers 2-3 weeks before our other clones. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-9b.
In our cold frames, some plants will occasionally flower out of season, and that’s the case this week when one of our Orostachys ‘Crazy Eddie’ plants decided to flower out of season…fall is it’s normal time. The offseason timing won’t adversely affect the plant, and it did give us an unexpected photo moment. Because of the form of the flower, orostachys gained the common name, dunce caps, named after the pointed caps that poorly performing students were forced to wear. Of course, you’re probably showing your age if you knew what dunce caps were.
We love intermingling plants, often planting more than one type in the same space, where their growth habits allow them to comfortably co-exist. Here is a three year-old planting where we used ‘Gold Queen’ Hyacinth among a patch of our North American native groundcover juniper, Juniperus horizontalis ‘Bar Harbor’. Despite what many folks seem to think, there are no laws that plants in the garden can’t touch each other, so how about some more hand-holding in the garden.
Another of the mid-winter flowering species of wild ginger is the Chinese Asarum ichangense. Here is a green leaf form of this easy-to-grow wild ginger in late January from the top. If you push aside the leaves, you’ll see the amazing floral show, hidden beneath. Winter hardiness in Zone 6b-8b, and possibly colder.
One of several rare wild gingers we grow is Asarum lewisii, which has a small native range limited to central NC and adjacent Virginia. In the wild, the evergreen Asarum lewisii is quite unique in only producing a single leaf every few inches to over 1′ apart when growing in leaf duff. In the garden, however, leaves are much more dense as you can see in the photo from the JLBG gardens this week. It’s ashamed it doesn’t sell better when we offer it through Plant Delights.
The dwarf groundcover Sedum tetractinum ‘Little China’ is superb throughout the growing season, but we particularly love when cold weather arrives and the olive green foliage turns to bright red in the sun…what a superb winter show. Hardiness is Zone 4a-8b.
One of many exciting new introductions for 2022 is Phlox divaricata ‘Blue Ribbons’ PPAF. This variegated version of our wonderful native woodland phlox was discovered here as a single sport in our garden by our plant taxonomist, Zac Hill. Instead of being all green, each leaf is edged with a wide creamy border and flushed with pink during the colder months. In early spring, the entire clumps are topped with sweetly fragrant blue flowers. We think Phlox ‘Blue Ribbons’ is an incredible design addition for the woodland garden. Hardiness is Zone 3-8. The new catalog, with this and many other amazing gems, goes on-line in 2 weeks!
Here’s a photo we took right before our first big freeze of the year, with the purple-foliaged perennial, Tradescantia pallida and our Iris ensata gate, built by NC sculptor Jim Gallucci. Gardens are an amazing canvas on which to paint with both plants and structures.
We don’t have many Siberian plants which thrive in the southeast US, so we get pretty excited when we find one that does. I was introduced to Microbiota decussata by the late JC Raulston, back in the mid 1970s, and actually still have one of my original plants that’s still alive. Many years later, a much improved form came to market under the name Microbiota decussata ‘Prides’.
Microbiota is a monotypic genus of conifer that has a textural appearance somewhere between a Juniper and a Selaginella. In the wild, Microbiota can only be found in one small region of the Sikhote-Alin mountains, which is about 500 miles north of Vladovostok, Russia, where it occurs between 6,500′ and 7,000′ elevation.
Although Microbiota was officially discovered in 1921, and published in 1923, the Russian government, long-known for its secrecy, kept it completely under wraps until the early 1970s.
Unlike most junipers, which need sun to thrive, microbiota prefers shade to only part sun. Consequently, it you like this texture and don’t have full sun, this is the plant for you. For us, it matures at 18″ tall x 6′ wide.
Most gardeners in mild winter climates are familiar with Liriope (monkey grass), and Ophiopogon (mondo grass), but almost no one is familiar with the third cousin, reineckea (false lilyturf). Like both better known cousins, reineckea is an evergreen groundcover, but unlike the others, here is our clump of Reineckea ‘Little Giant’ in full flower for Thanksgiving. Depending on your taxonomist, there is between 1-3 species in the genus. We’re certain of three and think there may be more. We have assembled a collection of nearly 30 wild collections and will be working with other researchers to sort out the taxonomy of this group.
Another genus of ferns that we just adore are the bamboo ferns of the genus coniogramme. We’ve grown these amazing gems for two decades, and after all that time are still in love. Although these woodland ferns are deciduous, they are tardily so, so they still look quite fresh into mid-November. Here are a couple of favorites, photographed this week.
At the top is the texturally fascinating Coniogramme intermedia ‘Shishi’ from Japan, and below this is our 2006 introduction of the Chinense native Coniogramme emeiensis ‘Golden Zebra’. We rate both of these as winter hardy from Zone 7b and warmer.
We love the winter hardy spiderworts, and Tradescantia ‘Pale Puma’ is one of our favorites. This hybrid of two northern Mexican species, T. pallida x sillamontana forms a lovely compact deciduous groundcover. Here it is in the garden this week, colored nicely and awaiting the first frost, which will send it into dormancy. In colder climates, it makes a great hanging basket plant.
Flowering this week at JLBG is the little-known, but marvelous Liriope longipedicellata ‘Grape Fizz’, thanks to the exploits of plantsman Darrell Probst. We find this tightly clumping species much more interesting than the more formal Liriope muscari or the weedy, spreading Liriope spicata, and will tolerate full sun to shade. By the way, pedicles are stalk-like structures connecting one plant part to another….in this case the flower stalk to the flowers, hence the specific epithet longipedicellata (long pedicles).
Looking good this week is Nierembergia ‘Starry Eyes’. We have special memories watching our friend Carl Schoenfeld collect cuttings of this on our 2002 botanizing trip to Argentina. While it’s only reliably winter hardy to Zone 8, it’s a flowering machine during the summer. Here it is growing in our new crevice planting near our Open House welcome tent.
At our home, we have a very wide overhang which never sees any moisture, so we were looking for plants that would stay low, ideally evergreen, and would tolerate seriously dry shade. The answer was Echeveria ‘Topsy Turvy’. These patches of the Northern Mexican succulent, with blue-green foliage, have absolutely thrived here. While they probably wouldn’t be happy in deep shade, they love this high canopy with good light, but no sun. These were planted in 2018. We’d rate these as Zone 7b/8a if kept dry in winter.
We had failed miserably at keeping the true blue-flowered forget-me-nots, Myosotis, alive in our heat and humidity until our friend and gardening legend, Pam Harper shared this amazing heat tolerant form with us in 1994. We subsequently named it M. ‘Southern Blues’. It has thrived as both a marginal aquatic and in regular garden soils, where it makes a superb non-weedy, groundcover. In over 25 years, we’ve never seen a single seedling. Here it is in the gardens at JLBG this week.
We’re trialing quite a few of the new colored-foliage, non-invasive ajugas, and are quite excited so far. Here is one of several that we really like, Ajuga ‘Parrot Paradise’ in the garden. These ajugas open up a wealth of color combination possibilities for garden designers. Hopefully, you’ll see this gracing a Plant Delights catalog in a few months.
I grew up as a child spending most of my time botanizing the woods from a ridiculously early age. One of the native plants I’ve known since my earliest adventures is Asarum arifolium, which was the most common wild ginger in our region. Over the last 60 years, I’ve undoubtedly seen tens of thousands of this species.
I was fascinated by the variability in the amount of silver in the leaves, the contrast in the leaf pigmentation, the propensity to clump tightly or run, along with some slight variations in flower color and size. Below is a form that makes a particularly tight clump with good contrasting leaf markings. Despite the occasional solid green leaf forms, the one constant has always been the green leaf veins in between the silver blotching….until…
untill I found the oddball below in the woods north of Mobile, Alabama. In the middle of a patch of normal plants was one single individual with reversed leaf patterns…the leaves have a green base with silver veins. I certainly know the pattern, which is typical of several other native asarum species (minus, heterophyllum, lewisii, harperi, shuttleworthii, etc.), but this pattern simply isn’t allowed in Asarum arifolium. We watched impatiently as our plant first flowered, thinking it must be some odd hybrid, but the flowers told a different story…pure Asarum arifolium. We even grew a crop from seed to discover that 50% of the offspring had this same reverse pattern. As we chatted with other botanists about our find, we’ve discovered two other folks who have also found similar individuals, so these “off the bell curve” forms are out there, albeit quite rare.
The non-weedy Ajuga ‘Blueberry Muffin’ from the breeders at Terra Nova has really put on quite a show at JLBG this spring. We love the non-seeding and slow spreading traits…not to mention the amazing floral show.
We’re always looking for more “green mulch” plants, which cover the ground, reducing weed pressure, while not choking out desirable plants. One such plant we feel should be more widely grown is Erigeron pulchellus. This amazing perennial is native to every state east of the Mississippi River. So, why isn’t it grown in every garden? Inquiring minds want to know. The rosettes lay flat on the ground, but are topped right now with short 8″ spikes of blush pink daisies. Our photo from the garden this week is the clone Erigeron pulchellus ‘Lynnhaven Carpet’. Erigeron pulchellus is easy to grow in average soils in light shade to part sun.
There are a number of very exciting new ajugas to hit the market in the last few years, but one of our favorites has a longer history. Ajuga reptans ‘Planet Zork’, which we first acquired in 2004, is a non-flowering, crinkled-leaf sport of Ajuga ‘Burgundy Glow’. It was brought to the US from Japan, and later named and introduced here by plantsman Barry Yinger. We first grew Ajuga ‘Planet Zork’ in light shade, but it really showed its true colors when we transplanted it into full sun and moist soils. It’s parent, Ajuga ‘Burgundy Glow’ is ungrowable in our climate, rotting at the sign of rain during our hot, humid summers. Unlike many ajugas, this is a tight clumper that doesn’t seed around…an ideal groundcover.
Ok, the spelling of “Susanna” is slightly different, but don’t let that deter you from growing one of the greatest groundcover clematis that we’ve ever grown. Yes, that’s right…no mailbox post or staking required. We’ve been growing this amazing, compact clematis as a groundcover for years and it is truly superb. Here it is in the garden this spring, but it will also continue to flower into summer. What’s not to love about Cezanne!
We’re always on the look out for great skirts in the garden. Skirt is the garden design term we use for groundcovers, which reduce the need for mulch, while still keeping with the textural integrity of the garden design. Here are a few images of plants that we consider great skirts.
We love this US native groundcover. The foliage is great and the flowers in very early spring are superb. At our home, we used it as a skirt for Acer palmatum ‘Orangeola’.
One of the top ajugas ever introduced because it doesn’t spread quickly or reseed. Very durable, but truly thrives in moist, compost rich soil. Here it is in flower this spring.
Another of the absolutely finest ajugas we grow. Ajuga ‘Planet Zork’ is a crinkled leaf sport of Ajuga ‘Burgundy Glow’, which is a miserable performer in our climate, but this sport is indestructible. It’s so mutated that we’ve never seen a flower, but who cares.
In our climate, Nepeta ‘Purple Haze’ is one of the best performing catmints, and one that is quite unique from others in the trade. We cut it back after flowering and it starts over and flowers again.
Our sales of this amazing PDN/JLBG selection of the US native fine-leaf mountain mint (Pycnanthenum tenuifolium) weren’t nearly what we’d hoped, so we planted the unsold plants out along the road in front of our home, here providing a nice textural contrast to another great US native plant, Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’. We’ve made several selections of mountain mint over the years, but this is truly the star. We sure wish more people had tried this amazing plant.
Another native that simply didn’t sell the way it should is the iris relative, Sisyrinchium ‘Suwanee’. This is unquestionably the best blue-eyed grass ever!!! Found native in north Florida, it’s solid winter hardy in at least zone 6 and never reseeds like the native Sisyrinchium angustifolium. We believe this represents an un-named species, that’s in full flower here now if you drive by the nursery and see the mass of unsold plants we planted in our roadside ditch.
You can find more great garden skirt possibilities at our Groundcover link.
There are lots of different gingers to keep straight, starting with a memorable one that was a part of the band of misfits stranded on Gilligan’s Island. Horticulturally speaking, however, ginger refers both to a group of plants in the Zingiberaceae and Aristolochiaceae (birthwort) families. Hardy members of the Zingiber family are plants who mostly flower in the heat of summer, while the wild gingers (asarum) of the birthwort family tend to be mostly winter/spring flowering.
So, while it’s late winter/early spring, let’s focus of the woodland perennial genus asarum, of which we currently grow 86 of the known 177 asarum species/subspecies. In late winter/early spring, we like to remove any of the winter damaged evergreen leaves, which makes the floral show so much more visible. Few people take time to bend down and observe their amazing flowers, so below are some of floral photos we took this spring. View our full photo gallery here.
We have long loved the amazing selaginellas, but in the fall and winter, the evergreen native Selaginella apoda looks absolutely fabulous. Here it is in the garden, 1st image is in November, 2nd image February, carpeting the ground with a touch-worthy texture. It’s only been known since 1753…surely you’ve managed to grow one by now!
If you’re looking for something taller, the Chinese Selaginella braunii also looks great in the fall and tops out around 1′ tall.
A few years ago, we were browsing in one of the box stores, and spotted this variegated Selaginella braunii, which came home with us. So far, we haven’t been able to get the variegation to be stable enough to offer.