Ever since I first saw Lycopodiella prostrata as a young child, I have been fascinated with this alien-looking oddity. Botanically, these belong to a primitive group of plants known as clubmosses.
Every trip to the coast, I seem to wind up with a small piece to try in the garden, and every time, I fail. This spring, I was headed east to check out the site of a major road widening near Wilmington, NC, and mentioned to Patrick my frustration with trying to grow this. The secret, he shared is to get only the tip where it has rooted down, and only move it in winter/early spring. To my amazement, that tiny piece has now well established in one of our new bogs, along with another favorite, the bright orange native annual, Polygala lutea. So often, it’s just one small tip that makes the difference between success and failure.
Everyone grows the Asian butterfly bushes because of their huge flower panicles, but there are some really cool native buddleias that are mostly overlooked. Below is Buddleia marrubifolia from Presidio, Texas. Native to the Chihuahuan Desert, mature plants can reach 6′ tall x 6′ wide. The hairy white foliage serves as a nice foil for the odd, small orange, sattelite-looking flowers that adorn the plant starting in late summer. We last offered this in 2000 to raucous sales–just kidding about the raucous sales. Nurserymen disdainingly refer to these as BIO plants….botanical interest only. Hardiness Zone 7b-10b.
Here’s our clump of Chrysopsis gossypina in the garden this week, looking shockingly like a South African Helichrysum petiolare (straw flower). This little-known Southeast US native (Virginia to Mississippi) is usually found on dry, sandy soils. So far, our plants of the short-lived cottony golden aster are thriving in our well-drained agave/cactus berms. The yellow daisy flowers should be appearing soon.
Flowering this month is one of my favorite curiosities, Grandma’s hat pins. Eriocaulon decangulare hails from costal habits from New Jersey south to Texas, where it can be found in bogs and swamps. They thrive in the same conditions as pitcher plants. Perhaps it’s time to send some seed to the nursery since we haven’t offered this through Plant Delights since 2003. What do you think? Hardiness Zone 7a – 10b.
We’re always disappointed when great plants don’t sell well enough to continue offering them, and one of our best examples is Microlepia ‘MacFaddeniae’. Below is our clump in the garden this week. This California selection of the Japanese native rigid lace fern forms a lovely, unique clump that stays evergreen until Christmas. Oh well, we sure enjoy it in our garden. Hardiness Zone 7b-10b.
I doubt any of our garden visitors actually slow down enough to notice some of the smaller treasures flowering now, like the dwarf Chinese gesneriad, Petrocosmea oblata. When I say small, I’m talking 2″ in full flower. We are fascinated by the array of Asian gesneriads that thrive in rock cracks, most of which are fairly unknown outside of their native habitat, unless they are grow in containers by members of the American Gesneriad Society. It’s our hope to bring more of these treasures to light.
Okay, raise your hand if you grow Orbexilum lupinellus in your garden? I’m still looking for hands out there… This endemic to longleaf pine/wiregrass habitats in the Coastal plain from NC south to Alabama, is a delightful rock garden plant, that’s made itself right at home at JLBG, flowering beautifully in late August/early September. This is growing in a rarely irrigated rocky section and has thrived in both the heat and drought. It’s probably not showy enough to offer commercially, but we sure enjoy it.
We are thrilled at the performance of the little-known banana, Musa nagesium var. hongii. Our plants are from the recently discovered population in Northeast India, which is a good jaunt from the formerly known populations in Yunnan, China. These sailed through our cold winter, and have exploded in growth during our hot summer. We love the chalky stems, like its close relative, M. cheesmanii. Hopefully, we’ll be able to share these one day. Hardiness Zone 7b-10b.
Our clump of Coniogramme emeiense ‘Green Energy’ is looking fabulous at the end of August. This is one of our selections of bamboo fern we’ve yet to introduce. We love it’s distinctive look, but am not sure if anyone would actually purchase it. What say you? Hardiness Zone 7b – 10b.
Looking great in the garden in late summer is the little known love lily, Amorphophallus kachinensis. This southeast Asian species has now reached 7′ tall in the garden. Our earlier collections from Thailand were not winter hardy here, but this Peter Zale collection from Myanmar has thrived.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the grape breeding trial garden of grape savant, Jeff Bloodworth of Orange County, NC. I didn’t realize it until my visit that Jeff, now 73, and I were in the Horticulture Department at NC State together from the mid to late 1970s. While I was starting on my undergraduate work, he was working on a Masters and later a Doctorate. After school, Jeff went on to become a Research technician with NC State grape breeder Dr. Bill Nesbitt, until he unexpectedly passed away in 1983 at the age of 51.
Departmental leaders decided to do away with the grape breeding program due to a lack of commercial interest in NC, so Jeff saw an opportunity. Scrambling quickly, he found and purchased 12 acres in rural Orange County, where all the NCSU research genetics found a new home. Jeff, and his wife, Peggy, still live on the same property today.
I’ve grown and studied muscadine grapes for almost 40 years, but Jeff’s little finger has far more knowledge than I dreamed existed. To say Jeff is obsessive about his work with grapes is a grand understatement.
We were joined by video producers Bill Hayes and Erin Upson of Carboro’s Thunder Mountain Media, who are working on a video project to help tell Jeff’s amazing story.
Until 2013, Jeff had never introduced a single new grape. Part of the reason is that his breeding goals were regarded as impossible “pie in the sky” ideas. Jeff was trying to cross seedless bunch grapes (pictured below), which grow well in California, but sulk in our summers, with the Southeast US native muscadine grapes.
After 10 years of no success, he finally was able to secure a viable offspring, and so was off to the races. Despite this eventual breakthrough, Jeff struggled to get any commercial or academic entities interested in his creations.
That was until plantsman and Gardens Alive owner, Niles Kinerk and his team, heard about Jeff’s work, and soon after, hired Jeff as an employee, providing some welcome financial support. Below are Jeff and Peggy Bloodworth with Mark Wessel, Gardens Alive Director of Horticultural Research.
Jeff’s first introduction through Gardens Alive, in 2013, was the light purple Vitis ‘Razmatazz’. This small-sized grape was the first seedless muscadine hybrid on the market. Although the fruit size is small by conventional standards, it is long producing as well as deliciously sweet. This was followed a few years later by Vitis ‘Oh My’, a bronze fleshed, larger seedless muscadine hybrid.
My trip last week was to join the Gardens Alive team as they sampled the new hybrids and made their final selections for future introduction. I was particularly excited by one of Jeff’s hybrids with 1″ seedless bronze grapes, but Jeff explained by slicing the grape in half and examining the ovary, that this was a female grape, which would need a male pollinator. Most commercial muscadine varieties are “perfect”, with both male and female flowers on the same plant. The size of Jeff’s seedless grapes continue to increase, and the variance of sweet flavors are astounding, so the future of grapes in the Southeast US is very exciting.
Nearby Jeff’s farm, investors have purchased much of the regional farmland with the goal of large scale production, including hundred of acres of Jeff’s grapes. We salute Jeff’s brilliance and persistence in this amazing endeavor!
What would you say if I told you that virtually everything you know as a mimosa, isn’t? In fact, the commonly known mimosa is actually an albizzia. Albizzia julibrissin, native from Japan through to the Transcaucuses, was brought to the US back in the 1700s as an ornamental. Back in the day, it was actually thought to belong to the genus Mimosa, but this error was corrected by 1806, but as you can see, old names die hard. Although beautiful, albizzia is a prolific seeder, so is rarely planted any longer.
Interestingly, virtually no one grows any of the 25 North American native species of true Mimosa. Below is our plant of Patrick’s collection of the Southwest US native, Mimosa dysocarpa in flower now. This 3-6′ tall, highly thorny shrub, grows natively from 3,500′ – 6,500′ in the dry deserts of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. So far, it seems to be liking its new home in NC. It’s a particularly good food for bees, butterflies/moths, and birds, while the fruit is adored by quails.
Flowering well in the late summer at JLBG is the florally magnificent banana, Musa ornata. Native to Myanmar, Northern India, and surrounding regions, it isn’t typically winter hardy in Zone 7b. This is Hayes Jackson’s selection, Musa ornata ‘Anniston’, which sailed through last winters 11 degrees F.
Ruellia malacosperma is providing a lovely pop of purple in front of the variegated gardenia. The fine-textured foliage in the foreground is provided by the rare Texas native, Hibiscus dasycalyx. When you’re planting in the garden, think of each planting as a photographic vignette, and you’ll be amazed what it will do for the visual appeal of the garden.
Looking and smelling wonderful in the garden this week is our 2022 introduction, Hosta ‘Summer Snowstorm’. We love late-flowering hostas with large fragrant flowers, and this one doesn’t disappoint, with foliage that still looks great in late summer.
We’ve played around with growing cast iron plants from seed, curious if the white-tipped pattern of Aspidistra elatior ‘Asahi’ was heritable. Turns out that it is. Aspidistra ‘Blizzard’ is our seedling with well over half of the leaf being white. That makes it both beautiful, but insanely slow growing. The plant below has been in the ground for 5 years, planted as a two year old seedling.
With September temperatures reaching 100 degrees F in Raleigh, is it any wonder we’re thinking about snow? Looking lovely after a recent rain is the rain lily, Zephyranthes ‘Summer Snow’. We grow a huge number of rain lilies, but none out flower our 2014 introduction of a hybrid between Zephyranthes candida and Zephyranthes citrina. This started its life as 5 original bulbs.
Flowering now in the garden is one of our favorite crinum lily species, the South African native, Crinum buphanoides. The name comes from its resemblance to another South African member of the Amaryllid family, the less winter hardy, Boophane.
Despite a few folks who tell us they’ve had trouble growing this, our experience is quite the opposite. We have it growing in many locations (since 2005) around the property and all are thriving. We grow ours in sandy loam that’s been heavily amended with compost. Hardiness is Zone 7b-9a, at least.
On a recent trip from RDU airport (Raleigh-Durham), I had my first encounter with a Jetson-like restaurant, where you have no interaction with humans. I’ve visited plenty of fast food restaurants with the option of ordering from a machine, but when possible, avoid the machines at all costs.
I get the idea of reducing labor costs, but as a customer who avoids technology at any chance, I am not amused. Techno-idiots like myself don’t find it easy to navigate these self-service businesses, and imagine the frustration if your smart phone runs out of juice or just fails to function.
All in all, it took me 33 minutes to get a biscuit. That included 10 minutes of trying to figure out how to place my order, and 23 minutes more of waiting. I’d probably still be waiting it I hadn’t wrangled a staff member who just arriving at work for help. Thank goodness, I caught her before she disappeared behind the artificial screens where the humans go to hide from other humans.
Really…someone thinks this is an improvement? I’ve been through fast food hell before, but nothing like this. Since you have to pre-pay for your food, I can only imagine how hard it is to get your money back when you have to board your flight before your computerized food arrives. Typically, at the Raleigh-Durham airport, there are an array of choices, but this time, virtually every other restaurant had permanently closed. Someone on the airport staff responsible for this mess needs a wake-up call. If this is the future of air travel, I think I’ll be sticking closer to home a lot more.
Looking lovely in the bog garden during August is the native coastal bog asphodel, Tofeldia racemosa (aka: Triantha racemosa). This little-known native of the Southern coastal plain can be found in moist lowlands, often growing with pitcher plants. Tofelida is so unusual that no other plant family would accept it, so it had to create its own, Tofieldiaceae. Recent DNA has even kicked it out of its genus, and into its sister genus, Triantha. Hardiness is Zone 7a-9b, at least.
Here’s an example from JLBG, of how plant colors, textures, and forms can be used to create a garden vignette. The foreground is Tradescantia pallida (purple), Berberis thunbergii ‘Sunjoy Gold Beret’, Colocasia ‘Coal Miner’, Pennisetum orientale ‘Tall Tails’, and Albizia julibrissin ‘Chocolate Fountain’. The frame is backed with Vitex agnus-castus ‘Sensational’.
On a recent trip to Michigan, I made my first stop at Spring Meadow Nursery in Grand Haven. Most homeowners may not have heard of them, but Spring Meadow is a liner producer of shrubs, primarily for the Proven Winners branded program. If you buy a shrub from a retailer in a PW white pot, it came from Spring Meadow.
Spring Meadow was begun by Michigan State graduate Dale and his wife Liz, in 1981, after Dale finished a stint with the now defunct mass market wholesaler, Zelenka Nurseries. Since that time, they have become the dominant player in the wholesale liner market, especially for the Northern tier of states.
Below are the folks responsible for all the perennials and shrubs in the PW program. Dr. Judson Lecompte (l), and Tim Wood (c) – shrubs, and Hans Hansen (r) of Walters Gardens – perennials.
Their headquarters, which gives the feeling of a large barn is recent construction, after a 2017 fire burned their entire offices to the ground. The rebuilt offices include all the typical admin features, but also includes a classroom where wholesalers and retailers are taught about their plants.
The sheer number of plants produced here is staggering, as you can see below.
There are so many plants that simply tasks like pruning becomes monumental. To solve that problem, hedge clippers are mounted on a trolley, which automatically traverses the greenhouses.
In 2019, Spring Meadow purchased mail order retailer, Great Garden Plants, from co-founder, Mary Walters. This became Spring Meadow’s retail outlet for their introductions. Below are the sections of the production greenhouse devoted to inventory for GGP.
I first ran into the sticky blazing star, Liatris resinosa, a few years ago when botanizing in the eastern part of NC. Since that time, it has thrived in our garden, where we grow it in a bog with pitcher plants as well as in an alpine berm. Our plants have just topped 3′ in height as they start to flower in late August/early September. Liatris resinosa, formerly considered a variety of LIatris spicata, hails from New Jersey southwest to Louisiana. We particularly like the compact habit, sturdy stems, and small foliage. Hardiness should be Zone 6a-8b.
We have a large collection of silphiums at JLBG, but unfortunately most have limited garden value since they splay apart and often completely fall over when in flower. While they’re loved by native bees, we have been frustrated to not find many that are mainstream garden worthy. One that has been impressive in our trials, however, is the southeast US native whorled rosinweed, Silphium trifoliatum var. latifolium. These 15 year-old clumps at JLBG, which originated from Scott County, Mississippi are now 6-7′ tall, and quite garden worthy. Hardiness Zone 5a-8b, at least.
On my very short commute home, we’ve designed beds along the way that help relieve the stresses of the day. One of my favorite beds in summer is this combination of Allium ‘Millenium’, Sinningia tubiflora (white), Verbena bonariensis, and Pervoskia atriplicifolia. Both the sinningia and the verbena can be a bit aggressive in some areas of the garden, but not here, where they’ve all reached a happy equilibrium. Not only are they visually attractive, but this bed is awash with pollinators, despite none of these plants being southeast US natives.
The Taiwan endemic, Lilium formosanum is just wrapping up its summer floral show in the garden. I’d be hard pressed to imagine a garden without this garden showstopper. The cluster of huge fragrant flowers top the 6-7′ tall, sturdy stalks, starting in early August. We allow a few seed to drop each year, which results in patches scattered around the garden. The fragrance is as sweet as any honeysuckle you can imagine. Soon, you’ll have enough to also fill your home with cut arrangements. Hardiness Zone 6a-10b.
After the flowers fade, the seed pods turn upward, making a classy candelabra that dries atop the stalk for a great winter ornament in the garden or they can also be used in dried arrangements.
No garden is complete without at least one rudbeckia. Looking good in the garden now is the lovely Rudbeckia umbrosa. Formerly recognized as a a subspecies of the more commonly grown Rudbeckia fulgida, this is a very different plant that’s taller, and with very hairy foliage. For us, this moist woodland native tops out between 30″ and 36″, with a much more open habit. Although it’s little known in gardens, it’s actually native from the Carolinas west to Missouri. Zone 5a to 8b.
Our 8 year-old clump of Amorphophallus bulbifer ‘Old Warty’ is looking lovely in the garden this week. We love the palm-like form in the summer garden, but selected this clone because it produces more leaf bulbils than any other clone we’ve ever seen. The bulbils, which resemble giant warts, form in late summer in the leaf axils on the top of the leaf. A typical clone of Amorphophallus bulbifer may have from 3-8 bulbils, while A. ‘Old Warty’ usually produces dozens per leaf.
Each bulbil, which is a clone of the original, can be planted after it detaches from the leaf, and will begin growing the following spring. We had so many bulbils one fall, that we gave them out to trick-or-treaters one Halloween, but strangely, those recipients never again returned for more treats- obviously, they weren’t horticulturally inclined. We did tell them not so consume them…honest.
The spring pink flowers have no discernable fragrance, unlike many of the other species of amorphophallus. These have been winter hardy here in Zone 7b for at least three decades, where they thrive in well-drained woodland soils. We will have these available again next year.
The lovely Mexican woody lily, Dasylirion berlandieri, is just finishing a bout of flowering. The flowers are magnets for both native bees as well as honeybees. Unlike their cousin, Agave, Dasylirion don’t die after flowering.
One of the many hardy sinningias that has really impressed us during the last few years is Sinningia ‘Amethyst Tears’. Here is our garden clump, flowering its head off in the middle of August. You’ve probably never heard of this, since it’s an unintroduced Yucca Do selection from plantsman Wade Roitsch.
Looking great in the summer garden is the stunning cast iron plant, Aspidistra elatior ‘Asahi’. This amazing woodland evergreen is a plant we can’t imagine gardening without. The leaf patterning is brightest as the new leaves emerge in June/July. Grown as a house plant, it needs to get some size before you will see the leaf patterns in containers. The Japanese name, ‘Asahi’ translates to “morning light”. Hardiness is Zone 7a-10b.
More lycoris continue to open every day. Their flowering season coincides quite close with the hurricane season. These amazing amaryllids pop up almost overnight, sans foliage. If you’re curious to take a deep dive into the genus, check out our lycoris study gallery
Lycoris chinensis is a spring-leaf species from China.
Lycoris longituba is the tallest species with the largest flower. It is typically white, but can come in yellow and pink. Anything other than white is quite rare.
Lycoris x incarnata ‘Peppermint’ is a hybrid of Lycoris longituba x Lycoris sprengeri. This is an exceptional plant as you can see below.
Lycoris x longitosea is a hybrid of Lycoris x incarnata and Lycoris radiata. This is an extraordinarily rare hybrid.
Lycoris x sprengensis is a group of hybrids between Lycoris sprengeri and Lycoris chinensis, both spring-leaf species. This is an old, but impossible to find hybrid from the late Sam Caldwell.
Lycoris ‘Summer Moon’ is a yet to be introduced hybrid from lycoris breeder Phil Adams of the same cross above.
Lycoris ‘Matsuribune’ is a hybrid from the late Mr. Komoriya of Japan, who crossed Lycoris sanguinea and Lycoris sprengeri. We can’t really grow the orange flowered L. sanguinea due to our summer heat, but this hybrid excels.
Lycoris ‘Yoimachi’ is another cross with the same parentage above, also from the late Mr. Komoriya.
Lycoris ‘Gennen’ is an exceptional Komoriya hybrid, resulting from a cross of Lycoris radiata x Lycoris chinensis.
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.
Raise your hand if you’ve grown the Southeast native perennial, piriqueta. Piriqueta caroliniana is a little-known Southeast US native that hails from NC, south to Florida. Botanically, it’s a member of the Turneraceae family, after being unceremoniously booted from its previous home in the passiflora family, Passifloraceae. We had never heard of the genus before Patrick introduced us a couple of years ago.
So far, our plant is thriving in our dry alpine garden, where it shares a bed with agaves and other desert denizens. For us, flowering begins in mid-summer, although in more southern climates, it reportedly flowers almost year round. For us, the flower open around lunchtime, and close by 5pm. We’re still testing its winter hardiness, but it sailed through this winter’s 11 degrees F, with no problems.
Looking great in the garden now is Andropogon gerardii ‘Blackhawks’. This Brent Horvath selection of the native (Canada south to Mexico) Andropogon gerardii, has beautiful, almost black foliage, compared to the typical glaucous green. Hardiness Zone 4a-8b
We grow quite a few sarracenia (pitcher plants) from seed, with only the very best (most unique and most vigorous) getting planted in the ground for further trials. Through the decades, we’ve only had a few that we eventually found worthy of a name. Below is a photo taken this week of a newly selected Sarracenia purpurea hybrid, that we’ve named Sarracenia ‘Fire Chief’. This almost certainly has genes from Sarracenia leucophylla. Later this year, we’ll chop into the plant to start propagation, so we can share.
Looking great in mid August is Hedychium spicatum. This is a ginger lily species we saw throughout our late 1990s travels in Yunnan, China. Pictured below are our 3 year old seed-grown specimen, which has already become a massive 5′ tall x 10′ wide. The flower is much smaller than some of the more showy species of hedychium, but the overall garden impact is quite grand. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10 (guessing).
The variegated hardy hibiscus, H. ‘Summer Carnival’ has looked outstanding all summer. This Hans Hansen creation has both variegated leaves and flower buds. We’ve had these in the garden since 2017, and they continue to excel. Moist to wet soils and full sun are ideal, but they handle short term drought just fine. Hardiness is Zone 4a-9b.
We’ve been fortunate to grow a huge number of hardy garden ferns through the years, but it’s hard for any to top the amazing Pleopeltis lepidopteris, to which, we’ve given the common name, Brazilian hairy sword fern.
Below is a patch at JLBG, composed of three individual clumps, looking great, despite the ravages of summer. This sun-loving lithophytic (rock grower) also grows fine in well-drained soils. In habitat, it hails from the sandy, acidic coastal (restinga) habitats in southern Brazil (Rio Grande du Sul). Our plants came from our friends at the former Yucca Do Nursery, who made a beach front collection in Brazil in 2012. It doesn’t appear that fern had been in cultivation prior to that time.
The 18″ tall x 2″ wide, rigidly upright fronds emerge covered in thick silver hair, to which I can now relate. As the fronds age, the hair thins and the green leaf surface becomes more visible. Pleopeltis lepidopteris spreads slowly from surface rhizomes. We’ve grown this evergreen Pleopeltis in our rock garden since 2012, where it has thrived even through winter temperatures of 7 degrees F. Hardiness Zone: 7b to 9b, at least.
Begonia ‘Caribbean Star’ is looking excellent in our begonia garden trials, despite our 11 degree F. winter. This fascinating Tim Anderson (Palm Hammock Orchid Estate) hybrid was made widely available thanks to begoniaphile, John Boggan. Our 2′ tall x 2′ wide ‘plants have been in the ground since 2019, although earlier trials failed to survive winter lows of 7 degrees F. That makes Begonia ‘Caribbean Star’ a good Zone 8a plant.
I can’t remember when I first met Cylindropuntia kleiniae, but it was somewhere back in my early years, during a family cross country drive, designed to expose us kids to the entirety of the US. I fell in love with cactus, despite being repeatedly stabbed as I tried to rescue a pad to take home.
Since that time, I’ve encountered this native of Texas, New Mexico, and into Mexico more times than I care to remember. This hardy pencil cactus is the Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree of cacti…kinda homely, but loveable in a motherly sort of way. In the garden, it forms an open 6′ specimen.
Many gardeners grow hardy aroids in their garden, ranging from the tiny arisarum to the giant amorphophallus, but few folks have tried members of the genus, Taccarum (tacky-arum). Taccarum is a small genus of only six species, all native to South America. As a nice addition, the flowers have no detectable fragrance.
In our trials, the star of the genus is Taccarum caudatum, a native to Bolivia, Peru, and Northern Brazil. From that region, there should be little possibility of winter hardiness here in Zone 7b, yet after more than a decade in the ground, they don’t just survive—they multiply and thrive.
In most locations we’ve planted them, they top out at 3′ tall, but several clumps we planted at the base of a large pine have now reached 6′ in height. We’ve named the hardy clone we grow, Taccarum caudatum ‘Eruption’.
We have long loved the evergreen, tri-lobed, Asian (China, Korea, Japan) epiphytic fern, Pyrrosia hastata. Our favorite clone, pictured below, is one we purchased many years ago from an on-line Japanese plant auction, and subsequently named Pyrrosia ‘Storm Watch’, due to its dark black central leaf vein. Unlike the rhizomatous Pyrrosia lingua, Pyrrosia hastata forms a very tight clump, and is extremely adaptable to growing both epiphytically as well as in the ground, as long as the soil doesn’t stay too moist.
July has been a great month to enjoy the floral show of the most winter hardy member of the genus Aloe. Our plant of Aloe cooperi, below, is happy as can be, growing in half day sun in our crevice garden.
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.
Through the years, we’ve trialed 27 different clones of Amorphophallus krausei in the garden for winter hardiness, but only two have consistently survived. The largest is a 2005 Alan Galloway collection from from Son La, Vietnam. Here it is in the garden this week with the 5′ tall flower spikes. The spikes are followed by 7′ tall leaf petioles, making this the tallest winter hardy amorphophallus we’ve encountered. We working to get this amazing giant propagated.
Back in the early 2000s, we grew the spiral ginger, Costus speciosus for many years, before finally loosing it in a very cold winter, but its potential hardiness has always fascinated us. In 2013, Georgia plantsman Ozzie Johnson collected a specimen near the border of North Vietnam and Southern China at 3,900′ elevation. Below is Ozzie’s collection this week at JLBG, after our recent winter of 11 degrees F. The same plant, growing in Atlanta, survived 5 degrees F this winter without protection, so I think we can safely say we have a Zone 7b hardy form. This exceptional clone has been named Costus speciosus ‘Wizard of Oz’. It will take a few years to build up stock, but we’ll get this one ready as fast as possible.
Back in the 1970s, when I was specializing in house plants, one of my favorites was the epiphytic fern genus, Aglamorpha. These staghorn relatives made delightful hanging baskets, despite being far outside the bell curve in regards to recognizability to most gardeners.
Over the years, as I migrated more to hardy perennials, I gave up most of my house plants, but not before trying most of them in the ground. As you can imagine, aglmorphas were a failure, but I never gave up on the idea of finding a winter hardy one.
Fast forward some 40+ years later, I spotted an aglamorpha-like fern in the crowded cold frame at England’s Pan Global Plants. Examining the tag, which read, Drynaria sinica, led me down another rabbit hole, where I discovered that the genus Aglamorpha and Drynaria had recently been joined due to a botanical merger.
In the new group of 30+ species, one, Drynaria sinica, came from an elevation of over 12,000’…a certain sign of potential hardiness. My purchase made it through both the inspection and shipping process, and now thrives in our rock garden, where it sailed though 11 degrees F this winter. Despite a recent name change to Drynaria baronii, we are very excited about this hardy epiphytic fern, and look forward to eventually having some to share.
It’s that time of year, when the surprise lilies, Lycoris, that we have scattered throughout the garden begin to pop. Actually, due to our early summer rains, they began popping in early July this year, 2-3 weeks ahead of normal.
Surprise lilies are divided into two groups, based on when their leaves emerge….fall (October) or late winter to early spring (March). Those with fall emerging foliage are generally not winter hardy north of Zone 7a, while those with late winter to early spring emerging foliage can usually tolerate temperatures of Zone 4/5.
Here are a few recent images from the garden from our world-renown collection of 1,090 different selected clones. The spring-foliaged hybrid, Lycoris x squamigera is the most popular clone, and be seen in gardens from Minnesota south.
Lycoris x incarnata ‘Blue Queen’ is another spring-foliaged hybrid that’s yet to hit the market.
Lycoris x straminea ‘Caldwell’s Original’ is a hybrid of the late Sam Caldwell, who is one of the first breeders who devoted his life to understanding the genus Lycoris. This is a fall-foliage emerging hybrid.
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.
Looking lovely in the garden this week is the amazing native small tree, Aesculus parviflora var. serotina ‘Rogers’. Despite this amazing plant being native only in Alabama, it thrives in gardens well north of Chicago. This named selection was discovered in the early 1960s in the yard of University of Illinois professor Donald Rogers, and named because of its more floriferous nature, as well as its more pendulous flower spikes.
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.
It’s always a bittersweet moment when you lose longtime staff, so we’d like to publicly say goodbye to Meghan Fidler, our Nursery Manager for the last 5+ years, and her partner, Jeremy Schmidt, who headed up our Grounds and Research department for 15+ years. Jeremy has been responsible for all of our garden rock work over the last decade including our incredible crevice garden, while Meghan has overseen a period of dramatic growth in our production nursery.
Both are heading off for a new adventure at Bellingrath Gardens & Home in Mobile, Alabama, where they will work for another former PDNer, Todd Lasseigne. We wish them the best in their new phase of life. We are currently looking to fill our Nursery Manager position, so if you or someone you know has an interest, you can find out more here.
The latest member of the clumping monardas of the Electric Neon series is ‘Electric Neon Purple’. Here it is in our garden this summer, looking absolutely fabulous. Look for this in our upcoming Fall catalog.
We’ve tried a number of Caryopteris x clandonensis cultivars over the years, and most fail to survive more than one of our hot, humid summers. One recent exception that surpassed all of our expectations is the amazing Caryopteris ‘Gold Crest’. Below is a mid-July image from the garden.
From the incredibly fragrant foliage to the color, to the pollinator friendly flowers, this is one amazing plant for a well-drained sunny spot in the garden. Our clumps have matured at 3′ tall x 5′ wide, so allow enough room. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
Flowering this week is our 2019 seed collection from Texas of the Evening Primrose looking Milkweed, Asclepias oenotheroides. This odd clumping milkweed, which tops out at 18″ tall, only grows natively from Louisiana west to Arizona, and south into Mexico in very dry sites. Hardiness is most likely Zone 7b-10b.
I wrote a short note about my friend Pam Harper, who passed away last week, but wanted to share a little more. Below are a couple of her amazing selections of Arum italicum, that she shared through the years. The top is Arum italicum ‘Pamela Harper’, was one of her seedlings that former NY nurserywoman, Ellen Hornig, named in her honor.
The one below is a selection that Pam named, Arum italicum ‘Ringlets’. It’s hard to show how amazing it is in a photograph, but this is my feeble attempt. We have yet to divide our original clump, but that will probably happen soon.
Pam’s son, Nick also shared a couple of videos, so those of you who didn’t know Pam or have the chance to visit her garden can get a better of picture of this amazing woman. The first is a YouTube of her garden, and the second is her appearance on the former television show, Gardener’s Diary.
Remember that Nick is looking for a gardener to purchase her amazing home and garden. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org We hope you’ll help us spread the word about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Plant breeding is a wonderful hobby that attracts an array of hobbyists, as well a plant professionals. Many plants, such as hemerocallis, hosta, hibiscus, and iris, are so easy that they attract the majority of hobbyist breeders. Professionals and the craziest of the breeders occasionally focus on more difficult plants that few others are willing to try. This includes plants where the pollen exchange is complicated either by timing, incompatibility, or other constraints. Such is the case with century plants (agave).
Peak flowering season for 2023 is drawing to a close at JLBG, while one new agave is just in mid-spike. We only had 13 different agaves flower this year, compared to 18 last year. Fortunately, we are able to save and store pollen in the refrigerator, where it will remain viable for at least 5 years.
Below are a few images of Steve Guptill of our garden staff, as he made crosses last week. At the bottom of the first image is our volunteer agave specialist, Vince Schneider, who is training Steve to make the crosses.
With agaves, the process involves waiting for the stigma to become sticky–a sign that it’s receptive to the pollen. Pollen is then gathered from our prospective father and then hauled up the 21′ ladder to the waiting stigmas. Not only are you high in the air, but you’re working around hundreds of bees that are busy gathering copious amounts of nectar.
Assuming we get seed set, they should be ripe by late September/early October.
Both spiking agaves in the photo below are our selected hybrids from previous years breeding.
Erythrina herbacea, commonly known as coral bean is an amazing southeast native, hailing from South coastal NC to Texas. Our plant of the coral pink Woodlander’s Nursery selection is looking fabulous in the garden this week. This deciduous perennial regrows from a large underground caudex each spring, only emerging after June. It’s drought tolerance is legendary, and as you can imagine, it’s a treat for hummingbirds. Hardiness is Zone 7a-10b.
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.
Below is our 5 year old clump of Commelina erecta looking absolutely dazzling, as it does each spring and summer. Commelina erecta is an amazing perennial, virtually unknown in horticultural circles, despite being native from 30 of the 50 states (Minnesota to New Mexico). Our collection below is from Elbert County, Georgia.
Each plant forms a 4′ wide mat of fleshy green foliage, highlighted by erect 1′ tall flowering stems. The stems are topped from July through September with rich pure blue flowers (a rarity in the hardy plant world). Although each flower is only open for a day, the succession of blooms rivals most annuals. So, why isnt’ this grown more? In the wild, it’s a fairly sparse plant, since it occurs naturally in the light/open/partial shade. Consequently, most authorities encourage you to plant it in similar conditions. Most references also write about its potential weediness, which raises all kinds of red flags.
In our trials, we have found that it grows and flowers far better in full sun. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to put this in the shade. Although it has legendary drought tolerance, it also grows great in moist soils.
Our selection from Georgia produces very few if any seedlings in the garden, so after 5 years of growing in excellent garden conditions, we see zero signs of weediness. Did I mention that it’s a great food for quails, and doves? Winter hardiness is most likely Zone 4a-9b.
So, the question is—do you think anyone would buy this if we propagated a few?
We have been playing around with the genus Polygonella since 2000, but have still only grown 3 of the 11 US species so far. We are fascinated why these native, highly drought-tolerant members of the buckwheat (Polygonaceae) family aren’t more widely grown.
The common name of jointweed, probably is the biggest factor in their lack of popularity, but then botanist aren’t usually known for their marketing prowess. The plants do have joints, but they are far from being weeds. Polygonellas look like miniature subshrubs of obscure green joints until they burst into flower with hundreds of tufts of small white flowers, that are covered by all kinds of bees.
Below is a current photo of our 4-year-old clump of Polygonella americana. In my humble opinion, honeybee keepers should be planting these everywhere, since they flower during what is known as the “nectar dearth” season, starting here in June. For us, Polygonella americana flowers from June until October. Our plant is growing the un-irrigated crevice garden in a Permatill dominant soil, since great drainage is essential.
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 always look forward to the start of summer, when the summer lily show begins. These summer lilies include mostly Asiatic lilies, and their hybrids. Our particular interest are in lilies that are taller than 4′ and have pendant flowers. The shorter Asiatic lilies, and those with upright-held flowers may look great in a container, but they have little design value in a naturalistic style garden. Since some of the lilies are top heavy due to the massive weight of the flowers, we recommend varieties with sturdy stems.
Be sure you can stand the fragrance, since most hybrid lilies are so fragrant, they blow gardenias out of the water. Because these lilies have little foliage, they can be planted into masses of other plants without any detrimental effects. The flower stalks seemingly appear out of nowhere in early July, and fade into obscurity when they are finished.
Below are a few favorites we photographed recently in the garden.
Globularia is a genus of small, rock garden-sized plants in the Plantaginaceae family, with a native distribution centered around Mediterranean Europe. I admired these during our 2012 Balkan expedition, but it wasn’t until we constructed our crevice garden empire, that we really began to have much success with the dryland plants in our wet, humid summer climate.
We’ve now tried 15 of the 22 known globularia species, and have only lost two of those outright. While globularias are usually grown for their puffy blue, ball-shaped flowers in spring, we love species like Globularia repens for its habit as a slow-growing, dense groundcover. The key to our success is a soil mix of 50% Permatill, which is a lava-like popped slate. Hardiness Zone 4b-8a.
Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘MonSan’ is looking quite exceptional in the garden. Since we live in the community of Juniper, NC, we thought we should have a significant collection of the our namesake genera. This Monrovia Nursery introduction, which is a hybrid between the Asian Juniperus chinensis and the Eurasian Juniperus sabina, is truly stunning. Although it’s marketed by the introducer as maturing at 3′ tall x 4′ wide, our six-year-old plants are 3′ tall x 12′ wide. Could someone be trying to trick you in to buying many more plants that you actually need…hmmm? Hardiness is Zone 3b-8b, at least.
With what seems to be an endless array of Hydrangea paniculata cultivars entering the market, July has turned the garden into a snow white scene. The Asian Hydrangea paniculata was first published as a new species in 1829, but was not grown in the Americas until Arnold Arboretum director, Charles Sargent brought back seed from an 1892 expedition to Japan. That original plant, now, 131 years old, measures 16′ tall x 25′ wide. I’m not saying you need to plan for your Hydrangea paniculata to reach 131 years old, but the average of a house in the US is 46 years, so logic says we should at least plant for a 50 year mature size.
Below is our clump of Hydrangea ‘Rensun’, which is marketed under a completely different name, Strawberry Sundae. The introducers of this lovely clone tout this as maturing at 5′ tall x 4′ wide, but our 6 year old specimen is already 7′ tall x 11′ wide. Based on that growth rate and the mature size of the species, I’d expect it to reach 14′ wide x 22′ wide in 50 years. It’s truly fascinating why it’s so difficult to for plant breeders to get more accurate measurements before these plants are introduced to market. One can only imagine the maintenance problems caused when you locate plants based on the size given on the plant tag, only to have the plant get 2-4 times as large as your space allows.