The dainty rock garden fern, Woodsia polystichoides has just emerged in the garden. The spores for this were shared by one of our Russian gardening friends from his collection on the Sakhalin Islands. For those who don’t follow history, the Sakhalin Islands were another of Russia’s many conquests, this from a 2 week war with Japan in 1945, when neither country was behaving neighborly. What a shame that countries aren’t run by gardeners. Hardiness is Zone 4-7b.
Flowering this week at JLBG is the amazing cherry red Hamamelis japonica ‘Tsukubana-kurenai’, also known as Shibamichi’s Red witch hazel. This gem was selected by legendary Japanese nurseryman, Akira Shibamichi, who also introduced Metasequoia ‘Ogon’. We were blessed to have Mr. Shibamichi visit JLBG back in the 1990s.
We truly love having garden visitors! We recently wrapped up our winter Open Nursery and Garden days, and will open in again in spring in late April/early May. It’s great to see folks get ideas both about plants they would like to try as well as garden design ideas. Because of exceptionally good weather most days this winter, the crowds were record-setting.
Open house is also like a giant horticultural family reunion. It’s actually surprising when folks don’t run into their gardening friends in the garden. We love seeing old friends, while meeting new ones. Below is George McLellan, a long time friend and avid plantsman from Virginia and member of the mid-Atlantic Rhododendron Society. On the left is Barbara Bullock, who recently retired from the US National Arboretum after 29 years of curating the garden’s azalea collection…here for her first visit.
The prize for the traveling the farthest distance this year goes to hosta nurseryman, Marco Fransen of Holland. I had the pleasure of visiting Marco’s nursery several years ago, so it was lovely to have the chance to chat. It was interesting to learn that Marco’s main customer base for new hosta introductions is both Russia and Ukraine. It would be safe to conclude that the current conflict in that region won’t be good for business, but our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone effected.
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.
This is our first flowering of Dracunculus canariensis, the rare cousin of the more commonly-grown aroid Dracunculus vulgaris. Dracunculus canariensis hails from Madeira (reportedly extinct) and the nearby Canary Islands, all off the coast of Morocco.
We inherited our specimen from the late plantsman, Alan Galloway, who planned to cross it with Dracunculus vulgaris. The task now falls to us. Both species have a similiar chromosome count of 2N=28, so this should be a easy cross by saving pollen. To us, the flower smells like watermelon rhine, which is a nice change from the more offensive smell of its sibling.
What do the plants pictured below have in common, and it’s not what you might think. These common plants are actually food crops…read more at the end of the photos.
These are a few of the plants that can be used to make wheat bread…and flavorful bread at that. Yes, the kind you eat.
A fascinating 2017 research study from Tavria State Agrotechnological University in Ukraine describes how common garden plants (and weeds) can be used in the production of bread. Most people probably have little idea of the amazing research that goes on in Ukraine. If you’re curious to give it a try, here is the link to the original research publication.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ukrainians as they endure the horrific invasion of their wonderful country.
I was scanning some older slides recently, and came across this image of the late Ritchie Bell from 1968. Dr. Bell was director of the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill for 25 years, from 1961 to 1986. Here he is in 1968, posing by a sign for the first nature trail opened at NCBG, just a couple of years earlier.
Ritchie is not just known for his work at the garden, but for his many books, most notably, his contributions to the revered, 1964 Manual of the Vascular Flora of North Carolina, with Al Radford and Harry Ahles. We’ve never forgot Ritchie’s motto of “Conservation through Propagation”…something that’s even more important today in the face of a changing climate. Ritchie passed away in 2013 and the age of 92, but his powerful legacy endures.. He was a good friend and an incredible inspiration.
Ritchie had just made a previous presentation to the Men’s Garden Club of America regional meeting in Reidsville about the new NCBG trail system. Below is an image from that 1968 meeting with MGC Regional President, Sam Fairchild (r) of Reidsville, NC. Most people don’t remember Ritchie prior to growing his trademark beard.
Spring crocus are popping all through the garden, and it’s a challenge to photograph them all. We just happened to recently catch Crocus isauricus ‘Spring Beauty’ in full flower. Crocus isauricus (formerly Crocus biflorus ssp. isauricus) is an endemic to Southern Turkey in the region along the Mediterranean Sea.
Podocarpus macrophyllus ‘Okina’ is looking lovely this winter. This Japanese selection has resided at the base of a large pine tree at JLBG since 2001. We love the white speckled foilage, which really shines in the winter months. Podocarpus macrophyllus is one of a short list of conifers that thrives in the shade of a woodland garden. Our 20 year old plant is now 6′ tall. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.
A couple of weeks ago, we mentioned our landscaping project on the north side of Mt. Michelle to create more intricate planting pockets, while raising the planting heights significantly via the use of rock assisted berms.
Phase 2 of the project was to create a cut through on northwest side through a previously inaccessible bed. Phase 2 is now complete, and visitors can now traverse the new path, exiting into the northwest side of the Mt. Michelle waterfall. This path takes you under the large speckled-leaf loquat, Magnolia macclurei, and several large conifers, so be sure to look up as well as down.
Last week, Jeremy and his staff tackled phase 3 of the project, which was the two 50 degree slopes on the west side of Mt. Michelle. Despite being planted for some time, we had lost some soil due to runoff, and the plants were screaming for more compost, and we were screaming for more rock pockets.
In less than a week, Jeremy’s team stacked these new retaining planting walls, which provide hundreds of new planting pockets for small woodland treasures. Each is now filled with our garden compost mix as well as an array of small, little-known plants. Just remember, if you garden on flat ground and think you are out of planting space, the key is to learn to think like a Pythagorean…a² + b² = c²…go vertical.
You’ll be able to see these newly planted areas during our winter open house, although it will take a while for the plants to mature.
Here are an assortment of Iris species flowering at JLBG during the last week of February. So many folks only know the bearded iris of later spring, and miss these amazing winter gems. Join us this weekend for our Winter Open Nursery & Garden Days and explore our winter blooming iris.
The first is Iris tuberosa, a winter blooming tuberous iris from Mediterranean Europe. Iris tuberosa is one of the few examples, where a Latinized name change actually results in something that’s easier to pronounce. This gem was formerly known by the tongue twisting name, Hermodactylus tuberosus. Most iris grow from rhizomes, with the tuberous iris being a much smaller and less-known group. We have found these to grow best in part sun. Winter hardiness Zone 7b-10b.
The West-Asian (Caucuses, Iran, Turkey, and Russia) Iris reticulata is also different, in that it grows from a bulb. These are quite easy to grow, and are available commercially in a number of named color forms. Below is Iris reticulata ‘Painted Lady’…looking stunning today. The reticulate (netted) iris grow best in full to part sun. Hardiness is Zone 3-8.
We’ve shown some of the Mediterranean Iris unguicularis recently, but here are a couple more looking particularly nice this week…Iris ‘Front Drive’ (top) and Iris ‘Winter Echos’ below. Hardiness for both is Zone 6b-9b.
We treasure any plant that makes a great woodland groundcover, and are particularly smitten with the ophiopgon (mondo grass) and liriope (monkey grass) selections. We currently grow over 120 different ophiopogon accesions including quite a number of wild collections, at JLBG…see what a touch of OCD does for you. We’ve grown Ophiopogon ‘Comet’ since 1997, and love it for its white striped foliage and well-behaved growth habit. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.
Flowering now in the woodland garden is this rad little windflower, Anemone raddeana. This Asian native (China, Japan, Korea, and Russia) is a plant you’ll almost never see for sale. First, it flowers in the middle of winter when few people are thinking about gardening. Secondly, it’s ridiculously small, producing only a single white flower per stalk, which rises only a couple of inches from a slowly creeping rhizome. Third, it’s a spring ephemeral, meaning it will be dormant by the first of May. Finally, most people move through life too fast to even notice little gems like this. That said, if you like things like this, this is exactly the kind of thing you’ll really like. We certainly do!
Few people know the fascinating native shrub, Dirca palustris. It’s little wonder it gets overshadowed by showier members of its family, Thymelaeaceae, which includes the likes of Daphne and Edgeworthia. Our 6′ tall plant is flowering alongside a large edgeworthia, and rarely gets noticed by visitors.
Dirca palustris, the plant, is actually widespread across Eastern North America, with a range from Canada to Florida, where it thrives in slightly moist, acidic soils. It’s often known as leatherwood, due to its thick, but very pliable branches, which have been used by Native Americans for making rope as well as baskets.
There are three other less poorly known dirca species…if that’s possible. We grow the rare Dirca decipiens from Kansas/Arkansas, but have not yet tried D. occidentalis from California, or D. mexicana from Mexico.
The genus takes its name from the Dirce in Greek Mythology, who bit the big one while tied to the horns of a bull….a truly sordid story. The specific epithet “palustris”, lacks the fascinating story of the genus, but only means that the plant naturally lives in very wet sites. Winter hardiness is Zone 3-9.
I borrowed the title from our good friend Jim Dodson’s book for this post about Ulmus parviflora ‘Golden Rey’. One of the most admired trees in our garden is our specimen of Gold-leaf lacebark elm. The bark, as you can see below is absolutely fabulous both in winter and summer.
The problem is that lacebark elm is a notorious seed producer, and in our garden, it seems like every one germinates. Our love/hate relationship with this species has so far resulted in the removal of four different mature cultivars from our garden so far.
Here’s where genetic engineering (GE) could actually help. Notice, we are using the term GE, as compared to the incorrectly used GMO. All, plants, unless they come directly from the wild, are genetically modified organisms (GMO). Humans would cease to exist as we know them without GMO’s, so, please try to use the correct terminology. What people are crusading against in food crops is actually genetic engineering (GE). Hoping down now from my soapbox.
It’s actually quite easy to sterilize a plant, using one of the genetic engineering tools known as CRISPR. Just think of this GE surgery as a horticultural vascectomy…a couple of snips and you’re done making babies. It will be interesting to see if public sentiment for non-edible crops allows genetic engineers to solve such problems with making some amazing plants like the widely planted lacebark elm more palatable to gardeners who are concerned about its potentially invasive tendencies.
Ever since seeing cinnamon trees (Cinnamomum camphora) planted throughout the parking lot at Florida’s Disneyworld in the 1970s, we have been fascinated to see how many species of Cinnamon trees are winter hardy here in Zone 7b. Cinnamomum jensenianum, from Southern/South Central China has been one of the stars in our trials. Here is our 15 year old specimen looking great in mid-winter.
Here are a couple of images this week from the garden of our older clumps of Cyclamen hederifolium. For garden areas that are dark and dry, where nothing else grows, cyclamen are your best bet. Of the plants below, one is at the base of a cryptomeria and the other at the base of a pine. Although they flower from August until Christmas, the winter foliage is just hard to beat. Hardiness is Zone 4a-8b.
I continue to be shocked how many people I speak with that have never heard about Rosenwald Schools. It’s truly puzzling that it manages to be overlooked in our American History classes. Last year we mentioned the renovations taking place at the Panther Branch Rosenwald School, just three doors north of Juniper Level Botanic Garden (JLBG). We promised to keep you updated, so here goes.
If you missed our original blog, here is a brief history of the partnership that produced the Rosenwald Schools. In the early part of the 20th century, Sears & Roebuck president, Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932) teamed up with renowned African American education leader, Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) of the Tuskegee Institute, to try and remedy the chronically underfunded, segregated education system for African American children.
Washington and Rosenwald worked together to fund construction of state-of-the-art middle schools for African American students around the country. Between 1913 and 1932, 5,350 schools (and associated structures) were constructed thanks to a matching grant program (1/3 Rosenwald funds, 1/3 local government funds, and 1/3 community funds) devised and set up by Rosenwald and Washington.
The Rosenwald schools were based on designs by the country’s first accredited black architect, Robert R. Taylor of the Tuskegee Institute. These plans were later standardized by Samuel Smith of the Rosenwald Foundation. Some Rosenwald schools accommodated as many as seven teachers, while others had only one. The schools, which were all conceived to also be used for community functions, were designed based on daylight considerations and the effect on the light on student eye strain. All schools have an east/west orientation, along with pale colored walls and expansive windows.
The 3,000 square foot Juniper Level/Panther Branch Rosenwald School, operated from 1926 until 1956, and is one of only sixty remaining Rosenwald Schools in existence. In their heyday, North Carolina had more Rosenwald Schools than any other state. Now that renovations are complete, the Rosenwald School is available for community events, and at night is used to tutor area students.
Juniper Level Missionary Baptist Church (JLMBC), which owns the Panther Branch Rosenwald School property, was first established in 1870 in a small log building, which continued to expand, culminating in the current main building, which was constructed circa 1920. Other adjacent structures were added later as the church grew.
Visionary Pastor Jeff Robinson of JLMBC has graciously allowed us to become a partner in efforts to improve and strengthen the community of Juniper. In our case, this primarily involves landscape work around the schoolhouse.
In fall 2021, I was blessed wit the opportunity to attend a luncheon at the school with Mrs. Perry, below. Not only was Mrs. Perry, 92, a graduate of the Panther Branch Rosenwald School, but she went on to become a career school teacher. She shared amazing stories of the 200-300 students that attended the Rosenwald School, each walking from miles around. She talked about the amazing sense of community in the Juniper community, which didn’t suffer from the racial barriers that plagued many southern towns. She explained how the first student to school each morning was tasked with starting a fire in the pot-bellied stove that was the sole source of heat on cold mornings.
JLMBC is also a Food Bank distribution site, so the first project for our staff was to build a community garden behind the Rosenwald School, where church members will grow their own organic produce to distribute. We enriched the soil with the same compost we use at JLBG, and worked with the church volunteers, who installed the deer fence.
Step two was the installation of a Magnolia grandiflora hedge between the cemetery behind the school and the adjacent fire station. Due to the narrow strip of land available, we used the naturally narrow selection Magnolia ‘Southern Charm’ (aka Teddy Bear magnolia).
Step 3 was installing foundation plants around the building, which will take a couple of years to fill in.
Step 4 will be the planting of Camellias and Azaleas on the newly built berm on the north side of the school to serve as a screen for the construction of Interstate 540..
Step 5 is to build a nature park/picnic area in a wooded plot adjacent to the vegetable garden. When we began clearing the undergrowth, we found an amazing canopy of trees and a range of moisture regimens that would lend itself to becoming an area for the community to learn and enjoy.
Adjacent to the school, and along Sauls Road, were two large oaks, one red oak, and one live oak. With 54″ diameter trunks, both likely were 100-150 years old, probably dating to the founding of Panther Branch and the construction of JLMBC. Sadly, crews working on the construction of the nearby I-540 decided both should be removed, despite not being anywhere near the highway. Before we knew what was happening and could muscle any resistance, all that remained were two 12′ tall stumps.
Because these trees had great historical significance to both the church and school, we reached out for help in saving a slab from the live oak, which could be preserved and eventually dated. The folks at Bartlett Tree answered our call for help, and volunteered their crew to salvage a slab that we will now cure and prepare for display in the Rosenwald Historical Room. Hooray to Bartlett for their interest in this community project and willingness to help!
As we prepare for our winter open house, The church has agreed to open the Rosenwald School at 9109 Sauls Road for tours during our winter open house hours, which you can find here. Parking is available at the Church on the west side of Sauls Road, as well as the school on the east side of Sauls Road. We hope everyone will take time to stop by this important historical landmark and learn more about the amazing collaboration that created the Rosenwald Schools.
Picea rubens (red spruce) is one of only 8 US native spruce species, and the only one whose natural ranges includes North Carolina. The entire range of red spruce starts in Nova Scotia and continues south to high elevations in the NC mountains. Genetic testing indicates that our red spruce evolved due to climate change during the Pleistocene (12,000 years to 2.5 million years ago), when it split off from Picea mariana (black spruce). Black spruce is now the only other nearby spruce, which currently resides from New Jersey north with a small population in Northern Kentucky.
Surprisingly, red spruce is virtually absent from piedmont gardens, probably due to the common wisdom that it doesn’t tolerated heat and humidity. As long as it’s given adequate amounts of Calcium (we aim for a pH of 6.5), it grows beautifully. Here is our 26 year old specimen, that didn’t get the memo that it’s shouldn’t grow here. Hardiness is Zone 3a-8a.
Red spruce wood is used to make high quality wood instruments like violins and acoustic guitars, but to avoid cutting down your lovely specimen, we recommend you stick with products that can be made from the foliage, like the infamous Red Spruce Beer.
When people think of trilliums, they usually think of the cold north, but states like Florida are also home to four species of trilliums which all thrive throughout the southeastern states. Here are two of the earliest species to flower in our garden.
The first is Trillium maculatum ‘Kanapaha Giant’ from Alachua County. This is consistently the earliest trillium to emerge and flower for us. This is followed close behind by Trillium underwoodii. Both of these are usually in flower by early February.
One of our winter garden favorites is looking so good right now, that we had to share. Oxalis palmifrons is an amazing, but slow-growing rock garden gem, that hails from the South African karoo. We offered this through Plant Delights almost a decade ago, and it will be some time before we have enough to offer again.
We’ll never be accused of being galanthophiles (folks who are hopelessly addicted to collecting galanthus cultivars), but we do love the genus, and are fascinated with these mostly winter-flowering bulbs. Here are a couple in full flower now at JLBG. These have a preference for slightly moist-to-average woodland conditions.
The superb (and spineless) Ilex ‘Cherry Bomb’ is looking amazing in the garden this week. Our specimen is now 22 years old, and measures 35′ tall x 15′ wide. It originated at the US National Arboretum as part of Dr. William Kosar’s breeding program, and is a 1959/1960 seedling from Ilex ‘Nellie R. Stevens’, most likely a hybrid with the spineless Ilex integra.
It was sent around to different growers for evaluation trials under a code #, and was later determined to not have enough value for northern US growers, so a destruction notice was sent by the National Arboretum.
Like some characters in the slasher flicks, it wasn’t completely destroyed, as propagations from the holly managed, quite improperly, to make its way to the deep south, where growers found it quite extraordinary, and in the 1980s, it was given the name Ilex ‘Cherry Bomb’ by Dr. Dave Creech of Steven F. Austin University. This wonderful plant is now a staple in the Southern nursery industry.
With our recent 16 degree F winter temperatures, all of the cycas plants (sago palms) in the garden now have fried foliage. This foliage will not recover, but damage like this is fully expected in our climate, and not something that will damage the plants. Be sure to not remove the old damaged foliage this early, however, since cycads are programmed to shoot out new foliage 10-14 days after the old foliage is removed, and this is much too early for new foliage, with more cold weather likely on the way.
We like to remove the old foliage starting in mid-April, when it should be safe. As you can see in the second photo, the central crown is still in great shape, undamaged by the cold temperatures. We think the central crown is one of the most fascinating parts of a cycad, which shows its’ ancient lineage.
Cryptomeria japonica ‘Little Diamond’ is one of our favorite dwarf Japanese cedar selections, this one from Holland Konjin Nursery prior to 1990. This specimen at JLBG is five years old and measures 2′ tall x 3′ wide. At maturity, we have seen these reach 4′ tall x 8′ wide.
The first plant looks for all the world like a fine textured carex, but in fact, it’s an iris. Iris dabashanensis is a little-known species from China, that thrives for us in light shade, but will also take a few hours of early morning sun. Our plant is a Darrell Probst collection from Sichuan, China. Winter hardiness is Zone 5a -8a.
Below is the same plant flowering in early April.
The other plant growing nearby in our gardens that fools even the keenest plantsmen is this liriope look-alike. In fact, this is a cast iron plant, Aspidistra linearifolia. This demonstrates why those pesky taxonomic traits matter. In 2008 we introduced a selection with a lighter central stripe down the center of each leaf called A. linearifolia ‘Skinny Dippin’ which we will be offering again in 2023. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
Most gardeners know the genus aspidistra (cast iron plant) from one or two species, and if that’s the case, you probably only know those which hold their leaves vertically upright. There are equally as many species with pendant leaves, which provide a completely different form in the woodland garden. Here are two of those pendant-leaf species from the garden this week.
The first is Aspidistra sichuanensis, which is one of the larger growing species. A single clump can easily spread to 6′ in width in a couple of decades. This clump has topped out at 3.5′ in height.
Below that is Aspidistra ebianensis ‘Flowing Fountains’. With narrower, wavier foliage, it makes a large clump, albeit slightly smaller than Aspidistra sichuanensis. Both plants are winter hardy from Zone 7b and south.
Below are more of the Ice n’ Roses snow roses flowering now in the gardens at JLBG. These amazing sterile hybrids were created in Germany by the Heuger plant breeding company. They have proven fabulous in our trials, but are still often difficult to find due to the screwy production cycle.
Because these snow roses, as Heuger calls them, are clonal and sterile, they can only be commercially produced by tissue culture, which is all done overseas. The non-rooted microplants are shipped in sterile containers to the US, where they are received at rooting stations (nurseries capable of putting roots on these microplants).
There are only three North American rooting stations used by Heuger, one in Canada, and one on each of the US coasts. Once the microplants have roots and have grown large enough, they are purchased by finish growers, who pot and grow them for 2-3 months before they are a saleable size.
For a finish grower or retail nursery to have plants available to sell in late winter or early spring, they would need to receive liners (small plants with roots) from the rooting stations in September/October. The problem is that these rooting stations usually get their unrooted microplants from overseas in fall, when their losses are less and the plants finish faster.
Consequently, these rooting stations only have plants available for the finish growers from February – April. This means that the finish grower and retailer will only have plants ready to sell at the beginning of summer, which is certainly not ideal unless you live in the northern tier of states or Canada.
The only option a finished grower has is to hold the plants through the summer and fall, to have them available in the late winter flowering season. This drives up the crop cost dramatically, since a nursery has an overhead cost per square foot per month of growing space. Until a change is dictated by the grower throughout the supply chain, it is unlikely that the supply will be able to keep up with the potential demand. Anyone think making plants available is easy?
Throughout the years, we’ve grown literally thousands…perhaps 10s of thousands of seedlings of the Japanese sacred lily, Rohdea japonica. Each one varies slightly, but we only save those at the far end of the bell curve. Here are three of our seedlings which well represent that dramatic variation at each end of the spectrum…a wide leaf form we named Rohdea ‘Stork Nest’ (15 yrs old), a very narrow leaf form we named Rohdea ‘Thin Man’ (16 years old), and a miniature that has yet to be named.
We were delighted to find a flower on our Arisarum simorrhinum in early February, tucked in a the base of a dwarf Chamaecyparis (false cypress). This little-grown Mediterranean native, dryland aroid is first cousin to the better known mouse plant, Arisarum proboscideum. This baby has been in the ground for 20 years, so slow is the operative word.
If you’ve visited JLBG, you know how much we love working with rocks, so we continue to find new areas to plant more. We’ve recently tackled two long overdue projects near the Mt. Michelle waterfall.
The first was re-working the Mt. Michelle watercourse we know as Mystic Creek (named after one of our late cats). When this was installed in 2003, we used concrete to form the water channel. Well, after 18 years, tree roots had their way with the concrete, which lost both the battle and the war.
After a fair amount of root excavation work, Jeremy and Nick installed a new rubber liner, with rocks along the edge. We’ll probably wait until spring to finish the replanting in order to avoid planting on top of something that was winter dormant. Below is the new rocked watercourse.
Phase 2 of the project was re-working an adjacent bed, where light levels had changed dramatically since it was installed in 1998. Originally a full sun bed, the shrubs on the west side have grown substantially, leaving us with a bed that only gets 3-4 hours of sun on one end, and a full shade area underneath the canopy.
Here, we raised the center of the bed, with more of Jeremy and Nick’s rock work, which was then filled with our on-site created compost. This created a visual barrier to much of the winding path that visitors use to get closer to the small plants, which are now tucked in the crevices.
One the back (west) side, Jeremy and Nick installed another small rock seating area, of which there are never enough.
There are a few more days of rock work to complete Phase 2, then we’ll start on Phase 3, which will rework the west face of Mt. Michelle, with more boulders to create additional planting pockets. We hope you’ll check out the progress at our upcoming winter open house.
We have long loved small crevice-sized succulents, but have also killed far more than our share, due mostly to our wet, cold winters. The newest star in our trials is the South African, Rabiea albipuncta, a first cousin to the better known, Delosperma. We should mention, that new DNA research has actually suggested a name change to Nananthus vittatus would be more correct, so we’ll be re-tagging shortly.
This gift from Denver Botanic Garden plantsman extraordinaire, Panayoti Kelaidis, has thrived in the gardens since 2018. We actually tried this back in 2004, but our site simply didn’t drain well enough in winter. This image was taken here at JLBG on February 2 this year, which shows how insanely tolerant the flowers are of cold weather. We hope to make this available next year through Plant Delights Nursery. This gem forms a substantial caudex, and as such is highly prized by bonsai enthusiasts.
We’ve “enjoyed” frozen precipitation for three consecutive weekends this winter, with one producing a decent 3.5″ snow. There’s something magnetic about snow on century plants, that makes you grab your camera and snap away.
The white of the snow looks out of place on an agave, although it does wonders for accenting the architectural structure of the plant. We have worked for 35 years to identify and create agaves which are completely tolerant of such weather events. Below are a couple of our hybrids, created here at JLBG.
Here’s a photo we took during our recent snow event of the amazing Abies bornmuelleriana (Turkish Fir). Not bad for out hot, humid, Zone 7b climate! It’s hard to imagine that there are beds of agaves growing nearby.This specimen is now 24 years old. Winter hardiness is Zone 5a-8b.
Fargesia robusta is one of the many excellent clumping bamboos for the garden. Thriving in light shade to part sun, this evergreen gem tops out around 7′ in height. We know it’s still hard for some people to realize, but clumping bamboos truly cannot run. This garden specimen at JLBG is now 22 years old. We love both the texture and architecture of bamboos. Winter hardiness is Zone 7a-8b.
Every year, we grow thousands of lenten roses from our own seed collections in the garden. Most, we sell at our Winter Open Nursery and Garden as Helleborus x hybridus ‘Winter Delights’. All of our Winter Delights hellebores are hand selected by color after they flower. Every now and then, an incredibly unique form gets pulled for the gardens and here is one of those from a few years ago. This amazing plant has huge 3.5″ wide flowers, and was already in full flower by January 1. We hope everyone can visit our upcoming Winter Open House and see the amazing hellebore selections in the garden.
Since ferns are one of the groups on which we focus our ex-situ conservation efforts, we have collected a huge number of species and selections from around the world. One that has continually frustrated us is the miniature rock fern, Asplenium trichomanes. Although this small gem is native to every continent except Antartica, we have struggled to keep it alive.
In our travels, we have collected it from Europe to Africa, but have also managed to kill all of those collections in the garden. Since our first attempt in 2004, we have now killed Asplenium trichomanes 16 times. We believe, however, in the late JC Raulston’s mantra, “Unless you are killing plants, you aren’t growing as a gardener.” The key is how many times do you continue to try before giving up?
We’re pretty stubborn as long as we feel we keep learning from each failure. Our latest accession of this species, which came as spores from Russia’s south coast, is actually thriving in our crevice garden, where the pH is north of 8.0. It seems that the crevice habitat is the answer.
We love the evergreen ruscus in garden, but realize they are a plant that will never be found at most mainstream garden centers. A genus of only 6 currently recognized species, native from Europe into Eurasia, these horticultural oddities are so odd that they once qualified to have their own plant family, Ruscaceae.
Now, with improved DNA testing, they were found to actually be members of the Asparagus family. Exactly where within the Asparagus family is still an ongoing debate. Within the last decade, they were grouped with Nolina and Dasylirion, which to those of us who work with live plants, made no sense. Most likely, they will wind up in their own section, but as distant cousins to better know genera like Rohdea and Liriope.
Ruscus are great evergreen plants for dry shade, in regions where they are winter hardy, which is usually Zone 7b and south. Ruscus are unique in that they don’t produce leaves, but instead have leaf like structures known as cladodes, from which the tiny flowers emerge. All ruscus species have both separate male and female plants, although there are four hermaphroditic (bi-sexual) cultivars of Ruscus aculeatus in commerce, which produce the lovely red fruit without a mate.
The most common ruscus species in cultivation is Ruscus aculeatus, which has a wide range from Western Europe through the Caucuses. A handful of named cultivars of Ruscus aculeatus can be found in the gardens. Below is a photo this month of Ruscus ‘Sparkler’ a self-fruiting form, whose 2′ tall height is mid-way between Ruscus ‘Elizabeth Lawrence’ and Ruscus ‘Wheeler’.
Ruscus hypophyllum is a species, which ranges from Spain to Northern Africa, that’s rarely cultivated in the US. Other than the very tender Ruscus streptophyllus, this has proven to the be the next most tender species. Prior to trying these new forms of Ruscus hypophyllum, which were planted in early 2020, we had only grown a single clone, which had consistently died in our Zone 7b winters. These new plants are seedlings, grown from an Alan Galloway seed collection in Majorca, Spain.
Ruscus hypoglossum, which hails from Italy to Turkey, is a similar sounding species that we were fortunate to study in the wilds of Slovenia a few years ago, where it grew in mountainous open forests.
Ruscus x microglossum (below) is a natural hybrid between Ruscus hypophyllum and Ruscus hypoglossum…quite a tongue-full.
Ruscus colchicus is a species we fell in love with during a trip to Hillier’s Arboretum in 2005. Hailing from NW Turkey to the Western Caucuses, Ruscus colchicus is possibly the most elegant garden species. We are fortunate to have three different clones growing at JLBG, which we hope to one day have enough to share.
Voted least likely to be found in an ex-situ plant collection is Ruscus hyrcanus, a species, whose native range is from the Crimea into Iran. In appearance it somewhat resembles a dwarf, horizontal-growing version of Ruscus aculeatus. We are thrilled to have been able to offer this little-cultivated species in the past through Plant Delights.
We hope you’ll take notice of these great evergreens during your next visit to JLBG.
This winter has been an amazing one at JLBG for the mid-winter flowering, evergreen magnolias. Formerly known as Michelia, there are several species from warm temperature Asian climates, which flower in the mid-winter. The plant in the top photo is our oldest specimen of Magnolia platypetala, and below is Magnolia macclurei…both planted in 1999, and in full flower in January. Obviously, we will loose open flowers if winter night temperatures drop too far below freezing, but the remainder of the flower buds usually open shortly after temperatures warm.
Also, the bright gold shrub in the first image is the original plant of our introduction, Illicium parviflorum ‘Florida Sunshine’…the plant from which all plants in the world were propagated. To the lower right is the Mediterranean native, Phlomis fruticosa ‘Miss Grace’. All in all, a lovely winter garden combination.
Here is the reportedly tender Massonia depressa from South Africa in full flower in our crevice garden. I should add that this photo was taken 2 nights after we recorded 16 degrees F. I guess when the source of all worthwhile information, Wikipedia, says “When cultivated in a temperate environment, M. depressa does not tolerate freezing temperatures, so must be grown under glass in a cold greenhouse or similar.” we should take that as fake gardening news. Hmmm.
Massonia is a genus of bulbs in the Asparagus family, related to the more familiar genus scilla. Winter hardiness of this species is….well, still to be determined, but we’re good to at least Zone 8b so far.
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.
Here’s a mid-winter shot of our front grotto, showing what that section looks like during the most trying time of year. We try to emphasize to those building new gardens to treat gardens just like rooms of your home. Each should have a floor, ceiling, walls, furniture both large and small, and decorations. In the garden, we also try to emphasize year round interest, which in our area includes a good selection of evergreens. Our Winter Open Nursery and Garden Days coming up in a few weeks is a great time to get ideas and inspiration for your own garden. Below is a “before” picture of the same area.
Below is the same shot when this section was begun in 1988.
For years, we struggled to grow the Mediterranean/Balkan native spurge, Euphorbia characias…until we discovered its secrets. First, it isn’t a long lived plant to begin with…in most cases 3-5 years is it, so you’ll need to plant it where it’s likely to reseed. That would be well-drained slopes that are either mulched or covered with gravel.
Secondly, after it flowers in spring with its stunning show of yellow flowers, remove most of the flower stalks as soon as flowering has finished, except those needed to produce new seedlings (the flowers are also great to use in floral arrangements). If not, the seed stalks use up energy causing the plant to decline much faster. We’ve now allowed this to seed throughout the slopes in front of our house, and here is the result…a smattering of 3′ tall x 3′ wide clumps, photo taken mid-winter.
Although this section of the garden, planted in compost-amended sandy loam is irrigated, we typically don’t recommend irrigation for this spurge without excellent drainage. You’ll also read on-line that Euphorbia characias doesn’t like hot, humid summers…another example of fake gardening news that just keeps getting repeated without any concern for the facts.
We’ve also found Euphorbia characias to grow well in part sun under large trees, which keeps the soil dry. The plants will never be as dense as they are in full sun, but they survive and flowers. There is really not anything else that gives you this evergreen blue color and form in the winter garden.
Pittosporum tobira ‘Kansai Sunburst’ is looking lovely in the mid-winter garden. This Japanese selection emerges with brightly cream-edged leaves which age to green. This selection came to the US, via the former Asiatica Nursery, which brought so many wonderful Japanese selections to American gardeners.
This native of China, Japan, and Korea should mature around 10′ in height. Pittosporum tobira is prized for its spring-produced, intensely-fragrant small white flowers that smell like orange blossoms. We’ve had our plants in the ground since 2007, so they’ve passed the survival test of two winters with low temperatures in the single digits F. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
The Helleborus x gladorfensis hybrids, known as the “Ice n’ Roses” series have begun with the opening of Helleborus ‘Ice n’ Roses Barolo’. This is the earlies flowering and darkest clone in the series…just a shade darker than H. ‘Ice n’ Roses Red’. These are sterile hybrids derived from crossed of Helleborus niger with Helleborus x hybridus. Winter hardiness is Zone 5a-8b.
Asarum hypogynum ‘Artist’s Palette’ is in full flower here at JLBG in late January. Despite being first published in 1915, this little-known species is very poorly represented in ex-situ plant collections worldwide. Our clone is a division from a wild plant we brought back from our 2008 botanical expedition to Taiwan. The foliage on this species is some of the largest in the entire genus. For us, Asarum hypogynum starts flowering in late summer and continues most of the winter. We are working to eventually be able to share this with other collectors. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
We love busting horticultural myths, and here’s our latest. Borinda fungosa is another of the wonderful clumping bamboos from China, which, according to bamboo authorities, will not tolerate either our winter temperatures or our summer heat and humidity. Well, darn!
Excuse us for sharing this photo from late January, but here is our 2010 planting of a seed grown plant, and of course, it’s easy to see how poorly it’s growing. That said, we know that it will die to the ground at single digits F, and then re-sprout the following spring. The lesson…don’t believe everything you hear or read.
We truly love loquats…both to grow and consume. I first met Eriobotrya japonica in 1976 on a walk around the NC State campus with the late Dr. JC Raulston. I was amazed to see a mature 30’+ specimen growing against one of the campus buildings. I was determined to grow one of our own, so in the mid 1990s, we planted our first specimen here at JLBG.
Loquats, a Chinese native member of the rose family, makes a lovely small tree with large, evergreen foliage that resembles a corrugated Magnolia grandiflora. Another exceptional feature is the fragrant white flowers that start to open around Christmas. These are followed by delicious orange fruit in early spring, when winter temperatures don’t drop below the mid-teens F. Loquat foliage is also brewed as a tea, in addition to its numerous medicinal benefits. We have always found loquats to be much more winter hardy than most of the literature indicates. Our oldest specimen planted in 1997, has never experienced any winter damage. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
We love our Mediterranean blue fan palms…one of the coolest palms we can grow outdoors. We’re right on the edge of winter hardiness for Chamaerops humilis var. argentea, so the key is to grow it to a larger size before planting in the ground. We’ve lost a few that we planted too small, and when that planting coincided with a cold winter.
This is a photo taken this January of our oldest clump, now 17 years old. This is a very slow growing palm, so a good bit of patience is required when getting it established. When we do experience single digits F winter temperatures, all of the foliage is burned back, but it re-sprouts from the base in spring. Mediterranean blue fan palm hails from high elevations in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, where it eventually makes a 15′ tall specimen. In our cold winter climate, we doubt it will ever top 4′ in height. It should be winter hardy from Zone 7b and warmer.
Quite a few really smart horticulturists told us we didn’t have a chance of succeeding with Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’ in our climate. We’ll, we’re almost 2 years in the ground with this New Zealand hybrid of Daphne bholua x Daphne odora. It’s already full of flowers, where it’s thriving in our crevice garden. In the sense of full disclosure, we’ve never been able to keep the Daphne bholua parent alive. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer to at least Zone 8b.
Asarum minus ‘Cupid’ is one of our heavily silver patterned selections of our native wild ginger. When cold weather arrives, the evergreen leaves take on a lovely purple cast. This is an excellent clonal selection we made in 1994 from a construction site, and one we hope to offer in the future though Plant Delights Nursery.
Okay…everyone raise your hand if you’ve grown Mytilaria laosensis. This odd monotypic genus, native from Southern China to Laos, is first cousin to the also virtually unknown genus Exbucklandia, both in the Witch Hazel family, Hamamelidaceae . Since we’ve had our Exbucklandia in the ground since 1997, we though it was worth trying its cousin.
Our Mytilaria is Dan Hinkley’s collection from Huanan…probably the first accession in the country. Dan has actually never put one in the ground and told me that it would certainly die when we hit 27F. Well, we’ve dropped to 25 so far, and it still looks great, so we’ve already pushed the envelope. We truly have no idea what temperatures it will take, but that’s why we trial plants. As the late JC Raulston used to say, “Unless you’re killing plants, you’re not growing as a gardener.”
In full flower now at JLBG is Mahonia x lindsayae ‘Cantab’, a hybrid of Mahonia japonica and the virtually unknown Mahonia siamensis. The intensely sweet fragrance is truly intoxicating…the strongest in the genus Mahonia. Sadly, you’ll rarely find this available for sale, since it’s somewhat gangly form doesn’t curry favor with most nursery growers. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
Camellia japonica ‘Tama no Ura’ has been fabulous this winter, both when the flowers are attached as well as when they just fall to the ground below. This amazing plant was actually discovered in the wilds of China, so no breeding was involved in its creation. It was subsequently introduced to horticulture in 1947 by the Nuccio family of California, who have since worked to create a series of similar flowered selections using these same genetics…all superb.
Here’s an image taken this month of the wonderful Aucuba japonica ‘Limbata’. While most aucubas have yellow leaf specks, this old cultivar, first mentioned in historical literature in 1864, is sadly still quite unknown in gardens. That’s not too surprising, however, due to its slow production time as a commercial nursery crop. For dry shade in Zone 7a-9, this wonderful broadleaf evergreen is hard to beat.
Just out in the garden in early January and wanted to share photos of a few of our favorite evergreen ferns that would rather not be growing in the ground. In our garden, these are all growing within a few feet of each other.
Each of these ferns are epiphytes, which grow attached to a tree, or lithophytes, which grow attached to a rock. None of these ferns actually need soil to grow, since they get their food and water from the atmosphere and accumulated organic debris. Epiphytes, however, don’t get nutrients from their host plant…only physical support.
All epiphytic ferns thrive in hanging baskets, especially the spaghnum-lined type, since this most closely mimics their natural preferences. In our case, we are a bit colder than their native haunts, so for us, we force these ferns to reside in the ground since that gives them a bit more protection during severe winter temperatures. The key for epiphytes to survive in the ground is to have very loose, organic soils and always plant them on a steep slope.
Neolepisorus fortunei ‘Green Ribbons’ is our 2017 introduction of a Chinese native epiphytic fern.
Pyrrosia lingua ‘Hiryu’ is also an epiphytic fern, native to Japan.
Lastly is Polypodium vulgare ‘Ulleung Island’. Instead of being an epiphyte, this evergreen fern is a lithophyte. Lithophytes are classified as either epilithic (growing across the rock surface) or endolithic (growing in cracks or crevices). Since we found this in the wild, growing across the surface of a giant rock, this fern is an epilithic lithophyte…say that three times fast. This is our 1997 collection from an island, far off the coast of South Korea.
We hope you’ll explore these unique ferns in your garden.
Unless you’re a serious plant nerd, you’ve probably never heard of the plant genus, Urophysa. This small genus of only two species in the clematis family (Ranunculaceae) is only found growing in Karst cliff crevices in a few limited provinces of South Central China. In other words, they are quite rare. Urophysa henryi was originally named Isopyrum henryi, when it was thought to be a brother of our native Isopyrum biternatum. Urophysa is now considered most closely related to the famed half-columbine, Semiaquilegia adoxoides.
While the Chinese people mostly use Urophysa henryi as a medicinal treatment for bruises, etc., we prefer it as a winter-flowering gem in the rock garden. Here are our plants, which began flowering in our rock garden, just as we turned the page on the new year, 2022.
It’s scary how many people rely on the Internet for all their plant knowledge. Sure, you can find some helpful information on-line, but so much of what is there is simply repeated from one writer to the next, without anyone who has actually grown the plants, checking it for accuracy.
More and more important books and journals are gradually getting scanned and will one day be available on-line, but there remains no substitute for a good library. Here at JLBG, we have just completed a construction project, which doubled the size of our reference library. Although, we have nothing compared with the country’s large, well-funded horticultural/botanical libraries, we feel that we have assembled an important reference collection for a botanical garden our size. We have been very fortunate over the last year to inherit two nice reference books collections, one with a focus on plant introductions and exploration, which now can be shelved.
Our library focus is on reference books like Floras, as well as books that go in depth on particular plant groups and genera. General landscape design books with no significant historical value are not within our focus.
The file cabinets in the photos include 40 years of plant articles, pulled from various journals and important plant magazines from around the world. We think most people today would be shocked at the extraordinarily high level of horticulture practiced and written about during the last few hundred years.
Additionally, email discussions by the worlds top plant experts from the early days of on-line communications are also preserved. Many of these experts are now deceased, but their plant knowledge and voices have been saved. All this information is filed by subject.
Also in our files are important plant catalogs, which are such an important historical record of what was being grown and sold in the past. I remember having lunch with the late English plantsman, Graham Stuart Thomas at his home, and the thing that he was most proud of was his extensive collection of significant plant catalogs.
So, if you run up on stacks of old catalogs, historical plant magazines, or plant reference books, don’t hesitate to check with us before sending them to the recycle bin.
We always love it when unexpected garden hookups yield unexpected results, and such was the case recently when, under the cover of darkness, two of our holly ferns took a liking to each other. The result of this conjugal interlude is our first hybrid of Cyrtomium fortunei x Cyrtomium falcatum, that we’ve named Cyrtomium x fortatum Spornication. The habit of the hybrid is intermediate between both parents. Now, we’ve just got to figure out how to get it propagated in order to share.
Since we’ve been growing agaves, one of the most fascinating things we’ve noticed is the incredible attraction of tree frogs and Carolina anoles to their leaf texture. There is hardly a day that goes by that we don’t spot one or the other, nestled on an agave leaf. Here is our most recent image of our native green tree frog, Hyla cinerea, basking in the sun on an Agave parryi hybrid. Ain’t nature grand!
Helleborus niger ‘Jesko’, aka: Christmas rose, has been looking fabulous in the woodland garden since late December. We find light, open shade results in the best flowering.
Following right behind Helleborus niger in our garden is Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Cinnamon Snow’…a hybrid with Helleborus niger. This is a photo from New Year’s day.
It’s always interesting when we introduce a plant we think is an incredible addition to the garden, but virtually no one purchases it. Thank goodness, it doesn’t happen too often, but I’m reminded of one such case every day when I get home and admire our row of Agave x striateosa ‘Straight and Narrow’. This 2015 introduction was the first ever hybrid introduction of Agave bracteosa and Agave striata…both non-spiny century plants.
We couldn’t stand to throw out all the plants that didn’t sell, so we planted a row under a wide overhang along our home, where they never see any water, and are in shade for more than half the day. Here is one of those plants five years later, providing a texture and form that you simply can’t find with any other plants that tolerates those conditions.
We have a second seedling from the same cross, which we’ve never been able to share, but which flowered in 2015. Despite our best attempts, we were not able to get any seed set. Now, we await the first flowering of this clone in the hopes it is more fertile, so we can create some more unusual hybrids. Unlike most century plants, Agave striata is not monocarpic (doesn’t die after flowering), so we expect this hybrid to also live on in perpetuity after flowering. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-10, at least.
Rohdea japonica ‘Shishi’ is looking lovely in the woodland garden. Rohdea ‘Shishi’ is a dwarf Japanese selection of the evergreen sacred lily with leaves that curl downward creating an unusual bird nest like appearance. Winter hardiness is Zone 6b-8b.
There aren’t a large number of trees that flower in winter in temperate climates, but one we can’t imagine gardening without is Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’. This amazing Mediterranean native has thrived for us since the late 1980s.
Arbutus is a member of the Ericaceae family, which is why the flower so closely resemble those of its cousin, Pieris.
The clusters of red fruit that ripen in late winter after months of flowering resembles miniature strawberries, hence the common name of strawberry tree. The shaggy cinnamon bark is also another striking ornamental feature. Our 30 year old specimen has reached 12′ tall x 12′ wide. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
Borinda macclureana is another superb clumping bamboo that has never received the good PR afforded other more popular species. Collected in Tibet at nearly 11,000′ elevation, it really has no business growing in the hot, humid southeastern climate, but that’s why we trial plants. Although Borinda macclureana can reach 25′ in its native haunts, our 15 year old specimen has only reached 8′ tall x 8′ wide.
It’s hard to imagine a better plant in the fall/winter garden than the southeast native woodland perennial, Gentiana saponaria. Looking quite amazing in our garden throughout December is Zac’s collection from Rockford, Georgia. We hope you’re growing this amazing plant in your garden. Hardiness is Zone 6b-8b, at least.
We recently had someone inquire if we grew tractor seat plant, a common name I had not heard prior. After a brief pause, I figured few plants, other than our 2000 introduction, could possibly fit that name. Sure enough, a quick web search confirmed that Farfugium japoncium var. giganetum ‘Marco’ is indeed their target. While wandering through the garden this weekend, I found one clump still in flower, that somehow avoided damage from several nights at 27 degrees F.
To our knowledge, this giant form of Farfgium japonicum, native Japan’s southernmost Ryukyu Islands, was first brought to the US by plantsman Marco Stufano, who rationed out one plant per year for a NY Rare Plant Auction. When Marco was ready to retire from Wave Hill, he finally shared a piece with us, so we could get it mass propagated, hence we named the clone in his honor. To our knowledge, all tractor seat plants sold in the US came from Marco’s original plant.
This is the best fruit set we’ve ever seen on the Chinese Disporum longistylum ‘Green Giant’. We love this semi-evergreen Solomon’s Seal, that was collected and introduced years earlier by our friend, plant explorer Dan Hinkley. On the West Coast, this reaches 7′ tall, but here in the hot, humid southeast, we’ve never had ours exceed 3′ tall. Nevertheless, we’ll enjoy our great crop of cobalt blue fruit this winter.