We love the miniature Coptis japonica var. dissecta in full seed now. This dwarf, evergreen, woodland-growing member of the Ranunculus family (Clematis, Helleborus), has small white flowers in the winter, but we adore the seriously cute seeds heads that are adorned in March and April. Not only is this Japanese endemic a cool garden plant, but it’s highly prized as a medicinal plant, thanks to chemicals harvested from its roots, which are used to treat an array of ailments, from infections to pain, dysentery, fevers, and much more. Hardiness Zone 5a-8b.
If you’ve driven through the any of the Mediterranean countries in spring, you are undoubtedly familiar with the common Mediterranean spurge, Euphorbia characias (ker-ack-iss). For years, I admired this in virtually every English garden book, but always failed in my attempts to keep it alive in our garden.
Years later, it finally hit me what I was doing wrong. Euphorbia characias is a short-lived perennial – think 3-4 years max. I was purchasing clonal selections and expecting them to last, while not providing an environment where they would be prone to reseeding, which ensures that you actually keep the plant around. Despite needing to reseed to survive, it’s not a plant that’s prone to getting out of hand.
Euphorbia characias like dry, well-drained soils, especially those that are gravelly. We have also discovered that rich, amended beds also allow for reseeding as long as aren’t heavily irrigated. Now, we allow the seed heads to remain until the seed have dropped, at which time they are cut back to the blue foliage. We have found that leaving the seed heads on the plant too long actually shortens the plants already short lifespan.
Not only is Euphorbia characias an incredible ornamental, but it also has the longest duration of use in Western medicine. Recent research has found the plant to have a wide array of medicinal compounds. These compounds have activity as antioxidants, as pesticides (both anti-viral and anti-microbial), as wound healers, to treat hypoglycemia, as an anti-aging agent (preventing free radical chain reactions), and as a disease (HIV) enzyme inhibitor. I’d say, that’s a pretty impressive resume. Hardiness is Zone 7a-10b.
There aren’t a huge number of Siberian native plants that thrive in our heat and humidity, but one that has been outstanding for us is Angelica dahurica. For those, who have traveled the world, the specific epithet “dahurica” means, from Davuria (Dahuria), a region of south-east Siberia and north-east Mongolia.
Angelica dahurica is a widely-cultivated, short-lived perennial herb that forms a stunning 6′ to 8′ tall hunk with dark purple stalks, and topped for us in June with giant Queen Anne’s Lace flowers, that’s a haven for a wide range of pollinators. The clump goes to sleep for the summer, re-emerging in fall, and remaining evergreen through the winter.
The roots of Angelica dahurica (Du Huo/Bai Zhi) have been used medicinally since 400 B.C. to cure head and body aches, blood toxicities, as a laxative/purgative, sedative, a remedy for swollen gums and toothaches, and as a topical anti-fungal cream…and the seeds are used as a culinary liqueur flavoring.
We offered these through Plant Delights for several years, but sales were miserable. So, we gave most away to staff and planted the rest in the garden, where we’re enjoying them. When are going to get folks to realize that height is what makes a garden design interesting?
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.
Howdy folks and welcome to spring! Alright, I know that’s rubbing it in to those of you in the northern climatic zones, but here at Juniper Level, spring is in full swing. Even for those of you still suffering through snow and other winter weather, it won’t be long before you will join us in the most exciting of garden seasons.
There is so much happening in the gardens here at Juniper Level, it’s hard to know where to start. Because I spend so much time in the garden photographing, I often notice the plants the minute they come into flower. Yesterday, for example, I enjoyed the flowers of the woodland peony, Paeonia japonica, which looked like a giant full moon-like round ball in the morning, then opening just after noon to reveal the stunning yellow stamens and red-based filaments against a white background…a striking combination. I cannot imagine why everyone with a woodland garden doesn’t grow this gem or its woodland counterpart, Paeonia obovata.
Another early spring favorite are the epimediums or fairy wings. It’s hard to imagine the amazing advancements in this genus in just the last decade. I remember working with epimediums in the shade house at the JC Raulston Arboretum back in the 1980s and while I thought they were nice, I wasn’t enamored enough of the cute, small-flowered selections to even include them in our catalog until over a decade later. In 1998, thanks to epimedium guru Darrell Probst, we saw the future of epimediums and finally took the plunge. Here we are thirteen years later with our own epimedium breeding program and seven introductions under our belt. I guess it’s the combination of larger flower size, amazing floral colors, great foliage, and superb vigor that made me finally embrace the genus. Others are getting excited about epimedium also, some for the aforementioned traits, and others for its medicinal qualities as a male enhancement “tool” as in the product, ExtenZe®! If you’re just getting started with epimediums, we highly recommend two of the most vigorous hybrids on the market, Epimedium ‘Domino’ and ‘Pink Champagne’, both Darrell Probst hybrids. We’ve got absolutely incredible plants of these available (full flower) and many more great selections ready to ship.
For the first time in years, we have stock of two of the finest Chinese mayapples, Podophyllum versipelle and Podophyllum pleianthum. In comparison to our native Podophyllum peltatum, both of the Chinese species have much larger foliage and they lack stolons (runners). Additionally, both of these Chinese species remain up until fall, unlike our native, which goes dormant in late spring. The liver-colored flower clusters on the Asian species are simply incredible. These are truly amazing plants that you must see in person to appreciate. Since they don’t spread, I’ll pass along a little propagation trick that we discovered. You can take a spade and slice down and out about 12-18″ away from an established clump, and everywhere you cut a root you will find a new plant a year later.
Another plant I’ve finally figured out how to grow is the Asian Cypripedium japonicum. If you have seen this in person, it’s completely different from all the other ladyslipper orchids with a corrugated, round fan-shaped leaf. I failed on my first few attempts a decade earlier, but now have this happily growing in the garden. In addition, our containerized crop looks fabulous and are currently in full flower. Although we only recommend this for keen gardeners, we hope those who are so inclined will give it a try. This is only one of several hardy cypripediums that we offer. I know I’ve mentioned these in the past, but I was particularly interested to see how they fared after our brutal summer of 2010, since word on the street is that many of the Cypripedium species and hybrids won’t tolerate our summers. Amazingly, our plants in the garden are already up and looking superb. The myth about their lack of heat tolerance is so busted!
For March, we have added several new plants to the online catalog…several in very short supply. We’ve had many folks ask about Epimedium wushanense, so after two years of withholding our stock for division, we can offer this again. We hope you find something interesting on the list.
In gardening news, we were surprised to learn that Dr. Todd Lasseigne will be leaving North Carolina to become the first full-time director of the new Oklahoma Centennial Botanical Garden in Tulsa. Todd is currently the Director of the Paul Ciener Botanic Garden in Kernersville, NC. Just after the grand opening at the Ciener Garden, Todd will depart NC to start his new job on April 18…and what a job he is facing!
I wanted to see what Todd got himself into, so I dropped by the Tulsa garden last weekend. To say I was shocked would be the understatement of the century. The garden is little more than a bare piece of prairie, in an undeveloped region northwest of Tulsa that could easily be the movie set for a Midwestern version of the movie Deliverance. The garden site is reachable by a new $2 million winding gravel road off the main highway. I know what it’s like when someone donates land, but geez, folks…surely you could have traded for some road frontage. Getting folks to visit gardens in such a remote location is going to require some heavy duty marketing. As one who believes you can build a garden anywhere, we look forward to seeing the progress and we wish Todd the best in his new venture.
On a sad note, plantsman Norman Beal of Raleigh is giving up his amazing garden due to health issues. If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Norman’s garden, it is undoubtedly one of the finest plantsman’s gardens in the triangle region, being featured on numerous tours and garden shows. I truly hope someone with an appreciation of Norman’s great work will be able to purchase this incredible one acre garden. You can find more info at www.2324NewBernAve.info, where it is listed under the MLS # 1773772 or call Norman’s realtor, Gary Clark at 919-744-7334.
We were saddened this month to hear of the loss of one of the great characters of the hosta world, when Mildred Seaver passed away at the ripe old age of 98. Mildred was one of the founders of the New England Hosta Society, and a winner of the American Hosta Society’s top honor, the Alex Summers Award, in 1988. Mildred lived most of her life in Western Massachusetts, but spent her last few years in a Delaware retirement home near her son, Charlie. Mildred was a prolific introducer of hostas with over 65 introductions to her credit, although most were made without the benefit of ever making an intentional cross. Mildred was able to spot a unique seedling as good as anyone who has ever grown hostas. Many of her hostas bore part of her name “Sea”. Some of her most enduring hosta introductions include Hosta ‘Allan P. McConnell’, ‘Sea Fire’, ‘Spinning Wheel’, ‘Spilt Milk’, ‘High Noon’, ‘El Dorado’, ‘Komodo Dragon’, and most recently Hosta ‘Queen of the Seas’.
As a larger than life character, Mildred Seaver stories will abound for decades in the hosta world…no doubt due to her boisterous, pseudo-confrontational, kooky style. At a hosta convention in the late 1990s, Mildred publically offered to swap her hotel room key (with her inside) for a piece of my newest introduction…classic Mildred. My favorite memory of Mildred occurred when I was visiting friends in Western Massachusetts in the early 1990s and I asked them to drop me off at Mildreds home for a visit. Their incredulous response was, “By yourself?” After walking around her garden, Mildred and I headed off to lunch at a nearby restaurant with me behind the wheel of her car…my first driving Miss Daisy moment. While we were waiting for our meals, I posed a question to Mildred that I’d long wanted to ask…”When did you become crazy?” Taken aback only briefly, Mildred quickly regained her composure and shared a story of being in the hospital when she was in her ‘50s and having the doctors tell her that she might not survive. She remembered laying there thinking about her life as a shrinking violet, and worrying that she might die and no one would ever remember meeting Mildred Seaver. She promised herself that if she survived her medical ordeal, she would make certain that everyone remembered meeting Mildred Seaver. All I can say is…”Mission accomplished Mildred…we’ll miss you!” In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Mildred’s memory to the American Hosta Society, P. O. Box 7539, Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948. To send on-line condolences to the family visit www.mccreryandharra.com
Late February also saw the passing of nurseryman Tom DeBaggio of DeBaggio Herb Farm in Virginia, after a long battle with Alzheimers. To say Tom was a renaissance man, doesn’t do Tom justice. In addition to running a destination herb nursery and being a world renown authority, Tom was a prolific author, writing Basil: An Herb Lover’s Guide with Susan Belsinger (1996), The Encyclopedia of Herbs: A Comprehensive Reference to Herbs of Flavor and Fragrance with Art Tucker (2000), and Growing Herbs from Seed, Cutting and Root with Jim Wilson (2000).
In 1997, at age 56, Tom was diagnosed with Alzheimers. Determined to share his experiences, Tom continued his writing with two books about his disease, Losing My Mind: An Intimate Look at life with Alzheimer’s (2002), and When It Gets Dark: An Enlightened Reflection On Life With Alzheimer’s (2007). Tom’s contributions both to our knowledge of herbs and our understanding of life are immeasurable. Thanks Tom!
There’s been quite a bit of interest over the last few years about phytoremediation…using plants to extract pollutants from the environment. I’m sure we’ve all heard about the experiments using house plants to extract air pollutants, but that research continues around the world.
Researchers at the University of Sydney found that six or more plants in a 1500 square foot house could achieve “noteworthy” contaminant reductions. Researchers found that contaminants are reduced both by the leaf stomata (tiny openings on the leaf undersides), as well as by microorganisms in the potting soil. Researchers at the University of Washington found that plants in a computer lab reduced dust by 20%. In 2009, researchers at the University of Georgia identified five “super ornamentals” which showed a very high rate of air contaminant removal. These include Hedera helix (English Ivy), Asparagus sp. (asparagus fern), Setcreasea pallida (purple heart wandering jew), Hemigraphis exotica (waffle plant), and Hoya sp. (wax plant). As if we needed one, we have another great reason to grow plants!
We’ve still got a few openings in our Creative Garden Photography Workshop to be held during our Spring Open House on May 7, so if you’re interested, don’t delay in getting registered. Responses from last years attendees were exceptional! http://www.plantdelights.com/Classes/products/550/
In the Top 25 this month, Iris ‘Red Velvet Elvis’ remains at the top of the list, with Colocasia ‘Thailand Giant’ close behind. The shock is to find Paris polyphylla still in third! It’s great to see six ferns in the top 25 this month, including Athyrium ‘Ghost’ at #5, Dryopteris x australis at #15, Arachniodes standishii at #16, Dryopteris labordei ‘Golden Mist’ at #17, Dryopteris celsa at #18, and Athyrium filix-femina ‘Frizelliae’ at #24. We hope your favorite plants rise to the top before years end!
Thanks for taking time to read our newsletter and we hope you enjoy the new catalog and website.