Little Prospect

The lovely native witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana ‘Little Prospect‘ with its variegated foliage, looks amazing even when it isn’t in flower. The leaves show no foliar burn in full sun and it is just as beautiful in part shade. Hardiness Zone: 3a to 8b.

Rooting for Buckeyes

Here are a few of the many buckeyes that are looking good at JLBG this spring.

Aesculus pavia is native from Illinois south to Texas and east to Florida. Hardiness is Zone 4-8.

Aesculus pavia

The European Aesculus hippocastanum has thrived for us, despite most sources claiming we are too hot in the summer. Aesculus ‘Hampton Court Gold’ emerges with ghostly yellow foliage for an amazing spring show.

Aesculus hippocastanum ‘Hampton Court Gold’

Aesculus x carnea is a hybrid of the European Aesculus hippocastanum and the American Aesculus pavia. This cross was first discovered in Europe in 1812. It is quite stunning in our garden as you can see. Hardiness is Zone 5-8.

Aesculus x carnea ‘Variegata’

The dwarf form of Aesculus glabra only occurs in a small region of Northern Alabama/Georgia. Mature size is 5-6′ tall. Hardiness is Zone 5-9.

Aesculus glabra var. nana

Aesculus sylvatica is one of our oldest buckeye specimens in the garden. This species is native from Virginia to Alabama. Hardiness is Zone 6b-8b.

Aesculus sylvatica

Aesculus sylvatica ‘Sylvan Glow’ is Jeremy Schmidt’s discovery of an amazing seedling of Aesculus sylvatica that emerges rosy red, then changes to orange, before aging to green for the summer. When it gets a bit larger, we will try to propagate this so we can share.

Aesculus sylvatica ‘Sylvan Glow’

To Cercis with Love

A couple of our favorite native redbud selections looking exceptional after flowering today…Cercis canadensis ‘Flame Thrower’ and ‘Golden Falls’…both from the breeding work of NCSU plant breeder, Dennis Werner.

Cercis canadensis ‘Flame Thrower’
Cercis canadensis ‘Golden Falls’

Flowers at Flower Hill

We’re just back from a quick outing to the Flower Hill Nature Preserve in Johnston County, NC…just a few miles from JLBG. This unique coastal plain site contains remnants of species more common in the NC mountains, nearly 5 hours west. The top of the bluff is a small stand of enormous Rhododendron catawbiense, while along the bottom of the hill is a bank of the deciduous Rhododendron canescens.

Rhododendron catawbiense
Rhododendron canescens

In the mid-slope area, we found Cypripedium acaule (pink ladyslipper orchid), just waiting to be photographed. Sadly, it’s one of the most difficult species to transplant, so just enjoy these in situ when you find them.

Cypripedium acaule

There were beautiful masses of the evergreen groundcover galax, growing on the eastern slope.

Galax urceolata

It was particularly great to see the Asarum vriginicum in full flower. True Asarum virginicum is rarely seen in cultivation, and the diversity of flower color was outstanding.

Asarum virginicum
Asarum virginicum
Asarum virginicum
Asarum virginicum

Hail to Halesia

Flowering in our parking lot now is the beautiful Halesia diptera var. magniflora, better known as big-flowered two-wing Silverbell. Native from Georgia across to Texas, this beautiful small tree can be found in low moist woodlands. That said, it thrives in average to dry garden conditions.

The variety “magniflora’ is distinguished from the more northern Halesia diptera var. diptera in that the gulf coast form has much larger flowers. This is our collection from Wilcox County, Alabama, where the foliage is much wider than what is typically seen in this taxa. Plants mature at around 20′ in height. Hardiness is Zone 5-8.

Halesia diptera var. magniflora ‘Pine Apple’

Dainty Dirca

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.

All spruced up and nowhere to grow.

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.

Honey, I shrunk the River Birch

I remember falling in love with the dwarf river birch, Betula nigra ‘Little King’, back around 1990 when it was first planted at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, NC. This amazing compact selection originated in the late 1970s at King Nursery in Oswego, Illinois, and starting in 1991, was adopted and formally marketed through the Chicagoland Grows plant introduction program.

After 20 years, the original plant in Illinois was only 10′ tall, but the 30 year old specimen at the JC Raulston Arboretum has now reached 30′ tall x 30′ wide So, while it is much slower growing, it’s not exactly a true dwarf. Most estimates conclude that Betula ‘Little King’ will grow about 1/3 to 1/4 the speed and size of the typical species, making it a much better choice around most smaller homes. That said, we love the compact, dense habit and have recently planted this specimen around our home on the JLBG property. Hardiness is Zone 4-9.

Washington’s Palm ready for winter

Due to having three consecutive mild winters, with no temperatures below 20 degrees F, we’ve actually been able to get a trunk on our Washingtonia filifera palm. Typically not hardy in our climate, our plant was grown from seed collected from a wild population in Arizona that had experienced 10 degrees F. We’ll see what this winter has in store.

Blonde Envy and More

I can’t speak to the truth that blondes have more fun, but on behalf of gardeners who grow blondes (gold leaf plants), we certainly have more fun when they’re around. One of our horticultural holy grails has always been a gold leaf elderberry we can actually grow. The horticultural market is dominated by northern cold climate selections of colored-leaf elderberries, which refuse to survive our hot, humid summers.

I can’t tell you how excited we were a couple of years ago to learn of a Keith Mearns discovery of a wild elderberry near Columbia, SC with beautiful golden foliage, Sambucus canadensis ‘Blonde Envy’. Although it took us a while to track one down (Keith says that less than a dozen exist in the world currently), it is now performing beautifully in a prize spot at JLBG. We’ve turned our Plant Delights propagators loose in the hope we can have enough to share in the 2023 Plant Delights spring catalog.

Just prior to the pandemic, we were plant collecting in UK nurseries, and made a stop at the always amazing Cotswold Garden Flowers. Founder Bob Brown’s son, Edmund, had taken up elderberry breeding, and now held the National Sambucus collection. We were able to bring back a couple of his complex hybrid introductions to trial, and to our shock, both are thriving in our summers. Here is a photo of our 2 year-old clump of Sambucus ‘Chocolate Marzipan’ in the garden. Finally, sambucus envy will be over for southern gardeners.

Flame Thrower

Cercis ‘Flame Thrower’, a JC Raulston Arboretum release from NC State woody plant breeder, Dr. Dennis Werner, was just awarded the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Plant of the Year for 2021. In Europe, Cercis ‘Flame Thrower’ is marketed as Eternal Flame. Here is our plant at JLBG this summer. Congratulations to Denny and the Arboretum for this huge honor!

Swamp Titi

Flowering at JLBG this month is one of our favorite small trees, Cyrilla racemiflora…aka: swamp titi. Cyrilla racemiflora was a favorite tree of the late J.C. Raulston, who was constantly extolling its virtues to anyone who would listen. Swamp titi has a native range from coastal Delaware south and west to East Texas. The flowers, which have just recently started here are a favorite of the native bumblebees. Mature size is usually 10-12′ in height, and the contorted nature of the trunks usually produce a plant that is slightly wider than it is tall. Despite its southern origins in swamps, Cyrilla is well adapted to regular garden soils as far north as Zone 5. As far as the common name, we have no idea where “titi” originated. We’ve read theories that it may have been a corruption of TyTy, Georgia, or have some relation to Florida’s Titi Creek, but those are all unconfirmed.

Flaming Buckeye

We saw this amazingly colored buckeye (Aesculus pavia) on a recent visit to the NC Arboretum in Asheville. I’ve seen countless individuals of this species, both in the wild and in gardens and have never seen a color like this. We have encouraged them to get this grafted and introduced.

Redbud Lite

Here are two of our favorite new redbuds growing at JLBG…both from the NC State breeding program of Dr. Dennis Werner. The first is Cercis canadensis ‘Flame Thrower’, which boasts pumpkin colored leaves that emerge gold. The second is Cercis canadensis ‘Golden Falls’, a fabulous pendulous form, whose leaves remain gold all summer.

Cercis canadensis ‘Flame Thrower’
Cercis canadensis ‘Golden Falls’