Euonymus…a New Take

We were thrilled to see that our Euonymus myrianthus sailed through our recent cold snap. This fascinating species was first introduced to Western horticulture by renown plant explorer, Ernest Wilson in 1908, and has been quite slow to get around. Recent collections have finally made this available for trial in the US.

This small evergreen tree matures at 12-15′ tall, adorned with a show of bright orange fruit. We have tried a couple of collections, but this recent one from a Dan Hinkley, Ozzie Johnson, Scott McMahon collection is thriving for us. Hardiness is unsure, we we expect it will be fine from Zone 7a and south.

Image of  Euonymus myrianthus
Euonymus myrianthus

Pack of Red Berries

Looking wonderful in the garden this week is Ilex x attenuata ‘Pack’s Weeping’. This superb, but almost unknown cultivar, is a selection of the naturally occurring North American native hybrid of Ilex cassine x Ilex opaca, and was selected by Alabama’s Pack’s Nursery. Foster’s holly is prized for being parthenocarpic (produces fruit without the need for a male pollinator).

Ilex x attenuata 'Pack's Weeping'
Ilex x attenuata ‘Pack’s Weeping’
Ilex x attenuata 'Pack's Weeping'
Ilex x attenuata ‘Pack’s Weeping’

Pregnant Rohdeas

This is a very good year for the annual winter fruit show on Rohdea japonica (sacred lily). The attractive berries remain until early March, when they begin to drop. Although seed from these cultivars do not come true, you’ll always end up with an interesting variety of offspring.

Rohdea japonica ‘Get in Line’
Rohdea japonica ‘Shichi Henge’
Rohdea japonica ‘Golden Eggs’

Virginia is for Plant Lovers

I’m just back from a recent plant trip to coastal Virginia and wanted to share some trip highlights and photos. Mark Weathington of the JC Raulston Arboretum and I headed north for a quick 2 day jaunt to the Norfolk area of Virginia.

Our first stop was the garden of long time garden friend, Pam Harper. For decades, Pam was probably the most prolific and knowledgeable garden writer in the country, in addition to having what was once the largest horticultural slide library.

At 92, and despite suffering from debilitating eyesight issues, Pam still gardens, including planting and pushing carts of mulch around the garden. It was such a joy to once again walk her amazing garden, listening to the both the historical details and performance of each plant we passed.

Pam was donating the remainder (20,000) of her slide collection, which previously numbered over 100,000 images, to the JC Raulston Arboretum. There, they will be digitized for public availability.

Pam Harper, prolific garden writer
Pam Harper in her home office

Her 45 year-old Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ was the largest either of us had ever seen.

A 45 year-old specimen of Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide' in the home garden of garden writer, Pam Harper.
Camellia ‘Yuletide’

We both also fell in love with Camellia x vernalis ‘Meiko Tanaka’…a plant we’d never encountered in flower, but seems to have good commercial availability.

Camellia x vernalis 'Meiko Tanaka' in flower
Camellia x vernalis ‘Meiko Tanaka’

The gold barked Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Bihou’ was also showing off its stunning winter color.

Acer palmatum 'Bihou' showing off its winter color.
Acer palmatum ‘Bihou’

Pam’s garden has always yielded some of the most amazing Arum italicum seedlings I’ve ever seen. We are already growing two of her selections in hopes of future introduction, but we found a few more that we couldn’t resist.

Arum italicum seedlings
Arum italicum seedling

Our next stop was the Virginia Tech Tidewater Arboretum at the Hampton Roads Experiment Station. It had been many years since either of us had visited.

Virginia Tech Tidewater Arboretum
Virginia Tech Tidewater Arboretum

What we found was an amazing plant collection that has been mostly abandoned, except for some minimal mowing maintenance. In most cases the labeling was somewhat intact, although some required Easter egg-like hunts, and others were simply nowhere to be found.

A mostly abandoned plant collection at Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech Tidewater Arboretum

The late Virginia Tech researcher, Bonnie Appleton had worked to get homeowners to plant shorter maturing trees under power lines. To make her demonstration more authentic, she had faux power lines installed, which you can make out among the branches. It was interesting to see that virtually all of the plants she promoted as dwarf, had all grown well into the power lines. Mark recalled conversations with her decades earlier explaining that her choices weren’t really very sound.

Dwarf is a relative term...
Tree – Power line demonstration at Virginia Tech Tidewater Arboretum

There were a number of amazing older specimens including one of the largest Quercus polymorpha (Mexican Oak) that we’d ever seen in cultivation. This 75′ tall specimen dated to 1989, was originally gifted to them by the late JC Raulston, from a Yucca Do Nursery wild collection.

A large specimen of Quercus polymorpha (Mexican Oak)
Quercus polymorpha

The old specimens of Ilex buergeri were absolutely stunning. This is a beautifully-textured, spineless broadleaf evergreen that’s virtually unknown in the commercial trade.

Ilex buergeri
Ilex buergeri

Another spineless holly, Ilex pedunculosa (long-stalk holly), is known for being difficult to grow in our hot, humid climate. Their specimen, however, looked absolutely superb.

A superb example of Ilex pedunculosa
Ilex pedunculosa
Red berries of Ilex pedunculosa
Ilex pedunculosa

We caught Fatsia japonica in full flower…always a great nectar source for honeybees in the winter months.

Fatsia japonica, a great source of nectar for bees
Fatsia japonica

A highlight for me was catching the amazing stinkhorn fungus, Clathrus columnatus in full splendor…both visually and odoriferously.

Clathrus columnatus, the stinkhorn fungus
Clathrus columnatus

Leaving the Hampton Roads station, we headed to the Norfolk Botanical Garden, where Mark worked before he came to the JCRA. Much of their efforts in the fall and winter are put toward their massive winter lights festival.

Christmas Lights at Norfolk Botanical Garden
Christmas Lights at Norfolk Botanical Garden

Norfolk Botanical Garden is home to an extensive and renown camellia collection, so we spent a good bit of time roaming the woodland garden where they grow. We were particularly interested in their Camellia species collection, several of which had questionable labeling. Here is one that was correct, Camellia gaudichaudii.

Camellia gaudichaudii in bloom
Camellia gaudichaudii

We spent a good bit of time studying a holly, labeled Ilex purpurea (syn. chinensis). The plant was amazing, but looks nothing like that species. Hopefully, a holly expert will be able to help us identify it from our photos.

 Ilex purpurea, not really
Ilex purpurea – not
These are berries but not from Ilex purpurea
Ilex purpurea – not

This was my first time seeing the self-fertile idesia, Idesia polycarpa ‘Kentucky Fry’. I can’t imagine why this amazing, easy-to-grow plant isn’t more widely planted. I can think of few trees with more winter interest.

Idesia polycarpa 'Kentucky Fry'
Idesia polycarpa ‘Kentucky Fry’
Idesia polycarpa 'Kentucky Fry'
Idesia polycarpa ‘Kentucky Fry’

The shrub/small tree that blew us away from several hundred feet was a specimen of Arbutus unedo ‘Oktoberfest’. We’ve grown Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’ for decades at JLBG, but have never seen anything as stunning as this clone.

Arbutus unedo 'Oktoberfest'
Arbutus unedo ‘Oktoberfest’
Arbutus unedo 'Oktoberfest'
Arbutus unedo ‘Oktoberfest’

While we’re talking about plants with red fruit, I was fascinated with their specimen of Cotoneaster lacteus. I had mistakenly assumed that most cotoneasters fail in our hot, humid summers, but obviously, I’ve never tried this species, which is typically rated as hardy only to Zone 8a. I think we need to trial this at JLBG.

Cotoneaster lacteus
Cotoneaster lacteus

Finally, I was particularly fascinated with a Quercus nigra (water oak), that formerly had a planter built around it’s base. As you can imagine, the tree roots made short work of the planter, but once the planter boards were removed, the resulting tree root sculpture is simply exquisite.

Quercus nigra (water oak) roots where planter was removed.
Quercus nigra former planter

I hope you’ve enjoyed the highlights of our recent trip.

Solomon’s going to sleep

Here are few images of our Solomon’s Seal (polygonatum) going to sleep in the garden. We think they are fascinating even as they approach dormancy. The top image is Polyongatum falcatum showing the amazing fruit set contrasting with the aging foliage.

Polygonatum falcatum with aging foliage
Polygonatum falcatum

The next image is Polygonatum odoratum, which probably has the best golden fall color of any species we’ve observed. At bottom is Polygonatum involucratum showing the transformation of the involucres (the pouches that hold the flower), and they age to tan, prior to the leaves changing colors. Solomon’s seal are cold hardy from zones 4 to 9.

Polygonatum odoratum with golden fall foliage
Polygonatum odoratum

Solomon's Seal showing the transformation of the involucres
Polygonatum involucratum

Cherry Bomb

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.

The Spectrum of Siblings

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.

Rohdea japonica ‘Stork Nest’
Rohdea japonica ‘Thin Man’
Rohdea japonica JLBG-091

A Laurel and Hardy Garden Perennial

How could you not love a plant with the name poet’s laurel? Poet’s laurel has a long history in Greek and Roman culture representing praise for a victory or great achievement in the form of a laurel crown. Danae woven-stem wreaths were also bestowed upon revered members of society who, if they then lived off of their past glories, were said to be “resting on their laurels.”

The laurel referred to, is Danae racemosa, a classic pass-along plant in Southeast gardens, although it originally hails from half-way around the world…Iran and into the nearby Caucus Mountains. In the florist trade, where it’s highly prized, it’s often referred to as Italian laurel.

The evergreen Danae racemosa is hardy from Zone 7a and south, and fruits best in very open shade to a couple of hours of morning sun.

More Beauty Berries

The beauty berries are looking quite good this fall in the garden. Two forms of Callicarpa americana are a bit unique. The white fruited Callicarpa americana ‘Lactea’ has been stunning, as has the pink-fruited Callicarpa ‘Welch’s Pink’, discovered by Texas plantsman, Matt Welch.

Callicarpa americana ‘Lactea’
Callicarpa americana ‘Welch’s Pink’

A fairly new beauty berry to cultivation thanks to the US National Arboretum is the Chinese Callicarpa rubella. Over the last few years, we have fallen in love with this amazing plant. This is our garden specimen planted in 2015. The new foliage is spring is tinged black…a nice touch!

Callicarpa rubella

Digging Cotton

Looking lovely in the garden is week is Gossypium thurberi ‘Mt. Lemmon’…our introduction of one of the progenitors of modern day cotton. On a 2005 botanical expedition, we discovered this North American native perennial hibiscus relative, known as Desert Cotton, growing in the mountains of Arizona. In the garden, it’s a superb flowering machine for late summer and early fall. Winter hardiness is probably Zone 8a and warmer.

Ripe pears…prickly pears

Tis the season for prickly pear harvest. Many of our early ripening prickly pears are beginning to change from green to red, providing a lovely feature in the fall garden. Here is our clump of Opuntia pyrocarpa this week. We hope everyone’s prickly pear is growing well from our giant prickly pear pad giveaway at our annual Summer Open Nursery and Garden.

Beetles Reunion

We were harvesting our abundant fig crop last week, and were astounded by the number of green June Beetles also enjoying the ripe figs. This indulging makes the beetles into a sweet and tasty snack for the likes of crows, grackles, blue jays, and mockingbirds.

After gorging themselves through the summer, the beetles burrow 6-8″ down into the soil where they lay their eggs, which hatch in a couple of weeks and then overwinter as grubs, which feed on compost during the winter months. While living as larvae, the grubs are food for many underground mammals as well as above ground foragers like possums, racoons, and skunks.

Although green June Beetles are voracious feeders of over ripe fruit, that probably isn’t fruit you were going to eat any way, so they really aren’t damaging to the garden. Green June Beetles are much larger and less impactful than the dreaded Japanese beetles.

We actually enjoy these fascinating insects and don’t find any need to try and eradicate them. Since they don’t bite or sting, they are great for kids and adults looking for unusual sensory experiences to handle. Holding a green June Beetle in your hand is the best way to get a real buzz, and still be able to drive safely afterwards. The only downside is that they may poop on your hand, but that also is a new experience for most folks.

Emily is Berry Nice

Ilex ‘Emily Brunner’ is a superb fruiting holly hybrid (Ilex cornuta x latifolia) that can be used either as a specimen or as part of a hedge. This is our most recent planting, that’s now 4 years old. Our oldest specimens at JLBG, now 21 years of age, have matured at 18′ tall x 18′ wide. For best fruiting, a pollinator holly is recommended. We’re not sure who is providing the pollen for our superb fruit set, but it’s either a nearby Ilex ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ or a nearby Ilex latifolia.

Ilex ‘Emily Brunner’
Ilex ‘Emily Brunner’ fruit closeup