Playing with Colors, Textures, and Form

Here’s an example from JLBG, of how plant colors, textures, and forms can be used to create a garden vignette. The foreground is Tradescantia pallida (purple), Berberis thunbergii ‘Sunjoy Gold Beret’, Colocasia ‘Coal Miner’, Pennisetum orientale ‘Tall Tails’, and Albizia julibrissin ‘Chocolate Fountain’. The frame is backed with Vitex agnus-castus ‘Sensational’.

Blackhawks

Looking great in the garden now is Andropogon gerardii ‘Blackhawks’. This Brent Horvath selection of the native (Canada south to Mexico) Andropogon gerardii, has beautiful, almost black foliage, compared to the typical glaucous green. Hardiness Zone 4a-8b

Andropogon gerardii ‘Blackhawks’

Blowin’ in the Wind

We love the North American native ornamental grass, Nassella tenuissima! The airy texture is amazing, and it looks like an extra from the move Twister, even in the slightest breeze. Here’s a recent image from the gardens. It stops growing in summer, re-emerging when the worst of the heat has passed in fall. As you can see, it flowers for us in late spring. Hot sun, good air movement, and well-drained soils are the keys to success.

Nassella tenuissima

Check out this Kickin’ Bouteloua

The ornamental grass genus Bouteloua gained a huge rise in popularity with the introduction of David Salman’s 2010 introduction, Bouteloua¬†gracilis¬†‘Blonde Ambition‘. While David’s selection hasn’t thrived in our heat and humidity, one of Patrick’s Texas collections has thrived.

Bouteloua chondrosioides hails from West Texas south into Mexico, but surprisingly, doesn’t appear to be in horticultural cultivation. We’ve only had our plants in trial for 1 year, but the 15″ tall clumper sure is looking good so far. Dry, well-drained soil and full sun are the keys for success. It’s in flower this week as you can see below.

Bouteloua chondrosioides

A Melting Pot of Carex

We’ve published blogs about a number of carex from our rather large collection (108 species) several times this year, but here are a few more that look great here in early December. We have been fortunate to be able to collect members of this amazing genus from around the world, all of which now reside happily here at JLBG. As you can imagine, the majority of our collections are US native species, but just like with Homo sapiens, we value diversity and consequently don’t profile or discriminate based on ethnicity or origin.

The first is the US native Carex austrolucorum. This is Jeremy’s collection, named Carex ‘Tennessee Mop Top’.,

Carex austrolucorum 'Tennessee Mop Top'
Carex austrolucorum ‘Tennessee Mop Top’

Carex gentilis ‘Yushan’ is our collection from Taiwan, and the only fall-flowering carex we know. Duke Gardens has made stunning use of this in their magnificent Asian garden expansion.

Carex gentilis 'Yushan'
Carex gentilis ‘Yushan’

Carex ‘Silk Tassel’ is a stunning selection of the Japanese Carex morrowii var. temnolepis, brought to the US back in the 1970s by plantsman Barry Yinger. We still view this as one of the finest carex we’ve ever grown. While it grows great in shade, it truly excels in full sun, where its narrow variegated leaves appear silver.

Carex morrowii var. temnolepis 'Silk Tassel'
Carex morrowii var. temnolepis ‘Silk Tassel’

Freeze Frame

Here’s a garden shot just prior to our expected first freeze of the year. Foreground to back: Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, Salvia darcyi, Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’, Cuphea micropetala, Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’.

Garden just before the first freeze - Foreground to back: Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, Salvia darcyi, Juniperus conferta 'All Gold', Cuphea micropetala, Salvia 'Phyllis Fancy'.
Garden just before the first freeze – Foreground to back: Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, Salvia darcyi, Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’, Cuphea micropetala, Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’.

Getting Pinked

Now that fall has arrived, we’re all enjoying peak plume season for many of our favorite ornamental grasses. Unfortunately, there are a few significant mix-ups in the trade. The top photo is our native Eragrostis spectabilis, known as purple love grass. I’ve long admired this beautiful, but short-lived native, but have declined to offer it because of its propensity to seed around much too vigorously in the garden. In prairie restorations or less-tended gardens, it can be a spectacular addition. Hardiness is Zone 5-9.

Eragrostis spectabilis
Eragrostis spectabilis

Because most nurserymen aren’t plant taxonomists, you can perform a Google images search and find several on-line vendors who pretend to offer Eragrostis spectabilis, but show photos of the grass below, known as Muhlenbergia capillaris. Who knows which of the two they are actually selling.

If that’s not confusing enough, the plant below is known in the trade as Muhlenbergia capillaris or Gulf Coast muhly grass/pink muhly grass. The only problem is that this is actually a different muhlenbergia species. All of us have taken this name for granted, but as our Director or Horticulture/Gardens, Patrick McMillan taught us, all commercial plants labeled as such are actually Muhlenbergia sericea. We are updating our records and this name change will be implemented in the near future.

The misidentification originated with a Florida taxonomist, who mistakenly lumped three muhlenbergias together…a problem that can occur when you only study dead/smashed plants in a plant herbarium. As it turns out, the two plants, Muhlenbergia capillaris and Muhlenbergia sericea (also formerly known as Muhlenbergia filipes) are nothing alike.

Muhlenbergia sericea, frequently sold as M. capillaris
Muhlenbergia sericea (sold as M. capillaris)

The true Muhlenbergia capillaris is a rather homely plant that few folks would want in their garden. Muhlenbergia sericea, on the other hand, is a stunning ornamental plant, commonly known as sweet grass, and used for making those amazing hand-woven baskets that you find for sale in towns like Charleston, SC.

Such nomenclatural faux pas take decades, at least, for nurseries to get the names corrected since the public knows and purchases plants under the wrong name. This problem is far too common. The shrub, Ternstroemeria gymnanthera, was originally mistakenly identified as Cleyera japonica, and that mistake still persists over five decades later. Most gardeners despise name changes, often not realizing that many instances like these aren’t changes, but instead corrections of an earlier identification mistake.

You can learn more details about the mix up by reading Patrick’s article about pink muhly grass.

Opening up a Mis-can-thus of worms

Flowering this week at JLBG is the amazing Miscanthus transmorrisonensis. Many gardeners, who blindly believe everything they read/hear think the genus miscanthus is the horticultural version of the devil itself. Like everything in life, it’s all about those pesky details, which so many people simply don’t want to be bothered with.

Most miscanthus in the horticultural trade are selections of the species Miscanthus sinensis. Some selections of that species reseed badly and should be avoided in gardens. Others are sterile or nearly so, and unquestionably still deserve a place in American landscapes.

If we make good/bad evaluations at the species level, what would happen if visitors to the earth had their first encounter with a Homo sapiens that was a less than ideal representative of the species at large. They could easily assume that the entire species was a problem and should be eliminated. It’s fascinating that such species based prejudices are acceptable with ornamental plants, but not with people.

Then there are species, which have proven themselves to be complete without seed in our climate, such as Miscanthus transmorrisonensis. All plants in cultivation all appear to be derived from a 1979 Ferris Miller (Chollipo Arboretum)/ Paul Meyer (Morris Arboretum) collection at 9,500′ elevation on Taiwan’s Mt. Daxue. We have grown this for 30 years in rather good conditions, and have yet to see a single seedling. The beauty of this species is that it flowers continuously from summer into fall. I guess it’s too much to ask for environmental fundamentalists to actually pay attention to facts.

A large clump of Miscanthus transmorrisonensis
Miscanthus transmorrisonensis

Perennial Gathering

Just back from the Perennial Plant Association meeting in Lancaster, PA, held in person for the first time in three years. It was like a family reunion after such a long period of no contact, except via Zoom. Over 450 people from around the world showed up for the first year back.

The Perennial Plant Association is a professional organization for people involved in production, sales, trials, research, landscaping, or growing perennials. The annual meetings consist of a week of talks, tours, and a trade show. There are plenty of tour options, so attendees can select whether they are more interested in landscape design, retail, or production.

Briggs Nursery booth at PPA trade show in PA
Briggs Nursery booth at PPA trade show in PA

Aris Greenleaf is a large liner producer, who also has a trial garden. Sadly, non of the trial plants here had been planted more than a few months.

Aris Greenleaf production and shipping facilities
Aris Greenleaf production and shipping facilities
Aris Greenleaf trial garden
Aris Greenleaf trial garden

Cavano’s Nursery in nearby Maryland, was one of several top notch perennial growers we visited.

Cavano's Nursery tour
Cavano’s Nursery tour
Cavano's Nursery
Cavano’s Nursery

North Creek Nursery, a leading producer of native plant liners in PA, hosted the group for an amazing dinner

Dinner @ North Creek Nurseries
Dinner @ North Creek Nurseries
North Creek Nurseries production greenhouses
North Creek Nurseries production greenhouses

Owner Ed Snodgrass welcomed the group to his Emory Knoll Farms, an “off the grid” nursery that only produces plants for green roofs. 100% of their power is produced by solar panels on site.

 Ed Snodgrass
Ed Snodgrass

For those unfamiliar with green roofs, shingles are replaced with plants, which help insulate the structure, while also reducing runoff.

Green roof planting at Emory Knoll Farms
Green roof planting at Emory Knoll Farms
Green roof plant production at Emory Knoll Farms
Green roof plant production at Emory Knoll Farms

What interested many on this tour, was their use of an outdoor version of a Stanley Steamer, for weed control. The manufacturer, Weedtechnics is out of Australia, but has a few US distributors.

Steam is applied too kill weeds as you would clean a carpet. The steam only penetrates the ground to 5 mm, but that’s enough to kill both the weed and weed seed, without bothering nearby plants. This is certainly a technology many of us on the tour will be investigating.

Weedtechnics tractor mounted weed steamer
Weedtechnics tractor mounted weed steamer
Weedtechnics steamer in action
Weedtechnics steamer in action

We visited the amazing Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware, a place I’ve had the pleasure of visiting several times over the last 30 years. The gardens have undergrown a dramatic facelift that made a great garden even better. It was great to catch the native Zigadenus glaberrimus in full flower by the lower pond.

Zigadenus glaberrimus
Zigadenus glaberrimus

The amazing Chanticleer Gardens and Longwood Gardens both hosted the group for two incredible dinners and a chance to stroll the grounds. At Chanticleer, we caught the water lotus (Nelumbo) in full flower, looking eerily like something from the Little Shop of Horrors.

Nelumbo @ Chanticleer Gardens
Nelumbo @ Chanticleer Gardens

Of course, we are all there to see the latest and greatest in new plants, and these gatherings never fail to show us something new we need to try. Below are the latest from the world of echinacea breeding.

Echinacea 'Rainbow'
Echinacea ‘Rainbow’
Echinacea 'Green Jewel' @ The Perennial Farm
Echinacea ‘Green Jewel’ @ The Perennial Farm
Echinacea 'Tres Amigos' @ The Perennial Farm
Echinacea ‘Tres Amigos’ @ The Perennial Farm

Lysimachia lanceolata ‘Burgundy Mist’ and Sorghastrum nutans ‘Golden Sunset’ are two new US natives that are just hitting the market.

Lysimachia lanceolata 'Burgundy Mist'
Lysimachia lanceolata ‘Burgundy Mist’
Sorghastum nutans 'Golden Sunset'
Sorghastum nutans ‘Golden Sunset’

Of course, in addition to the plants, these meetings are also about the people and the networking that these meetings afford. It was great to see two former JLBG’ers in attendance, Adrienne and Jon Roethling. Adrienne is now the Director of the Paul Ciener Garden in NC, and Jon heads up the grounds at Reynolda House and Gardens.

Adrienne and Jon Roethling
Adrienne and Jon Roethling

And it was great to catch up with Simple, the Roving Garden Artist…one of the most “out of the box” designers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Simple, The Roving Garden Artist
Simple, The Roving Garden Artist

It was a lovely surprise to run into an old friend, plantsman Barry Yinger, who was in town, taking a break from his Sanseveria conservation work in Tanzania to visit his sister, and happened to be staying next door to the convention.

Barry Yinger
Barry Yinger

It’s always great to catch up with old friends, Nanci Allen (long time PPA director), and Allan Armitage (retired UGA professor). You never know who you’ll run into at these meetings. If you work in the field, check out the PPA, and perhaps we’ll see you at a future symposium.

Allan Armitage (retired UGA professor) and Nanci Allen (long time PPA director)
Allan Armitage (retired UGA professor) and Nanci Allen (long time PPA director)

Blue mulch

There is a “growing” trend toward using groundcovers to reduce the need for bark mulch in gardens. As with any trend, there is a time and place where it is appropriate, and other times when it is not. One plant that we absolutely love for that purpose is the evergreen Carex flacca ‘Mini’. This blue-foliaged sedge is a Mediterranean native marsh grass that spreads very slowly, so it is not a problem in overrunning other plants in the bed, as long as they aren’t placed too close. These pictured below were planted six years ago on 1′ centers, and are just now knitting together.

We have studied a few reports of this sedge being invasive in parts of the northeast US, but our trials have shown quite the opposite, with nary a seedling in over six years. We can find no scientific research that shows this sedge qualifies as being invasive using any commonly recognized definitions of an invasive plant. Our skepticism of these reports comes because some of the ridiculous listings that appear on invasive species lists, which have no scientific basis. Our favorite invasive faux pas was a listing a couple of years ago of the genus Bambusa on a state invasive list. Never mind the plant is a strict clumper and only flowers once every 100 years. Winter hardiness is Zone 4-9.

Carex flacca ‘Mini’

Holiday Gift for your plant lover

In the “in case you missed it”, this clever gag gift for the plant lover in your life has appeared on-line just in time for the holidays. Not sure what else we can say, other than watch for fire ants and chiggers.

Bushy Muhly

I fell in love with the Arizona/Mexico native ornamental grass, Muhlenbergia dumosa when the the late JC Raulston first brought it back from Yucca Do Nursery in 1992. This odd member of the genus muhlenbergia resembles a clumping bamboo unlike other members of the genus. For those non-connoisseurs of Latin, dumosa means “bushy”.

JC touted this Yucca Do collection from Northern Mexico as the most amazing ornamental grass he had ever encountered. JC distributed it to nurserymen, who introduced it into the trade, only to find out that it wasn’t winter hardy in most of North Carolina.

On a visit to the South Carolina Botanical Garden last year, we were shocked to see Muhlenbergia dumosa growing happily in their desert garden. It turned out that they were growing a new clone, collected from a higher elevation in Arizona, that had proved reliable in their Zone 7b climate. We were gifted a start of Mulhlenbergia dumosa ‘Patagonia’, which now resides in a couple of locations at JLBG. We’re very excited, and now look forward to having a cold winter to fully test its winter hardiness.

It’s a grass, don’t panic…umm

Late summer and fall are a great time to enjoy the plumes of our US native ornamental grass, Panicum virgatum. Here are two photos from the garden this week. The first is one of my favorites, the giant Panicum ‘Cloud 9’…an introduction from Maryland’s defunct Bluemount Nursery. Below this is a new dwarf, blue-foliage introduction for 2022, from Walters Gardens, Panicum ‘Niagara Falls’. It has proven exceptional in our trials and will appear in the January Plant Delights Nursery catalog.

Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud 9’
Panicum virgatum ‘Niagara Falls’

Cortaderia ‘Blue Bayou’

This amazing selection of pampas grass is looking particularly stunning at JLBG this summer. This plant has had quite a few false starts in commerce, but hopefully it’s getting a bit closer to being commercially available. We love its compact nature, although it does reach 7′ in height and 10′ wide.

Giant Peppermint Stick

Arundo donax ‘Peppermint Stick’ is looking quite gorgeous in the garden this summer, although you will need a rather large space in which to grow it. I’ve always felt this would be fantastic on large commercial landscape projects. Sadly, we see this pop up on a few poorly-researched lists of invasive plants, which would be quite difficult since it neither runs or produces viable seed in cultivation.

Hush Puppy

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hush Puppy’ is a very vigorous fountain grass from the breeding program of Wayne Hanna at the University of Georgia, the result of their fountain grass sterilization program. Other introductions from this program include ‘Cayenne’, ‘Etouffee’, and ‘Jambalaya’.

In the garden Pennisetum ‘Hush Puppy’ forms a 3′ tall x 4′ wide clump that produces a succession of new plumes from early/mid-July (NC), and continuing to fall…an extended flowering season due to a lack of seed production.

Silver Fountain

Cortaderia selloana ‘Silver Fountain’ is one of those amazing plants that we offered through Plant Delights Nursery many years ago (1999, 2000), but it continues to impress in the garden, which makes us wonder if we should propagate and offer it again. Here is our 20 year old clump in the garden this week. Thoughts?

Golden Chains

Arundo donax ‘Golden Chains’ is looking quite nice in the garden this month. We love this selection of the giant ornamental grass that’s used for making reeds for wind instruments. Arundo ‘Gold Chains’ is much less vigorous than the the typical species, and much easier to fit into smaller gardens. Here’ we’re growing it as a marginal aquatic, where it thrives as well as it does in typical to dry garden soils.

Friday Morning Podcast

Here are some seed and seedpods from the gardens and the greenhouses today.

Friday Morning Podcast!

Here are some ornamental seed pods from the gardens this week.

Friday Morning Podcast

Here are some decorative seed pods from the garden this week.