So often we think we know all about a plant, when we’ve only grown a single clone, and we all know what happens when we assume! A good example is the Southwest US native Agave parryi ssp. truncata, which is now grown around the world. 99.9% if the plants in commerce are a single clone, know as the Huntington form. Unfortunately, this clone is not reliably winter hardy north of Zone 8b.
Many years ago, we received a new clone via the late nurseryman, George Hull. Having survived for us without damage since 2010, including two winters of single digit F temperatures, we have christened this Agave parryi ssp. truncata ‘Hardy Boyz’. Below is a photo taken last week. It’s been very slow to offset, but we feel this an exceptional clone worthy of propagation and distribution. Stay tuned.
We were thrilled how well Agave x protamericana ‘Silver Surfer’ came through the 11 degree F. cold snap this winter. This 2007 Plant Delights/JLBG agave introduction was our selection from a Yucca Do Nursery seed collection in Northern Mexico of a naturally occurring hybrid between Agave americana and Agave asperrima.
We’re several years into an experiment to see how well the epiphytic (grow mostly on trees) tongue ferns of the genus Pyrrosia fare in hanging, moss-lined baskets when left outdoors all year. This is our coldest winter to date since the test began, with a low of 11 degrees F. Here is a photo of one of those baskets taken today. They were not protected in any way during the cold. We have 17 clones on trial in this manner, and some do show a bit of foliar damage, while others are untouched. We think it’s quite amazing to have evergreen hanging baskets of live plants that can remain outdoors here in Zone 7b.
Platycladus orientalis ‘Van Hoey Smith’ is looking absolutely fabulous in our garden this winter. This fascinating selection of Oriental arborvitae, Platycladus orientalis was named after the late Dutch conifer guru, Dick van Hoey Smith (1921-2010), by an American nurseryman, who reportedly received these cuttings, unlabeled, from Dick. Some conifer folks think this is actually an old cultivar, Platycladus orientalis ‘Aureovariegata’. I understand this is not a good performer in climates with low humidity, but it sure likes it here in NC. Winter hardiness is Zone 5b-9b.
So, who is Van Hoey Smith? Born, James Richard Pennington van Hoey Smith, Dick’s family started the famed Trompenberg Arboretum in Holland, which Dick later ran from 1950 until he handed over the reins to his successor Gert Fortgens, in 1996. If you haven’t visited, I highly recommend a visit for any keen plant lover.
Winter is peak flowering season for many of the amazing wild gingers. We caught Asarum porphyronotum ‘Irish Spring’ in full bloom recently. We remove the old foliage just as they come into flower for better photography. The new foliage begins to emerge just as the flowers fade. Amazing as these are, it requires slowing down to actually notice their amazing flowers, which are pollinated by pill bugs and slugs.
Here are a couple of dwarf pines in garden that are looking particularly great in mid-winter.
The first is PInus strobus ‘Mini Twists’ is a dwarf seed-grown selection of our native white pine that matures at 6′ tall x 4′ wide. This is a 2005 introduction from Vermont conifer specialist, Greg Williams. Good drainage is a key to success with white pines in our hot, humid climate. Hardiness is Zone 3a-8a.
Below is Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’, a 1987 introduction of a selected seedling of Japanese black pine from Angelica Nurseries of Maryland. In 10 years, it reportedly will reach 15′ in height x 20′ in width. Although it’s known commercially as Pinus ‘Thunderhead’, that cultivar name was actually used six years prior for a different pine, and according to International nomenclatural rules, can only be used once per genus, so the correct name would become Pinus ‘Angelica’s Thunderhead’. Hardiness is Zone 6a-8b.
Flowering recently in our heated greenhouse was the little-known Paramongaia weberbaureri. This fascinating bulb, native to Coastal Chile at 10,000′ elevation, is a distantly evolved cousin of our native spider lilies, the genus Hymenocallis.
We typically don’t grow many non-hardy plants, but are interested to see if it will hybridize with our native Hymenocallis, since another Andean native, Ismene amancaes, has been successfully hybridized with Hymenocallis in the past. As this is a winter-flowering species, we have collected and refrigerated the pollen while we await Hymenocallis flowers.
Looking great in the garden now is a dwarf witches broom selection of Norway spruce, Picea abies ‘Hereny’. Discovered by Hungary’s Józsa Miklós, and first published in 2010, it reportedly matures at 2′ tall in 20 years. Our 4 year old specimen has already reached that size, so we expect our warm summers will make it a much larger plant here.
The Dryopteris kinkiensis is still looking fabulous in the garden as we inch closer to spring. This little-known Chinese native fern was first brought into the country as spore by plantsman Hans Hansen in 2005. It is also native to Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. The name was originally published for the material in Japan, named after the Kinki region. The foliage is a very glossy dark green with a nearly plastic texture. We estimate hardiness to be zone 7a-9b, but we could be greatly underestimating its potential in that regard.
New colors of Helleborus x hybridus are opening daily, so here are a few shots from the garden today, showing the incredible range of colors that are available. We hope you can join us for our upcoming Winter Open Nursery and Garden and enjoy these in person.
The variegated wide-leaf holly, Ilex latifolia ‘Snow Flash’ is loaded with berries and looking quite spectacular in the garden this month. We’ve shared cuttings with several nursery folks, so hopefully, this will be making its way into the market. The plant was originally brought to the US from Japan by plantsman Barry Yinger. Our specimen below is now 18 years old. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
Agave x protamericana ‘Funky Toes’ is looking fabulous in the garden today, having sailed through our cold winter in tip top shape. This unique form of the well-known North American native agave is an introduction of the former Yucca Do Nursery, from one of their collections in Northern Mexico.
In 2018, we found a streaked leaf on a potted offset. By using a technique called crown cutting, we were able to isolate the bud from the streaked leaf into a yellow center, which we named Agave ‘Funky Monkey’…photo below. Hopefully in the next few years, we’ll have enough of this new introduction to share.
We’ve long been a fan of the central Japan native conifer, Thujopsis dolobrata, which we’ve grown for decades. For those, who aren’t students of the Latin language, the ending -opsis, means “looks like”. When Thujopsis was formally named in 1894 by Franz von Siebold and Joseph Zuccarini, they chose a name that could be translated to “looks like the American genus, Thuja”.
On a 2012 trip to Joann Currier’s former Unique Plant Nursery in NC, we noticed a plant of Thujopsis that looked unlike any we’d seen. Since the genus only has a single species, the variant was either a mutation or odd seedling. The very thick, plastic-like foliage on this selection gives the appearance of a ploidy mutation (extra chromosomes).
The cutting they shared was rooted, and subsequently went in the ground here in 2013. A decade later, our plant is pictured below this month, topping out at 10′ in height. Joann originally got the plant from Randy Plante at Greener Visions Nursery, who got it from NC conifer nurseryman Geoff Driscoll, who got it from someone “up north”. That’s where the trail goes cold. We’ve shared cuttings with several NC nursery folks, in the hopes this amazing selection becomes more commercially available in the future.
We just discovered that one of our good plant friends, plantsman and former mail order nurseryman, Dick Weaver, 77, passed away early in the days of the pandemic in June 2020.
Dick and I had been corresponding regularly, but in a final note in late 2019, he indicated that Parkinson’s had now made it difficult for him to type emails. Although we chatted on the phone after that, I completely lost track of him during the COVID craziness. It was only when I tried to catch up last week that I discovered he’d passed not long after our last chat.
Dick and his life partner, Rene Duval, started We-Du nursery in Marion, NC in 1983, after Dick left his job as Assistant Curator/Taxonomist/Plant Explorer at Boston’s Arnold Arboretum (1970-1983). Armed with a PhD in Botany from Duke University, Dick gave up a good salary and stable job for the uncertain, crazy world as a mail order nursery owner.
As a young nursery owner, We-Du Nursery near Marion, NC was always one of my favorite stops to see and acquire new plants and chat with other plant nerds. Their nursery specialty was both North American native and their Asian counterparts–similar interests to ours.
After 13 years in the mail order business, Dick and Rene sold We-Du to move to Puerto Rico to run a coffee plantation. Dick thought mail order was difficult until he tried to run a farm in the mountains of Puerto Rico. In 2001, I remember a desperate sounding email from Dick, saying they needed to move back to the US asap…preferably to Florida. We made a few calls, and connected Dick to friends in the Gainesville area, which eventually led to Dick getting a position with the Florida Department of Agriculture in 2002. He worked there until his retirement in 2010.
It was great to have Dick and Rene back on the mainland and to once again be able to visit in person, this time at the fascinating home and garden they created in North Florida.
In 2016, after Rene passed away, Dick moved to Pennsylvania to be near his remaining family, starting yet another garden. Sadly, we never got to visit his final home. We’ll miss the plant chats and plant exchanges, but thanks for adding so much to the world of horticulture!
If you go through the garden slow enough, you’ll notice little treasures like the NC native, Opuntia drummondii. This tiny growing coastal native prickly pear cactus can be found from NC around the gulf coast to Mississippi. Our specimen was shared with us from a collection on NC’s Bodie Island–a name made famous as the place where the Wright Brothers took flight. This prostrate grower is great to keep animals from trespassing onto your property.
Ilex ‘Magiana’ has made a superb plant in our garden. Below is a photo this week. This 2003 introduction form Mississippi’s Evergreen Nursery has never been touched by a pruner. The patent expired this year, so we anticipate more nurseries will be propagating it in the future. It originated as a seedling of Ilex ‘Mary Nell’ and was originally sold under the trademark name Acadiana. In the garden, expect a mature size of 14′ tall x 8′ wide. Our specimen is now 16 years old.
Looking great for the last couple of weeks in the garden are the double forms of the Christmas rose, one of the first hellebores to bloom in the garden. This clump of Helleborus niger ‘Snowbells’ is looking particularly nice. Hardiness zone 3a to 7b.
I’m betting that even the most seasoned plant collectors probably haven’t grown or even heard of Urophysa henryi. This odd generic member of the Ranunculaceae family hails from China, where it can be found only in a very few scattered populations, hanging out from cliff-side karst rock fissures in Guizhou, Sichuan, Western Hubei and into Northwestern Hunan.
Urophysa henryi is very closely related to the highly prized, but rather difficult to grow, rock garden plant, Semiquilegia adoxoides. I was particularly interested to read in a 2021 Chinese research paper, “In field observations and laboratory experiments, we found that U. rockii and U. henryi can not survive outside the karst limestone, which indicated that the karst limestone plays a significant role in their growth and development.” This is why you never send a botanist to do a horticulturist’s job!
In our garden, sans the Karst limestone, it has thrived in our rock garden, not blinking this year at 11F. The 4″ tall x 6″ wide evergreen clumps of columbine-like foliage are topped with clusters of small, outfacing white flowers, which resemble our native Isopyrum biternatum, Like Isopyrum, Urophysa flowering starts for us in early January, and continues through March. We think these are an outstanding addition to the winter garden and are going to do our best to get these propagated to share before words gets out that they can’t be grown in cultivation.
One of the nice surprises this winter has been the performance of our hybrid Magnolia grandiflora x Magnolia coco. This 2019 seedling came through the recent 11 degrees F looking great, despite half its parentage being rather tender.
While Magnolia grandiflora is certainly winter hardy here, the other parent, Magnolia coco is “reportedly” not hardy. Magnolia coco is a small tree/shrub hailing from Vietnam, Southern China, and Taiwan. Those reputable on-line sources consistently write that it isn’t hardy north of Zone 9. Well–hmmm!
The bottom image is our plant that has been in the garden since 2003…that’s 20 years. Yes, after 11F, the foliage is brown, but the stems are fine and it will re-flush well in spring. We can’t wait to see the flowers on the hybrid, which is still a few years away from being old enough to have sex.
The earliest of the lenten roses, Helleborus x hybridus, have just opened. Depending on the genetics of each clone, they will continue to open until mid-March. Flowering on each variety continues for many weeks to over a month if the temperatures remain cool. Only a few weeks remain before our Winter Open Nursery and Garden, when you can visit and see these first hand in the garden, and even select your own flowering plants from our on-site nursery, Plant Delights.
We thought we’d share a photo taken this week of the original plant of Illicium parviflorum ‘Florida Sunshine’ from our garden. All plants sold worldwide originated with cuttings taken from our specimen. The original plant has now been in the ground here for 22 years and measures 8′ tall x 8′ wide. The foliage becomes brightest in the cool temperatures of winter. Who says Southeast US native plants look ugly? Hardiness zones 6a to 9b.
Although the native Ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris ‘The King’, goes winter dormant, the fertile fronds remain upright and attractive all winter. Here, we have it growing among the evergreen Solomon’s Seal, Disporopsis pernyi. This site is quite dry, compared to it’s normal habitat of wet swamps.
We were thrilled to see how well our Mexican bear grass, Nolina hibernica fared through our recent cold. We had lost this ten times previously, and were close to giving up, but decided to plant this one in a partially shaded site. Previously, we had only planted these in full sun, where they thrived except during cold winters. By growing this partially under shade, it reduces the amount of cooling on cold nights by having a tree canopy nearby. This 8 year old specimen has a way to go before it reaches its potential mature height of 20′. Fingers crossed.
11 degrees F was a bit more than our clump of Massonia depressa had hoped for. Although the cold temperatures burned a bit of one leaf, it not only survived, but is now in full flower. That’s pretty amazing for a South African bulb that Wikipedia authoritatively states “does not tolerate freezing temperatures”. Rock on!
Agave ‘Crazy Horse’ is an amazing agave hybrid we purchased back in 2005 from an Ebay seller in Texas. The vendor had found the plant growing at a real estate office in Montgomery County, Texas. It’s obviously a hybrid, but we still don’t know the parentage for sure. If we had to guess, it appears to be a hybrid of Agave x protamericana and Agave cupreata. In the 18 years, we’ve grown it, it’s been an exceptional plant, forming 3.5′ tall x 5′ wide rosettes, and suckering tightly against the main clump. This year, it sailed though our winter cold of 11F. It’s been almost a decade since we’ve offered this, so perhaps it’s time we propagate a few more to share.
In 2011, we spotted a tiny creamy white streak on a single leaf of a small pup, which was potted for further observation. After several years, and thanks to crown cutting, we were able to produce a highly-streaked plant, which we call Agave ‘Craziness’…see below.
Several years later, we were able to isolate the streaked leaves into a stabilized central variegation we named Agave ‘Bareback Rider’. Although winter hardiness also disappears with the creamy white foliage, it still makes a superb container plant. With that much white in the leaf, the growth rate has also slowed dramatically. It’s our hope that within the next year or two, we can finally release this amazing form through Plant Delights.
I was just admiring our specimen of the East Coast native, Thuja occidentalis ‘Concessarini’ today. I find this a fascinating plant in the garden, sadly never promoted by those who claim to extoll the virtues of native plants.
Our oldest specimen below is now 10 years old and measures 3′ tall x 6′ wide…quite a bit larger than it’s introducer claims it to be at 1′ tall x 2′ wide. If you dig deeper, you’ll see that the plant patent application shows they only measured a three year old plant, and have never bothered to update the mature size in their marketing or on their tags. It shows how little many plant introducers think of the end consumer, when they set them up for failure by promoting these fake mature sizes. Commercially, it is marketed under the fake trade name of Pancake arborvitae. That’s one seriously lumpy pancake.
This juvenile-foliage sport of Thuja ‘Linesville’ was discovered by nurseryman, Gabriel Cessarini. We think it’s pretty cool, just allow enough room in the garden. Winter hardiness is Zone 3a-8b.
We have been very impressed with the very narrow selection of our East Coast native arborviatae, Thuja occidentalis ‘Brobeck’s Tower’. This has been in the garden now for 4 years, and is 6′ in height and just over 1′ in width. This seedling selection was made by Sweeden’s Anders Brobeck, where the same plant takes 20 years to reach this height, due to a lack of summer heat.
Looking and smelling scrumptious in the garden today is Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Orange Peel’. This splendid hybrid of Hamamelis mollis (China) x Hamamelis japonica (Japan) comes from Belgium’s Kalmthout Arboretum. I don’t know that I’ve ever smelled a witch hazel this sweet.
One of the nice surprises after our 11 degree F freeze was how well our Escallonia ‘Iveyi’ fared. Few people on the US East Coast are familiar with these South American woody members of the Escalloniaceae family.
Escallonia ‘Iveyi’ is actually a hybrid that originated at the UK’s Caerhays Castle, where it was discovered as a seedling between Escallonia rosea and Escallonia rubra. Our plant should mature at 10′ x 10′. In mid summer, this amazing selection is smothered in fragrant white flowers.
All the literature we’d been able to find, indicates it is only hardy to 14 degrees, but that’s another reason we don’t let our plants read gardening books or browse the Internet. Our plant was grown from cuttings from an old specimen at the SC Botanical Garden in Clemson.
Looking quite lovely atop our crevice garden is Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Hariyama’. This incredibly heavily-spined seedling of Osmanthus ‘Sasaba’ was brought to the US by plantsman Ted Stephens, who acquired it from Ishiguro Nursery in Japan. Our 15 year old plant has topped 10′ in height. Earlier in the fall, it was adorned with small, fragrant white flowers. Despite the small congested foliage, this is not a small plant, but where an oriental specimen plant is needed, this is very special.
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.
Every year when we have a significantly cold winter, we are reminded of the wonder of the Southeastern native needle palm, Rhapidophyllum hystrix. This native of Northern Florida and nearby areas in the adjacent states of South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, is the most winter hardy palm in existence.
Established needle palm clumps have been documented to have survived -15 F to -20F. I still remember checking on the old specimen at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh after we dropped below 0F for two consecutive nights in January 1985 (-3 on Jan 20, and -9 on Jan 21). I was amazed I was to find the plant undamaged by the cold. Below is one of our many specimens in the garden after our 11 F freeze a few weeks ago.
Needle palm is generally considered to be a non-trunking palm, although with great age, it will develop a short trunk, that will eventually become decumbent. I’m fascinated why this and other native palms are never promoted by the native plant enthusiasts.
Few gardeners outside of California and the Pacific Northwest have tried growing Cupressus sargentiae (Sargent’s Cypress). We often assume that plants endemic to California won’t grow on the East Coast, but our trials have found such a broad assumption to be quite false. Our specimen from Patrick’s collection north of San Francisco still looks great after our recent 11F temperatures. The amazing lemon-scented foliage fragrance is quite incredible, and as such, should make it a great plant for making holiday arrangements/wreaths. The plant should mature size should be between 40-70′ in height. Taxonomy of this Cupressus is stuck in a taxonomic tug of war, with one camp, who wants to rename it Hesperocyparis sargentii. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-10, guessing.
Cryptomeria is a monotypic genus (only one species) of conifer, native to Japan. Despite many reports that it hails from China, DNA has shown that these were brought from Japan and planted over 1000 years ago.
For over 40 years, we have been fascinated with the genus and have worked to collect as many cultivars as possible, currently 49 different ones in the garden. One of our long-time favorites is Cryptomeria japonica ‘Mitama’, an old Japanese dwarf selection that’s sold under the name ‘Globosa Nana’. Without any clipping, these retain a slightly informal green meatball shape, maturing at 6′ tall x 10′ wide. Below is our garden plant this week. Hardiness zone 5a to 9b.
Sometimes you see a plant, or a photo of a plant, that raises your horticultural lust to somewhat unhealthy levels. At this point in life, that happens far less than it used to, but one plant that remained on my lust list for over a decade was the aroid, Pinellia ‘Purple Dragon’.
For those who aren’t familiar with pinellia, they are an Asian genus of only 9 species of hardy woodland aroids, related to Arisaema (Jack-in-the-Pulpit). I will admit to have eliminated most pinellias from the garden because they grow too well, and spread too prolifically.
The only Pinellia species we retained in the garden are the non-weedy Pinellia cordata and Pinellia peltata, which don’t move outside of a small area. Pinellia hybrids have also always intrigued us. The first hybrid to be named was from the former We-Du Nursery, Pinellia ‘Polly Spout’ (P. pedatisecta x tripartita), and is sterile unless it is grown near one of it’s weedy parent species. We have grown this in the garden since 2004, and it remains a solitary clump, producing no seed.
When we heard of a second hybrid (P. cordata x tripartita), the search was on. Pinellia x cortita ‘Purple Dragon’ showed up at NY’s Glover Perennials, which unfortunately doesn’t ship. We finally tracked down a plant in 2019, and have subsequently fast-tracked it in the production process, so we could share this amazing gem that excited us so much. As we expected, none of our plants have ever produced a single seed.
The only problem with the plant is the cultivar name Purple Dragon, which has been used for years as the common name for the purple-spathed form of the weedy Pinellia tripartita, which sadly many folks will probably confuse with this new sterile hybrid.
Pinellia ‘Purple Dragon’ is effectively an everblooming arisaema, with flowers being produced non-stop from spring into fall. The new foliage emerges dark purple and opens olive green on the top and purple underneath. This has proven to be an exceptional plant in our garden. Our trial plant in half day sun has thrived as well as our specimens in more shade. If you like Jack-in-the-Pulpits, we hope you enjoy this new treasure as much as we do.
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).
Our 13 year old clump of the evergreen Japanese Asarum asperum is looking superb in the garden this week. Looks like it’s about time to divide this for the first time and start to build up stock so we can share in the future. Winter hardiness is Zone 6-9.
Sadly, folks who have a predilection to butcher evergreens like yews (Taxus) into green meatballs completely miss the beauty of their bark as they age. Here is our plant of Taxus mairei (Nepal to Vietnam) in the garden this week, looking absolutely stunning. Woof Woof!
We can’t imagine there are many people who grow cast iron plants from seed, but we have found the results quite fascinating. Below are a couple of our seedling which we found good enough to name. Neither has been divided yet, and are still under evaluation, but we think they have good potential.
Aspidistra ‘Bright Lights’ is a 2015 seedling from Aspidistra ‘Okame’ and has a similar variegation pattern, although it has more white banding than its parent.
Aspidistra ‘Illumination’ is a 2016 seedling of Aspidistra ‘Sekko Kan’, and inherited the white tips from its mama, but has also pickup up more streaking that wasn’t present in the preceding generation, so perhaps it outcrossed to a nearby streaked parent. If you’re interested in trying this yourself, the seed are found in a 1-2″ wide green ball at the base of the plant now. The seed should be mature in the next 4-6 weeks.
We were thrilled to see most of our plants of Trichocereus ‘Love Child’ come through the 11 degrees F unscathed. We hope to have enough of these in the next year or two to share. We had long wanted to grow and offer some of the ridiculously large flowered, tacky colored tropical trichocereus cactus, but they simply had no winter hardiness.
Enter our former volunteer curator, Mike Papay, who had the same idea, but was more determined to make it happen. Mike worked with Trichocereus bruchii, and the resulting second generation plants yielded one he named Trichocereus ‘Big Time’.
He created another winter hardy hybrid using Trichocereus bruchii and Trichocereus thelogonus that he named Trichocereus ‘Iridescent Watermelon’. We subsequently crossed both of Mike’s hybrids together to create a seed strain we named Trichocereus ‘Love Child’. Below is one of our garden plants after enduring 11 degrees F. Below that is the same plant in flower last spring. Hardiness zone 7b to 10b.
In 2014, Plant Delights introduced this amazing, wild collected mondo grass, which we think is one of the coolest ophiopgons we’ve ever grown. This Darrell Probst collection from China has formed a 20″ tall x 4′ wide mound of foliage. This image was taken in the garden this week after our 11 degree F freeze, and is looking absolutely fabulous. Although it keys out to Ophiopogon japonicus, it doesn’t phenotypically (what it looks like) that species. We’re pretty sure it represents a new undescribed species.
We love the texture, both in the woodland garden and in half day full sun. Although it’s winter hardy throughout Zone 6, it was one of the worst selling plants we ever offered. Sometimes we just want to throw our hands up trying to figure out why people don’t purchase some of these amazing plants.
I had to chuckle as folks on several Facebook plant groups were wringing their hands in worry prior to the recent cold snap, while we were secretly hoping for even colder temperatures than forecast.
JLBG registered three consecutive nights in the teens recently; 11F, 19F, and 19F. While this was certainly not abnormal for our area, folks with very short memories thought the horticultural world was coming to an end. In reality, we recorded similar temperatures in the winter of 2017/2018, albeit a week later that year.
When we first started the gardens at JLBG, we were squarely on the Zone 7b side of the Zone 7a line. We are now on the Zone 7b side of the Zone 8a line. In order words, we have shifted about 1/4 of a hardiness zone. Since 2018, JLBG has registered three consecutive Zone 9a winters, so it’s not surprising the new gardeners or those with short memories start assuming that all kind of plants are reliably winter hardy, which is not the case.
We long for cold temperatures because we want and need good winter hardiness data, and while mild winters may be enjoyable to us Homo sapiens, we don’t learn anything about plant hardiness from those winters. So, here are a few things we learned this year.
Agave weberi ‘Stone Cold Austin’ is Patrick McMillan’s collection of Agave weberi from Austin, Texas. We’ve tried Agave weberi a couple of times prior, and could never get it through one of our milder winters. Patrick’s original plant at Clemson got large enough to flower there, so we’re hoping for the same. The older foliage is showing damage from 11F, and will most likely be lost, but the bud seems fine so far.
We’ve never had any luck with any of the dwarf Agave lechuguilla mutants we’ve tried in the garden, but this new one, shared by plantsman Hans Hansen, that we call Agave ‘Tater Tot’, had no problem with 11F. These are often sold as Agave x pumila, which actually doesn’t exist. Everyone assumed that A. x pumila was a hybrid, but when one in Europe recently mutated back to the original form, it turned out to be nothing more that a super dwarf form of Agave lechugullla.
Mangave ‘Racing Stripes’ is a plant we had high hopes for in terms of winter hardiness, but we had not had a cold enough winter to get good data. Our only reservation was that it contains genes from the tropical Agave gypsophila. Thankfully, our plant came through the 11F freeze in reasonably good shape. The wrinkled nature of the older leaves are indications of cold damage that will show up in a few more days, but the core seems intact and should re-grow.
We fully expected Bambusa multiplex ‘Green Giant’ to be defoliated after 11F and the stalks killed to the ground, but our fully exposed clump still looks like it’s mid-summer…at least from the north side.
On the south side, the same clump has fried foliage. There are typically two causes for such damage. One is wind desication when the winds are blowing from a single direction and the ground is frozen, making it impossible for the plant to replenish water lost through the foliage. During the time that our ground was frozen, our winds were coming from the West, so that wouldn’t account for damage only on the south side of the plant.
In this case, the more likely scenario is that this is due to sun scorch when the soils was frozen, since the damage is on the south side. If the canes are indeed undamaged, as it appears, new leaves should reflush in spring.
We didn’t hold out much hope for the Mexican palm, Brahea decumbens, but it sailed through 11F unscathed.
Since we know that genetics matters, we will often plant more than one clone of a marginal plant like a new palm. Below are two seedlings of the small-seeded European Fan Palm, Chamaerops humilis var. microcarpa. The first shows significant foliage burn, while the second plant, growing nearby shows no damage after 11F.
The hardiest of all Sabal palmetto forms are those from NC’s Bald Head Island. Our plant from there came through the cold unscathed. We expect many local businesses and even homeowners who purchase large trunked forms directly from Florida growers will probably be in for a disappointing spring.
All of our hardy cycads have assumed the straw-color we see every year when the temperatures drop below 18 degrees F. The plants are fine, but we recommend waiting to remove the dead fronds, since doing so now, can cause the new foliage to emerge in the middle of winter, which is never a good idea. April 1 is our target date to remove the fried foliage.
One of the real surprises was the fried foliage of Viburnum ‘Moonlit Lace’, where it was growing in full sun. The same plant growing in shade looks untouched. The stems are fine and the plant should re-sprout fine, but gardeners who grow this in full sun may be disappointed.
This is the coldest temperatures we’ve seen since planting Patrick’s hardy selection, Opuntia microdasys ‘Dripping Springs’. Our clump looks great after the cold. It’s hard to imagine that this clone is so much more winter hardy than any of the other forms of this species that we’ve tried previously and killed at much warmer temperatures. Although we don’t offer this for sales, I’ll remind you of our great prickly pear cactus giveaway at our Summer Open Nursery and Garden in July.
The Mexican Sedum praeltum looks a bit sad, but actually seems to be fine with sound buds up and down the stem. This little-known perennial forms a plant that looks almost exactly like the tender Jade plant, Crassula ovata.
Lastly, our patches of Living Stones, Lithops aucampiae, sailed through 11 degrees F. I wonder if we can ever get all the disinformation on the Internet regarding their tolerance to cold corrected.
We hope everyone has had a chance to check out the new 2023 Plant Delights catalog, now online. Our greenhouse are fully stocked with plants we hope will appeal to the gardeners in our audience….see photos below taken this week.
Our market has always been a bit different that other mainstream mail order nurseries, first because we grow and produce virtually all of our own offerings. That allows us better control over quality, trueness to name, and availability. Our on-line offerings are currently just over 1000 items, of which over 300 are Plant Delights/Juniper Level Botanic Garden introductions or exclusives.
We love camellias, but we really love the amazing banded leaf, variegated camellias, of which we’ve assembled a decent collection. Here is our plant of Camellia japonica ‘Taiyo’ in the garden now, which is just absolutely striking.
We’ve long been enamored with the Southwest native genus of slow-growing woody lilies belonging to the genus, Dasylirion. Since the early 1990s, we’ve been growing these, trialing as many species as we could obtain to see how well they adapted to our climate here in the colder, wetter Southeast.
So, far, we have grown 16 of the 21 recognized species and succeeded with 12. We found four unable to survive our coldest winters, including Dasylirion durangensis, Dasylirion longissimum, Dasylirion lucidum, Dasylirion sereke.
The five species we have yet to try in the garden are Dasylirion graminifolium, Dasylirion longistylum, Dasylirion micropterum, Dasylirion palaciosii, and Dasylirion simplex. We have seed planted of both Dasylirion graminfolium and micropterum, so those will be next in line for our in ground trials. That leaves us still searching for seed of the final three.
Sotols, like agaves, are members of the Asparagus family. They are becoming wildly popular, but not because of gardeners. Instead, their popularity is driven by those who are driven by a need/desire to imbibe alcoholic spirits. First, there was Mescal, a Mexican drink made from one of a number of different agave species, depending on what grew in proximity to each village. Of the Mescals, the most popular is Tequilla, which is made from a single species, Agave tequiliana.
Now, Sotol alcohol has joined the ranks of the “hot new spirits”. Made from agave’s cousin, plants of the genus Dasylirion, Sotol is rapidly becoming the new “flavor of the month”. Sotol alcohol certainly isn’t new, and if you regularly travel south of “the wall” you probably already know that Sotol is the state drink of Mexican states Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Durango.
Not so long ago, Sotol alcohol had a history that somewhat parallels moonshine in the Southeast US. For years, Sotol alcohol was illegal and subject to government raids, during which master sotoleros were punished or imprisoned. During the US prohibition of the 1920s, Sotol sales in the US skyrocketed, but soon after its repeal, Sotol sales plummeted back into obscurity. Now, with not only social acceptance, but a wide wide embrace of virtually anything that can be used to produce alcohol, Sotol has been mainstreamed with the assistance of the Mexican government and willing marketers.
Most agaves for Tequila production are now commercially grown in massive farms, and most plants are now produced from tissue culture for a more consistent yield and to take pressure off wild popuations. Even under ideal farming conditions, it take 5-7 years to get an agave large enough to harvest for tequilla production. With dasylirions, the same process takes at least 12-15 years according to Sotol marketers. Based on our 30 years of work with the genus, I’d say the time involved is more likely 24-30 years, even in a high rainfall climate like ours.
I’m not aware of many farm operations that can afford to grow a plant for that long before expecting a return on investment. This means that poaching of plants from the wild is very likely to increase. With such a low rate of return, i.e. 1 pint of liquor for each plant harvested, I can’t see the plants coming out on the good end of this industry. While making alcohol from dasylirions isn’t new, it’s been done on a very limited scale in Mexico, prior to word spreading around the world via social media.
Reportedly Sotol spirits taste quite different based on the species used, and whether it’s from an exceptionally dry region or an area with better rainfall. Sotol conniseurs describe the tastes as being a bit like menthol or pine/mushrooms if the plants are grown well hydrated, while those from drier regions taste more like leather. To quote Dave Barry, “I’m not making this up!” And this sounds appealing to who???
Supposedly, the spirit producers are cutting off the wild dasylirions and leaving the bases to resprout, but I’ve got my doubts about how well that works. Assuming the cut dasylirion does resprout, there will be a decade of lost seed production, so plant populations in the wild are almost certain to decline. I’m left to wonder if we really are so desperate for a new taste in alcohol that we are willing to sacrifice another genus of plants in the process.
In celebration of these amazing plants, here are photos of those we have grown in our ex-situ conservation gardens at JLBG.
Dasylirion acrotrichum, named in 1843, is native to Mexico’s Chihuahuan desert. Of the seven plants we planted, only one survived, which is now over 20 years old. This widespread sotol, which occurs on igneous soils, has been split by various authors into several subspecies. Undoubtedly, winter hardiness varies based on the seed procurement location. At maturity, the trunks can reach 5′ tall.
Dasylirion berlandieri, named after French/Mexican naturalist, Jean-Louis Berlandier (1803-1851), was first published in 1879. Native to steep rocky hillsides in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon in Northeastern Mexico, it’s one of the largest species in the genus in width, but with a trunk that never exceeds 1′ in height. Below is our plant in bud. Unlike agaves, dasylirion rosettes do not die after flowering.
Below is a fully open flower spike, which is abuzz with a large number of bees
Dasylirion cedrosanum, first documented in 1911, hails from 3,000′ – 6,000′ elevation on rocky, gypsum-laced hillsides in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. They are restricted to the Mexican states of Chihuhua, Coahuilla, and Durango. At maturity, they produce a 3′ tall trunk.
Dasylirion durangensis is another species first described in 1911, which hails from the dry alkaline/limestone-gypsum deserts of Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durango, and Zacatecas. In parts of its range, it interbreeds with Dasylirion wheeleri. We flowered this prior to losing it during a particularly cold winter. Below is our Obit photo.
Dasylirion gentry was only published as a species in 1998. It has a very limited range between 3,500′ – 4,000′ in Sonora, Mexico, where it grows on rocky slopes in openings of pine/oak woodlands.
The inflorescense of Dasylirion gentryi is one of the most spectacular we’ve ever seen.
Dasylirion glaucophyllum is a species whose discovery dates back to 1858. It can be found naturally, only in Sonora, Mexico, growing on rocky hillsides at elevations to almost 8,000′. At maturity, trunks measure up to 6′ in height.
Dasylirion leiophyllum, published in 1911, only grows north of Mexican border in Texas and New Mexico. Based on where it grows, it should be one of the most winter hardy sotol species. The first photo is at JLBG, and the second in situ at 5,400′ elevation. The second image is from the late plantsman, David Salman, of a Zone 5 population he discovered and shared seed with us just prior to his untimely death. Plant Delights is currently offering this as Dasylirion leiophyllum ‘Chaves’.
Dasylirion miquihuanense, only described in 1998, hails from Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon in Northeastern Mexico. Also occurring on rocky slopes, this sotol is one of the tallest species, producing massive 8′ tall trunks. We have succeeded long term with only 2 of 8 specimens we planted.
Dasylirion parryanum, published in that banner year of 1911, hails from up to 8,000′ elevation in the San Luis Potosi State in Northern Mexico, where it produces 3′ tall trunks.
Dasylirion quadrangulatum (1879) hails from the Southern (warmer) end of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon. It is much too tender for us to grow in the open here in Zone 7b, but we’ve kept it alive for a couple of decades by siting it in a microclimate adjacent to a brick wall house foundation. It is one of only two species lacking leaf spines. With great age, it produces trunks to 9′ in height.
Dasylirion serratifolium, first described in 1838, is from Oaxaca, Mexico, where is grows on rocky, alkaline hillsides to 6,600′ elevation. The location and elevation means it really shouldn’t survive our winter. That said, our only remaining specimen below is now 20 years old, but is still far from reaching the 6′ tall trunk height it does in the wild.
Dasylirion texanum (1850) is another very winter hardy species, found on rocky slopes, ranging from Central Texas into the mountains of Northern Mexico. It is one of the shortest species, with a trunk that doesn’t exceed 1′ tall.
Dasylirion wheeleri, first documented in 1878, ranges from Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico south into the mountains of Northern Mexico. It matures at 6′ tall, and in situ, can be found in both grasslands as well as openings in pine/oak forests. It is another of the most cold hardy species.
An old clump we planted years ago in flower is quite remarkable.
We hope you’ll limit your consumption of Sotol as a drink and instead join us in becoming an ex-situ conservation garden for this amazing genus of plants.
The typical holly fern, Cyrtomium falcatum, is considered fairly reliable in Zone 7b, but no further north. The oddball is the coastal form, which grows on the coast of both Japan and Korea. We received the plant shown below in 2005, as Cyrtomium falcatum var. maritimum, which our taxonomy staff tells me, isn’t a valid name. According to Patrick and Zac, the Japanese coastal material is correctly called Cyrtomium falcatum var. littorale, but there is no mention in the literature they’ve reviewed of the same coastal form occurring off Korea.
Other than the dwarf size, which is often seen in plants that grow in harsh coastal conditions, these weather-battered denizens adapt by developing thicker leaves and a denser habit. Additionally, this form is significantly more winter hardy than the typical material of Cyrtomium falcatum seen in the trade. We’ve always listed this dwarf form as a Zone 7a plant, but we wouldn’t be surprised at all if it’s also hardy in Zone 6. If you’ve been adventurous enough to try it, we’d love to hear from you. Our mature clumps below, photographed over Christmas, are now 8″ tall x 18″ wide.
Mahonias have long been garden staples, but few people have ever seen or tried the rare Mahonia russellii. Discovered in 1984 in Vera Cruz, Mexico by the UK’s James Russell, this member of the “paniculate” clan of mahonias is more closely related to other Southern Mexico and Central American species, than anything most of us grow in our gardens. In other words, there is no way we should be able to grow this outdoors.
Below is our specimen flowering in the garden just prior to our low of 11 degrees F and three consecutive nights in the teens. Surprisingly, it escaped with what appears to be minor foliar damage, and of course a loss of the floral show.
During the holidays, house plants often get relegated to dark, unattended corners, but some house plants make great holiday decorations without any special seasonal input. One of those is the Taiwan native cast iron plant, Aspidistra attenuata. Here are 3 clones in our collection, all photographed this year on Christmas day. In order, they are Aspidistra attenuata ‘Alishan Broad’, ‘Dungpu Dazzler’, and ‘Taiwan Treasure’. These are but a few of the amazing cast iron plant species and cultivars that are sadly ignored commercially. We think they’re pretty cool.
Flowering in the garden this week is the fascinating, but little-known Houstonia procumbens. This Southeastern US coastal native (South Carolina west to eastern Louisiana) is a spreading, winter flowering bluet. We collected cuttings in Clay County, Florida in 2003, and this patch has been thriving in our sunny alpine garden since then, forming a 1.5′ wide patch.
For the last couple of decades, we’ve enjoyed having beehives here on the JLBG property. For most of that time, they were owned by the Bayer Crop Sciences group, but after their merger a few years ago, their nearby bee research center shut down.
After that we were able to work with a former Bayer staffer to maintain the hives, but sadly, that chapter has also ended. We’re looking for a nearby beekeeper who would be interested in having hives here at JLBG. We can tell you that with the incredible plant diversity, the honey has a taste like no other. If you or someone you know might be interested, just send a email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s our oldest specimen of xFatshedera ‘Curly’ in the garden this week. This fascinating bi-generic cross between the vining English Ivy (Hedera helix) and shrub Fatsia japonica ‘Moeseri’, was originally made 110 years ago this year, at France’s Lizé Frères Nursery. Since that time, we have been able to track down seven foliar mutations that have been named from the original hybrid.
Our specimen of xFatshedera ‘Curly’ has reached 6′ tall x 6′ wide in 10 years. The hybrid is no longer is capable of running like the ivy parent, but also has trouble looking exactly like a shrub. We enjoy it for its unique form, which is the anthesis of round green meatballs. .
xFatshedera ‘Pixie’ is a “dwarf” sport from F. ‘Curley’. Although the leaves are slightly smaller, the plant is actually larger. Our 10 year old specimen measures 6′ tall x 11′ wide this week.
Several plants emerge in the fall/winter season…some native, and others from far away Mediterranean climates. One of the most unusual plants we grow is the pig’s butt arum, Helicodiceros muscivorus. Depending on the location of the original population on one of the Mediterranean islands, it can emerge in our climate as late as February or as early as December. Here is a photo of our plant of an Alan Galloway collection from Majorca, which is the earliest to emerge in our garden. Let’s hope it’s ready for our upcoming cold snap. Even if this never flowered, we marvel at the glaucous, three-dimensional Escher-esque foliage.
In 2006, NC plantsman, and our long time customer, Graham Ray of Greensboro, emailed to see if we were interested in a dwarf Asaparagus densiflorus (Sprengeri) fern that he grew in his rock garden, and had been winter hardy for several years in his Zone 7a garden.
We had already worked with several asparagus species for years, and have a great fondness for the ornamental potential of the genus, so of course, we jumped at the opportunity. We were perplexed, however, how a dwarf version of the marginally hardy Asparagus densiflorus could have survived in Greensboro, which is a 1/2 zone colder than our garden south of Raleigh.
Despite our skepticism, we planted our new treasure in fall 2006, which thrived here, despite our winter hardiness concerns, not blinking during three upcoming single digit F winters. A few years later, we sent a plant to our friend Hans Hansen at Walters Gardens in Michigan for further testing. Despite their winter temperatures well below 0F with no snow cover, it thrived there also. What was going on, we wondered, since this simply shouldn’t be possible.
Our mystery was finally resolved this summer when taxonomy researchers from the University of Georgia, working on the phylogeny of the genus Asparagus, learned of our extensive collection of Asparagus species, and came by to take samples for their research. This fall, we got word that our dwarf plant which we had named Asparagus ‘Graham’s Cracker’, was in fact not a selection of the common hanging basket species, Asparagus densiflorus, but was instead a seedling of the Zone 4 hardy Asparagus cochinchinensis.
As we re-traced the plants origin, it turned out that Graham had purchased the plant here at Plant Delights, as a dwarf seedling he found in one of our sale house flats, which our staff had failed to notice.
Above is a photo of a mature plant of Asparagus ‘Graham’s Cracker’ at JLBG, which has finally reached a whopping 15″ in height…a perfect plant for the rock garden or in larger bedding schemes. Like the species, the fall foliage is a brilliant gold.
And here’s mama, Asparagus cochinchinensis ‘Chuwang’.
Our oldest clump of the North American native Agave lophantha ‘Splendida’ is preparing to celebrate its 10th anniversary in the garden at JLBG. What started as a single pup, now has an extended family. Please join us in sending birthday wishes to this great century plant selection.
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.
Her 45 year-old Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ was the largest either of us had ever seen.
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.
The gold barked Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Bihou’ was also showing off its stunning winter color.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We caught Fatsia japonica in full flower…always a great nectar source for honeybees in the winter months.
A highlight for me was catching the amazing stinkhorn fungus, Clathrus columnatus in full splendor…both visually and odoriferously.
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.
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.
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.