The skirt of leaves of the European Geranium phaeum (mourning widow) are always a favorite in the early spring garden. We truly love this clump-forming hardy geranium, that behaves superbly in the woodland garden.
In the wild, the amount of black pattern on the foliage varies, but Geranium phaeum ‘Samobor’, is an exceptional clone, originally discovered in the wilds of Croatia. The foliage is topped in early spring, with short stalks of small purple flowers, but it’s the foliage that makes this a standout. Hardiness is Zone 4a-8b.
We’ve been fascinated with the woody plant genus Loropetalum since the late J.C. Raulston first distributed the pink-flowered forms, which had just come into to cultivation in the US, back in 1989. Since those original plants were propagated and sold, many nurseries have tried to one up each other with a barrage of new introductions. Today, we have documented 68 named cultivars of Loropetalum, of which we currently grow only 22. Below are a few from JLBG, which are currently in full flower.
Sadly, most folks mistakenly think these are foundation shrubs, thanks to unscrupulous retailers. Most, are in fact, either large shrubs or small trees. Yes, if you’re into plant mutilation as a form of legal S&M, you can shear them into bizarre boxes and meatballs, but do you really think this is a good idea? Do you really hate natural beauty that much?
Below are a few named selections with their advertised sizes and their actual sizes, so you can plant them in the proper place. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-9b.
Loropetalum ‘Snow Panda’ has been truly outstanding for us. It was introduces as maturing at 10′ tall x 9′ wide, and our 7-year-old plant is now 7′ tall x 12′ wide.
Loropetalum ‘Zhouzhou‘ is sold as ‘Zhoushou Fuchsia‘ and as ‘Pipa’s Red’. These are listed as maturing at 5′ tall x 6′ wide and 12′ tall x 12′ wide, depending on which name is on the tag. The reality is that it matures at 30′ tall x 20′ wide, as you can see below with our 27-year -old specimen.
Loropetalum ‘Ruby Snow’ is a fascinating chimeral misfit (think schizophrenic) selection with both white and pink flowers. The introducer touts it as maturing at 6′ tall x 6′ wide, but our 6-year-old specimen is already 8′ tall x 14′ wide, so this will get far larger than the tags indicate.
Loropetalum ‘Daruma‘ is an extremely heavy flowering selection that is sold as maturing at 5′ tall x 5′ wide, but this isn’t even close. The 6-year-old specimen below is already 6′ tall x 9′ wide, and our oldest specimen had to be removed from its original location after it reached 16′ tall x 16’ wide.
Loropetalum ‘Shang Hi’, sold under the marketing name Purple Diamond, is touted as maturing at 5′ tall x 5′ wide. Ooops–our 14-year-old plant is already 15′ tall x 15′ wide. Perhaps we need to give remedial measuring courses to some of our nursery folks.
Loropetalum ‘GrifCRL‘, marketed as Little Rose Dawn, is incredible in flower, but it’s marketed as maturing at 10′ tall x 10′ wide, and our 16-year-old specimen is now 18′ tall x 18’ wide.
Loropetalum ‘Crimson Fire’ is much more red than most selections. The introducer claims it will mature at 4′ tall x 5′ wide, but our 6-year-old plants are already 10′ tall x 10′ wide.
These are just a few of the amazing selections, but keep in mind to never trust plant tags when it comes to where you should plant your plants to keep from needing to butcher them.. Until nurseries and plant introducers learn to care more about the end consumer’s success, it’s always a good idea to visit botanic gardens and determine the true size for yourself.
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.
Chamaecyparis ‘Red Velvet’ is a juvenile-leaved selection of our native white cedar, Chamaecyparis thyoides, discovered and introduced by Florida’s Blue River Nursery. This recent introduction looks similar to the 1960s introduction, Chamaecyparis ‘Rubicon’, except that ‘Rubicon’ dies in the garden on a bad day, and on a good day looks like death would help it. Chamaecyparis ‘Red Velvet’, on the other hand, is a superb garden plant.
So, why is this the case? Well, there are two distinct forms of this US coastal native wetland species, Chamaecyparis thyoides. Some botanists recognize the southern ecotypes as a separate species, while other make no distinction. We agree with those who recognize the southern plants as a subspecies,.Chamaecyparis thyoides ssp. henryae, which has a natural distribution centered in the Florida panhandle, and is dramatically easier to grow in the garden. Chamaecyparis thyoides ssp. thyoides, which ranges from Maine to Georgia, is much more difficult to grow in most garden conditions.
Because white cedar is native to cool fresh-water wetlands, very few cultivars perform fine in average to moist garden soils, while others fail miserably. What we need are more selections of the better adaptable Chamaecyparis thyoides ssp. henryae. The only named cultivars we know to exist is Chamaecyparis ‘Webb Gold’, and the afformentioned Chamaecyparis ‘Red Velvet’.
The cultivar ‘Red Velvet’ matures at 12-15′ in height. Our four year old plants have reached 6′ in height. In winter, the foliage color changes from green to a reddish purple, hence the name. Thanks to Georgia conifer guru, Tom Cox for spreading this amazing selection around to collectors and nurseries. Estimated winter hardiness is Zone 7a-9b, and probably much colder.
If you’re like us, you never have enough purple-foliage plants in your landscape, so we’re always on the lookout for something new. One of our finds a few years back is this purple-leaf plum from our friend Dr. Dave Creech in Texas. Prunus ‘Purple Pride’, which Dave and his staff at Stephen F. Austin State University discovered, is a seedling of the widespread native, Chickasaw plum, Prunus angustifolia, with an unknown suitor.
Many purple-leaf trees loose their color during the summer, but not Prunus ‘Purple Pride’. Our specimen at JLBG, pictured below is 4 years old. We have also not seen any sign of diseases, which often plague many domesticated prunus. This should top out around 12′ in height and 15′ in width. Supposedly, our tree will fruit eventually, and reportedly, the fruit are rather tasty. Hardiness is Zone 7a and warmer.
Here’s a garden shot at JLBG, using a good bit of gold foliage in addition to flowers. Left to right: Viburnum dentatum ‘Golden Arrow’, Sinningia ‘Amethyst Tears’, Baptisia ‘White Gold’, Canna ‘Tama Tulipa’, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ (groundcover), Hibiscus ‘Holy Grail’ (purple), Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’, Trachycarpus fortunei (palms).
We’ve had a longstanding love affair with the genus styrax, thanks to their amazing spring display of fragrant white bell-like flowers. Of the 130 recognized species, we have so far tried 22, of which 9 remain alive.
The first featured below is Styrax japonicus ‘Evening Light’. This amazing, black-foliage form of the typical green-leaf Styrax japonicus appeared as a seedling in Holland at the nursery of Henny Kolster. When I first saw the photo, I assumed it to have been “photoshopped”, but after growing it for several years here at JLBG, the foliage is indeed jet black. This is one of the most stunning small trees in our collection.
Styrax formosanus, which hails from Taiwan (Formosa) is undoubtedly the most floriferous species we’ve encounterd. Here is our garden plant this spring. For us, this generally tops out at 15′ to 20′ tall.
Styrax americanus (Illinois south to Florida) is one of only four native US styrax species. Usually topping out around 10′ tall, this form introduced by Woodlanders Nursery has foliage with a lovely blue cast.
Here’s a recent image from JLBG, giving an idea of what’s possible when being thoughtful of textures and colors when planting. Plants include Iris x hollandica ‘Red Ember’, Heuchera ‘Silver Scrolls’, Carex ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, Thelypteris kunthii, and Juniperus chinensis ‘Parsonii’.
Here are some of our favorite Japanese maples looking quite lovely in the garden this week, starting with Acer palmatum ‘Geisha Gone Wild’. This Buchholz Nursery introduction is a fascinating sport of Acer palmatum ‘Geisha’.
The leaf color of Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma Gaki’ has to be seen to be believed.
Our favorite of the weeping cutleaf purple cultivars is Acer palmatum ‘Orangeola’. Our specimen is now 27 years old.
Iris ‘Gerald Darby’ is one of those iris that doesn’t even need to flower to be garden worthy. Here it is in our garden this week, emerging with its’ purple leggings. This gem is a North American native hybrid of Iris versicolor and Iris virginica, known as Iris x robusta. This introduction of Iris breeder Gerald Darby was actually named for him after his death by another iris breeder R.H. Coe of England. Iris x robusta ‘Gerald Darby’ is equally at home growing in standing water as it is in typical garden soil. Hardiness is Zone 4a-9b.
Here’s a fun combination this from the garden this week, where we combined two three-leafed plants together…a silver leaf Trillium cuneatum with the hardy purple-leaf shamrock, Oxalis triangularis. You can have all kind of fun making these little vignette combinations in your garden, using your school colors, or any other design scheme that suits your tastes.
Here’s a photo we took right before our first big freeze of the year, with the purple-foliaged perennial, Tradescantia pallida and our Iris ensata gate, built by NC sculptor Jim Gallucci. Gardens are an amazing canvas on which to paint with both plants and structures.
It’s far more common for new perennials to be discovered than new trees…it’s a size thing. Botanists were excited in 1960, when Chinese professor H.T. Chang published a new small tree that he thought to be a witch hazel, named Hamamelis subaequalis. The original Jiangsu Province collection actually dated to 1935, but it took 25 years to be published based on a herbarium specimen of the fruit.
The new hazel hadn’t been seen alive since 1935, and was assumed extinct, when it was rediscovered in 1988 by a team from the Jiangsu Institute of Botany. After studying live flowering specimens for three years, it became obvious that It wasn’t a witch hazel at all, and a new genus, Shaniodendron was published for the plant. Here, it remained, until 1997, when DNA analysis revealed that Shaniodendron was actually a second species in the formerly monotypic genus Parrotia….only living some 3,500 miles from its nearest relative. Its sibling is the famed Iranian Ironwood (Parrotia persica).
Currently, there are only five known populations in China, so it is quite rare in the wild. The largest plants seen in the wild were 30′ tall, but Parrotia subaequalis should grow slightly taller in cultivation. The photo below is our 13 year old specimen. Most plants of Parrotia subaequalis in the US, including our specimen pictured below, trace back to famed Japanese plant collector of Chinese plants, Mikinori Ogisu. Fortunately, Parrotia subaequalis is quite easy to root from cuttings, so we hope its not long before this amazing plant becomes much more widespread in commerce. In trials so far, it came through -25 degrees F with only slight tip damage, so it looks like a solid Zone 5-8 plant.
Every day as we take the short drive home, we’re greeted with this combination of Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Fernspray Gold’ and a new black elephant ear. We encourage people to be more conscious of textures, forms, and colors in the garden, and to notice how plant placement can be used to create such really pleasing moments.
Calycanthus ‘Burgundy Spice’ is looking so great in the garden at JLBG this fall…right before it strips down for the winter. We love this exceptional purple-foliage selection of the native Sweet Betsy, discovered and introduced by our friends, the Hesseleins’ of Pleasant Run Nursery in NJ.
Last year, we saw a listing for a new Mangave, M. ‘Purple Passion’ on the availability of a West Coast liner producer, so we ordered some to try. It was immediately evident when we unpacked the shipment, that the plants didn’t look anything like a mangave, nor did what we received match the image that the supplier had on their website.
As we dug deeper, we found that the supplier had misappropriated a mangave image from another wholesaler and was using it for the plant we purchased, desptie the two looking nothing alike. Once the image issue was remedied, we set out trying to track down the origin of this strange plant, which looked more like a steamrolled eucomis than a mangave.
The supplier sent us to their supposed source, who had never heard of the plant in question. For six months, we have chased down one lead after another, contacting all of the well-known plant breeders of these type of plants on the West Coast. All dead ends.
Examining the plant in our garden this summer, it occurred to us that the unusual leaf netting must have come from a beschorneria. Comparing the foliage netting of ‘Purple Passion’ to beschornerias in our garden yielded a perfect match, except for the leaf color. The only plant which could have been crossed with a beschorneria to give such leaf color is a manfreda. Hence, our conclusion that our plant is in fact a new bi-generic hybrid, x Beschfreda ‘Purple Passion’ (beschorneria x manfreda).
Since we don’t know which species of beschorneria was used, we are uncertain about potential winter hardiness, but with plants in the ground now, all we need to do is wait for cold weather. Below is a photo of the plant in the garden this week. If you happen to know more of the backstory of this fascinating plant, please let us know.
We love the winter hardy spiderworts, and Tradescantia ‘Pale Puma’ is one of our favorites. This hybrid of two northern Mexican species, T. pallida x sillamontana forms a lovely compact deciduous groundcover. Here it is in the garden this week, colored nicely and awaiting the first frost, which will send it into dormancy. In colder climates, it makes a great hanging basket plant.
Just caught this image of two North American (Northern Mexico) natives snuggled up closely together in the garden. At top is one of the spider lilies, Hymenocallis acutifolia, and wrapped around its ankles is Tradescantia pallida. We truly love Tradescantia pallida as a great combination-enhancing perennial that’s completely winter hardy here in Zone 7b.
If you visit JLBG, it’s hard to miss that we like combinations of purple and gold. Here is a favorite summer combo, planted across from the crevice garden, where we use Rudbeckia speciosa as a foot warmer for Calycanthus ‘Burgundy Spice’…a fun combo using two North American natives.
Sounding more like a soft drink/crayon combination, Orangeola is actually a stunning selection of weeping, dissected, purple-leaf Japanese maple. Our oldest specimen at JLBG is now 27 years old, and measures 5′ tall x 12′ wide…sorry that size doesn’t really match what you’ll find on-line. We think it’s one of the most handsome clones we grow.
Here’s a new image of Colocasia ‘Aloha’ growing in our garden. This 2017 introduction from the breeding work of Dr. John Cho is truly amazing and so unique. This plant is 8 weeks in the ground from a 1 quart pot.
Most popular perennials in the market today are introduced and heavily promoted by marketing companies. Every now and then, however, a superb perennial enters the marketplace without any fanfare or marketing, despite being superior and longer-lived than the patented, highly touted cultivars. Such is the case with Euphorbia ‘Cherokee‘…a fabulous purple-foliaged selection we’ve grown since 1999. Euphorbia x martinii ‘Cherokee’ may not look as great in a container, but it is absolutely incredible in the garden. We hope you’ll give it a try…if you like purple foliage.