We’ve played around with growing cast iron plants from seed, curious if the white-tipped pattern of Aspidistra elatior ‘Asahi’ was heritable. Turns out that it is. Aspidistra ‘Blizzard’ is our seedling with well over half of the leaf being white. That makes it both beautiful, but insanely slow growing. The plant below has been in the ground for 5 years, planted as a two year old seedling.
We grow quite a few sarracenia (pitcher plants) from seed, with only the very best (most unique and most vigorous) getting planted in the ground for further trials. Through the decades, we’ve only had a few that we eventually found worthy of a name. Below is a photo taken this week of a newly selected Sarracenia purpurea hybrid, that we’ve named Sarracenia ‘Fire Chief’. This almost certainly has genes from Sarracenia leucophylla. Later this year, we’ll chop into the plant to start propagation, so we can share.
Looking great in mid August is Hedychium spicatum. This is a ginger lily species we saw throughout our late 1990s travels in Yunnan, China. Pictured below are our 3 year old seed-grown specimen, which has already become a massive 5′ tall x 10′ wide. The flower is much smaller than some of the more showy species of hedychium, but the overall garden impact is quite grand. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10 (guessing).
As we mentioned in a recent blog, we have a ridiculously large collection of Crinum lily cultivars and species. Despite this, we’re always making new crosses in our goal to improve the quality of plants available. Despite their being nearly 1,000 named crinums, there is still dramatic room for improvement. Below is one of our seedlings, which we named last year (Crinum ‘Americana’), erupting in a blaze of glory last week. Most crinum lilies flower for a period of 1-2 months with little to no care, so there’s good value for the space taken. Since the bulbs are so large, it will usually take years to produce and propagate enough of a new introduction to share with the public.
Here’s another of those plants that virtually no one has either grown or even knows about. Handelia trichophylla is a little-known monotypic member of the aster family (Asteraceae). Not only does it have hairy, silver foliage, which usually spells certain death in our summers, but it hails from the “stans”, which include the low rainfall countries of Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Pakistan, Tadzhikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Xinjiang. Our particular plant is from a seed collection in Tadzhikistan.
We would not typically expect anything native to the “stans” to survive in the hot, humid Southeastern US, but this is why we experiment, and why we create unique habitats and microclimates in our garden. In this case, Handelia has thrived for four years in our crevice garden, where it grows in a soil mix of 50% Permatill.
Back in 2018, I spotted a listing for Korean germplasm of Magnolia sieboldii on the seed exchange list for the International Magnolia Society. For those who don’t know magnolia species, Magnolia sieboldii is considered one of the most beautiful in the genus, but it’s widely known not to grow in hot, humid climates. I had actually seen this pendant-flowering species on Korea’s Mt. Sorak in 1997, but didn’t gather seed because I assumed it ungrowable. Subsequent to that trip, we would try in our garden, but we stopped after killing it on our requisite three attempts. Good sense would tell us to stop trying, but that’s not something we seem gifted with.
As with all plant breeding and selection, it’s a numbers game. If the desirable trait exists in the species, you’ll eventually find it, if you grow enough seedlings. Since there were plenty of seed available from the exchange, I reasoned that if we grew enough, perhaps one would show some heat tolerance.
I don’t remember exactly how many pounds of seed arrived, but they were promptly sown, and germination soon followed. Each time the seedlings were transplanted, only the most vigorous ones were selected. These were then grown in our research cold frame for the next year, subjected to full sun and through a typical NC summer. By the following spring, we had whittled down our selections to nine clones that had thrived in containers, and in early spring 2019, they were planted in the ground. Over the ensuing years, four passed away, leaving five. This spring, four years after planting, two clones have topped 7′ in height and are flowering beautifully, as you can see below.
There are less than 20 named selections of Magnolia sieboldii, most selected either for double flowers or blush pink tips, but none for heat/humidity tolerance. The next step will be to make a final selection which we’ll name Magnolia sieboldii ‘Southern Pearls’. Scion wood will then be shared with Magnolia grafters who will assist with our mission to propagate and share. Winter hardiness of this clone should be at least Zone 5b – 7b.
We’ve been playing around with growing bletilla orchids from seed. After growing several thousands from seed, we’ve settled on a few selections for production trials. Below are a few of those that we feel are unique enough from the selections already on the market.
In the crinum lily world, a yellow flower is considered the holy grail by plant breeders, since it only naturally exists in the Australian crinum species, Crinum luteolum. Two other species which occasionally show a yellow blush in the flower are Crinum bulbispermum and Crinum jagus. Crinum luteolum is completely ungrowable in the Southeast US. Consequently, we must find yellow pigment from the other two species.
Many years ago, a secretive California crinum breeder distributed a fuzzy Sasquatch-like photo of what was supposedly his yellow flowered crinum, derived from a white-flowered Crinum bulbispermum. The plant itself has never been seen in person, despite assurances from the breeder that it still exists. In 2008, the breeder agreed to sell us seed from his parent plant, with the caveat that it wouldn’t look like the parent.
Below is the best clone that we selected from our first set of seedlings from Crinum ‘Yellow Triumph’. As you can see, the flower is virtually all white, except for a chartreuse green base. Since it was a nice flowering clone, we gave it the name Crinum ‘White Swans’.
Since 2008, we have repeatedly self-pollinated our original seedling selection, each time selecting those offspring that showed the most yellow color. Over time, the best seedlings were crossed with each other, and the selection process continued.
Fast forward to 2023…15 years after our original seedling flowered, we finally have plants that are showing a decent amount of yellow in the flowers. The yellow shows best as the flowers open in late afternoon. Below are two of our best 2019/2020 seedlings. While these aren’t yet a finished product, we are seeing the proverbial gold light at the end of the long tunnel.
This is the third year we’ve seen our seed grown, double-flowered Paeonia ostil flower, so we’ve now christened it Paeonia ‘Body Double’. We’ve grown many hundred Paeonia ostii from seed, and this is the first that’s shown any tendency toward double flowers. Most tree peonies are propagated by grafting or tissue culture, so we’ll need to find someone that’s up to the task, before we’re able to share. Hardiness Zone 4a-8b.
Flowering now is the Federally Endangered hardy cactus, Escobaria minnima. Our plants are now almost five years old from seed. We are thrilled to see that these have performed so well, sailing through our 11 degree F. winter this year. This extremely rare gem (G1 rank) is only found a single rock outcrop in Brewster County, Texas, hence it was added to the Endangered Species list in 1979. (Hardiness Zone 5b-9b).
A couple of years ago, we were thrilled to acquire seed of Euphorbia ‘Rubicund’ from the Hardy Plant Society seed exchange. That little-known clone is a selection from a cross of Euphorbia myrsinites x E. rigida made by Rhode Island’s Issima Nursery. While the clone doesn’t come true from seed, we love our offspring and look forward to seeing what our seed crop from the plant below will have in store.
For this hybrid, we’ve settled on the nothospecific name E. x myrsida, going forward. Over 15 years ago, we acquired a similar cross from California salvia guru, Betsy Clebsch, but we unfortunately let our plant get shaded out. Both plants we’ve grown of this cross produced much larger seed heads with a form similar to both parents. It has been stunning in our our rock garden for the last month. Hardiness is probably Zone 6a-8b.
In 60 years of gardening, I’ve yet to seen a nursery that offers Acanthus spinosus, who actually has the correct plant. 100% of everything in the commercial trade is actually a hybrid of Acanthus hungaricus and A. spinosus, which looks nothing like the true species.
Even authoritative on-line reference sites which should know better, all show the wrong plant, identified as Acanthus spinosus. To make matters more confusing, there is also a hybrid of Acanthus mollis x spinosus in the trade, known by the name Acanthus x spinosissimus. The more prevalent hybrid I mentioned earlier has yet to get a published notospecific name. Perhaps the name Acanthus x spinaricus would make sense.
Below is our plant of the true Acanthus spinosus this month, grown from seed wild collected in Greece, where it grows natively. Perhaps one day, we’ll have enough to share. Since no one has grown the correct plant, the reported hardiness data you find on-line and in reference books is worthless. We’d guess Zone 7a-9b, at least.
The horticultural world just lost another stalwart with the passing of plantswoman, Sally Walker, 87, of Southwestern Native Seed. After departing her native England, by way of New Zealand, and later California, Sally and her husband Tim, settled in Arizona in the 1960s. After working for several renown nurseries in both the UK and US, she started her own seed company, based out of Tucson in 1975, which would become Southwestern Native Seed.
Over the next 32 years, Sally was one of the only sources of many southwestern native plants, introducing several great new plants to commerce including Agastache rupestris, Penstemon cardinalis, and Aquilegia desertorum. Her relentless travel schedule took her throughout the Southwestern US and into the mountains of Northern Mexico first to find and study the plants and then return a second time for seed.
I would always drop what I was doing when Sally’s catalog, filled with her own plant sketches, arrived.
We were fortunate to have Sally visit JLBG several times, and below is an image from her 2009 trip.
If you’ve driven through the any of the Mediterranean countries in spring, you are undoubtedly familiar with the common Mediterranean spurge, Euphorbia characias (ker-ack-iss). For years, I admired this in virtually every English garden book, but always failed in my attempts to keep it alive in our garden.
Years later, it finally hit me what I was doing wrong. Euphorbia characias is a short-lived perennial – think 3-4 years max. I was purchasing clonal selections and expecting them to last, while not providing an environment where they would be prone to reseeding, which ensures that you actually keep the plant around. Despite needing to reseed to survive, it’s not a plant that’s prone to getting out of hand.
Euphorbia characias like dry, well-drained soils, especially those that are gravelly. We have also discovered that rich, amended beds also allow for reseeding as long as aren’t heavily irrigated. Now, we allow the seed heads to remain until the seed have dropped, at which time they are cut back to the blue foliage. We have found that leaving the seed heads on the plant too long actually shortens the plants already short lifespan.
Not only is Euphorbia characias an incredible ornamental, but it also has the longest duration of use in Western medicine. Recent research has found the plant to have a wide array of medicinal compounds. These compounds have activity as antioxidants, as pesticides (both anti-viral and anti-microbial), as wound healers, to treat hypoglycemia, as an anti-aging agent (preventing free radical chain reactions), and as a disease (HIV) enzyme inhibitor. I’d say, that’s a pretty impressive resume. Hardiness is Zone 7a-10b.
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 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’.
We have been fascinated with hardy cyclamen since the 1960s, but in recent years have spent a bit of time isolating some of the best silver-leaf variants that showed up in our seed pots and getting these established in the garden. These silver leaf oddities can be found in the wild, although they are fairly rare. In cultivation, however, they come fairly true (50%) from seed.
Through Plant Delights, we offer these as seed strain cultivars, under the names below…when available. A new crop of cyclamen will go on-line January 1, and there are some real beauties. Here are some images from the garden this week. Winter hardiness is Zone 4a-8b.
While we leave all the fancy mangave creations to our friend Hans Hansen at Walters Gardens, we continue our work on creating more winter hardy (to 0 degrees F) hybrids. Over the last couple of years, we’ve made several crosses using some of Hans’ hardiest Agave ovatifolia based F1 generation selections, like xMangave ‘Blue Mammoth’ and xMangave ‘Falling Waters’ and crossing them back onto Agave ovatifolia.
The F1 mangave hybrids from Hans’ work, have all lost the monocarpic trait of pure agaves, meaning they will not die after flowering. We are curious what will happen if the hybrids have 2 parts agave and one part manfreda. With most of our crosses, we grow 100-200 of each into 1 qt pots, which allows us to do an initial culling after seeing the juvenile foliage traits.
The photos below are from that process, which happened this week. This is a cross of xMangave ‘Falling Waters’ x Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue’. The first image shows the diversity in the seedlings. All plants have some degree of glaucous foliage…some more toward blue and others with purple spotting that comes solely from the Manfreda parent. It was interesting that the F2 plants still showed some degree of purple spotting…probably around 5% of the plants.
From a batch of 100-200 plants, our goal is to select 10% for the next round of in ground trials. We focus on selecting at least one plant for each desirable trait. Those traits include: size (dwarf or large), leaf undulations, spotting density, best blue color, leaf twisting, leaf length, leaf width, overall form, best spination, and variegation.
Below are some of our final selections for the next phase of trials. These will be up-potted into 3 quart pots and overwintered indoors, since we’re already too late for planting outdoors this year. These will go into the ground in spring, after the danger of frost has passed.
I wish I could count how many times we’ve been told, “That won’t grow in your climate.”. Our contrarian streak has led us down many interesting paths, with quite a number of surprising results.
The most recent is Chrysophyllum oliviforme. Over a year ago, we planted seed grown plants, native to the recently hurricane-ravaged Sanibel Island, Florida. This species is native to Southern Florida, the Bahamas, the Greater Antilles, and Belize. With that distribution, it should have no chance in our winters, but, despite die back during last winter’s low of 16F, it returned, and is now approaching 4′ in height. I should add that our plant was planted on a very exposed site, with no protection.
Is it going to be a long-term plant….probably not, but there is obviously more winter hardiness than most informational sites would lead us to believe. I should add that we planted two seedling, and the other one planted nearby, succumbed to the winter temperatures. If you never take risks, you’ll rarely get to experience the joy of amazing surprises like these.
The genus rhodophiala is in a state of flux. Some taxonomists believe the genus actually doesn’t exist and should be merged with rain lilies, while others consider it a perfectly valid genus with 27 species. Oh, the joys of taxonomy. To most gardeners, the genus rhodophiala are simply dwarf hippeastrum (horticultural amaryllis), the most commonly grown of which is the South American Rhodophiala bifida, which ranges natively from Southern Brazil into adjacent Argentina.
Rhodophiala bifida starts flowering for us in mid-August, alongside the emerging foliage. Most Rhodophiala on the market are the clonal Rhodophiala bifida ‘Hill Country Red’, brought to the US by German born Texan botanist, Peter Henry Oberwetter circa 1890. This clone is virtually sterile when grown alone, but will produce viable seed when grown adjacent to another clone.
Below is the clone ‘Hill Country Red’, followed by some of our selected seedlings, all photographed here at JLBG over the last couple of weeks. The best conditions are full sun to light filtered shade, and average moisture to dry soil.
Rhodophiala bifida ‘Harry Hay’ seems to be the only named clonal selection grown in the UK. We imported this during our 2020 UK trip.
Rhodophiala bifida ‘Carmencita’ is our first named introduction, released in 2017.
Rhodophiala ‘Red Waves’ is our 2nd named selection, not yet introduced
The rest of the clones below are our selected seedlings still under evaluation
Below are two fascinating plants from our breeding. The first is a cross of Rhodophiala bifida x Lycoris longituba. In theory, this bi-generic cross shouldn’t work, but the flower arrangement sure resembles a lycoris more than a rhodophiala.
This cross is of Rhodophiala bifida x Sprekelia formosissima is another impossible bi-generic cross. Notice the three petals are one size, and the other three petals are larger. We’ve never heard of this happening in rhodophiala, so perhaps we’re on to something.
The only other Rhodophiala species, which we’ve had any luck with is the Chilean Rhodophiala chilense. Below are two forms, both of which flowered this spring.
We love the miniature silver mats of Antennaria parviflora (little-leaf pussytoes). This little-known North American native (Canada south to Arizona) forms a tiny, 1″ tall groundcover that’s hard to the touch. In spring, the patch is topped with short fuzzy spikes of brush-like white flowers. The plant below, which measures 1′ in width, is only 18 months old from seed, and is growing in our rock garden in a well-drained mix of 50% Permatill. Hardiness is Zone 4b-7b.
If you’ve lived in the deep south…the land of palmetto palm trees, you know that they typically don’t flower until they have at least 5 feet of trunk. Of course, flowering can be sped up by a combination of precocious genes and good growing conditions. Those who have studied Sabal palmetto in the wild have noted that the earliest populations to flower are those from the most northern, naturally-occurring population on North Carolina’s Bald Head Island.
Well, sure enough, our oldest specimen of Sabal palmetto ‘Bald Head’, planted in 1999 finally decided to produce flower this summer, and will hopefully seed. We’ve only had enough plants of this cold hardy form to offer through Plant Delights three times in 36 years. Fingers crossed, we’ll be able to make it available more regularly now. Hardiness Zone 7b and warmer.
It fascinates us that such a widespread native like Eustoma exaltatum isn’t more widely grown in gardens. Often known by the common names prairie gentian or lisianthus, eustoma is prized by flower arrangers, but not gardeners. Eustoma is native from coast to coast…Florida to California, and north to the Canadian border in Montana.
In the wild, Eustoma exaltatum is a short-lived perennial that can also behave as a biennial or even an annual in some sites. The key is to plant it where it can happily reseed as we have done in our gravelly crevice garden, which is odd, since in the wild, they are found in moist meadows and streamsides.
Below are our plants in peak flower now, during the brutal heat of summer. So far, we’ve struggled to keep this happy in a container, in the hopes we could make this available, but we continue to try.
Commercially, eustoma has been hybridized ad nauseam to create better cut flowers, but these hybrids seem to have lost all of their perennial nature compared to the wild genetics. Our plant pictured below is the large (2′-3′ tall) subspecies russellianum from wild collected seed from Bastrop County, Texas.
This spring, one of our flats of Rohdea japonica seedlings turned up with an inordinate number of variegated seedlings. In a flat of approximately 1,000 seedlings, we typically expect 3 – 10 variegated offspring, when the parent plant has white streaking in the middle of the leaf (L2 layer).
All of the variegated seedlings were removed and potted individually last week…all 300 of them. It will be fascinating to see what unique forms result.
One of our Paeonia ostii seedlings flowered well for the first time this year, and turned out to be semi-double flower instead of the typical single flowers. We’ll continue to observe it in future years and make sure the trait is stable, but if so, this could be a lovely addition to the world of hardy tree peonies that tolerate heat as well as cold.
Chances are pretty good that few US gardeners have grown molopospermum. We’ve long been fascinated with members of the Apiaceae family (think carrots, celery, Queen Anne’s lace, etc.). Not only are most members culinary/medicinal, but they are also great host and food plants for insects.
Several of the Apiaceae family members are great for garden design, because they possess an airy fern-like texture. One such plant that I’ve long been fascinated by is the monotypic Molopospermum peloponesiacum. Despite the specific epithet indicating that it’s native to the Peloponnesian peninsula (Greece), such is not the case. An error was made when Linnaeus named the plants, that has never been correct. Molopospermum is actually native to the Alps and Pyrenees, spanning from Spain through France and into Italy, where in grows in open woodlands.
We weren’t sure if it would survive our hot, humid summers, but after finally tracking down seed, we have several thriving plants in the garden from a 2018 planting. Although we haven’t had any flower yet, we await the 5′ tall spikes.
We love plant mysteries, and Sabal ‘Blackburniana’ fits the bill nicely. This pass-along seed strain has been considered by some to be an old hybrid of Sabal minor, while others consider it to be synonymous with Sabal palmetto, yet others consider it to be Sabal domingensis. Whatever it is, our plant is looking quite good in the garden. After growing it, unscathed, since 2008, we finally decided to propagate some for the upcoming Plant Delights catalog. If you know any more historical background about this curiosity, please share.
We always love seed set on the love lily, Amorphophallus kiusianus. This species is one of the few amorphophallus which sets seed without a mate. The seed start out a raspberry pink and gradually mature to blue. Seed can be planted once they turn blue, but will not germinate until the following June.
Not only are bletillas one of the easiest ground orchids to grow in the garden or in containers, they are also one of the few that are easy to grow from seed. We’ve been growing seedlings for the last decade and having discarded several thousand plants (hint…they are all nice), we’ve narrowed them down to our final few selections, a few of which are pictured below. In addition to the differences in flower color, flower size, ploidy level, there are dramatic differences in flowering season and height.
Below is a Peter Zale hybrid, Bletilla ‘Candles in the Wind’, which Plant Delights will be introducing in spring. The floriferousness and height are the first two things you notice…there just aren’t many 4′ tall bletillas. In the eight years we’ve trial this, it has spread from a small plant to form a 6′ wide patch. This is a truly astonishing selection.