We love the genus hydrangea, but are really fascinated by those at the far end of the family tree. While most hydrangeas flower in late spring, we actually have a couple flowering now we’d like to share.
The first is Hydrangea involucrata, a native to both Japan and Taiwan. The word “involucrata” indicates it has some serious involucres (the bracts surrounding the inflorescence). The first image shows the plant in bud, the second in full flower, and the third image is after the flower color has faded. All three stages are on display at once in the garden this week. They typically reach 6′ in height and width. Winter hardiness is Zone 6a-8b.
Hydrangea amamiohshimensis (below), from Japan’s southern Ryuku Islands, was once considered a hydrangea cousin, until a 23andMe test confirmed it was actually a true hydrangea. Prior to the test, it belonged to the genus cardiandra, which was effectively a perennial hydrangea, dying back to the ground each fall like most perennials. It too is in full flower in the woodland garden this week. Perhaps now that it has a recognizable name, more folks will be willing to grow it. This is the only one of the four former cardiandra species that has survived in our climate.
Adiantum capillus-veneris ‘Bermuda Run’ is looking exceptional in the garden this fall. Actually, it looks exceptional most of the year for us. Until the temperatures drop below 12 degrees F, this amazing fern remains evergreen. This fern has a huge native range, being found on every continent except Antarctica.
Adiantum capillus-veneris, along with a couple of pteris fern species are often found growing in mortar cracks in many of the Southeast coastal cities and adjacent tropical islands. It is thought that some of these populations may have been spread along the early trade routes. This particularly dense form is our collection from the mortar walls on Bermuda. The same species is native to North Carolina, but only in a solitary population. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.
Raise your hand if you grow the woodland perennial, Collinsonia? These mostly fall-flowering, clumping perennials in the mint family (Lamiaceae) are wonderful elements for the woodland garden at a time when little else is flowering. Named by Linnaeus to honor English botanist Peter Collinson (1694–1768), the genus Collinsonia contains 11 species of which 4 are native to North America. Five species are native to China, 1 to Taiwan, and 1 to Japan. Pictured below in flower this week is Collinsonia punctata, which hails from South Carolina west to Louisiana. Winter hardiness is unknown, but we guess Zone 7a-9b, at least.
Looking particularly lovely in the garden is the elegant fern, Dryopteris affinis ssp. affinis. The semi-evergreen golden-scaled male fern from Europe is among the easiest and most beautiful ferns we grow, yet when we offer it through the nursery, it’s always one of the worst sellers. We struggle to figure out mysteries like this when you have a fern that grows equally as well in acid or alkaline soils, and grows the same in the Pacific Northwest as it does the hot, humid Southeast US. Winter hardiness is Zone 4a-8b.
It’s not unusual for ferns to have sex in the wild, even with other species in the same genus. It is, however, unusual for them to have meaningful sex with ferns of an entirely different genus. Such an odd occurrence recently happened in the greenhouses of Louisiana’s James Georgusis.
One night, possibly after a wild Mardi Gras party, a willing Phlebodium got it on with a crested tongue fern of the genus Pyrrosia. The result was a new genus of fern, x Phlebosia. It was adopted and given the cultivar name, ‘Nicolas Diamond’. At least the parents had the good sense to sexually stay within the same family, Polypodiaceae
We planted our first specimens in the garden this February, and so far, it’s growing well. The key will be to see how much winter hardiness it has…fingers crossed. Both parents are pictured below the new hybrid.
Looking particularly lovely in the late summer garden is Fatsia japonica ‘Murakumo Nishiki’. This irregularly gold variegated form of the typically solid green tree ivy is a star in the light shade garden. This evergreen gem is a great way to add a spot of color in the woodland garden year round. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.
I wonder if the late Atlanta nurseryman, W.L. Monroe had any idea what would become of his white-flowered monkey grass, that he selected as a seedling and subsequently introduced to the gardening world in 1957?
In the 65 years that’s passed since it’s introduction, Liriope muscari ‘Monroe White’ is still the gold standard by which all white-flowered liriope are judged. Here are our plants flowering this week at JLBG. Unlike most liriope, which thrive in sun, this cultivar needs light shade for most of the day to prevent foliar scorch. Our plants in the photo only get a couple of hours of direct sun, where they thrive. Winter hardiness is Zone 6a-10b.
I’m more and more impressed with Hosta ‘Miss America’ each year. Not only is this white-centered hosta amazingly vigorous, but it has one of the finest floral shows we’ve ever seen on a hosta. The steel rod-like upright flower stalks on our plant have reached 4′ tall, but as the plant grows larger, they will eventually top 6′ in height. Not wind, rain, or post office vehicle can knock down these super sturdy stalks, and the great show they provide for weeks. Our plant is 100′ from our back porch, and it shows up like a floral beacon even from that distance.
I’m always amazed that so many people don’t realize that turmeric (Curcuma longa) is an amazing garden perennial. We’ve had our plants in the garden for nearly 30 years. This week, the flowers of this delightful ginger lily from Southern India emerge, looking like fancy pink pine cones. Curcuma longa is very easy to grow, as long as the soil is reasonably well-drained. Just mark the planting spot, since it usually doesn’t break ground before June. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10.
Here’s a fun textural image from the woodland garden, featuring Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’, Farfugium japonicum ‘Aureomaculatum’, and Athyrium ‘Ocean’s Fury’. Off to the left side are three more ferns, Dryopteris x celsa, Adiantum capillus-veneris, and Ctenitis subglandulosa.
Asparagus virgatus is undoubtedly one of our favorite textural perennials. How many evergreens do you know that thrive in shade with such an amazing texture, and can be cut for flower arrangements. If you’ve ever worked with cut flowers, you’ll recognize this as “filler” that you purchase with your flowers to add 3-D texture to your arrangements. Few people, however realize that it’s an easy-to-grow garden perennial.
Although in the wild, it grows along streams, it has proven to be one of the most drought tolerant plants we grow. In terms of light, an hour or two of morning sun is fine, but this South African asparagus species much prefers light shade all day. Unless winter temperatures drop below 10 degrees F, the amazing foliage stays evergreen. Hardiness is at least Zone 7b and warmer.
Plant nerds use the term BIO plant, short for Botanical Interest Only, for plants which have little, if any ornamental value, but are highly prized by crazed plant collectors. Spathicarpa hastifolia is such a plant. This odd aroid from Southern Brazil has actually thrived in our woodland garden since 2019. The coldest winter temperatures we’ve experienced in that period is 16 degrees F.
The small woodland plants mature at 1′ tall x 1′ wide, with oddly interesting flowers, which you can see in our image…if you squint. If this continues to perform well, and we can get it propagated, perhaps we’ll have some to share in the future. To quote our friend Bob McCartney, “We have the market cornered on plants for which there is no market.”
We recently ran across this clump of the summer-flowering native (Canada south to Florida) orchid, Goodyera pubescens growing in a site near JLBG. Like a century plant, the flowering rosette dies after flowering, but new side shoots are produced for future generations. Work is being done to produce this in tissue culture so it can be made more widely available from nursery propagated stock. Sadly, most plants sold today are wild collected.
Of the 100 species of Goodyera orchid, only 4 are US natives.
I can’t imagine a summer garden without the South African woodland bulb, Scadoxus multiflorus ssp. katherine. This amazing bulb in the Amaryllis family, grows best in light, open shade, where it bursts forth sans foliage in late June. This clump is right outside our kitchen window, making it hard not to smile. Hardiness is Zone7b and warmer.
While most arisaemas flower in early spring, several members of the Franchetiana section of the genus are summer bloomers. There are five species in this section, but the only one that flowers in spring is Arisaema fargesii. Flowering recently are those pictured below, A. candidissumum, Arisaema franchetianum, and Arisaema purpureogaleatum. The debate still rages on whether Arisaema purpureogaleatum is merely a form of Arisaema franchetianum, but regardless, it has a distinct appearance when in flower. Of these three, Arisaema candidissimum is the least tolerant of our summer heat.
Flowering this week is one of our favorite hippeastrum…what lay people call amaryllis. We think Hippeastrum ‘Germa’ is one of the finest yellow-flowered hybrids ever created for southern gardens. Sadly, this 1995 Len Doran hybrid (Hippeastrum parodii x aglaiae x evansiae) is rarely available any longer. We’ve had our garden specimen growing since 2000. Unlike many cultivars, Hippeastrum ‘Germa’ is a woodland plant.
One of the most Jurrasic-looking plants we grow is the North American native Ostrich fern. If you moved here from “up north” and brought some of this fern with you, chances are it failed miserably. As a rule, Ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, hates our summer temperatures.
Fortunately, back in the mid-1980s, retired UNC-Charlotte botany professor, Larry Mellichamp picked up a heat tolerant form from Powell’s Nursery in Princeton, NC, which he promptly introduced into the trade as Matteuccia ‘The King’. Without this incredible introduction, gardens in south would not have this amazing fern in their gardens.
This is a spreading fern that prefers average to wet soils, so allow plenty of room for it to spread. Below is a patch thriving at JLBG.
One of our favorite ferns is the Lady fern hybrid, Athyrium ‘Ocean’s Fury’. Created in Pittsboro, NC by plantsman Thurman Maness, this patented gem was offered for years through wholesale channels, but sales were not strong enough, so the sole producer discontinued it. So often, great patented plants suddenly become unavailable if sales don’t warrant.
In Europe, any grower can petition the PVR office to request permission to propagate such protected plants, but no such program exists in the US. Fortunately, Thurman has generously granted us permission to propagate his amazing introduction and make it available. That said, division is a very slow way to make ferns available, but since this hybrid between Athyrium filix-femina and Athyrium nipponicum is sterile, it’s our only option.
Looking good in the garden this week is the amazing fern, Dryopteris x australis. This rare fern is a US native…despite the confusing name, hailing from only a few scattered locations from Virginia west to Arkansas. In reality, the name “australis” means from the south. This splendid specimen grows in both sun and shade, and tolerates both wet and dry soils. Hardiness is Zone 5a-9b.
We often talk about the amazing group of hardy asparagus ferns, so here we go again with a few that are looking particularly great now.
The first image is our dwarf selection of Asparagus cochinchinensis ‘So Fine’. This is our new dwarf selection from our original collection from Korea’s Mt. Chuwang. Hardiness is Zone 4b-8b, at least.
Asparagus tenuifolius ‘Vodice’ has proven to be an amazing garden specimen with a tight compact habit. This is our collection from Vodice, Croatia. It’s amazing that this incredible species is completely absent from gardens. We have no idea about winter hardiness, but would expect Zone 5/6 at least.
The amazing Asparagus sprengeri ‘Graham’s Cracker’ just continues to amaze us. This dwarf selection of the hanging basket asparagus fern from NC plantsman Graham Ray, has been reliable for years in Zone 5b, without the benefit of mulch or any other protection. We find it a superb textural contrast for bolder foliaged perennials.
Looking great in the JLBG gardens is the amazing Cyrtomium fortunei ‘China Ruffles’. This superb spore strain is from an original introduction by Michigan plantsman, Hans Hansen, who made the spore collection in 2003 in Sichuan, China. Hardiness is Zone 6-9.
Solomon’s Seals comprise several genera of woody perennials, but the common name is most commonly associated with the genus, Polygonatum in the Asparagus family. It seems hard to imagine, but the Asparagus family now includes many popular garden plants including its namesake Asaparagus, but also hosta, agave, liriope, ruscus, and yucca.
The genus Polygonatum is native through much of the world, although the center of distribution is in Asia. We’ve been collecting these amazing woodland perennials for years, and now have a collection of over 380 different taxa. Here are a few from this week in the garden.
Polygonatum mengtzense is a dwarf, rarely cultivated species from North Vietnam.
The dwarf, glossy-leaf Chinese Polygonatum nodosum just oozes elegance.
When you run out of species to grow, you start creating hybrids. This is our new selection of a cross of the giant Polygonatum martinii and the more compact, Polygonatum falcatum. We’ve named this clone Polygonatum x marcatum ‘Winsome Wonder’
Polygonatum odoratum ‘Chanticleer’ is a superb, large-leaf form of the Asian Polygonatum odoratum that I spied at Chanticleer Gardens, and they kindly shared in 2006. Hopefully, we’ll finally have enough to share next year.
Polygonatum odoratum ‘Angel Wings’ (aka: ‘Carlisle) is a superb form of Polygonatum odoratum from Massachusetts plantsman, Roy Herold. This gem grows in both half day sun as well as shade.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on a plant survey of a local woodland area of about 30 acres. The low, moist areas are filled with Arisaema triphyllum, (Jack-in-the-pulpit) which is quite common in our area. The first image is what is typical for the species.
I’ve been studying patches of Jack-in-the-pulpit for well over 55 years, always looking for unusual leaf forms that showed any type of patterning. Until last month, I’d never found a single form with atypical foliage. That all changed with my first trip to this local site, where so far, I have found several dozen forms with silver leaf vein patterns. Up until now, there are only two pattern leaf forms of Arisaema triphyllum in cultivation, Arisaema ‘Mrs. French’ and Arisaema ‘Starburst’.
Each patterned leaf clone varies slightly as you would expect within a population including both green and purple stalk coloration.
While I’d never found any true variegation prior to this, I had found plenty of transient leaf patterning caused by Jack-in-the-pulpit rust (Uromyces ari triphylli). This site was no exception, with a number of plants showing the characteristic patterning. If you find these, turn the leaf upside down and you’ll see the small orange rust pustules.
While these may seem exciting, the pattern are not genetic and will disappear without the fungus. Fortunately, this rust can be cured by cutting off the top of the plant and discarding it where the spores can not spread via the wind. Infected plant should be fine, albeit smaller next year. The susceptibility of Arisaema triphyllum to jack-in-the-pulpit rust varies with genetics. Of the tens of thousands of plants I observed at the site, less than 10% were infected with the rust.
False lily-of-the-valley (Speirantha gardenii) is one of our favorite early spring-flowering evergreen groundcovers for shade, but one that just hasn’t caught on with customers. Every time we put this back in production at Plant Delights, we wind up throwing out most of the crop. Perhaps one day, folks will realize what a gem this is. Hardiness is Zone 5b-8b.
We are just starting with the first wave of Cypripedium (ladyslipper orchids) in the garden this week. One of the earliest selections to put on a show is Cypripedium ‘Rascal’, an outstanding cross of Cypripedium kentuckiense and Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum…all US natives.
Arum are a fascinating genus of hardy aroids, known by most gardeners from a single southern European species, Arum italicum. The most popular cultivar of Arum italicum is Arum ‘Marmoratum’. The key to enjoying arums is to not let the seed drop everywhere, since you can get easily get over-arumed. Flowering season is now, followed by seed season. Each seedling has a different pattern from the original, so it’s a personal preference whether to remove seed or not.
Arum apulum is a little-know species that is rarely seen in cultivation, native only to a small region of Southern Italy. Our flowering plants in the garden now are from a wild collection made by a plant explorer friend.
Below is an interesting hybrid between Arum italicum (central to southern continental Europe) and Arum dioscorides (Mediterranean). Arum italicum has patterned leaves, but solid green flowers. Arum dioscoridis has solid green leaves and spotted flowers. The hybrid, Arum ‘Chui’ is an introduction from UK plantsman John Grimshaw. We added the notospecific (hybrid) name Arum x diotalicum. These hybrids have both spotted/speckled leaves and flowers.
Mukdenia is an odd monotypic genus in the widespread Saxifrage family, along with cousins heuchera, tiarella, and the namesake saxifraga. The odd genus name honors the former city of Mukden in Manchuria, which is now known as Shenyang. Mukden was the site of the largest modern day battle, prior to WWI. In case you missed it, the final score was Japan 1, Russia 0.
Several on-line sites, including that purveyor of accuracy, Wikipedia, proclaims there to be two species of Mukdenia, which is sadly incorrect. Although I’m sure Mukdenia rossii would like a sibling, one simply does not exist. I think of Mukdenia like Smucker’s…with a name like that, it has to be good…and it is.
Mukdenia naturally resides in China and Korea, where it can be found in some rather inhospitable places. I had to laugh when I read countless on-line articles that repeat the myth that mukdenia needs water during summer drought. It certainly doesn’t mind summer water, and will probably look better as a garden specimen with some irrigation. My first encounter with mukdenia in the wild was in fall 1997 on South Korea’s Mt. Sorak, where it thrived, growing in the rock cracks of a nearly vertical cliff (below)
When we built our concrete crevice garden, mukdenia was one of the first plants I wanted to plant to see if it would mimic what I had seen in the wild. Below is our 2017 planting of Mukdenia rossii ‘Karasuba’ in late March/early April 2022, as it emerges in flower. The foliage continues to expand around the flowers. Our plants get 3-4 hours of sun each morning, then shade the remainder of the day. Winter hardiness is Zone 4a-7b.
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.
If you’re a nursery, and you’d like to offer ferns, the plants at your disposal are somewhat limited. A large majority of ferns sold in America are still sadly dug from the wild. When you see a catalog listing primarily these ferns together…usually an very inexpensive prices, you can be pretty much assured they were dug from the wild: Osmunda regalis (royal fern), Osmunda cinnamomea (Cinnamon Fern), Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas Fern), Matteuccia Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich fern), Adiantum pedatum (Maidenhair fern), Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern), and Onoclea sensibilis (Sensitive Fern). These ferns are often sold bareroot, to save the nursery the expense of having to pot the collected plants, many of which are so large, they won’t fit in small containers.
The other majority of ferns in the market are produced by tissue culture, either by a couple of labs in Florida, one in Texas, and one in Holland. Without the amazing work of these labs, the fern selections available to homeowners would be limited to the wild collections. Even with their amazing work, these labs must focus on well-known ferns that sell in very large numbers.
While we make use of the lab offerings, we also made a commitment over 30 years ago to grow many of our own ferns from spores. Outside of a few small fern specialists, there are few nurseries who grow their own ferns from spores, since this is the most costly and time consuming option. The reason we do this is so that we can offer fern species and selected forms that are otherwise unavailable.
Below is a quick summary of how the process works. Fern spores (fern equivalents of seed) are collected through the summer, and are dried in paper envelopes until they separate from the foliage. They are then sown in pots with potting soil that is sterilized here, and then sealed in ziploc bags. The spore takes from 1 month to 6 months to germinate. Once the spores germinate, they are ready to have sex…a process that is reversed from more modern evolved flowering plants.
To assist the ferns have sex, we gently add water to the newly germinated sporelings, since ferns (other than desert ferns) only have sex while they are swimming. The water is swirled around to mimic the feel of a whirlpool, then the bags are then resealed, and put in the dark where they are subjected to a near constant montage of Barry White music.
Within a few weeks, tiny fern fronds begin to emerge. At this point, the ziploc bags are opened to allow the humidity to equalize with the ambient air. After another couple of weeks the pots are removed from the ziploc bags. If the spore were viable and cleaned well without contamination, and if germination was good, there will be up to several hundred plants per pot.
After a few weeks, the sporelings are transplanted into a cell pack flat. Here they grow out for another few months until they are ready to be planted into our 1 qt. pots, in which they will be sold. In all, it’s about an 18 month process, and a good bit of labor. We’re really quite passionate about our fern collection at JLBG, which the visiting British Fern Society declared one of the largest/most diverse in the world. We hope you find the results worthwhile.
We love all of our trout lilies, but Erythronium ‘Goldstrike’ is hard to beat. This is our named selection of Erythronium americanum ssp. harperi. Occurring from Tennessee south of Mississippi, this amazing form graces low woodlands in very early spring. This collection was made by our Plant records/taxonomist, Zac Hill in Alabama. Hardiness is Zone 6-9 at least.
Flowering at JLBG since early March is the little-known Jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema ilanense. This collection hails from Ilan (Yilan), in northeastern Taiwan, and for us is the very first arisaema to flower each winter, even when temperatures are still quite cold. The mature size is only 4-6″ in height, so this is one for a very special site in the rock garden. There are very few plants of this species in ex-situ conservation collections, so thanks to JCRA Director, Mark Weathington for sharing. Our specimen has been in the garden since 2016. Hardiness is unknown, but we’re guessing Zone 7b-9b.
Carex conica ‘Hime’ has been in horticultural commerce for many decades, and remains a superb woodland garden sedge. The evergreen species Carex conica is native throughout Japan, where it occurs in woodland conditions. This variegated selection that goes by an array of names such as ‘Snowline’ and ‘Marginata’, but Carex conica ‘Hime’, which translates to “princess” seems to the the correct cultivar name. The tight 10″ tall x 20″ wide clumps of narrow white-edged leaves are topped with this fascinating floral show for us in early March. In 35 years of growing this, we have yet to see a single garden seedling.
We’ve made a regular habit of killing fritillarias (the bulb…not the fried food) in the garden, especially those ungrowable brightly-colored species like Fritillaria imperialis that tantalizingly appear each fall in the major bulb catalogs.
Although it lacks the bling of it’s showier cousins, the species that is reliable for us in the garden is Fritillaria thunbergii. This native of Kazakhstan has naturalized in both western China and Japan, where it has been used medicinally for almost 1,000 years as a treatment for respiratory ills. There is still some debate among botanists whether some of the Chinese population might actually be native as well.
In the garden, Frittilaria thunbergii emerges in February, and is full flower at 2-3′ in height by early March. As with most spring ephemerals, it has gone to sleep by early May. Light shade or part sun seems to suit it fine. Hardiness is at least Zone 7a-8b.
One of the fun reasons to grow plants from seed is that each seedling is different…unless you’re growing highly bred annuals. Most non-hybrid seedlings will be under the bell curve, meaning they all look and behave relatively similar. As plant collectors, we get excited when one appears that falls outside the bell curve. An example is our wild ginger selection, Asarum maximum ‘Floragasma’, which has both far more flowers than we typically see with the species, but it also flowers 2-3 weeks before our other clones. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-9b.
It was great during our recent winter open house to see so many folks noticing the aucubas in the garden. Of course, they are hard to miss with our collection of over 140 different taxa. There are few evergreen plants better for year-round interest in dry shade than aucuba. Here is one of the most fascinating ones that’s in flower now in early March, Aucuba himalaica var. dolichophylla. This little-known, narrow-leaf species hails from 3,000′ elevation in several southern Chinese provinces. Winter hardiness Zone 7a-9b, and perhaps a bit colder.
Trillium cuneatum ‘Oconee Gold’ is a rare gold-flowered selection of the typically purple-flowered southeastern toadshade. We found our original plant of this in Oconee County, SC, and have propagated them from seed since that time. If we keep the yellow-flowered plants isolated from purple-flowering clones, we have more than 50% that reproduce with yellow flowers. The time from seed to flower is usually five years. Winter hardiness is Zone 5a-8b.
A couple of weeks ago, we mentioned our landscaping project on the north side of Mt. Michelle to create more intricate planting pockets, while raising the planting heights significantly via the use of rock assisted berms.
Phase 2 of the project was to create a cut through on northwest side through a previously inaccessible bed. Phase 2 is now complete, and visitors can now traverse the new path, exiting into the northwest side of the Mt. Michelle waterfall. This path takes you under the large speckled-leaf loquat, Magnolia macclurei, and several large conifers, so be sure to look up as well as down.
Last week, Jeremy and his staff tackled phase 3 of the project, which was the two 50 degree slopes on the west side of Mt. Michelle. Despite being planted for some time, we had lost some soil due to runoff, and the plants were screaming for more compost, and we were screaming for more rock pockets.
In less than a week, Jeremy’s team stacked these new retaining planting walls, which provide hundreds of new planting pockets for small woodland treasures. Each is now filled with our garden compost mix as well as an array of small, little-known plants. Just remember, if you garden on flat ground and think you are out of planting space, the key is to learn to think like a Pythagorean…a² + b² = c²…go vertical.
You’ll be able to see these newly planted areas during our winter open house, although it will take a while for the plants to mature.
Flowering now in the woodland garden is this rad little windflower, Anemone raddeana. This Asian native (China, Japan, Korea, and Russia) is a plant you’ll almost never see for sale. First, it flowers in the middle of winter when few people are thinking about gardening. Secondly, it’s ridiculously small, producing only a single white flower per stalk, which rises only a couple of inches from a slowly creeping rhizome. Third, it’s a spring ephemeral, meaning it will be dormant by the first of May. Finally, most people move through life too fast to even notice little gems like this. That said, if you like things like this, this is exactly the kind of thing you’ll really like. We certainly do!
Few people know the fascinating native shrub, Dirca palustris. It’s little wonder it gets overshadowed by showier members of its family, Thymelaeaceae, which includes the likes of Daphne and Edgeworthia. Our 6′ tall plant is flowering alongside a large edgeworthia, and rarely gets noticed by visitors.
Dirca palustris, the plant, is actually widespread across Eastern North America, with a range from Canada to Florida, where it thrives in slightly moist, acidic soils. It’s often known as leatherwood, due to its thick, but very pliable branches, which have been used by Native Americans for making rope as well as baskets.
There are three other less poorly known dirca species…if that’s possible. We grow the rare Dirca decipiens from Kansas/Arkansas, but have not yet tried D. occidentalis from California, or D. mexicana from Mexico.
The genus takes its name from the Dirce in Greek Mythology, who bit the big one while tied to the horns of a bull….a truly sordid story. The specific epithet “palustris”, lacks the fascinating story of the genus, but only means that the plant naturally lives in very wet sites. Winter hardiness is Zone 3-9.
Here are a couple of images this week from the garden of our older clumps of Cyclamen hederifolium. For garden areas that are dark and dry, where nothing else grows, cyclamen are your best bet. Of the plants below, one is at the base of a cryptomeria and the other at the base of a pine. Although they flower from August until Christmas, the winter foliage is just hard to beat. Hardiness is Zone 4a-8b.
When people think of trilliums, they usually think of the cold north, but states like Florida are also home to four species of trilliums which all thrive throughout the southeastern states. Here are two of the earliest species to flower in our garden.
The first is Trillium maculatum ‘Kanapaha Giant’ from Alachua County. This is consistently the earliest trillium to emerge and flower for us. This is followed close behind by Trillium underwoodii. Both of these are usually in flower by early February.
We’ll never be accused of being galanthophiles (folks who are hopelessly addicted to collecting galanthus cultivars), but we do love the genus, and are fascinated with these mostly winter-flowering bulbs. Here are a couple in full flower now at JLBG. These have a preference for slightly moist-to-average woodland conditions.
The first plant looks for all the world like a fine textured carex, but in fact, it’s an iris. Iris dabashanensis is a little-known species from China, that thrives for us in light shade, but will also take a few hours of early morning sun. Our plant is a Darrell Probst collection from Sichuan, China. Winter hardiness is Zone 5a -8a.
Below is the same plant flowering in early April.
The other plant growing nearby in our gardens that fools even the keenest plantsmen is this liriope look-alike. In fact, this is a cast iron plant, Aspidistra linearifolia. This demonstrates why those pesky taxonomic traits matter. In 2008 we introduced a selection with a lighter central stripe down the center of each leaf called A. linearifolia ‘Skinny Dippin’ which we will be offering again in 2023. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
Most gardeners know the genus aspidistra (cast iron plant) from one or two species, and if that’s the case, you probably only know those which hold their leaves vertically upright. There are equally as many species with pendant leaves, which provide a completely different form in the woodland garden. Here are two of those pendant-leaf species from the garden this week.
The first is Aspidistra sichuanensis, which is one of the larger growing species. A single clump can easily spread to 6′ in width in a couple of decades. This clump has topped out at 3.5′ in height.
Below that is Aspidistra ebianensis ‘Flowing Fountains’. With narrower, wavier foliage, it makes a large clump, albeit slightly smaller than Aspidistra sichuanensis. Both plants are winter hardy from Zone 7b and south.
Throughout the years, we’ve grown literally thousands…perhaps 10s of thousands of seedlings of the Japanese sacred lily, Rohdea japonica. Each one varies slightly, but we only save those at the far end of the bell curve. Here are three of our seedlings which well represent that dramatic variation at each end of the spectrum…a wide leaf form we named Rohdea ‘Stork Nest’ (15 yrs old), a very narrow leaf form we named Rohdea ‘Thin Man’ (16 years old), and a miniature that has yet to be named.
If you’ve visited JLBG, you know how much we love working with rocks, so we continue to find new areas to plant more. We’ve recently tackled two long overdue projects near the Mt. Michelle waterfall.
The first was re-working the Mt. Michelle watercourse we know as Mystic Creek (named after one of our late cats). When this was installed in 2003, we used concrete to form the water channel. Well, after 18 years, tree roots had their way with the concrete, which lost both the battle and the war.
After a fair amount of root excavation work, Jeremy and Nick installed a new rubber liner, with rocks along the edge. We’ll probably wait until spring to finish the replanting in order to avoid planting on top of something that was winter dormant. Below is the new rocked watercourse.
Phase 2 of the project was re-working an adjacent bed, where light levels had changed dramatically since it was installed in 1998. Originally a full sun bed, the shrubs on the west side have grown substantially, leaving us with a bed that only gets 3-4 hours of sun on one end, and a full shade area underneath the canopy.
Here, we raised the center of the bed, with more of Jeremy and Nick’s rock work, which was then filled with our on-site created compost. This created a visual barrier to much of the winding path that visitors use to get closer to the small plants, which are now tucked in the crevices.
One the back (west) side, Jeremy and Nick installed another small rock seating area, of which there are never enough.
There are a few more days of rock work to complete Phase 2, then we’ll start on Phase 3, which will rework the west face of Mt. Michelle, with more boulders to create additional planting pockets. We hope you’ll check out the progress at our upcoming winter open house.
Every year, we grow thousands of lenten roses from our own seed collections in the garden. Most, we sell at our Winter Open Nursery and Garden as Helleborus x hybridus ‘Winter Delights’. All of our Winter Delights hellebores are hand selected by color after they flower. Every now and then, an incredibly unique form gets pulled for the gardens and here is one of those from a few years ago. This amazing plant has huge 3.5″ wide flowers, and was already in full flower by January 1. We hope everyone can visit our upcoming Winter Open House and see the amazing hellebore selections in the garden.
We love the evergreen ruscus in garden, but realize they are a plant that will never be found at most mainstream garden centers. A genus of only 6 currently recognized species, native from Europe into Eurasia, these horticultural oddities are so odd that they once qualified to have their own plant family, Ruscaceae.
Now, with improved DNA testing, they were found to actually be members of the Asparagus family. Exactly where within the Asparagus family is still an ongoing debate. Within the last decade, they were grouped with Nolina and Dasylirion, which to those of us who work with live plants, made no sense. Most likely, they will wind up in their own section, but as distant cousins to better know genera like Rohdea and Liriope.
Ruscus are great evergreen plants for dry shade, in regions where they are winter hardy, which is usually Zone 7b and south. Ruscus are unique in that they don’t produce leaves, but instead have leaf like structures known as cladodes, from which the tiny flowers emerge. All ruscus species have both separate male and female plants, although there are four hermaphroditic (bi-sexual) cultivars of Ruscus aculeatus in commerce, which produce the lovely red fruit without a mate.
The most common ruscus species in cultivation is Ruscus aculeatus, which has a wide range from Western Europe through the Caucuses. A handful of named cultivars of Ruscus aculeatus can be found in the gardens. Below is a photo this month of Ruscus ‘Sparkler’ a self-fruiting form, whose 2′ tall height is mid-way between Ruscus ‘Elizabeth Lawrence’ and Ruscus ‘Wheeler’.
Ruscus hypophyllum is a species, which ranges from Spain to Northern Africa, that’s rarely cultivated in the US. Other than the very tender Ruscus streptophyllus, this has proven to the be the next most tender species. Prior to trying these new forms of Ruscus hypophyllum, which were planted in early 2020, we had only grown a single clone, which had consistently died in our Zone 7b winters. These new plants are seedlings, grown from an Alan Galloway seed collection in Majorca, Spain.
Ruscus hypoglossum, which hails from Italy to Turkey, is a similar sounding species that we were fortunate to study in the wilds of Slovenia a few years ago, where it grew in mountainous open forests.
Ruscus x microglossum (below) is a natural hybrid between Ruscus hypophyllum and Ruscus hypoglossum…quite a tongue-full.
Ruscus colchicus is a species we fell in love with during a trip to Hillier’s Arboretum in 2005. Hailing from NW Turkey to the Western Caucuses, Ruscus colchicus is possibly the most elegant garden species. We are fortunate to have three different clones growing at JLBG, which we hope to one day have enough to share.
Voted least likely to be found in an ex-situ plant collection is Ruscus hyrcanus, a species, whose native range is from the Crimea into Iran. In appearance it somewhat resembles a dwarf, horizontal-growing version of Ruscus aculeatus. We are thrilled to have been able to offer this little-cultivated species in the past through Plant Delights.
We hope you’ll take notice of these great evergreens during your next visit to JLBG.
Another of the mid-winter flowering species of wild ginger is the Chinese Asarum ichangense. Here is a green leaf form of this easy-to-grow wild ginger in late January from the top. If you push aside the leaves, you’ll see the amazing floral show, hidden beneath. Winter hardiness in Zone 6b-8b, and possibly colder.
Here’s a mid-winter shot of our front grotto, showing what that section looks like during the most trying time of year. We try to emphasize to those building new gardens to treat gardens just like rooms of your home. Each should have a floor, ceiling, walls, furniture both large and small, and decorations. In the garden, we also try to emphasize year round interest, which in our area includes a good selection of evergreens. Our Winter Open Nursery and Garden Days coming up in a few weeks is a great time to get ideas and inspiration for your own garden. Below is a “before” picture of the same area.
Below is the same shot when this section was begun in 1988.
The Helleborus x gladorfensis hybrids, known as the “Ice n’ Roses” series have begun with the opening of Helleborus ‘Ice n’ Roses Barolo’. This is the earlies flowering and darkest clone in the series…just a shade darker than H. ‘Ice n’ Roses Red’. These are sterile hybrids derived from crossed of Helleborus niger with Helleborus x hybridus. Winter hardiness is Zone 5a-8b.
Here’s an image taken this month of the wonderful Aucuba japonica ‘Limbata’. While most aucubas have yellow leaf specks, this old cultivar, first mentioned in historical literature in 1864, is sadly still quite unknown in gardens. That’s not too surprising, however, due to its slow production time as a commercial nursery crop. For dry shade in Zone 7a-9, this wonderful broadleaf evergreen is hard to beat.
Rohdea japonica ‘Shishi’ is looking lovely in the woodland garden. Rohdea ‘Shishi’ is a dwarf Japanese selection of the evergreen sacred lily with leaves that curl downward creating an unusual bird nest like appearance. Winter hardiness is Zone 6b-8b.
Borinda macclureana is another superb clumping bamboo that has never received the good PR afforded other more popular species. Collected in Tibet at nearly 11,000′ elevation, it really has no business growing in the hot, humid southeastern climate, but that’s why we trial plants. Although Borinda macclureana can reach 25′ in its native haunts, our 15 year old specimen has only reached 8′ tall x 8′ wide.
It’s hard to imagine a better plant in the fall/winter garden than the southeast native woodland perennial, Gentiana saponaria. Looking quite amazing in our garden throughout December is Zac’s collection from Rockford, Georgia. We hope you’re growing this amazing plant in your garden. Hardiness is Zone 6b-8b, at least.
We recently had someone inquire if we grew tractor seat plant, a common name I had not heard prior. After a brief pause, I figured few plants, other than our 2000 introduction, could possibly fit that name. Sure enough, a quick web search confirmed that Farfugium japoncium var. giganetum ‘Marco’ is indeed their target. While wandering through the garden this weekend, I found one clump still in flower, that somehow avoided damage from several nights at 27 degrees F.
To our knowledge, this giant form of Farfgium japonicum, native Japan’s southernmost Ryukyu Islands, was first brought to the US by plantsman Marco Stufano, who rationed out one plant per year for a NY Rare Plant Auction. When Marco was ready to retire from Wave Hill, he finally shared a piece with us, so we could get it mass propagated, hence we named the clone in his honor. To our knowledge, all tractor seat plants sold in the US came from Marco’s original plant.
This is the best fruit set we’ve ever seen on the Chinese Disporum longistylum ‘Green Giant’. We love this semi-evergreen Solomon’s Seal, that was collected and introduced years earlier by our friend, plant explorer Dan Hinkley. On the West Coast, this reaches 7′ tall, but here in the hot, humid southeast, we’ve never had ours exceed 3′ tall. Nevertheless, we’ll enjoy our great crop of cobalt blue fruit this winter.
One of several rare wild gingers we grow is Asarum lewisii, which has a small native range limited to central NC and adjacent Virginia. In the wild, the evergreen Asarum lewisii is quite unique in only producing a single leaf every few inches to over 1′ apart when growing in leaf duff. In the garden, however, leaves are much more dense as you can see in the photo from the JLBG gardens this week. It’s ashamed it doesn’t sell better when we offer it through Plant Delights.
We love the tardily deciduous Ctenitis subglandulosa ‘Hoshizaki’, which remains looking great in the garden as we pass the winter solstice. This truly elegant fern came to us from fern guru, Judith Jones, who got it from California fern guru, Barbara Jo Hoshizaki. The airy texture and ease of growth make this a fern we wouldn’t garden without. Sadly, we offered this Asian native (Bhutan through China) once through Plant Delights and very few people purchased one, so we had to discard the remaining crop…ouch! So very sorry you missed a true gem. Hardiness is Zone 7a-8b (guessing).
The cast iron plant, Aspidistra tonkinensis ‘Hanoi Honey’ has been looking quite stunning recently during its December flowering period. Unlike many cast iron plant that have reddish cinnamon flowers, this dazzler has large bright white flowers that are impossible to miss. Where it isn’t winter hardy, cast iron plants make fabulous, easy-to-grow house plants.
Anyone who has visited JLBG, knows we are huge fans of the Japanese sacred lily, Rohdea japonica. While the variegated forms are certainly showy, we also love the solid green varieties, especially the narrower leaf forms, so here are a few of our favorites. The top is Rohdea japonica ‘Fukuju Kan’, followed by Rohdea ‘Feelin’ Groovy’, and finally Rohdea ‘Line Dance’. All photos were taken in our gardens this week. For us, these amazing evergreen plants remain looking great all winter and the orange-red winter fruit are a bonus. In the garden, they function like evergreen hostas. The first two are what is known as dragon-ridge (crested) varieties. Hardiness is Zone 6b-9b.
We love fall and winter, when Woodwardia orientalis ‘Mama Mia’ starts producing baby ferns on the old foliage. Mama Mia can be propagated from the plantlets, but in our cold winter climate, the babies rarely mature unless taken indoors for the winter. The evergreen foliage of Woodwardia orientalis will show damage at about 10 degrees F and Zone 7b is the northern-most range of its cold hardiness.
Sarcococca saligna is one of our favorite species of sweet box, but sadly one of the most tender. If winter temperatures drop below 10F, it dies to the ground, but has always resprouted. When we have mild winters, it becomes an extraordinary woodland garden specimen as is evidenced by this current photo.
One of our most cherished evergreens in the winter woodland garden is the narrow-leaf form of butchers broom, Ruscus aculeatus ‘Chenault’. Our plant came from the Elizabeth Lawrence Garden, and Elizabeth’s plant originated in France’s Chenault Nursery circa the 1960s. Our 20 year old plants are now 3′ tall x 4′ wide. Although they rarely fruit, they provided a unique texture compared to most other forms of the species.
Indeed the old proverb about a rolling stone is correct, but a stationary stone, especially in the water, gathers all kinds of amazing things. This rock in one of our garden streams has not only gathered moss, but several young maple trees, a carex, a couple of sanguinaria (bloodroot), and a handful of various ferns. Isn’t nature just grand if you stop long enough to pay attention.