The South African (Eastern Cape) Bergeranthus vespertinus has been absolutely fabulous this late winter/spring season. Here it is growing in one of our rock gardens, where it is mostly protected from winter moisture. (Hardiness Zone 7b and warmer…at least)
Not only did we have 100% survival on our living stones (Lithops aucampiae ssp. koelemanii) in the garden, despite low temperatures of 15-16 degrees F, but they are now in the process of splitting, which is sort of like giving live birth. Splitting happens after flowering, and followed by a subsequent dormancy. The plant divides and the new plants absorb the of the old foliage…sort of like The Blob movie. We were fortunate to catch the process visually for the first time this week.
In our cold frames, some plants will occasionally flower out of season, and that’s the case this week when one of our Orostachys ‘Crazy Eddie’ plants decided to flower out of season…fall is it’s normal time. The offseason timing won’t adversely affect the plant, and it did give us an unexpected photo moment. Because of the form of the flower, orostachys gained the common name, dunce caps, named after the pointed caps that poorly performing students were forced to wear. Of course, you’re probably showing your age if you knew what dunce caps were.
We have long loved small crevice-sized succulents, but have also killed far more than our share, due mostly to our wet, cold winters. The newest star in our trials is the South African, Rabiea albipuncta, a first cousin to the better known, Delosperma. We should mention, that new DNA research has actually suggested a name change to Nananthus vittatus would be more correct, so we’ll be re-tagging shortly.
This gift from Denver Botanic Garden plantsman extraordinaire, Panayoti Kelaidis, has thrived in the gardens since 2018. We actually tried this back in 2004, but our site simply didn’t drain well enough in winter. This image was taken here at JLBG on February 2 this year, which shows how insanely tolerant the flowers are of cold weather. We hope to make this available next year through Plant Delights Nursery. This gem forms a substantial caudex, and as such is highly prized by bonsai enthusiasts.
We’ve tried growing living stones (Lithops) a few times over the last decade in the garden, but could never get them to last longer than a couple of years. We weren’t loosing them to cold temperatures, but to moisture. So, when we built the crevice garden, lithops were one of the first plants we wanted to try again. We designed the crevices with overhangs to keep water completely off certain special plants, and that’s where we planted our seed-grown living stones.
For those who haven’t grown these irresistible gems, Lithops are South African succulents in the Azoiceae family, native to very dry and mostly tropical regions. They are prized for their odd appearance that consists of only two camouflouged succulent leaves.
We’ve never been able to coax a lithops to flower until last week. In their new crevice home, several finally decided to bloom this fall, with a sucession of flowers that still continues. We are currently growing only one species, Lithops aucampiae, but now that we’ve been successful, we’ve planted seed of more species to try. It takes us about 18 months from seed to get a plant large enough to go into the garden.
Despite everything written about lithops being tropical, we have not found this to be the case. Like so many plants, not enough people have been willing to experiment in colder climates in the right conditions. Of course, if you believe everything written on line, you’ll know for sure that they can’t take anything below 40 degrees F. Hint…ours have made it fine in the garden to 13F, so we expect them to tolerate even colder temperatures if kept dry. Wish us luck and be sure to check out the stones growing in the crevice during our next open house.
Our patch of Aloe cooperi has been beautiful in flower this summer, but every time I see it, my mind automatically associates it with rocker, Alice Cooper. I guess he made quite an impression on me as a child. Aloe cooperi is the hardiest of the aloes, first cousin to the better known Aloe vera. Aloe cooperi has been fine here in Zone 7b for decades, but we doubt it would be winter hardy much further north.
At our home, we have a very wide overhang which never sees any moisture, so we were looking for plants that would stay low, ideally evergreen, and would tolerate seriously dry shade. The answer was Echeveria ‘Topsy Turvy’. These patches of the Northern Mexican succulent, with blue-green foliage, have absolutely thrived here. While they probably wouldn’t be happy in deep shade, they love this high canopy with good light, but no sun. These were planted in 2018. We’d rate these as Zone 7b/8a if kept dry in winter.
Here are more delospermas (ice plants) looking great at JLBG this week. The first two are the most moisture tolerant, Delosperma cooperi (purple), and Delosperma ‘Kelaidis’ (peach). At the bottom is Delosperma sutherlandii, which is a species that we’ve never been able to keep alive in our wet summers prior to building the crevice garden.
For many, fall is the best time of year to garden. The heat of summer has finally broken and the crisp autumn air is a delight to work in. Fall perennials take over for the summer flowers and keep the garden showy as the days get shorter.
We’ve got a thing for hardy cactus in the garden, but haven’t propagated many to offer yet. One of our many favorites is Notocactus apricus. Above is our 17 year old clump in the garden, which is 4″ tall x 15″ wide. We’ve grown a few from seed, but are curious how many folks might consider purchasing one? We’ve only been to 7F since 2000, so we don’t know if it will take colder temperatures or not.
Visitors to our spring Open Nursery and Garden this year got to see the amazing Trichocereus ‘Irridescent Watermelon’ (bred by local cacti specialist, Mike Papay) in full flower (hardy so far to 7 degrees F). Offsets are almost non-existent, so we decided to grow some from seed. Each plant will be different, but all should be quite nice. So, if we offered these as a seed strain, would you purchase some, knowing each will be slightly different?
We posted this a few weeks ago as our Agave ‘Mountain Man’ (A. gentryi x montana) prepared to open. We’ll, the big moment is here…below are a few shot from today.
The seed were wild-collected in Mexico in the late 1990s by our friends at Yucca Do, and our seedling was planted in May 2000, so it took 17 years to flower. Fingers crossed for good seed set, and fortunately we have many more agaves in flower (and a tall ladder) to help the process.
In a matter of two days, most of our region went from abnormally dry to saturated, when an unusual weather system tracked across our area. Not to worry…we’ve loaded two each of every plant on the green arc for safe keeping.
We tallied 5.5″ of rain at the nursery, while areas a few miles away registered almost 9 inches. As you’ve no doubt seen on the news, areas in and around creeks and rivers are underwater. Fortunately, we’re fine as all our time spent on water management preparation paid dividends.
The gardens looks absolutely fabulous, so we hope to see you at our 2017 Spring Open Nursery and Garden which starts today (Friday). We’ve prepared a special display of the new xMangaves (agave x manfreda hybrids) on the deck area, so we hope you’ll stop by and check out this amazing new category of drought-tolerant succulents for both containers and the garden. See you soon!
Look what showed up in the garden. Our specimen of Agave ‘Mountain Man’…a hybrid of Agave montana and Agave gentryi decidied to flower for our spring open nursery and garden. This unusual hybrid starts its flower spike in the fall, which stops for the coldest part of winter, then starts growing again in spring. The spike showed no damage despite a winter low of 13 degrees F. Be sure to check this out when you visit…located just behind the welcome tent.
So what do you get when you cross Manfreda and an Agave?
Wait!! Is that even possible?
It is!! And, voila… we present… x Mangave!
x Mangave is an intergeneric hybrid combining the leaf spotting and perennial flowering nature of Manfreda and the leaf spines and evergreen nature (above freezing) of Agave. Like both parents, x Mangave is drought tolerant and has an aversion to winter moisture. In areas where x Mangave is not winter hardy, it makes a great container specimen.
x Mangave ‘Pineapple Express’ is a 2016 introduction from Walters Gardens with fleshy, olive green leaves heavily spotted with purple. Pineapple Express will form a rosette 18″ tall x 24″ wide. Above is Pineapple Express in the garden and below is Pineapple Express in our sales house.
We have an exciting array on new varieties of x Mangaves in production with varying leaf shapes and variegation patterns, so be sure to look for them in the future. If you are not already growing x Mangave be sure to check out these horticultural gems.
We are very excited to see that we have at least 9 agaves so far that will be flowering in 2016. Above is a recent photo of Agave victoriae-reginae where you can see the bud forming in the center where the leaves have become reduced in size. While we lose the agaves after flowering, we are able to make crosses and create more new and unqiue agaves. We also share pollen with plant breeder Hans Hansen, who crosses them with manfredas to create some amazing mangaves as pictured below, which we are pleased to introduce for 2016
Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’ makes a superb container plant where it isn’t hardy in the ground. It should be fine outdoors from Zone 7b south.
Mangave ‘Moonglow‘ with its large dark purple spots is the smallest of the three. The foliage of all is incredible pliable unlike most agaves.
A third introduction for 2016 is Mangave ‘Pineapple Express’…the fastest growing of these three. These will fill out a container in no time and are great for summer patio containers.
Agave x protoamericana
Agave salmiana var. ferox ‘Bellville’
One of the fun projects our JLBG research division has been working on for several years is breeding for winter hardy century plants. One of our latest crosses is between the two plants pictured above, Agave x protoamericana (blue) and Agave salmiana var. ferox ‘Bellville’ (green). These are the two largest agaves that are winter hardy for us, and we were able to cross them in 2014. We are offering seed grown offspring while they last under the name Agave ‘Bluebell Giants’. In most cases, our other hybrid agaves are larger and more vigorous than the parents, which in this cases could be HUGE! These seed-grown plants have now filled our 1 qt pots and we’ll be planting our first plants in the garden in spring. If you like giant agave and love to experiment along with us, don’t miss this once in a lifetime opportunity.
It’s been absolutely amazing to watch the swarm of honeybees, ants, and hummingbirds feeding on our giant 30′ tall flowering agave. Here’s an updated photo of the blessed event from yesterday. This weekend’s final summer open house is the last chance to see it in person.
Here’s our research staff getting the giant ladder in place for breeding as the giant Agave salmiana x asperrima begins to open. And here’s Jeremy, who heads up our Research Division, gathering pollen and making crosses. Breeding agaves is a little different from breeding daylilies, iris, and hostas. We hope you’ll join us during our summer open nursery and garden to see this monster in person.
The flower spike on our giant Agave salmiana x asperrima is timed perfectly for our Summer Open Nursery and Garden. We measured the spike on this 15 year old monster this morning at a whopping 29′ tall. The actually opening of the flowers should start around Friday and will continue for several weeks. We hope you’ll drop by for a visit during open house and take the opportunity to marvel at this wonder of nature.
Here’s a current photo of our spiking Agave ‘Grey Gator’. The spike began four weeks ago today, and was measured yesterday at 22′ in height. The bracts that surround the flower spikes are just beginning to unfurl, so we’re probably a couple of weeks from seeing flowers open.
This is the largest of the winter hardy agaves we’ve grown, and we still have some of our crop of seed grown plants from its sister seedling that flowered a couple of years ago…sold as Agave salmiana var. ferox x Agave asperrima. Each seedling will be slightly different in mature size…some a bit smaller and some even larger. Don’t miss your opportunity to try these for yourself. Hardiness Zone 7b-9b.
The amazing Balkan native Genista saxitalis is in full flower today. This amazing groundcover has been brightening our rock garden for a couple of weeks. Genista is easy to grow with plenty of sun…hardiness is Zone 4a-8b.
For those who didn’t get to our Open Nursery and Garden last week, here are some of the hardy cactus you missed in the new Souto Garden section. We’re passionate about hardy cactus, and have been so since we were hooked by a jumping cholla about 45 years ago. I hope you enjoy the photos of this amazing group of plants.
Gymnocalycium ‘Bridal Showers’ – a Mike Papay hybrid
Gymnocalycium ‘Panama Pink’ – a Mike Papay hybrid
Opuntia polycantha var. hystracina
From high above our Southwest patio garden, you can get a good perspective of our latest agave to flower. This cross of Agave salmiana and Agave asperrima (scabra) is our largest agave to ever flower (7′ tall x 12′ wide). We’re expecting the spike to reach at least 25′ before it begins to open in late June or early July.
Here is a ground level photo from 2 weeks ago, when the flower bud first emerged.
Here, the flower spike is 10 days old and nearing 12′ tall. The flowering of large agaves evokes both excitement and sadness….excitement that it will flower and hopefully set seed, but sadness that the parent plant will die soon after flowering. Although it would take 100 years to reach flowering size in the wild, our plant is only 16 years old, growing faster because of our higher rainfall. While they last, we are pleased to offer seed-grown plants from its sister that flowered a couple of years earlier.
While gardeners in colder zones take growing hens and chicks for granted, those of us in hot, humid climates are thrilled when we find a variety that lives for us. Here is a photo from the garden today of one of the best in our climate….Sempervivum ‘Oh My‘.
For those who love century plants, here are few that you’ll find in the 2015 catalog that is now only 8 days from going live. The first is our hybrid of Agave striata x Agave bracteosa that we named Agave ‘Straight and Narrow’. It’s a small agave, with virtually no offsets. We’ve had this in the ground through single digits F with no problem.
Agave titanota ‘Solar Eclipse’ has been circulating among collectors for several years without a valid name, so we added one and finally have enough to include it in the catalog…not hardy outdoors, except in the mildest climates.
Agave potatorum ‘Eye Scream’ is another century plant that has circulated in the collector market without a valid name. This is truly a stunning century plant, we think you’ll enjoy, although it’s also only hardy outdoors in frost free climates.
The Agaves are looking great in the garden today as we start our Fall Open Nursery and Garden. Here are two of my favorites as they look today…the spineless Agave bracteosa (top) that looks like a stiff green squid, and the magnificent Agave ovatifolia. (botttom) Both of these were brought into the US from Mexico by the late plant explorer, Lynn Lowrey of Texas. You’ll see them both on display when you visit during the next two weekends. Be sure to say hello while you’re here.
Here’s a teaser for the morning. We’ve assembled a rather fun collection of variegated agaves (century plants), and here is a one-of-a-kind mutation we found on Agave ovatifolia, where the chimeral pattern is stable on one side of the plant and unstable on the other side. The next chance to see this in person is when we host the Southeast Palm Society Meeting on August 9. Visitors and guests are welcome to attend.
I took this photo of our oldest plant of Agave albopilosa yesterday. We sold out of our first crop quickly this spring, but our next batch is almost ready. It’s one of the coolest century plants we grow…very slow growing, and on the small side even when mature, but what a conversation piece!
The fourth of our eight century plants with flower spikes is now open. This is a 10-year old specimen of Agave ocahui…one of the agaves with unbranched flower spikes. We’re enjoying the amazing flowers, while also trying to make crosses with other species to create interesting new hybrids…wish us luck! Since Agave ocahui doesn’t offset, the plant will die after flowering, so we’ll need to plant a replacement.
While I was gone, one more agave produced a flower spike, bringing our total to 8 flowering century plants, equaling our 2013 total. Here is Agave lophantha that had the decency to wait until I got home to open. It looks like we’ve probably got another week or two before it starts to open and the agave breeding begins.
Greetings from Juniper Level, NC where the weather has simply been wonderful for gardening this spring. Overall, most of the country has enjoyed a good gardening spring, except for the terrible drought still persisting in southeast Texas. Florida had been suffering the same fate as Texas until the recent multi-day deluge that quickly brought most of the state out of a rainfall deficit. Even most of the Midwest has been calm this spring, leaving the poor caravans of storm chasers from the Vortex2 expedition exasperated…sorry folks…you can stay there permanently if it’ll keep the tornados away.
Our heart goes out to the staff of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden in California, which suffered extensive damage to both structures and the garden in the recent wind-driven Jesusita Fire. The gardens, which focus on California natives, are outstanding if ever have the chance to visit. We hope they can get reopened soon. You can read more about their damage in this news release.
May was the first month since last September that we have seen near normal sales levels and we can’t thank you enough. It was great to see so many of you here for our Spring Open House including a tour bus of wonderful gardeners from Utah, along with visitors from Germany, Russia, and China. It was also great to meet Keith Ferguson, retired Deputy Keeper of the Kew Herbarium and his wife Lorna, who even dropped by from the UK. The May Open House brought many first time visitors, whom we hope to see again in the future.
It was great to have Sally Walker drop by for a visit recently and to see her in good shape after hip surgery. Sally is co-owner of Southwest Native Seed, a small company based in Tucson that sells seed of plants native to Arizona. Sally has quite a horticultural background, having worked at nurseries such as Jack Drake’s Alpine Nursery in the UK and later for Marshall Olbrich at California’s famed Western Hills Nursery. Sally and her husband Tim have operated their seed business for 30+ years …. sorry no website or telephone.
Spring Open House visitors were treated to an amazing sight as four of our agaves are nearing flowering. These include Agave salmiana v. ferox ‘Logan Calhoun’, Agave lophantha (three spikes), A. striata (many spikes), and Agave parviflora. We’ve already started making crosses, although reaching the top of the 25′ tall A. salmiana spike has proven problematic…i.e., I don’t relish the idea of falling off a ladder and landing on something with that many spines. At least my pole saw allows me to sever flower clusters so they can serve as a pollen donor for the shorter-spiked species. It looks like we’ll also have a flowering overlap with several manfredas, as well as pollen from a xMangave ‘Macho Mocha’ that just couldn’t wait, thanks to magnolia specialist, Pat McCracken.
Congratulations are in order for NCSU Plant Breeder Dr. Tom Ranney for winning the American Horticulture Society’s Marc Cathey Award for ‘outstanding scientific research that has enriched the field of horticulture’. Tom’s released hybrids include Calycanthus ‘Venus’ along with the creations of two new bigeneric genera xSchimlinia floribunda (Schima x Franklinia) and xGordlinia (Gordonia x Franklinia). Many more exciting plants are in the pipeline.
I’m sure many of you know Bob Lyons, either from his days at Virginia Tech, as former JC Raulston Arboretum Director, or now as Graduate Coordinator for the Longwood Gardens program. On May 9, Bob’s home exploded and burned to the ground in a gas-leak fire. Bob was outdoors at the time, while the gas company was searching for the leak. Bob lost all of his possessions including his computer, camera, books, and collection of 15,000 slides. Fortunately, his digital images were saved on an off-site backup (let this be a lesson to us all). Bob tells me that his Plant Delights order was sitting on his deck at the time and the plants were not as heat-tolerant as promised. The plants can be replaced, but thank goodness, no one was injured. Longwood has provided Bob housing until he can recover. Here is a link to a UDaily article with images of the fire.
I mentioned in an earlier newsletter, that Bob Stewart of Arrowhead Alpines had been diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer. Although Bob’s chemo treatments continue, he tells me his tumors have shrunk and his treatments are proving very effective. We are thrilled at the news and wish Bob, Brigitta, and their family the best of luck in his continuing battle.
In another update from the world of horticulture, Fred Case, author of two excellent books, Trilliums, and Orchids of the Western Great Lakes Region is recovering at home after surgery for a severe aortic aneurism. Fred is suffering from limited mobility, but is improving all the time. Fred does still sneak out of the house and drive his golf cart around the garden when medical personnel aren’t around. You can read more about Fred at the Timber Press website and if you’d like to send get well wishes, address them to Fred at 7275 Thornapple La., Saginaw, MI 48609-4259.
Our condolences go out to gardener and author Bob Nold of Colorado in the death of his wife of 27 years, Cindy Nelson-Nold, who passed away suddenly of an apparent heart attack. Bob has two wonderful books to his credit, High and Dry: Gardening With Cold-Hardy Dryland Plants, and Penstemons. Cindy’s photographs and illustrations grace the pages of Bob’s books.
It’s been one of those springs that makes it hard to sit indoors at a desk, but at least I have the excuse of needing to take photos. I could write about something exciting in the garden every day, but due to time constraints, I’m limiting myself to once a month. We’re just wrapping up the early hymenocallis flowering and I sure wish more of you would try these gems. I think most folks get turned off by hymenocallis after trying the hybrids [mostly with the South American H. narcissiflora (aka: Ismene calathina) hybrids] typically sold by the Dutch, which, frankly don’t make great garden specimens. You will be so much more pleased with either the US or Mexican species. For us, the first to flower is H. liriosme, a clumping Gulf Coast species followed by H. traubii, a spreading species from Florida. Next in line is Hymenocallis pygmaea…a dwarf spreading species from here in North Carolina. Hymenocallis can be grown in typical garden soil, but they go really nuts when planted in a very moist site or a boggy situation. The white spidery flowers typically open around 4pm and are deliciously scented to attract pollinators…and gardeners. The next round of hymenocallis, which come later in the season are equally as wonderful. See the hymenocallis listed in our catalog.
One of my favorites that just finished flowering is the wonderful Aruncus ‘Misty Lace’. I’ve always loved the light airy nature of aruncus, but just couldn’t find many that would survive our hot, humid summers. This Allan Armitage introduction performs fabulously and has become a favorite in the late spring garden. See the aruncus catalog page.
Also flowering now are some of the late season Jack-in-the-pulpits. Four of my favorites are the tall stately, Arisaema tortuosum, A. consanguineum and A. heterophyllum along with the shorter, but very cute white-flowered Arisaema saxatile. A. heterophyllum, A. consanguineum and A. saxatile all offset and form nice clumps, while A. tortuosum remains solitary. Each of these species perform better in a light-filtered shade to several hours of full sun and in soils that don’t stay too wet. See the arisaema catalog page.
Arisaemas are members of a group of plants known as aroids, which include common house plants like philodendron and spathiphyllum. Other hardy family members that are outstanding now are the zantedeschias, known by the common name of calla lilies. Zantedeschia aethiopica is actually a winter grower, which in our climate keeps getting killed to the ground during the winter, but quickly regrows once the frosts end and is still in full flower. Z. aethiopica only comes in white (and a faintly pink-tinted selection). It’s hard to beat two giant-spotted leaved selections, Z. ‘Hercules’ and Z. ‘White Giant’. I’ve tried the commonly sold Z. aethiopica ‘Green Goddess’ and ‘Pink Persuasion’ but neither has performed well in our climate. This is the season where the cool winter growing Z. aethiopica overlaps with the warm season species that flower through the summer. My favorite of the summer bloomers has to be Z. ‘Picasso’, whose white-edged purple flowers have just started to open. Visit the calla lilies in our catalog.
Another superb plant in the garden now are the early- to mid-season daylilies. One of my personal favorites that we just added to the catalog is Hemerocallis ‘FreeWheelin’. In daylily circles, these types are known as spider flowers for their very long petals. I’m always amazed at the number of folks that don’t realize daylilies make great plants for wet soils. We have long been growing them as pond marginals alongside Louisiana and Japanese iris where they prosper in boggy conditions. If you have such conditions, give daylilies a try there. See more daylilies in our catalog.
For those who entered our Top 25 contest to compete for the $250 worth of plants, here are the results though late May 2009. The list changes each month, so if your picks don’t show up near the top yet, don’t despair. The Top 25 has been shuffled a bit since last month as Colocasia ‘Thailand Giant’ retook the top spot in a throw down tussle with Echinacea ‘Tomato Soup’, while Colocasia ‘Mojito’ edged ahead of Syneilesis into 3rd place. Big movers for the month include Dianthus ‘Heart Attack’ which leapt from 15th to 8th place, Salvia chamaedryoides moved from 18th to 14th, and Euphorbia ‘Nothowlee’ from 26th to 16th. Rohdea japonica and Tiarella ‘Pink Skyrocket’ both appeared out of nowhere to jump to 17th place and 20th respectively. We hope your choices are faring well as we countdown to the contest winner in December.
As always, thanks for taking time to read our rants and most of all, thank you so much for your support and orders this year!
Please direct all replies and questions to email@example.com.
Thanks and enjoy
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’s greetings from Plant Delights. We hope you’re having a great holiday season and are already anticipating the upcoming spring season. Much of the country has experienced an early blast of winter, unseen in some areas for decades. Much of the Pacific Northwest got blasted by both cold temperatures and snow, putting a quick end to the “zone denial” that has pervaded that area for decades. The winter storms didn’t stop there as they continued their march across the country, blasting the Midwest and then the Northeast.
Like Elvis, the 2009 Plant Delights catalog has left the building and is on the way to your mailbox. If you can’t wait, the updated website is also ready for your perusal. As always, the on-line catalog has nearly 1000 more items than can be found on the pages of the printed catalog…we hope you can find something to suit your needs. We’ve made a few changes this year due to customer suggestions, most notably a reduction in our minimum shipping charge as well as a reduction in the amount required for a minimum backorder from $35 to $20. For these changes to be economically viable and to remain permanent, they must result in more customers placing smaller orders…fingers crossed.
The writing and production of the catalog involves three all consuming months, so the great joy of completing the catalog is being able to get back into the garden and start reworking beds. Granted it is winter now, but that’s okay in our part of North Carolina. I actually prefer to rework beds in the winter because I can easily see the structure of the garden without the “clutter” of the plants that detract my eye in the growing season. I always advocated the idea that if your garden looks good in the winter, it will look good any other time of year. Unfortunately, most folks only garden for a particular season…most often spring, and the garden looks uninteresting during the remainder of the year.
For those unfamiliar with the gardens here at Juniper Level, all of our planting is done in beds. Each bed was initially prepared using compost so that the entire soil root zone is similar. This is preferable to the commonly used technique of planting in individual holes, which doesn’t take into account that the roots will ever grow outside of the prepared hole. In our renovations we focus on beds that are 10 years old, where we perform a nearly complete renovation by first removing all digable size plants. As a general rule, anything of a 2″ caliper or below is fair game to be dug. This means that deciduous, herbaceous plants must be well marked before they go dormant or they become very time consuming and difficult to locate in winter.
Twenty years ago when we began the gardens, we simply added compost to the mounds of soil and rototilled it in. What seemed like lots of compost 20 years ago turned out not to be nearly enough as the beds became established. Nowadays, we are fortunate enough to have equipment that allows us to mix our own garden/nursery generated compost together with native soil from our property, producing our own garden soil mix. To get enough native soil, we use a commonly established landscape architect technique of balancing cut and fill. In other words, if we want to make a raised bed, we have to construct an equal size sunken bed somewhere else in the garden. By blending our own mix of 40% soil and 60% compost, we create a mix that we can then add directly to our established beds. From fresh garden debris to finished compost mix usually takes us from 8-12 weeks. One of many things we learned decades ago is that old wives tales of not being able to fill around established trees is just that…an old wives tale. The key is to use a well-drained, microbially active soil mix. If you visit during one of our open house days, we’ll be glad to show you trees that have been filled around for more than a decade. These renovations allow us to enrich the soil as well as change the terrain and form of the beds. We have developed a real fondness for raised, sculpted beds which allow us to not only grow more plants (think Pythagorean theorem), but make the plants more visible. Have you ever noticed that some plants in your garden don’t seem to get noticed? Sometimes it’s simply a matter of how they are arranged in relation to each other, sort of like products on a grocery store shelf. Arranging plants in a garden is a bit like painting a picture. You must be conscious of how you use colors, textures, and forms…either by repetition or contrast. No doubt you’ve had some plants that got larger than expected, while others got crowded out by more aggressive neighbors. The renovation process allows these mistakes to be corrected while allowing underperforming plants to be moved around, hopefully to a place that they will grow better.
By spending virtually every winter weekend in the garden, I get to see up close which plants still look great in the winter. Now, those of you in the northern hinterlands, don’t expect me to talk about plants this time of year that will thrive in Zones 4 and 5…first, there are many evergreen perennials for your zones, and any hardy plants would be under snow anyway, so just skip this section unless you have a winter home in the south.
Here at PDN, we had our early blast of winter when we dropped to 17 degrees F on November 21. While it’s impossible to see damage on many plants for quite a while, agaves show damage soon after it happens. Weather too cold for a specific agave results in the leaves turning soft and mushy, while the fragrance of decaying plant flesh fills the air. Agave leaf spotting from cold moisture, on the other hand, may take several weeks to show up. Of the new agaves we were trialing, Agave inadequidens bit the dust along with Agave dasylirioides. Agave ‘Weirdo’, an A. bracteosa hybrid that we had high hopes for, doesn’t look like it will make it either. Plants that we expected to be damaged but were untouched, include Agave atrovirens var. mirabilis, A. durangensis, A. potrerana, A. applanata, A. shrevei, A. schidigera ‘Shiro ito no Ohi’, and the hybrids A. ‘Blue Glow’, and xMangave ‘Bloodspot’.
I talked last month about the wonderful Ruscaceae family members, danae and ruscus, which still look great with their bright red or orange Christmas berries as we reach the first of the year. Along with the arums that I also mentioned last month, these two are a great start for winter interest perennials. Other plants that are also wonderful in the winter garden include the aspidistras or cast iron plants. Aspidistras aren’t held in high regard by folks in the deep south, because they are so common there. But, as we like to say, these aren’t your grandma’s cast iron plants, as the range of available species and cultivars are increasing exponentially. Most aspidistra species are fine down to 0 degrees F, which makes them great garden plants from Zone 7b south, and great house plants for those of you in the northern zones. Even in our garden, aspidistras blend into the background during the growing season, only showing their true structural garden value in the dead of winter. Not only are aspidistras great in the garden, but their foliage is fabulous when included in Christmas wreaths or indoor holiday arrangements.
Another superb winter interest plants are the adult ivies. Thanks to the tireless work of Richard Davis, we are able to offer a number of superb cultivars. Every time I mention adult ivy, people shake their heads or launch into a diatribe about how they hate ivy. Once I get them calmed down, I get to explain about why these plants are so valuable to the landscape. When regular ivy grows up a wall or tree, the leaves become larger each year that the plant climbs. After a decade or so, the plant undergoes a horticultural puberty and switches from being a juvenile to an adult. This includes gaining the ability to have sex and reproduce, while losing the ability to run around. In other words, ivy becomes a shrub growing atop a vine. By taking cuttings from the shrub-like top of the ivy…assuming you can reach it, the resulting plant will act as a shrub instead of a vine. Some of our oldest adult ivies are over a decade old, resulting in 4′ tall x 4′ wide evergreen shrubs. There is a rare occasion that some adult cultivars will throw a juvenile running shoot, but we have found this to be quite rare and nothing a quick snip won’t cure. Just like the juvenile ivies, they come in an array of leaf patterns. Despite their prolific flowering in fall and attractive seed heads in winter, we have seen very little reseeding…less than a dozen plants in 15 years. In some parts of the country, such as the Pacific Northwest, ivies invade natural areas and should never be planted there.
Although not often thought of as winter interest plants, there are few that stand out more in the winter garden than the hardy palms. Palms are completely misunderstood, as evidenced several years ago with a less-enlightened supervisor for the Raleigh Parks and Recreation Department who issued an edict that no more palms could be planted in the city parks. It seems the supervisor didn’t find them regionally appropriate, not realizing that two species used (Sabal minor and Sabal palmetto) were both NC natives with S. minor historically occurring within an hour of Raleigh, and Rhapidophyllum hystrix (needle palms) being native to South Carolina. Palms are commonly grown in more tropical climates and are underappreciated for their winter interest, since in the tropics, few plants grown around them ever go dormant. In our temperate climate, they really stand out in the winter since so much else hibernates in the winter months. The best genera of palms for temperate climates include rhapidophyllum (needle palm), sabal (palmetto palm), chamaerops (fan palm), and trachycarpus (windmill palm).
Other great winter evergreens include the wonderful disporopsis. These evergreen Solomon’s Seals really stand out now, making wonderful 1′ tall x 2′ wide patches in the winter garden. They will get burned a bit if the temperatures drop below 0 degrees F, but until then, they look great.
Another winter favorite is the wealth of coral bells (heuchera). Since they look great all season, some folks forget that they are evergreen and can be used to great effect to brighten the winter garden. I love all the purple leaf forms that grow here, but am particularly entranced with the gold foliage cultivars, especially H. ‘Citronelle’.
While there are a number of evergreen ferns, not all remain attractively evergreen in the winter. Those that do include Dryopteris erythrosora (autumn fern), Dryopteris formosana (Formosan wood fern), Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern), Polystichum tsus-simense (Korean Rock Fern), Pyrrosia (felt fern), and Arachniodes standishii (upside down Fern)
Last, but not least is Helleborus niger, the Christmas rose. There are many different forms, some flowering in early winter, while many of ours are in full flower now. Their large pure white flowers are simply wonderful additions to the winter garden. H. niger prefers a rich, organic soil, but one that doesn’t stay too moist in the summer months.
I hope those of you who qualify as plant nerds are subscribers to The Plantsman magazine. This UK Royal Horticultural Society publication is head and shoulders above all other publications of which I am familiar when it comes to detailed plant information. That being said, it’s not a publication for the average backyard gardener. Editor Mike Grant does a superb job soliciting articles from experts around the world. I’m one of those people who rip articles from magazines and file them according to subject. I was particularly amazed that there were so many great articles in the September issue that I removed virtually the entire magazine and filed it. One great example was a wonderfully detailed article on Musa basjoo, explaining why it is really not native to Japan, but is instead from Sichuan, China. You can find out more and purchase your subscription on their website.
If you’re looking to sneak out of the house and get a plant fix, consider coming to the North American Rock Garden Society’s Eastern Winter Study Weekend, January 30-February 2 in Reston, VA…just outside of the nation’s Capital. These meetings are always great, but this year’s speaker lineup is quite impressive…despite the fact that your’s truly is included. Please check out the link below and I hope to see you there.
In the world of gardening, I’m sad to report that the father of NC garden designer Edith Eddleman has passed away after an extended illness. Edith took leave of her Durham home and garden six years ago to return to Charlotte, NC to take care of her elderly parents. Her mom passed away a few years ago, and her father last month. The bright spot is that Edith has begun the process of packing up and moving back to her well-known Durham garden. I know lots of us look forward to seeing Edith back in the gardening world and on the speaker circuit.
A couple of years ago, I mentioned that Dr. Kim Tripp had resigned her post as Director of the NY Botanic Garden to switch careers and start medical school in Maine. Lots of folks had asked about Kim, so I was delighted to hear from her last week for the first time since she left NYBG as she wraps up her school work and prepares to start her first internship. We wish Kim the best of luck as she continues down her new life’s path.
I also mentioned last year that Mark and Louisa of Messenbrinks Nursery had closed down their business, both the wholesale side and their retail store at the NC Farmers Market. I thought that those of you who knew Mark and Louisa would like an update on their whereabouts. They have moved from their farm in the country to a house in the town of Nashville, NC. Louisa is an elementary school art teacher, with a sideline of selling herbs at the Rocky Mount Farmers Market, while Mark has started a new business, The Macho Taco, a Mexican food vending business…see link below. I’m glad to hear that we haven’t completely lost them from the gardening world.
Other news comes from the world of NPR, where gardening doyenne, Ketzel Levine has been a victim of the wave of layoffs at NPR. I’m sure many of you remember Ketzel from her days in Maryland, before she headed to her current digs on the West Coast. I’m sure Ketzel will find enough projects to keep her busy and we wish her the best of luck. You can read more about her plans on her blog.
After 137 years, the New England Flower Show is no more. Plagued by directorship problems (3 fired directors in the last 6 years) and board oversight incompetence, the Massachusetts Hort Society awoke to suddenly realize they were once again deeply in debt and nearly bankrupt. The once-proud society has fired 18 of its 30 employees, including the Flower Show director. As one of many speakers who still have not been paid or reimbursed by the society for talks at the 2008 show, we are not amused. At least not until I received the letter from the society asking everyone who is owed money to consider the debt as a contribution to the society…now that’s funnier than anything I’ve seen on the Comedy Channel. This is the first time in 30 years I’ve been stiffed for an honorarium…shame on Mass Hort! This is the most recent debacle in a series of comical financial mismanagement problems, including the famed 2002 debacle when the society was forced to sell $5.25 million dollars of selections from their rare book collection just to pay bills. Perhaps they should get in line with everyone else for a government bailout.
We are also sad to report the passing (November 16) of lily guru, Edward Austin McRae at age 76. Ed was born in Scotland, but in 1961 went to work for Oregon Bulb Farm in Oregon, where he hybridized lilies for a quarter century. In 1988, he moved to Van der Salm Bulb Farms in Washington where he continued his hybridizing work until he retired in 1995. After retirement, he founded the Oregon based Species Lily Preservation Group, wrote numerous articles and his wonderful book, Lilies: A Guide for Growers and Collectors. McRae’s former wife Judith still breeds lilies for her company, the Lily Nook.
Finally, congratulations to Brian James of Elizabeth City, NC for having the best score in correctly guessing the Top 25 Best sellers for 2008. He wins a $250 gift certificate. For the year, six agaves made the top list along with three colocasias. Salvias, with two entries were the only other genera to be represented by more than one in the Top 30. We hope you’ll try to predict our Top 25 for 2009. You have until Feb 15 to submit your entry for the $250 gift certificate which will be awarded at the end of 2009.
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Thanks and enjoy