Opening up a Mis-can-thus of worms

Flowering this week at JLBG is the amazing Miscanthus transmorrisonensis. Many gardeners, who blindly believe everything they read/hear think the genus miscanthus is the horticultural version of the devil itself. Like everything in life, it’s all about those pesky details, which so many people simply don’t want to be bothered with.

Most miscanthus in the horticultural trade are selections of the species Miscanthus sinensis. Some selections of that species reseed badly and should be avoided in gardens. Others are sterile or nearly so, and unquestionably still deserve a place in American landscapes.

If we make good/bad evaluations at the species level, what would happen if visitors to the earth had their first encounter with a Homo sapiens that was a less than ideal representative of the species at large. They could easily assume that the entire species was a problem and should be eliminated. It’s fascinating that such species based prejudices are acceptable with ornamental plants, but not with people.

Then there are species, which have proven themselves to be complete without seed in our climate, such as Miscanthus transmorrisonensis. All plants in cultivation all appear to be derived from a 1979 Ferris Miller (Chollipo Arboretum)/ Paul Meyer (Morris Arboretum) collection at 9,500′ elevation on Taiwan’s Mt. Daxue. We have grown this for 30 years in rather good conditions, and have yet to see a single seedling. The beauty of this species is that it flowers continuously from summer into fall. I guess it’s too much to ask for environmental fundamentalists to actually pay attention to facts.

Miscanthus transmorrisonensis

A rosea by any other name would look as sweet.

We think Juliet would agree that Cuthbertia rosea is one sweet perennial. Looking great now is the southeast native (Maryland south to Florida) spiderwort, Cuthbertia rosea, which for us, begins its flowering season in spring, and continues sporadically through the summer months. Native primarily to dry sand, this easy-to-grow perennial has exceptional drought tolerance. Like all spiderworts, the flowers open in the morning and close each evening.

This poor plant has long suffered from an identity crises due to dueling taxonomists. This poor plant is also known as Callisia rosea, Tradescantia rosea, Phyodina rosea, and finally Tripograndra rosea. Despite the naming conundrum, it’s surprising that more people don’t grow this amazing plant.

Water Spider Orchid

One of the little-known of the native orchids is flowering now at JLBG. Habenaria repens, aka: water spider orchid, is the most widespread (NC to Texas) of the five native habenaria species. This charmer has been at home in one of our bogs for several years and has proven quite easy to grow. Hardiness is probably Zone 7b-10a, at least.

Habenaria repens

Crinum Time Again

Re-appropriating a line from the late Buck Owens, it’s crinum time again. Crinum lilies begin their flowering season in our climate around April 1 (frost permitting). Some bloom for a short number of weeks, while other rebloom for months. Depending on the genetics, some crinum hybrids start flowering in spring, some in summer, and others in fall, and a few flower during the entire growing season.

Crinum ‘High on Peppermint’ is one of our newer named hybrids, which starts flowering for us around June 1, and hasn’t stopped yet.

Crinum ‘High on Peppermint’

Crinum ‘Superliscious’ is another of our new hybrids that starts flowering July 1, and has yet to stop. Now that our evaluation process is complete, we’ll start the propagation process.

Crinum ‘Superliscious’

Crinum ‘Southern Star’ is an incredible hybrid from the late Roger Berry, entrusted to us to propagate and make available. That’s a tall order since it’s one of the slowest offsetting crinum lilies we’ve ever grown. Crinum ‘Southern Star’ is a hybrid with the virtually ungrowable, yellow-flowered Crinum luteolum, which hails from Southern Australia. For us, Crinum ‘Southern Star’ doesn’t start it’s floral display until August 1.

Crinum ‘Southern Star’

Amazing Angolans

Gardeners in Zone 7b wouldn’t typically think of Angola (tropical West Central Africa) as a place to search for hardy perennials, but we’ve been thrilled with the performance of two natives of the region, Crinum fimbriatulum and Crinum jagus. The reason we kill so many plants is we try things that people with better sense would assume wouldn’t have a chance of the proverbial snowball.

Crinum fimbriatulum is flowering now for us, while Crinum jagus bloomed a few weeks earlier. Crinum fimbriatulum is the taller of the two, with spikes reaching nearly 4′ tall. Our plants were planted in 2009. They thrive in average to above average soil moisture.

Crinum fimbriatulum

Crinum jagus has been in the ground at JLBG since 2015. It’s a much shorter plant with 2′ tall flower spikes, but with incredibly lush, attractive foliage.

Crinum jagus ‘Mayan Moon’

Yucc’ing it up

We’ve been playing around with yucca breeding for almost a decade, and now have hybrids that include from 3-5 different species. Here’s a shot of one of our evaluation beds when it was in full flower recently. Flower spike height ranged from 3′ to 10′. There should be some wild and crazy introductions once our trials are finished.

Suckin’ Daphnes

I’ve been surprised to see the black swallowtails regularly enjoying the nectar of the summer-flowering daphnes…in this case, Daphne x napolitana ‘Bramdream’. Our plants are thriving, growing in our full sun rock garden.

Miss America

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.

Kennedy’s Sabatia

Our clump of the native, Sabatia kennedyana just finished another amazing floral show. This fabulous, but easy-to-grow perennial has a truly odd native distribution on the coastal border of North and South Carolina, on the coastal border of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and in Nova Scotia! I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an odd, disjunct range. Sabatia kennedyana is best suited for a sunny, slightly acidic bog, but regular garden soil will work fine, if it’s kept moist. I have no idea why this isn’t grown in every garden that has the correct conditions. Winter Hardiness is Zone 6-8, at least.

Sabatia kennedyana

A Time for Turmeric

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.

Sum of Summer

He’re a shot from our garden that we see every morning, featuring a drift of the giant, sun-loving Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’…and much more.

Below is another shot from the same location in the garden, but looking north. Who said summer gardens need to be boring?

Little Big Man

Most highly prized rock garden plants originated somewhere other than the Southeast US. One notable exception is Bigelowia nuttallii, or if you prefer common names, Nuttall’s rayless goldenrod. This fascinating plant resembles a whisk broom that just swept up a spilled bottle of mustard.

Named after English botanist/zoologist Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859), who lived in the US from 1808 until 1841, this fascinating plant, grown by rock gardeners worldwide, is native in only a few locations from Georgia west to Texas.

Bigelowii nuttallii makes a tight evergreen clump of needle-thin leaves, topped from mid-summer until fall with 1′ tall sprays of frothy yellow flowers…yes, those are actually flowers, but without the typical showy “rays”. Full sun for at least half a day, and good drainage are the key to success with this very easy native perennial. Hardiness is Zone 5a-9b.

Grand Gamad

Lagerostroemia ‘Gamad VII’ is looking exceptional in the garden this month. This dwarf selection, sold under the invalid trade name of Sweetheart Dazzle, is a gem of a plant, and one that has actually stayed dwarf. Our twelve year old plant is 4′ tall x 10′ wide.

Afternoon Delights

Plant breeders are an odd sort…people who are never satisfied with their results, and as such are always looking to improve even the most fabulous creation. We’ve been dabbling with crinum lilies for several years, and the first photo below is one of our newest creations, Crinum ‘Razzleberry’, which is rather amazing. Despite this success, we return to the breeding fields to see what else awaits from additional gene mixing.

Crinum ‘Razzleberry’

Crinum flowers typically open in early evening…5-7pm for us. The first step in breeding is to remove the petals, to have good access to the male pollen (the powdery tips atop the six pink thingys), and the female pistil, the single longer thingy with a dark pink knob at the top and a bigger knob at the bottom. Most crinum pollen is yellow, but depending on the parentage, some hybrids have white pollen.

Crinum stamen and pistil

Crinum stamen and pistil

The male thingy is known as a stamen, comprised two parts, the filament (the pink thing), and the anther (the part with the pollen). The female parts are known as the pistil, comprised of the ovary (bottom), the style (the pink thingy), and the stigma (the sticky knob at the tip.

In breeding, the anther is removed and the pollen is dusted on the stigma of a different plant to make the cross. Crinums produce an insane amount of nectar, so crinum breeders are constantly dodging sphinx moth pollinators, as well as dealing with the ant superhighway below as they haul off the nectar.

Nectar ant interstate highway

If your cross is successful, you will have seed forming in about a month. The seed are quite large, and must be planted immediately, since they have zero shelf life.

Crinum seed pods

Once the seeds germinate it normally takes 4-5 years for your new seedlings to bloom. During the first several years you can evaluate vigor and growth habit, but the final evaluation can’t be made until it blooms.

Crinum seed after pod is opened

Redneck Baby’s Breath

Tired to trying to grow the conventional baby’s breath, that’s a prize perennial in the colder zones? We were, and had been looking for a substitute for years, when in 2000, one of our former staffers introduced us to the widespread native, Euphorbia corollata. Although it doesn’t look like much in deep shade where it’s often found in the wild, it explodes when given a bit of sun. Here are a couple of photos as it’s flowering season starts in mid-July.

Euphorbia corollata looks seriously gangly in a pot, so we’re confident you’ll never see this on the shelves of the box stores. Average moisture to very dry suites it fine. Although not a clumper, it’s spread it’s far from a thug, and is easy to remove it it happens to move too far. For a plant that’s native to every state East of the Mississippi (except Florida), and almost every single county, it’s shocking that every gardener isn’t growing this gem. Hardiness is Zone 3a-9b.

Hiding from the Heat

Even the garden insects aren’t enjoying our extended heat wave. We caught this grasshopper hiding inside the flower of the threatened Texas endemic, Hibiscus dasycalyx last week, in search of some shade. So far, we’re experiencing the 3rd hottest summer on record in the Raleigh area.

A Shot of Summer to Go

Here’s a recent garden combo that we’ve been enjoying with purple eucomis (pineapple lily), Agapanthus ‘Navy Blue, backed with Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ (bronze fennel).

Finding Eustoma

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.

Surprise – The Ladies of Summer are Back

It’s always exciting for us when the summer flowering surprise lilies begin to bloom, which usually happens here around mid-July. Lycoris are members of the Amaryllidaceae family, and are cousins of better-know bulbs like hippeastrum (amaryllis), zephyranthes (rain lilies), and narcissus (buttercups).

Since we grow over 700 different lycoris varieties, the flowering season goes all the way from now into October. Below are are few of the early varieties from the start of the flowering season.

Lycoris longituba ‘Buttercup’

Lycoris sprengeri ‘Julyza’
Lycoris x sprengensis ‘Magic Rainbow’
Lycoris x sprenguinea ‘Matsuribune’

It’s a Good Year – A

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.

Humility in the Garden

This spring, Plant Delights introduced Zac Hill’s 2013 discovery of a new ruellia which he found in central Alabama. What we theorized might be a natural hybrid turned out to be a brand new species, as we were informed by botanists working on getting the plant published. We hope all native plant enthusiasts purchased this to both enjoy in their garden and for ex-situ (off site) conservation value. These are in full flower during the summer. Hardiness is unknown at this point, but we know it’s fine from Zone 7b – 8b, and most likely much further north.

Bearing Flowers

Our tallest clump of Nelson’s bear grass has been in full flower for the last month, making a spectacular site. Our specimen, which has reached 10′ in height is now 23 years old from seed. This woody lily which hails from the state of Tamaulipas in Northern Mexico forms a yucca-like stalk in the garden. All of the other hardy bear grasses have green foliage, so the blue foliage of Nolina nelsonii is quite distinct. The common name of bear grass was coined on the Lewis and Clarke expedition, when nolinas were mistaken for yuccas, which at the time were known as bear grass. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.

Nolina nelsonii

Eau de Chocolate

One of the most amazing summer perennials we grow is the native Berlandiera pumila ‘Chocoholic’. It is unfathomable to us, why this isn’t grown in every full sun garden where it’s winter hardy. The flowers, which smell like milk chocolate, top the 3′ tall clump nonstop from May until October. In the wild, Berlandiera pumila can be found from NC south to Texas, so its drought tolerance is excellent. We rate this as Zone 7a to 9b, but that’s only because we don’t have feedback from folks in colder zones yet. Please let us know is you have this survive temperatures lower than 0 degrees F without snow cover!

Curvy Mountain Mint

Gardeners interesting in attracting pollinators to the garden have no doubt experimented with one of the 20 native species of Pycnanthemum (mountain mint). While they are all lovely, most are too vigorously spreading to fit in a typical home garden. Enter Pycnanthemum flexuosum…the curvy mountain mint, is native from Virginia to Alabama, where it is found on moist to damp sites. This tightly clumping species is absolutely perfect for the garden, flowering now in July. This is our collection from Beaufort County, NC. We’ll be propagating this selection for a future PDN catalog. Hardiness is Zone 5-9a.

Curvy Mountain Mint

Colorata…not Colorado

Another of our favorite early summer plants is the amazing southeast US native Dichromena colorata (aka: Rhynchospora colorata). Known by the common name, white-top star grass/sedge, this tough-as-nails groundcover can be found inhabiting moist ditches from NC to Texas. The floral show last for 1-2 months, depending on weather. Here, we have it growing in regular garden soil (sandy loam) amended with compost, and irrigated regularly. White-top sedge does spread, but not aggressively. Regardless, we’d recommend keeping away from nearby wimpy growers, which would be quickly consumed. Hardiness is Zone 7a and warmer.

Oh, Katherine!

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.

The Cobras of Summer

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.

Arisaema candidissimum
Arisaema franchetianum
Arisaema purpureogaleatum

July Jamboree

Here are a few photos of JLBG in early July…hope you can join us for our upcoming Summer Open Nursery & Garden Days, July 15-17 and 22-24, 2022, and see what’s possible in a summer garden. The nursery will also be open for attendees to shop while on-site.

Be sure to take part in our free Gardening Unplugged talks, which are held each day during the Summer Open House at 10am and 2pm, just meet at the welcome tent.

Summer Blue Genes

Agapanthus ‘Navy Blue’ is looking quite regal this week in front of a patch of bronze fennel as a backdrop.

Agapanthus ‘Twister’ looking lovely with Sanguisorba ‘Little Angel’ as a backdrop.

How about those Hipps!

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.

Swallowing Stokesia

This is the time of year when the tiger swallowtails feast on our many patches of the amazing native Stokes aster. Our favorite clone is the upright growing Stokesia laevis ‘Peachie’s Pick’. Moist soils are best, but stokesia tolerates some dry conditions on a short term basis as long as it has 2-6 hours of sun.

Nectar tubes

We always look forward to late June with the patches of Sinningia tubiflora burst into flower. This rhizomatous perennial, first cousin to African Violets’, is rock hardy to 0 degrees F. This South American native (Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay) forms a dense deciduous groundcover, topped with these long-tubbed, honeysuckle-fragranced flowers that attract nocturnal moths with a really long proboscis.

Thyme Flies, Thymophylla Flowers

We are in love with the long-flowering Thymnophylla pentachaeta var. pentachaeta ‘Laredo Gold’, which graces us with masses of gold flowers from spring through fall, in our sunny, dry rock garden. This Patrick McMillan collection comes from a population in Texas. Not only is this short-lived, southwestern US native reseeding perennial great in flower, but the native Navajo Indians also used it as a drug for people who want to dream of being chased by deer….we are not making this up!

Baccharis-foliaged Beardtongue

We are enjoying the rare Penstemon baccharifolius this summer in our high/dry crevice garden. This species is native to limestone ledges up to 6,500′ elevation from the Edwards plateau in Texas south into Northern Mexico. This species hates our summer rains, and we had given up on growing this until we built our alkaline crevice garden a few years ago. Now it thrives, growing in 3′ deep Permatill gravel.

From Siberia to Raleigh

There aren’t a huge number of Siberian native plants that thrive in our heat and humidity, but one that has been outstanding for us is Angelica dahurica. For those, who have traveled the world, the specific epithet “dahurica” means, from Davuria (Dahuria), a region of south-east Siberia and north-east Mongolia.

Angelica dahurica is a widely-cultivated, short-lived perennial herb that forms a stunning 6′ to 8′ tall hunk with dark purple stalks, and topped for us in June with giant Queen Anne’s Lace flowers, that’s a haven for a wide range of pollinators. The clump goes to sleep for the summer, re-emerging in fall, and remaining evergreen through the winter.

The roots of Angelica dahurica (Du Huo/Bai Zhi) have been used medicinally since 400 B.C. to cure head and body aches, blood toxicities, as a laxative/purgative, sedative, a remedy for swollen gums and toothaches, and as a topical anti-fungal cream…and the seeds are used as a culinary liqueur flavoring.

We offered these through Plant Delights for several years, but sales were miserable. So, we gave most away to staff and planted the rest in the garden, where we’re enjoying them. When are going to get folks to realize that height is what makes a garden design interesting?

Baker’s Lily

We were thrilled to have Lilium bakerianum show up recently with a couple of flowers. This rare, dainty, woodland lily rarely exceeds 2′ in height. The arching stems are difficult to spot in the Chinese grasslands that they call home, unless you are lucky enough to catch them in flower. Lilium bakerianum, named after English botanist  Edmund Gilbert Baker (1864–1949), is quite variable, and as such is divided into five distinct varieties.

Our plants, which are Lilium bakerianum var. rubrum, are located at the top of our crevice garden so they are easy to appreciate when walking below.

For Crinum Out Loud

Our OCD is on full display with many of our plant collections including the summer-flowering Crinum lilies. Our collections here at JLBG have now topped 400 crinum taxa. In addition to collecting the best plants from other breeders, we have also been making a few of our own selected hybrids. Below are a few photos of plants we have recently selected and named. None of these are available yet, and most will still be a few years away, while we build up enough stock to share.

If you’ve never grown crinums (first cousin of hippeastrum), they form huge bulbs, and thrive in full sun in average to moist soils.

Crinum ‘Americana’
Crinum ‘Floral Bouquet’
Crinum ‘Happy Times’
Crinum JLBG21-01
Crinum ligulatum ‘Shooting Stars’
Crinum macowanii ‘Flowerama’
Crinum ‘Merry Me’
Crinum ‘Out Loud’
Crinum ‘Passionate Kisses’

Mountain Camellia

Our mountain camellia (aka: Stewartia ovata) is in full flower this week at JLBG. Despite its reputation as being difficult to grow, our plant has reached 12′ tall after a decade in the ground. This native deciduous small tree can be found from Virginia south to Alabama, centered on the spine of the Appalachian mountains. Hardiness is Zone 5-8.

Stewartia ovata
Stewartia ovata

The Thrilla of Cyrilla

If you’ve been following our blog for a while, you’ll remember we wrote about this amazing native shrub/small tree last summer. Well, it’s cyrilla time again in the gardens at JLBG, when every branch of this amazing semi-evergreen erupts with racemes of small white flowers, inviting all insects in the neighborhood to stop by for happy hour. This standard form of Cyrilla racemiflora pictured below, usually matures in the 10′ to 12′ range with a spread that’s double the height. Although it is found in the wild growing in moist, sandy soils, it grows equally as well on clay soils, as long as droughty periods don’t extend too long.

Cyrilla racemiflora

We think the most exciting horticultural addition to the world of cyrillas is a dwarf, witches broom discovered by Georgia botanists, Ron Determann, and the late Tom Patrick. A witches broom is a dwarf mutation with very short internodes, most often associated with conifers. Ron allowed us to introduce this amazing plant, which he named in Tom’s memory, Cyrilla racemiflora ‘Tom Patrick’. The density of branching and size is quite amazing. Since this selection is so new, we aren’t really sure of a mature size, but we’re guessing about 6′ in height.

Cyrilla racemiflora ‘Tom Patrick’

Korean Celery

I first grew Korean celery for years for the flowers, never realizing it was an edible food crop…a first class edimental! I have a fascination for plants in the Apiaceae family, whose members include Angelica, Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus), carrots (Daucus), celery (Apium), parsley (Petroselenium), etc. Not only are many of the family members attractive in flower, but they are supremely attractive to pollinators, especially wasps.

Not all of my Apiaceae experiments have turned out well. More often than not, members of the family are short-lived (monocarpic or biennial), while other are prolific seeders. One which has far exceeded my expectations is the Korean native, Dystaenia takesimana.

Dystaenia takesimana is an endangered native to Ulleung Island, where it’s known by the local name, Soembadi. Most likely, dystaenia is endangered because it was also used to feed livestock (pigs). Humans eat Korean celery mostly in late winter, when it can be eaten raw like celery, or boiled, tasting quite like spinach.

This amazing evergreen perennial puts on a show with 5′ tall stalks of white umbels, starting for us in early June. When flowering is complete, the stalks die back as the new basal foliage emerges. Unlike many members of the family, the attractive cutleaf basal foliage remains evergreen all winter. You’ll see this popping up soon in an upcoming Plant Delights catalog. We hope you enjoy this as much as we have.

Dystaenia takesimana
Dystaenia takesimana

Awaken the Kraken

A few weeks ago, we posted images of the flower spike of our Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’ just beginning to spike. Now, the giant beast is in full flower. The first photo below is the plant with its full expanded stalk in full bud, just prior to opening. After that, each image shows the progression of the flower development.

Agaves are monocarpic, so those species like Agave ovatifolia that do not make offsets will die after flowering. Agave ovatifolia is, however, one of a handful of species that usually forms baby plantlets on the tip of flowers stalk after seed set.

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

First flowers just beginning to open

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

We set up our Little Giant ladder, which allows us to climb up, collect pollen and to make crosses with other agaves.

The lower flower clusters open first and flowering continues to progress each day moving higher up the stalk.

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

Climbing the ladder gives you a bird’s eye view of the amazing buds as they are ready to open…usually 200-300 per panicle.

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

Below is a half-open flower panicle. The pollen is ripe before the stigma is ready to receive pollen, so pollen can be easily gathered without worry of self pollination.

Below is a fully open flower panicle. Each panicle weighs 5-10 pounds. No wonder the stalk needs to be so sturdy. Once the temperature warms in the morning, the flowers are abuzz with pollinators…mostly bees.

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

Looking down from above the flower panicle makes a pretty crazy photo

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

Our intern Zoe is working with our volunteer agave curator, Vince Schneider to gather pollen and make crosses with other previously gathered agave pollen

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

I usually don’t climb this high…a fear of heights, but this photo opportunity was just too good to resist

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

Gussied up Ostii

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.

African Gold and Picasso

Below are two variations on a theme…calla lilies in the garden. Here is Zone 7b, both are reliably winter hardy in the ground.

The striped-leaf selection of the winter-blooming South African native, Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘African Gold’ has looked fabulous all spring, where we have it planted in a seep, which gets full sun for 3-4 hours in the morning.

Zantedeschia ‘Picasso’ is a hybrid, created using several of the summer-flowering South African native calla lily species. Here it is in our garden in mid-June, where it gets 4-6 hours of sun daily, and the soil stays reasonably moist.

Zantedeschia ‘Picasso’

Seeing Yellow Stars

I wonder how many folks know, have grown, or have even seen Hypoxis hirsuta…one of our US native yellow star grasses. This little native is so odd, it’s genus was kicked out of every established plant family to which it was formerly assigned…most recently Iridaceae, prior to that, Amaryllidaceae, Leucojaceae, and and now shoved off to the side into its own family, Hypoxidaceae.

The seven species native to North American are only a fraction of the 100+ species worldwide, although Europe was completely left out when this ancient genus was distributed. Below is Hypoxis hirsuta at JLBG.

Hypoxis hirsuta

South Africa also has an abundance of Hypoxis…below is Hypoxis multiceps, in flower now at JLBG. Most of the South African species we have grown are far more showy in the garden that the US natives. Part sun seems to be ideal for all the hypoxis we’ve grown, despite where they originated.

Hypoxis multiceps

Stanley Lives

It only took us five attempts to figure out how to successfully grow the North American native, Stanleya pinnata. For those who haven’t met Stanleya pinnata, it’s a native woody perennial from the Westernmost States (North Dakota west to Southern California), so it really doesn’t find the rainy southeastern US to its liking. After several siting failures (learning experiences), we have finally found a location where it is thriving, a dry sloped berm in partial shade.

Stanleya was named after Lord Earl Smith-Stanley, The English 13th Earl of Derby (1775-1851) , who was quite a naturalist and president of the Linnean Society. This Lord Stanley wasn’t the only member of the Stanley family to have important items named in his honor. The NHL Ice Hockey trophy, the Stanly Cup, is named after his relative Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley (1841-1908), who was the son of Lord Edward Smith-Stanley, The 14th Earl of Derby, so it’s all in the family…Lord have mercy.

Champion Campion

I’ve adored the perennial Lychnis coronaria (Rose Campion), since I first saw it in my grandmothers city courtyard 60 years ago, but the darn thing just produces far too many seed, which results in far too many seedlings. Imagine my joy at finding a sterile counterpart on my 2020 trip to the UK at the amazing nursery of plantsman Bob Brown.

Lychnis ‘Hill Grounds’ is actually a hybrid of Lychnis flos-jovis and Lychnis coronaria, discovered at the Hill Grounds garden of the UK’s Janet Cropley. In appearance, it’s a dead ringer for Lychnis coronaria with its lovely fuzzy silver rosettes and spikes of tacky fluroescent pink flowers, but without those pesky seed. We look forward to getting this propagated so we can share far and wide. Below are our 2 year old plants. Winter hardiness should be Zone 3-8.

Lychnis ‘Hill Grounds’

Beyond Flowers

We love the appearance of plants like agapanthus in the fall, long past the season when the showy blue flowers graced the top of each now browning stalk. In fall, it’s more like looking out on a mass of punk rock hairdos. These garden features are so much more interesting than flat beds of mulch, created far too early by garden neat freaks. This is the cultivar Agapanthus ‘Prolific Blue’ which puts on a superb fall/winter show.

Jammin’ Jame

Salvia regla ‘Jame’ (pronounced Haam-hey) is looking so wonderful this time of year. This amazing North American native (US/Mexico) was originally shared back in 2000, by the late Salvia guru, Rich Dufresne. It has adorned our gardens every year since with these amazing fall shows. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.

Saliva regla ‘Jame’

Happened on a Habenaria

Looking particularly good this week is one of the Southeast US (NC to Texas) native water orchids, Habenaria repens. This gem flowers through most of the growing season, and hasn’t slowed down as we enter November. Water spider orchid can grow both as a marginal or as a true aquatic. Our plant is growing in one of our crevice garden seeps. We’re working to get this really cool native propagated and available in the future.

Digging Cotton

Looking lovely in the garden is week is Gossypium thurberi ‘Mt. Lemmon’…our introduction of one of the progenitors of modern day cotton. On a 2005 botanical expedition, we discovered this North American native perennial hibiscus relative, known as Desert Cotton, growing in the mountains of Arizona. In the garden, it’s a superb flowering machine for late summer and early fall. Winter hardiness is probably Zone 8a and warmer.

Sleeping Beauty

We’ve written before about plants that get much larger than we are told in the catalog descriptions. Well, our latest example is Buddleia ‘Sleeping Beauty’, a hybrid of Buddleia lindleyana and Buddleia davidii. In two short years in the garden, it became a monster, reaching a 7′ tall x 12′ wide with no sign of slowing down. It was quite lovely and floriferous, but has now become a welcome member of our compost pile…sigh

The Surprises Continue

The parade of Lycoris (surprise lilies) continue into their third consecutive month as we move through September. The key for a succession of flowers is having a large number of cultivars. So far at JLBG, we have flowered 300 different cultivars this summer. Here are a few recent ones. The varieties which form fall foliage are winter hardy in Zone 7a/b and south. Those whose foliage emerges in late winter/early spring are winter hardy in Zones 4/5.

Lycoris x rosea ‘Berry Awesome’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Caldwell’s Red’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Kariwatashi’
Lycoris x rosensis ‘Colorama’
Lycoris x rosensis ‘Three Towers Mirroring the Moon’
Lycoris x sprengensis ‘Lemon Cheesecake’
Lycoris x straminea ‘August Lemon’
Lycoris x straminea ‘Caldwell’s Original’
Lycoris x straminea ‘Red Hot Lover’
Lycoris x straminea ‘Ring of Gold’

Late Summer Rains

We are fascinated with the wonderful genus zephyranthes (rain lilies). Zephyranthes are unobtrusive, summer-flowering bulbs that can fit in any garden, with a flower color ranging from yellow to white to pink. The great thing about zephyranthes is the lack of large foliage that often accompanies many other spring-flowering bulbs, so site them in the front of the border, or in a rock garden to be best appreciated.

Zephyranthes are one of our specialty collections at Juniper Level Botanic Garden, with 25 species and 257 unique clones. Here are a few of the zephyranthes blooming this morning in our alpine berm. You can view our entire zephyranthes photo gallery here.

Zephyranthes ‘Heart Throb’
Z. La Bufa Rosa group white
Z. La Bufa Rosa group
Z. ‘Star Spangled’

The Case of The Beautiful Imposter

This is one of the rare summers we actually got flowers on Amaryllis belladonna in the gardens at JLBG. The only problem is that they aren’t really Amaryllis belladonna. This poor South African native has suffered a series of nomenclatural mix ups over the last 250 years, that sadly continues today.

First was the battle over which plant really belongs to the genus name, amaryllis. The mix-up started with the grandfather of modern taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, when he published the genus name Amaryllis in 1753. In his initial publication, Linnaeus applied the name amaryllis to a group of plants, which later turned out to include at least five different genera; amaryllis, nerine, zephyranthes, sprekelia, and sternbergia. A few years later in 1819, botanist William Herbert and others tried to clean up the mess using Linnaeus’s notes, and in doing so, assigned the genus name amaryllis to the solitary South African species, Amaryllis belladonna, which had been in Western cultivation since 1633.

Fast forward 119 years to 1938, when taxonomist Cornelius Uphof upset the proverbial apple cart when he published a paper in which he declared that the assignment of the name amaryllis for the South Aftrican plant was against Linnaeus’s wishes, since it was clear to Uphof that Linnaeus intended the genus Amaryllis to be applied to the American genus, Hippeastrum. Uphof’s paper renamed the American genus Hippeastrum to Amaryllis and the South African Amaryllis belladonna became Callicore rosea. This caused quite a taxonomic uproar which would continue for another 50 years.

The following year, 1939, taxonomist Joseph Sealy dug deeper into the original amaryllis name mix-up, and found it impossible to determine which plant Linnaeus intended to bestow with the genus name, Amaryllis, since most of Linnaeus’s original description referenced the South African plant, and only one small part referenced the American plant. Consequently, Sealy left the name amaryllis to apply to the solitary Amaryllis belladonna, and not to the much larger genus Hippeastrum.

The battle was far from over, and in fact, it turned into a war, led by American taxonomist Dr. Hamilton Traub, who from 1949 until his death in 1983, was defiant that the genus name amaryllis should instead apply to the American hippeastrums. Finally, in 1987, after Traub’s death, the International Botanical Congress confirmed the assignment of the name amaryllis to the South African species. Despite this resolution to 250 years of wrangling, most gardeners still refer to the plants that they grow widely in homes and gardens for their large flowers as amaryllis and not the proper name, hippeastrum.

One would hope that the 1987 decision would be the end of the mess, but not so fast…there was yet another taxonomic snafu. Amaryllis belladonna is a plant which is widely grown throughout California, where it thrives and flowers annually. But, is it really Amaryllis belladonna? While it’s certainly not a hippeastrum, the answer is no. To solve this mix-up, let’s step back a few years, to 1841, when Australian plantsman John Bidwill, first crossed Amaryllis belladonna with another African relative, brunsvigia, creating a bi-generic hybrid that would become known as x Amargyia parkeri. Because x Amargyia parkeri had more flowers, a more radial flower head, and better vigor, it gradually replaced true Amaryllis belladonna in cultivation, especially in California. I chatted with Californian Bill Welch (Bill the Bulb Baron), the largest grower/breeder of Amaryllis belladonna, prior to his untimely death in 2019. Bill admitted that everything he grew and sold as Amaryllis belladonna was actually the hybrid x Amargyia parkeri. Nurserymen have a bad habit of using incorrect names, because they realize that names which are familiar to customers always sell better.

If that’s not confusing enough, we should add that about half of the people who grow Lycoris x squamigera, a Zone 4 hardy bulb, also have their plants also labeled as Amaryllis belladonna, which is only winter hardy from Zone 8 south. We can thank several large mail order bulb catalogs who have no interest in either correct nomenclature or correct photography for that fiasco.

To quote the late Paul Harvey, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

So, do you see why plant taxonomist generally have little hair remaining?

Mexican combo

Just caught this image of two North American (Northern Mexico) natives snuggled up closely together in the garden. At top is one of the spider lilies, Hymenocallis acutifolia, and wrapped around its ankles is Tradescantia pallida. We truly love Tradescantia pallida as a great combination-enhancing perennial that’s completely winter hardy here in Zone 7b.

Old Fashioned, but not out of Fashion

Hemerocallis ‘Autumn Daffodil’ was introduced in 1949, but remains one of the most incredible daylilies we grow here at JLBG. The 3′ tall, branched, sturdy, upright stems are topped with an abundance of amazing highly fragrant yellow flowers starting in July.

Flaming Torch of Summer

The 7′ tall, and very floriferous Hedychium ‘Flaming Torch’ is looking quite stunning today in the garden. Although they are commonly called ginger lily, they are not a true lily (genus Lilium) or a true ginger plant (genus Zingiber). Hedychiums are prized for their summer and early fall floral shows atop bold-foliaged stalks. The inflorescences are quite exotic looking, resembling clusters of orchids. Slightly moist, rich garden soils and at least 1/2 day sun are best for these hardy tropical looking plants.

Cortaderia ‘Blue Bayou’

This amazing selection of pampas grass is looking particularly stunning at JLBG this summer. This plant has had quite a few false starts in commerce, but hopefully it’s getting a bit closer to being commercially available. We love its compact nature, although it does reach 7′ in height and 10′ wide.

Proud Pedicles

Flowering this week at JLBG is the little-known, but marvelous Liriope longipedicellata ‘Grape Fizz’, thanks to the exploits of plantsman Darrell Probst. We find this tightly clumping species much more interesting than the more formal Liriope muscari or the weedy, spreading Liriope spicata, and will tolerate full sun to shade. By the way, pedicles are stalk-like structures connecting one plant part to another….in this case the flower stalk to the flowers, hence the specific epithet longipedicellata (long pedicles).

Hark…it’s Arp

Our 4.5 year old clump of Rosmarinus ‘Arp’ has become ridiculously large, as rosemary does. When we moved to our new home, Anita requested one near the kitchen door, which was a no-brainer since I am in love with both her and her rosemary chicken. Rosmarius ‘Arp’ has been one of the most winter hardy of all rosemary cultivars we’ve trialed.

Riding the Wave

Looking nice this week is this cool selection of the North American (Northern Mexico) native Manfreda undulata. All commercial forms of this are heavily spotted, but we really love this this amazingly rippled-leaf form that we picked up at Bob Brown’s wonderful UK nursery a few years ago on a UK plant roundup trip. We’ve named this seedling, Manfreda ‘Crested Surf’. Hardiness should be from Zone 7b south.

Starry Eyes

Looking good this week is Nierembergia ‘Starry Eyes’. We have special memories watching our friend Carl Schoenfeld collect cuttings of this on our 2002 botanizing trip to Argentina. While it’s only reliably winter hardy to Zone 8, it’s a flowering machine during the summer. Here it is growing in our new crevice planting near our Open House welcome tent.

Formosa Lily

One of the plants we’ve grown and loved since the early days of JLBG is the amazing Lilium formosanum. We know without looking at a calendar that early/mid August has arrived, when the large fragrant flowers grace the garden, each perched atop 5-7′ tall stalks.

Elliptical Ginger Lily

Here’s another oddity in the fabulous ginger genus, hedychium. First, Hedychium ellipticum requires shade, compared to most hedychiums that need sun to flower. Also, Hedychium ellipticum has pendant stalks, compared to the rigidly upright stalks of most more commonly grown ginger lilies. We love the elegant flower heads that adorn the garden in late July/early August. This photo is from the gardens at JLBG last week. Hardiness is Zone 7b south. Sadly, this is always a poor seller when offered by Plant Delights…perhaps people just need to see this in person to appreciate its exquisite beauty.

When it rains, it pours…I mean, flowers

Here’s our reference stock blocks of zephyranthes (rain lilies). Within 3-4 days after a rain, the beds are ablaze with what the late rain lily breeder, Fadjar Marta, called a floral blitz. We concur.

Hamilton…the flower

Just like the Broadway play, we love the plant, Boesenbergia hamiltonii. We acquired this gem from India in 2005 before it actually existed as a species. Back in the day, taxonomists who dealt only with dead, smashed plants, had created a rather large mess assigning the name Boesenbergia longiflora to every reasonably similar-looking ginger from India to Thailand. Finally, in 2013, a group of taxonomists looked at live specimens, only to discover that there were actually five different species involved in what was known as B. longiflora. Boesenbergia hamiltonii was one of those plants that came out of the divorce, which is great, since it’s the most winter hardy member of the clan. Here is our plant in light shade at JLBG, where it flowers for months during the summer.