Klein’s Cylinder Pencil Cactus

I can’t remember when I first met Cylindropuntia kleiniae, but it was somewhere back in my early years, during a family cross country drive, designed to expose us kids to the entirety of the US. I fell in love with cactus, despite being repeatedly stabbed as I tried to rescue a pad to take home.

Since that time, I’ve encountered this native of Texas, New Mexico, and into Mexico more times than I care to remember. This hardy pencil cactus is the Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree of cacti…kinda homely, but loveable in a motherly sort of way. In the garden, it forms an open 6′ specimen.

Rock on with Aloe Cooperi

July has been a great month to enjoy the floral show of the most winter hardy member of the genus Aloe. Our plant of Aloe cooperi, below, is happy as can be, growing in half day sun in our crevice garden.

Aloe cooperi

Globs of Globularia

Globularia is a genus of small, rock garden-sized plants in the Plantaginaceae family, with a native distribution centered around Mediterranean Europe. I admired these during our 2012 Balkan expedition, but it wasn’t until we constructed our crevice garden empire, that we really began to have much success with the dryland plants in our wet, humid summer climate.

We’ve now tried 15 of the 22 known globularia species, and have only lost two of those outright. While globularias are usually grown for their puffy blue, ball-shaped flowers in spring, we love species like Globularia repens for its habit as a slow-growing, dense groundcover. The key to our success is a soil mix of 50% Permatill, which is a lava-like popped slate. Hardiness Zone 4b-8a.

Globularia repens

Blowin’ in the Wind

We love the North American native ornamental grass, Nassella tenuissima! The airy texture is amazing, and it looks like an extra from the move Twister, even in the slightest breeze. Here’s a recent image from the gardens. It stops growing in summer, re-emerging when the worst of the heat has passed in fall. As you can see, it flowers for us in late spring. Hot sun, good air movement, and well-drained soils are the keys to success.

Nassella tenuissima

Check out this Kickin’ Bouteloua

The ornamental grass genus Bouteloua gained a huge rise in popularity with the introduction of David Salman’s 2010 introduction, Bouteloua¬†gracilis¬†‘Blonde Ambition‘. While David’s selection hasn’t thrived in our heat and humidity, one of Patrick’s Texas collections has thrived.

Bouteloua chondrosioides hails from West Texas south into Mexico, but surprisingly, doesn’t appear to be in horticultural cultivation. We’ve only had our plants in trial for 1 year, but the 15″ tall clumper sure is looking good so far. Dry, well-drained soil and full sun are the keys for success. It’s in flower this week as you can see below.

Bouteloua chondrosioides

Getting a Handle on Handelia

Here’s another of those plants that virtually no one has either grown or even knows about. Handelia trichophylla is a little-known monotypic member of the aster family (Asteraceae). Not only does it have hairy, silver foliage, which usually spells certain death in our summers, but it hails from the “stans”, which include the low rainfall countries of Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Pakistan, Tadzhikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Xinjiang. Our particular plant is from a seed collection in Tadzhikistan.

We would not typically expect anything native to the “stans” to survive in the hot, humid Southeastern US, but this is why we experiment, and why we create unique habitats and microclimates in our garden. In this case, Handelia has thrived for four years in our crevice garden, where it grows in a soil mix of 50% Permatill.

Handelia trichophylla

Fab in the Garden

Flowering now in the garden is the little-known South American (Chile/Argentina) cousin of tomatoes/potatoes, Fabiana imbricata. This oddity doesn’t have anything that we’d call true leaves. Instead, the upright stalks are clothed in evergreen green scales, and the stalks are topped with clusters of these unique honey-scented flowers. We found that dry, well-drained, partially sunny sites work best in our climate. This is a fun plant to take to Master Garden class and see who can identify it. It’s sometimes seen under the name South American False Heather, although it’s no relation to real heather. Hardiness is Zone 7b-9b.

Thus, Diane

In the hot, humid south, the word Dianthus is jokingly translated as “prepare to die”. As of this spring, we’ve grown 169 different dianthus taxa (different accessions). Of those, most are dead, a few are hanging on, and then a much smaller subset are absolutely thriving. Below are a few images from the spring garden of some (but not all) which are thriving spectacularly.

The first image is Dianthus anatolicus, planted in 2020. Virtually unknown by most gardeners, this species is native from the Black Sea region into the West Himalayas. Typically, plants from this region don’t thrive in our heat and humidity, so this was a pleasant surprise. This is growing in our typical compost amended garden loam.

Dianthus anatolicus

Dianthus arenarius is a Baltic Sea species that has thrived for us since 2018 in our crevice garden.

Dianthus arenarius

Dianthus Dianthus kuschakewiczii, aka: D.tianshanicus, a Central Asian native, has also fared amazingly well in our compost ammended beds since 2015. The idea that this tolerates our heat and humidity is quite shocking.

Dianthus kuschakewiczii

Dianthus plumarius is a well-known garden species, originating from the Northwest Balkan peninsula. It has been grown as a pass-along perennial throughout the Southeastern US for over a century. This species has been cultivated in the UK since 1100AD, and in the US since 1676. Our clone is one that has been passed along in the Birmingham, Alabama area.

Dianthus plumarius ‘Birmingham’

The horticultural world has been replete with an array of dianthus hybrids through the years. We’ve managed to kill quite a few, but the ones below have been exceptional in our tough conditions. Dianthus ‘Bright Light’ (aka: Dianthus Uribest52), is a Korean hybrid from the breeding firm, Uriseed, which was derived from crossing Dianthus alpinus (from the Alps) with Dianthus callizones from Romania. Our clumps have been in since 2018, and excelled in unirrigated sections of the garden. This is one of the finest garden dianthus we’ve ever grown.

Dianthus ‘Bright Light’

Dianthus ‘Cherry Charm’ is a Dutch hybrid of Dianthus gratiopolitanus , which has been every bit as exceptional as Dianthus ‘Bright Light’. Our clumps, which are now four years old are nothing short of outstanding.  

Dianthus ‘Cherry Charm’

Dianthus ‘White Crown’ is the smallest of the excellent performing selections in our trial. We have had this in the crevice garden since 2017, growing in 3′ of Permatill, so we doubt this would thrive in typical garden soils. This is a Wrightman Gardens introduction of unknown parentage.

Dianthus ‘White Crown’

White Hot Snap

The Spanish snapdragon, Antirrhinum glutinosum ‘White Hot’ looks great in the garden this month. For us, this is one of the longest-living snapdragon species, provided the soil is well-drained and remains fairly dry. The more typically sold Antirrhinum majus simply doesn’t thrive through our hot, humid summers.

Antirrhinum glutinosum ‘White Hot’

Carolina Bluebonnets

Looking lovely now at JLBG are two species of Texas blue bonnets; Lupinus subcarnosus (top) and Lupinus texensis ‘Abbott PInk’ (bottom). Both are winter annual species that dot the Texas highways in spring. These are on of a very short list of annuals that we allow in the garden.

These have returned for us for 20 years. The key is to plant the seed in a dry area, especially one that is mixed with Permatill. The seed germinates in late fall, and the plants flower the following spring.

Lupinus subcarnosus
Lupinus texensis ‘Abbott Pink’

Hacking Characias

If you’ve driven through the any of the Mediterranean countries in spring, you are undoubtedly familiar with the common Mediterranean spurge, Euphorbia characias (ker-ack-iss). For years, I admired this in virtually every English garden book, but always failed in my attempts to keep it alive in our garden.

Years later, it finally hit me what I was doing wrong. Euphorbia characias is a short-lived perennial – think 3-4 years max. I was purchasing clonal selections and expecting them to last, while not providing an environment where they would be prone to reseeding, which ensures that you actually keep the plant around. Despite needing to reseed to survive, it’s not a plant that’s prone to getting out of hand.

Euphorbia characias like dry, well-drained soils, especially those that are gravelly. We have also discovered that rich, amended beds also allow for reseeding as long as aren’t heavily irrigated. Now, we allow the seed heads to remain until the seed have dropped, at which time they are cut back to the blue foliage. We have found that leaving the seed heads on the plant too long actually shortens the plants already short lifespan.

Euphorbia characias

Not only is Euphorbia characias an incredible ornamental, but it also has the longest duration of use in Western medicine. Recent research has found the plant to have a wide array of medicinal compounds. These compounds have activity as antioxidants, as pesticides (both anti-viral and anti-microbial), as wound healers, to treat hypoglycemia, as an anti-aging agent (preventing free radical chain reactions), and as a disease (HIV) enzyme inhibitor. I’d say, that’s a pretty impressive resume. Hardiness is Zone 7a-10b.

Depressed Massonia

11 degrees F was a bit more than our clump of Massonia depressa had hoped for. Although the cold temperatures burned a bit of one leaf, it not only survived, but is now in full flower. That’s pretty amazing for a South African bulb that Wikipedia authoritatively states “does not tolerate freezing temperatures”. Rock on!

Massonia depressa in the rock garden
Massonia depressa

Golden Limo

Looking wonderful in the fall garden is the evergreen Choisya ‘Limo’, known commercially as Goldfingers choisya. This gold-leaved selection is from a cross of two Southwest US native shrubs, Choisya arizonica and Choisya ternata, subsequently referred to as Choisya x dewitteana. The genus Choisya is named to honor the late Swiss botanist/philosophy professor Jacques Denis Choisy (1799-1859) This gold-foliaged selection from the UK’s Peter Moore forms a 3′ tall shrub in 5 years.

The fragrant white clusters of axillary flowers adorn the plant starting in April (NC). We have our specimen planted in a full sun rock garden, where it thrives in very well-drained soils. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.

Image of the evergreen Choisya x dewitteana 'Limo'
Choisya x dewitteana ‘Limo’

Agave ‘Prince of Whales’

Our 2016 century plant hybrid is looking quite lovely in the garden this month. This plant, which we named Agave x victorifolia ‘Prince of Whales’, is a hybrid of the Whale’s tongue century plant, Agave ovatifolia (male parent), and the Queen Victoria century plant, Agave victoriae-reginae (female parent).

Since both parents are non-offsetting, this means that the offspring will grow to maturity, flower, then die. Consequently, in order to be able to propagate and share, we will have to drill out the central core of the plant to trick in to offset. While this ruins the appearance of the original, it’s the only way for this to ever be shared and preserved. This plant has been in the ground since 2018, so we expect to have another eight years (guessing) prior to flowering. Consequently, so we’ll probably gamble on waiting a few more years before performing surgery. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.

Agave x victorifolia Prince of Whales
Agave x victorifolia ‘Prince of Whales’

Below is a photo of both parents.

Agave ovatifolia
Agave ovatifolia
Agave victoriae-reginae
Agave victoriae-reginae

A Sage Old Texan

Blooming recently at JLBG is Patrick’s compact, silver-leaf collection of Leucophyllum frutescens from Uvalde, Texas. Leucophyllum frutescens is an evergreen, dryland shrub to 5′ tall, which bursts into an amazing show of flowers after summer rains. We’ve long-loved leucophyllums, but had failed in several attempts to grow them…0 for 7 prior to this attempt with his collection. Our plants have been in the ground for just over a year, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed for long-term success. They key to success is very good drainage in both summer and winter.

Leucophyllum frutescens flowering
Leucophyllum frutescens blooming

Purr-fect Pussy Toes

We love the miniature silver mats of Antennaria parviflora (little-leaf pussytoes). This little-known North American native (Canada south to Arizona) forms a tiny, 1″ tall groundcover that’s hard to the touch. In spring, the patch is topped with short fuzzy spikes of brush-like white flowers. The plant below, which measures 1′ in width, is only 18 months old from seed, and is growing in our rock garden in a well-drained mix of 50% Permatill. Hardiness is Zone 4b-7b.

Image of a mat of Antennaria parviflora (little-leaf pussytoes)
Antennaria parviflora (little-leaf pussytoes)

Stingray in the Garden

We love the spineless Agave bracteosa ‘Stingray’ in the garden. We’ve had these dotted throughout the garden since 2017, and so far, with good drainage, they’ve handled our winters quite well, which is certainly not normal for a variegated century plant. This particular species prefers part sun to light shade. Hardiness is Zone 7b/8a and warmer.

Agave bracteosa Stingray in the garden
Agave bracteosa ‘Stingray’ in the garden

Hot Ice Plants

Delosperma cooperi and Delosperma ‘Kelaidis’ have formed a lovely union in our crevice garden, where they grow in pure Permatill gravel. The key to growing ice plants in a hot, humid, rainy climate is excellent drainage.

Formanek’s Bellflower

The Greek bellflower, Campanula formanekiana has been superb in the crevice garden this spring. This amazing monocarpic (dies after flowering) species take three years to flower, and when it does, it puts on one heck of show. It’s namesake was Czech botanist, Eduard Formanek (1845-1900). We’re hoping for a good seed set. Hardiness is Zone 7a-9a, at least.

Check out our pricks

Spring is unquestionable peak cactus flowering season at JLBG. Although many of you are familiar with our large opuntia (prickly pear) collection, we thought we’d focus on the more diminutive barrel cactus, which you will see if you visit during our spring open house. Keep in mind that most close at night, not reopening until 10am-noon the following day. The photos below are just a tiny sample of the cacti that will be in flower.

Echinocereus adjustus
Echinocereus reichenbachii var. major Teddy Bear
Echinocereus viridiflorus
Escobaria albicolumnaria
Escobaria dasycanthus
Escobaria orcuttii
Rebutia miniscula ‘Senilis’

Asparagus kissin’ cousin

Ok…raise your hand if you’ve grown Aphyllanthes monspeliensis? This odd, monotypic (only member of the genus) is actually a member of the Asparagus family. Hailing from France south into Northern Africa, Aphyllanthes can be found growing in hot, dry, sandy soils, where it produces an amazing spring show of blue flowers on a 1′ tall clumper. The species name “monspeliensis” is named after Montpellier, France, where it grows naturally. Our plants are thriving in our crevice garden, putting on a superb flower show in mid-April.