Here’s a winter-flowering shrub that few people have grown. Flowering now in the garden is the evergreen Chimonanthus zhejiangensis, a little-known relative to the more popular, deciduous Chimonanthus praecox. This is a small genus of only six species in the Calycanthaceae family, all native to China. Our plants originated from seed from the Shanghai Botanical Garden.
While we value it for its uniqueness, rarity in the wild, and winter flowering appeal, we can’t see this ever becoming a horticultural staple, due to it rank growth habit to 6′ each year, and it’s maturing size of 15′ tall x 15′ wide. The fragrance is also quite musty, and probably not something that would appeal to the masses.
We continue to be impressed with the continuing parade of new selections of sterile lenten roses, in particular, the clones of Helleborus x iburgensis. These fascinating hybrids that originated at RD plants in England, are crosses of Helleborus x ballardiae (niger x lividus) x Helleborus x hybridus. In other words, these hybrids have up to 5-7 different species in each.
Because two of the parents, Helleborus niger and Helleborus lividus, both have outfacing flowers, the flowers on the Iburgensis hybrids all carry that trait. Additionally, most every lenten rose cross with Helleborus niger is effectively sterile. Interestingly, Helleborus niger is the most cold hardy of all lenten rose species, while Helleborus lividus is the least cold hardy, but the most heat tolerant.
Below are a series of photos from the gardens here over the last few weeks of some of the clones we have tried. We find these an exceptional group, many with pink to cream variegation, that should be much more widely grown. Hardiness is Zone 5a-8b, at least.
Flowering in the garden this week is our Macon, Georgia collection of the southeast US native Asarum arifolium ‘Macon Jars’. Other forms of A. arifolium from further north in it’s range won’t be flowering for several more weeks. We trim the old anise-scented foliage of our asarums so we can better enjoy the amazing floral show of this native woodland perennial. The new leaves will emerge in just a matter of days.
One of our favorite borage family members, Trachystemon orientalis is flowering this week in the woodland garden. Native to Bulgaria and Turkey, this late winter-flowering groundcover is quite tough. The foliage dies away in fall, but not long before the emergence of flowers and a new round of foliage. Hardiness Zone 6a-8b.
We love the Eastern US native, false rue anemone, flowering now in the woodland garden at JLBG. This is one of the great winter flowering perennials, which we feel should be a part of every shade garden. The plant below has been thriving for decades under a grove of giant black walnut trees. Depending on where within its native range from Minnesota south to Florida, the genetics originated, it starts flowering from late January to early March.
Isopyrum biternatum is the midst of a bitter custody battle with the genus Enemion, but there hasn’t been any new DNA work since the early days of the field, when the sole use of chloroplast DNA gave us a number of incorrect name changes that were later retracted. Until we see some nuclear DNA results, we’re leaving it in the genus isopyrum.
Flowering for the last week in the garden is the lovely winter iris, Iris reticulata ‘Painted Lady’. Iris reticulata is unusual in that it has bulbs instead of rhizomes. In the wild, it calls home the dry regions from Turkey to Iran. These spring ephemeral iris go to sleep for the year by late spring/early summer. Hardiness is Zone 5a-8b, at least.
Galanthophila, an obsession with snowdrops of the genus Galanthus, is spreading almost as fast as COVID did through both Europe and North America. While we love and value galanthus for their flowering in the winter garden, we’ve yet to take the plunge into full-fledged galanthophilia, which results in people sacrificing meals to have the latest new name in snowdrops for their garden. For serious galanthophiles, it’s not unusual to pay from $100 to $10,000 to have the latest, greatest selections. Although there isn’t a cure, the 12-step program seems to be able to help some gardeners keep this addiction in remission.
Here are a couple of specimens that are looking quite nice in the garden this week. Galanthus ‘Viridapice’ has been around since the 1920s, while Galanthus ‘Beth Chatto’ dates from the 1960s. Despite their advanced age, these gems have stood the test of time. All galanthus will go dormant in late spring.
Here are some of the latest crop of amazing Helleborus x hybridus to flower in the garden. If you attend our Winter Open Nursery and Garden this week or next, you will see these in person. Plant Delights will also have a pretty incredible crop of these for sale during the open house days. We hope to see you in person!
Our plants of the shrubby Distyllum myricoides has been in stunning flower for the last few weeks. This fascinating evergreen shrub, mostly native to China, is in the same family, Hamamelidaceae, as its’ better-known cousins, Hamamelis (witch hazel) and Fothergilla (witch alder).
Due to the breeding efforts of Dr. Michael Dirr, distyllum has actually begun to show up in box stores…something that was unthinkable two decades earlier. We love it for the evergreen foliage, but what really excites us is the amazing winter floral show as you can see below.
Flowering now is one of our favorite native witch hazels, the semi-dwarf, Ozark witch hazel, Hamamelis vernalis ‘Quasimodo’. This amazing gem was discovered and introduced by the late Dutch nurseryman, Pieter Zwijnenburg. I would argue that this is a far more significant introduction than his much better known Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’. Our 8-year-old specimen is now 5′ tall x 5′ wide. Not only does the compact size fit in most gardens, but the density of the deliciously fragrant flowers is unparalleled in the genus.
Flowering today is the deliciously fragrant Mahonia gracilis, a little-known species from the mountains of northern Mexico. Maturing at 8′ tall x 12′ wide, this evergreen species burst into full flower usually in late January/early February. The flowers buds have great resistance to cold snaps after they open, and the overpoweringly sweet fragrance is legendary. Virtually all of the mahonias in commerce in the Southeast US are from China, so this is quite different from those. In 30 years of growing these, we have never seen a single garden seedling. Hardiness is Zone 7b-9a, at least.
New colors of Helleborus x hybridus are opening daily, so here are a few shots from the garden today, showing the incredible range of colors that are available. We hope you can join us for our upcoming Winter Open Nursery and Garden and enjoy these in person.
Looking great for the last couple of weeks in the garden are the double forms of the Christmas rose, one of the first hellebores to bloom in the garden. This clump of Helleborus niger ‘Snowbells’ is looking particularly nice. Hardiness zone 3a to 7b.
I’m betting that even the most seasoned plant collectors probably haven’t grown or even heard of Urophysa henryi. This odd generic member of the Ranunculaceae family hails from China, where it can be found only in a very few scattered populations, hanging out from cliff-side karst rock fissures in Guizhou, Sichuan, Western Hubei and into Northwestern Hunan.
Urophysa henryi is very closely related to the highly prized, but rather difficult to grow, rock garden plant, Semiquilegia adoxoides. I was particularly interested to read in a 2021 Chinese research paper, “In field observations and laboratory experiments, we found that U. rockii and U. henryi can not survive outside the karst limestone, which indicated that the karst limestone plays a significant role in their growth and development.” This is why you never send a botanist to do a horticulturist’s job!
In our garden, sans the Karst limestone, it has thrived in our rock garden, not blinking this year at 11F. The 4″ tall x 6″ wide evergreen clumps of columbine-like foliage are topped with clusters of small, outfacing white flowers, which resemble our native Isopyrum biternatum, Like Isopyrum, Urophysa flowering starts for us in early January, and continues through March. We think these are an outstanding addition to the winter garden and are going to do our best to get these propagated to share before words gets out that they can’t be grown in cultivation.
The earliest of the lenten roses, Helleborus x hybridus, have just opened. Depending on the genetics of each clone, they will continue to open until mid-March. Flowering on each variety continues for many weeks to over a month if the temperatures remain cool. Only a few weeks remain before our Winter Open Nursery and Garden, when you can visit and see these first hand in the garden, and even select your own flowering plants from our on-site nursery, Plant Delights.
Looking and smelling scrumptious in the garden today is Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Orange Peel’. This splendid hybrid of Hamamelis mollis (China) x Hamamelis japonica (Japan) comes from Belgium’s Kalmthout Arboretum. I don’t know that I’ve ever smelled a witch hazel this sweet.
We love camellias, but we really love the amazing banded leaf, variegated camellias, of which we’ve assembled a decent collection. Here is our plant of Camellia japonica ‘Taiyo’ in the garden now, which is just absolutely striking.
Mahonias have long been garden staples, but few people have ever seen or tried the rare Mahonia russellii. Discovered in 1984 in Vera Cruz, Mexico by the UK’s James Russell, this member of the “paniculate” clan of mahonias is more closely related to other Southern Mexico and Central American species, than anything most of us grow in our gardens. In other words, there is no way we should be able to grow this outdoors.
Below is our specimen flowering in the garden just prior to our low of 11 degrees F and three consecutive nights in the teens. Surprisingly, it escaped with what appears to be minor foliar damage, and of course a loss of the floral show.
During the holidays, house plants often get relegated to dark, unattended corners, but some house plants make great holiday decorations without any special seasonal input. One of those is the Taiwan native cast iron plant, Aspidistra attenuata. Here are 3 clones in our collection, all photographed this year on Christmas day. In order, they are Aspidistra attenuata ‘Alishan Broad’, ‘Dungpu Dazzler’, and ‘Taiwan Treasure’. These are but a few of the amazing cast iron plant species and cultivars that are sadly ignored commercially. We think they’re pretty cool.
Flowering in the garden this week is the fascinating, but little-known Houstonia procumbens. This Southeastern US coastal native (South Carolina west to eastern Louisiana) is a spreading, winter flowering bluet. We collected cuttings in Clay County, Florida in 2003, and this patch has been thriving in our sunny alpine garden since then, forming a 1.5′ wide patch.
A first cousin to the better known aroid, arisaema is the lesser known aroid, arisarum. While arisaema has a distribution that is primarily North American and Asian, arisarum is primarily European. We planted our first arisarums back in 1994, and since then have tried quite a few and killed quite a few. The best species for our climate is Arisarum vulgare, a Mediterranean native, found naturally in the countries of Albania, Algeria, Baleares, Corsica, Crete, Cyprus, East Aegean Islands, France, Greece, Italy, Lebanon-Syria, Morocco, Palestine, Sardinia, Sicily, Sinai, Spain, Transcaucasus, Turkey, and the former Yugoslavia.
With such a wide range of occurrence, some forms are naturally going to be more adaptable to our Zone 7b climate than others. The star in our trials has been a 2010 Crete collection of Arisarum vulgare from near the town of Lakki. From a tiny rhizome piece, it has spread to a 3′ wide patch. Like its’ other cousin, arum, arisarum goes summer dormant, re-emerging in fall. All of the previous forms of Arisarum vulgare we’ve grown have flowered only in early spring, but this amazing form flowers quite well every fall, in addition to being incredibly vigorous. We’ve just dug some of our patch today, and will work on propagating them for a future PDN catalog under the name Arisarum vulgare ‘Lady Lakki’. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
I’m going to go out and a limb and guess that few people grow Colletia paradoxa…commonly known as anchor plant. Colletia was named to honor French botanist Philibert Collet (1643-1718). I’m not quite sure what we find so fascinating about this botanical oddity, but something causes us to be drawn to a plant with large spines, no leaves and a terrible form. Perhaps it’s the lightly fragrant winter flowers that are just beginning.
Colletia paradoxa hails from scrubby dry hillsides in Southern Brazil and Uruguary, which have yielded so many amazing, well-performing plants for our Zone 7b climate. Bright sun and a baking dry site are the keys to success. Instead of producing leaves, Colletia is clothed with triangular cladodes, similar to plants in the genus Ruscus. Colletia is not related to Ruscus, however, but instead is a member of the buckthorn family, Rhamnaceae. Because colletia is native to nutritionally poor soils, it evolved to fix nitrogen, which is more common in the legume family.
We love Sundays in late fall and early winter when we can observe brilliant performances from both Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, as well as his plantsake, Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’. Here’s a 6 year-old clump in full bloom now in the JLBG gardens. This is a superb way for honeybees to get needed nectar in an otherwise difficult time of year. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
I’ve posted about daphnes a couple of times this year, but can’t help post again now that we’re in December and still have two daphnes in full flower, despite two nights at 25 degrees F.
The top is Daphne collina from Southern Italy, and the bottom is Daphne x napolitana ‘Bramdream’…a hybrid of Daphne collina x Daphne cneorum var. pygmaea. These are growing in our dry crevice garden in a soil mix of 50% Permatill gravel. It seems obvious that the Daphne collina is the source of the continuous bloom. Winter hardiness is Zone 6a-8b (top), and Zone 5-8b (bottom).
Most folks have grown butterfly bushes in the genus buddleia, yet few garden visitors recognize this fascinating species from our 1994 botanizing trip to Northern Mexico. I should add that most buddleias on the market are developed from the Asian species, and virtually none from the less colorful North American species.
Buddleia cordata ssp. tomentella grows in rocky, bone-dry hillsides in the mountains of Northern Mexico near the town of Los Lirios at 7,000′ elevation. I was only able to find a single seed, but fortunately, it sprouted, and 28 years later, this amazing specimen is the result.
One of the cool things about Buddleia cordata ssp. tomentella is the insanely fragrant flowers, which start for us in early fall, and continue all winter…a trait you won’t find in any other temperate shrub of which we’re aware. As you can imagine, it is awash with an array of pollinator insects The flower color is a dusty white, so this will never be a plant that will make it to the shelves of your favorite box store. That said, it’s a plant we wouldn’t be without in our garden.
Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Snow Cream’ is a 2000 Juniper Level Botanic Garden/Plant Delights introduction that has proven to be one of our most popular introductions. We made the original selection from a group of seed-grown plants, imported from China by Canada’s Piroche Plants in the late 1990s. We were drawn to this seedling because of the particularly large flowers, and large leaves that reminded us of a plumeria. Let me be clear that all Edgeworthia chrysantha seedlings are nice, but there is certainly a significant difference between flower and leaf sizes of seed-grown plants.
Below are photos from our winter open nursery and garden days this year, where our garden specimens never cease to amaze visitors with both its sweetly scented flowers and amazing floral show. Sadly, no matter how many we propagate, it never seems to be enough to meet the demand. A more open site results in a much better floral show. Hardiness is Zone 7a – 10b.
It was great during our recent winter open house to see so many folks noticing the aucubas in the garden. Of course, they are hard to miss with our collection of over 140 different taxa. There are few evergreen plants better for year-round interest in dry shade than aucuba. Here is one of the most fascinating ones that’s in flower now in early March, Aucuba himalaica var. dolichophylla. This little-known, narrow-leaf species hails from 3,000′ elevation in several southern Chinese provinces. Winter hardiness Zone 7a-9b, and perhaps a bit colder.
Flowering this week at JLBG is the amazing cherry red Hamamelis japonica ‘Tsukubana-kurenai’, also known as Shibamichi’s Red witch hazel. This gem was selected by legendary Japanese nurseryman, Akira Shibamichi, who also introduced Metasequoia ‘Ogon’. We were blessed to have Mr. Shibamichi visit JLBG back in the 1990s.
Spring crocus are popping all through the garden, and it’s a challenge to photograph them all. We just happened to recently catch Crocus isauricus ‘Spring Beauty’ in full flower. Crocus isauricus (formerly Crocus biflorus ssp. isauricus) is an endemic to Southern Turkey in the region along the Mediterranean Sea.
Here are an assortment of Iris species flowering at JLBG during the last week of February. So many folks only know the bearded iris of later spring, and miss these amazing winter gems. Join us this weekend for our Winter Open Nursery & Garden Days and explore our winter blooming iris.
The first is Iris tuberosa, a winter blooming tuberous iris from Mediterranean Europe. Iris tuberosa is one of the few examples, where a Latinized name change actually results in something that’s easier to pronounce. This gem was formerly known by the tongue twisting name, Hermodactylus tuberosus. Most iris grow from rhizomes, with the tuberous iris being a much smaller and less-known group. We have found these to grow best in part sun. Winter hardiness Zone 7b-10b.
The West-Asian (Caucuses, Iran, Turkey, and Russia) Iris reticulata is also different, in that it grows from a bulb. These are quite easy to grow, and are available commercially in a number of named color forms. Below is Iris reticulata ‘Painted Lady’…looking stunning today. The reticulate (netted) iris grow best in full to part sun. Hardiness is Zone 3-8.
We’ve shown some of the Mediterranean Iris unguicularis recently, but here are a couple more looking particularly nice this week…Iris ‘Front Drive’ (top) and Iris ‘Winter Echos’ below. Hardiness for both is Zone 6b-9b.
Flowering now in the woodland garden is this rad little windflower, Anemone raddeana. This Asian native (China, Japan, Korea, and Russia) is a plant you’ll almost never see for sale. First, it flowers in the middle of winter when few people are thinking about gardening. Secondly, it’s ridiculously small, producing only a single white flower per stalk, which rises only a couple of inches from a slowly creeping rhizome. Third, it’s a spring ephemeral, meaning it will be dormant by the first of May. Finally, most people move through life too fast to even notice little gems like this. That said, if you like things like this, this is exactly the kind of thing you’ll really like. We certainly do!
Few people know the fascinating native shrub, Dirca palustris. It’s little wonder it gets overshadowed by showier members of its family, Thymelaeaceae, which includes the likes of Daphne and Edgeworthia. Our 6′ tall plant is flowering alongside a large edgeworthia, and rarely gets noticed by visitors.
Dirca palustris, the plant, is actually widespread across Eastern North America, with a range from Canada to Florida, where it thrives in slightly moist, acidic soils. It’s often known as leatherwood, due to its thick, but very pliable branches, which have been used by Native Americans for making rope as well as baskets.
There are three other less poorly known dirca species…if that’s possible. We grow the rare Dirca decipiens from Kansas/Arkansas, but have not yet tried D. occidentalis from California, or D. mexicana from Mexico.
The genus takes its name from the Dirce in Greek Mythology, who bit the big one while tied to the horns of a bull….a truly sordid story. The specific epithet “palustris”, lacks the fascinating story of the genus, but only means that the plant naturally lives in very wet sites. Winter hardiness is Zone 3-9.
When people think of trilliums, they usually think of the cold north, but states like Florida are also home to four species of trilliums which all thrive throughout the southeastern states. Here are two of the earliest species to flower in our garden.
The first is Trillium maculatum ‘Kanapaha Giant’ from Alachua County. This is consistently the earliest trillium to emerge and flower for us. This is followed close behind by Trillium underwoodii. Both of these are usually in flower by early February.
We’ll never be accused of being galanthophiles (folks who are hopelessly addicted to collecting galanthus cultivars), but we do love the genus, and are fascinated with these mostly winter-flowering bulbs. Here are a couple in full flower now at JLBG. These have a preference for slightly moist-to-average woodland conditions.
Below are more of the Ice n’ Roses snow roses flowering now in the gardens at JLBG. These amazing sterile hybrids were created in Germany by the Heuger plant breeding company. They have proven fabulous in our trials, but are still often difficult to find due to the screwy production cycle.
Because these snow roses, as Heuger calls them, are clonal and sterile, they can only be commercially produced by tissue culture, which is all done overseas. The non-rooted microplants are shipped in sterile containers to the US, where they are received at rooting stations (nurseries capable of putting roots on these microplants).
There are only three North American rooting stations used by Heuger, one in Canada, and one on each of the US coasts. Once the microplants have roots and have grown large enough, they are purchased by finish growers, who pot and grow them for 2-3 months before they are a saleable size.
For a finish grower or retail nursery to have plants available to sell in late winter or early spring, they would need to receive liners (small plants with roots) from the rooting stations in September/October. The problem is that these rooting stations usually get their unrooted microplants from overseas in fall, when their losses are less and the plants finish faster.
Consequently, these rooting stations only have plants available for the finish growers from February – April. This means that the finish grower and retailer will only have plants ready to sell at the beginning of summer, which is certainly not ideal unless you live in the northern tier of states or Canada.
The only option a finished grower has is to hold the plants through the summer and fall, to have them available in the late winter flowering season. This drives up the crop cost dramatically, since a nursery has an overhead cost per square foot per month of growing space. Until a change is dictated by the grower throughout the supply chain, it is unlikely that the supply will be able to keep up with the potential demand. Anyone think making plants available is easy?
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.
Every year, we grow thousands of lenten roses from our own seed collections in the garden. Most, we sell at our Winter Open Nursery and Garden as Helleborus x hybridus ‘Winter Delights’. All of our Winter Delights hellebores are hand selected by color after they flower. Every now and then, an incredibly unique form gets pulled for the gardens and here is one of those from a few years ago. This amazing plant has huge 3.5″ wide flowers, and was already in full flower by January 1. We hope everyone can visit our upcoming Winter Open House and see the amazing hellebore selections in the garden.
This winter has been an amazing one at JLBG for the mid-winter flowering, evergreen magnolias. Formerly known as Michelia, there are several species from warm temperature Asian climates, which flower in the mid-winter. The plant in the top photo is our oldest specimen of Magnolia platypetala, and below is Magnolia macclurei…both planted in 1999, and in full flower in January. Obviously, we will loose open flowers if winter night temperatures drop too far below freezing, but the remainder of the flower buds usually open shortly after temperatures warm.
Also, the bright gold shrub in the first image is the original plant of our introduction, Illicium parviflorum ‘Florida Sunshine’…the plant from which all plants in the world were propagated. To the lower right is the Mediterranean native, Phlomis fruticosa ‘Miss Grace’. All in all, a lovely winter garden combination.
Another of the mid-winter flowering species of wild ginger is the Chinese Asarum ichangense. Here is a green leaf form of this easy-to-grow wild ginger in late January from the top. If you push aside the leaves, you’ll see the amazing floral show, hidden beneath. Winter hardiness in Zone 6b-8b, and possibly colder.
The Helleborus x gladorfensis hybrids, known as the “Ice n’ Roses” series have begun with the opening of Helleborus ‘Ice n’ Roses Barolo’. This is the earlies flowering and darkest clone in the series…just a shade darker than H. ‘Ice n’ Roses Red’. These are sterile hybrids derived from crossed of Helleborus niger with Helleborus x hybridus. Winter hardiness is Zone 5a-8b.
Asarum hypogynum ‘Artist’s Palette’ is in full flower here at JLBG in late January. Despite being first published in 1915, this little-known species is very poorly represented in ex-situ plant collections worldwide. Our clone is a division from a wild plant we brought back from our 2008 botanical expedition to Taiwan. The foliage on this species is some of the largest in the entire genus. For us, Asarum hypogynum starts flowering in late summer and continues most of the winter. We are working to eventually be able to share this with other collectors. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
We truly love loquats…both to grow and consume. I first met Eriobotrya japonica in 1976 on a walk around the NC State campus with the late Dr. JC Raulston. I was amazed to see a mature 30’+ specimen growing against one of the campus buildings. I was determined to grow one of our own, so in the mid 1990s, we planted our first specimen here at JLBG.
Loquats, a Chinese native member of the rose family, makes a lovely small tree with large, evergreen foliage that resembles a corrugated Magnolia grandiflora. Another exceptional feature is the fragrant white flowers that start to open around Christmas. These are followed by delicious orange fruit in early spring, when winter temperatures don’t drop below the mid-teens F. Loquat foliage is also brewed as a tea, in addition to its numerous medicinal benefits. We have always found loquats to be much more winter hardy than most of the literature indicates. Our oldest specimen planted in 1997, has never experienced any winter damage. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
Quite a few really smart horticulturists told us we didn’t have a chance of succeeding with Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’ in our climate. We’ll, we’re almost 2 years in the ground with this New Zealand hybrid of Daphne bholua x Daphne odora. It’s already full of flowers, where it’s thriving in our crevice garden. In the sense of full disclosure, we’ve never been able to keep the Daphne bholua parent alive. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer to at least Zone 8b.
In full flower now at JLBG is Mahonia x lindsayae ‘Cantab’, a hybrid of Mahonia japonica and the virtually unknown Mahonia siamensis. The intensely sweet fragrance is truly intoxicating…the strongest in the genus Mahonia. Sadly, you’ll rarely find this available for sale, since it’s somewhat gangly form doesn’t curry favor with most nursery growers. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
Camellia japonica ‘Tama no Ura’ has been fabulous this winter, both when the flowers are attached as well as when they just fall to the ground below. This amazing plant was actually discovered in the wilds of China, so no breeding was involved in its creation. It was subsequently introduced to horticulture in 1947 by the Nuccio family of California, who have since worked to create a series of similar flowered selections using these same genetics…all superb.
There aren’t a large number of trees that flower in winter in temperate climates, but one we can’t imagine gardening without is Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’. This amazing Mediterranean native has thrived for us since the late 1980s.
Arbutus is a member of the Ericaceae family, which is why the flower so closely resemble those of its cousin, Pieris.
The clusters of red fruit that ripen in late winter after months of flowering resembles miniature strawberries, hence the common name of strawberry tree. The shaggy cinnamon bark is also another striking ornamental feature. Our 30 year old specimen has reached 12′ tall x 12′ wide. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
Starring in the rock garden in early December is the amazing Allium virgunculae ‘Alba’. This delightful dwarf allium to 8″ tall is similar to the better known and slower offsetting Japanese Allium thunbergii. Allium virgunculae, which typically has lavender flowers, hails from Japan’s far south Kyushu Island.
Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’ is one of our favorite garden shrubs for its’ golden summer foliage, but we also adore it for it’s late winter/early spring floral show. Here it is at JLBG this week before the golden foliage emerges. You can see why it’s known by the common name, Bridal wreath spirea.
Looking lovely this week is the winter flowering anise, Illicium anisatum. This clone is Illicium anisatum ‘Murasaki no Sato’, which has creamy-centered leaves and new purple growth that’s just scrumptious. The winter floral show is also truly spectacular! This is first cousin to the tender Chinese anise, Illicium verum, whose pods are used medicinally. Illicium anisatum, however, is best used only ornamentally, since it’s fruit are toxic when consumed.
We’re not sure why this sweet box is confused, but we love it nevertheless. Flowering now at JLBG with an insane fragrance emitted by the tiny white flowers. Here is our eight-year old evergreen clump in flower now.
We’ve made several hellebore posts, which are hard not to do, since they put on such a great winter show in the shade garden. Here are some of our selections of the fertile Helleborus x hybridus from the garden this week. If you made it to our winter open house, you were able to see these in person. If not, this is the best we can do until next winter, when we hope you’ll add us to your travel calendar.
Helleborus x hybridus is a mixed group from a wide range of parents including Helleborus orientalis, viridis, atrorubens, purpurescens, torquatus, and probably others. The flower color of each seedling varies based on what other colored hellebore is growing nearby in combination with the genes of it’s past lineages. In the wild, most flowers from the hellebore species listed above are pendulous, since upright or outright flowers often doesn’t bode well for successful fruit set in snowy winter climates. Through the years, breeders have made incredible progress raising the faces of the flowers, and in other cases simply colorizing the petal exterior on drooping forms. We salute the amazing hellebore breeders who keep pushing the limits of what we thought possible.
One of our most popular introductions is Edgeworthia ‘Snow Cream’…a plant we first selected back in 1995…long before more than a handful of gardeners had even heard of the Chinese native genus.
The late JC Raulston grew a plant, known then as Edgeworthia papyrifera, just outside of the arboretum lath house back in the early 1990s, when I was Curator of the Shade House. It was a fascinating plant that I remember watching each winter as the tight white buds burst into yellow flowers. There was little detectable floral fragrance, the plant never exceeded 3.5′ in height, and it suffered mightily in cold NC winters. I was still entranced by the plant and propagated several and planted them around the NC State Fairgrounds, where I worked full time.
An interesting back story is that a population of Edgeworthia papyrifera was discovered along Wolf Creek in Rabun County, Georgia back in 1971. Author Wilbur Duncan and other native plant researchers were shocked and puzzled to find this new plant growing in the wild until it was later determined to be escapees, probably circuitously from an earlier 1903 introduction by the USDA..
In June 1995, I was visiting plantsman Roger Gossler at his family nursery, Gossler Farms, in Oregon. Roger had just received a shipment of edgeworthia from Piroche Plants in Canada. Since I had tried in vain to track down Edgeworthia chrysantha, I was thrilled at my luck in finally finding it. Going through their batch of seed-grown plants, I chose one that had the largest foliage and best form, which we eventually named E. ‘Snow Cream’.
For those who don’t know the Piroche Plants story, let me share. Back in the early 1990s, Canadian nurseryman/plantsman, Pierre Piroche was able to do what no one else had been able to manage and import quite a large number of very rare, commercially unobtainable plants, both woody and perennial from China. The story goes that Piroche first established a nursery in Bhutan that was able to import plants directly from China and then ship them on to Canada. Keen plant collectors around the country scooped up these gems until the Chinese import program sadly ended a couple of years later. Without his work, who knows if and when these superb forms of Edgeworthia chrysantha would have reached the US. A plantsman’s salute is in order for Pierre Piroche.
Edgeworthia taxonomy continues to be a moving target. The long known name Edgeworthia papyrifera was shot down when DNA studies showed that it was simply the diploid form of the triploid, and earlier published Edgeworthia chrysantha. Later, researchers dug up the yet earlier published name, Edgeworthia tomentosa (formerly Magnolia tomentosa)…a name which other researchers noted, is invalid since it was not correctly published.
Some folks have tried the orange flowered edgeworthia (‘Akebono’) that shows up in the market from time to time. Sadly, it’s the non-fragrant diploid form that has very little winter hardiness. We gave up on this in the mid-1990s after killing it our prerequisite three times. I am excited to share that a new orange-flowered form of the hardy fragrant form is finally poised to hit the market in the next few years.
Below are a few shots of Edgeworthia ‘Snow Cream’ at JLBG this week in it’s full blaze of glory. The daphne-like fragrance is akin to walking by a department store fragrance counter. Because of our consistently cool winter, flowering this year is about 2-3 weeks behind normal. We have found that edgeworthia grows equally as well in light shade or part sun…as long as the soil is well drained. Mature size seems to be in the 7-8′ range. To quote the late Paul Harvery…”Now you know the rest of the story.”
After showing many of the hybrid hellebores, here’s where they started. Flowering now at JLBG is one of our Balkan collections of the stunning Helleborus multifidus ssp. hercegovinus, which we grow for the foliage. This clump was started from a single division of a special plant we found in Montenegro…just after we crossed the border from Bosnia. The small green flowers are typical for the species. This is a slow-growing, summer-dormant species, which is why your rarely see it offered. If these are growin from garden seed, you get all kinds of hybrids, but almost never any with the stunning foliage of the true species.
If you’ve never read any of our plant expedition logs, here is a link to our Balkan travels where this gem was found.
Flowering now in the winter garden at JLBG is the winter-flowering dogwood, Cornus mas ‘Golden Glory’…also known as Cornelian Cherry. We’re not sure why this isn’t more widely used, since it’s quite easy to grow. Perhaps people don’t venture into garden centers enough in the winter.
One of several breakthroughs in lenten rose breeding has been the development of the Helleborus x glandorfensis hybrids by the breeders at Germany’s Heuger hellebores. In the town of Glandorf, near the border with Netherlands, these amazing crosses of Helleborus x hybridus with Helleborus x ericsmithii (niger x lividus x argutifolius) were developed. While there are several H. x glandorfensis clones entering the market now, the first two were H. ‘Ice n Roses Red’ and ‘Ice n Roses White’, which you can see below. The special traits of the series are large, outfacing flowers, sterility, and extremely dark black-green foliage. We look forward to bring more of these excellent hybrids to markets as our trials dictate.
Many clonal plants we grow today are propagated by tissue culture…also known as micropropagation. In most cases, this involves taking tiny cuttings and growing them in a test tube filled with a goey algae product known as agar. Tissue culture allows many rare plants to be produced quickly and often inexpensively, which is great when it comes to making plants available far and wide. When vegatatively propagating plants through more conventional “macro” methods, it’s usually easy to notice when a mutation occurs. That’s not always the case in micropropagation since the plants are much smaller and don’t flower until they are grown out after leaving the lab. This is why daylily tissue culture has been disastrous. All kinds of floral mutation occur in the lab, only to be noticed years later after the plants are sold and grown out in home gardens.
All of the hellebores clones are micropropagated and so far, we have found almost no floral mutations…until this week. Below is a micropropagated double-flowered clone of the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger ‘Snow Frills’. The top image is the correct plant with two rows of petals. The bottom is a mutation we found in the garden in which the second row of petals is mutated. Honestly, we like the mutation better. As a plant producer, however, we don’t know what form we will receive in our next batch of plants from the lab, but that’s simply the nature of the process.
You know a breeder (Hueger) thinks a lot of their introduction when they give it the name ‘Champion’, and we can’t argue with their selection of this fabulous form of the sterile Helleborus x ericsmithii, flowering currently in the JLBG gardens.
It’s nothospecific namesake recognized the late English gardener/plant breeder, Eric Smith, at Buckshaw Gardens. Eric’s enduring claim to fame are the Hosta x tardiana series of blue-foliaged hostas, most notably Hosta ‘Halcyon’. Smith was also a prolific breeder of helleborus and one that he first pioneered in the early 1970s was Helleborus x ericsmithii. This is a group of sterile hybrids of Helleborus niger, lividus, and argutifolius. Each of the three parents have outfacing flowers, so all selections of Helleborus x ericsmithii were given no choice but to face outwards.
The late English gardener, Helen Ballard, carried the title, Queen of the Hellebores from the 1960s until her death in the mid-1990s. Although she worked primarily with Helleborus x hybridus, she also was one of the first people to cross Helleborus niger with Helleborus lividus. Those crosses, formerly known as Helleborus x nigerliv, now officially bear Helen’s name as Helleborus x ballardiae. These mostly sterile hybrids with outfacing flowers are well represented in commerce with several amazing selections. A couple of our favorites that are looking exceptional in the garden now are Helleborus ‘Merlin’ and ‘Camelot’.
Walking around the garden in mid-winter, we spotted a couple of nice woodies in full flower in addition to the winter blooming perennials. The first is one of many witch hazels we grow…in this case, Hamamelis ‘Orange Peel’.
Growing nearby is Distylium buxifolium, also in full flower. D. buxifolium is a cousin to the better known D. myricoides. As best we can determine, it was not in cultivation in the US until a recent wild seed collection by Scott McMahan of the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Our plant is 3 years old from seed and measures 3′ tall x 10′ wide.
Cyclamen hederifolium is a great addition to the winter garden. They begin flowering in late fall/early winter before the foliage. When foliage emerges it will remain during the winter. The foliage is quite dramatic with intricate patterning of silver and shades of green. Most hardy cyclamen are grown from seed, so like snowflakes, no two are alike.
Here are some of the cyclamen growing in our crevice garden. Notice the variation in variegation, leaf shape, and differences in flower color.
We now have so many aspidistra (cast iron plants), that there is at least one species flowering virtually every month of the year. Winter still has the most flowering species, and here are a few that are currently blooming in our collection. Most folks don’t see the flowers because they either don’t know to look or plant their plants too deep, so the flowers form underground. We like to snip off some of the oldest leaves for a better floral show.
Aspidistra fungilliformis ‘China Star’ is a Chinese collection from Jim Waddick
Aspidistra tonkinensis is a Dylan Hannon collection from Vietnam…not enough to share yet, but soon.
Aspidistra sp. nov. is an Alan Galloway collection from Vietnam. We thought this was Aspidistra lutea, but we now think it may be a new undescribed species. This one offsets slow, so it may be a couple of years before we can share…hopefully by then we can get this named.
Aspidistra vietnamensis…a Japanese selection. Most of the plants in the trade in the deep south which go by a variety of species names are actually this newly described species. We’ve had plants like Aspidistra ‘Ginga’ keyed out previously by the world’s authorities as either Aspidistra elatior or Aspidistra sichuanensis, but to us, they never quite fit into those species. Now that Aspidistra vietnamensis has been published, we finally have a match.
So, how do we figure this out? Our staff taxonomist, Zac Hill has become an expert on aspidistra by dissecting the flowers. Yes, leaves, growth habit, and rhizome are important, but it’s all about the flowers. The first image below shows the anthers inside the flower, and the bottom photo shows the stigma. Minor differences in the shapes and orientation are used to distinguish one species from another. We have other collaborators in the UK, France, Germany, and Russia with whom we share images and identification thoughts.
There are several of us that travel around the world to find these new species, and then work to get them into cultivation for the purpose of ex-situ conservation. We hope you’ll try some of our amazing offerings.