A Weeping Wonder

Few plants I’ve ever grown enchant me like Forestiera angustifolia ‘Woodlanders Weeping’. This incredible weeping selection of the Texas native is typically known as a scraggly upright bush that grows in dry alkaline soils. This special form was discovered in Calhoun County, Texas in 1992 by our friend Bob McCartney and the late Texas plantsman, Lynn Lowrey. In 1996, Bob, Lynn, and Patrick McMillan returned to the site for cuttings. It was subsequently propagated and introduced by Woodlanders Nursery. Surprisingly, it also thrives in moist acidic soils, and seemingly has no garden conditions where it doesn’t thrive.

We actually enjoy the incredible structure of the deciduous bare stems more in the winter time without the tiny deciduous foliage. The photo above was just taken at JLBG in late September. Mature size is 6′ tall x 25′ wide, so be sure you have a large enough space. I would think this is a plant that would be embraced by every native plant nursery, unless they have one of those bizarre hang-ups that man-made state political borders matter. Winter hardiness is unknown, but at least Zone 7b-9b.

Forestiera angustifolia ‘Woodlanders Weeping’

Slightly Deranged Hydrangeas

We love the genus hydrangea, but are really fascinated by those at the far end of the family tree. While most hydrangeas flower in late spring, we actually have a couple flowering now we’d like to share.

The first is Hydrangea involucrata, a native to both Japan and Taiwan. The word “involucrata” indicates it has some serious involucres (the bracts surrounding the inflorescence). The first image shows the plant in bud, the second in full flower, and the third image is after the flower color has faded. All three stages are on display at once in the garden this week. They typically reach 6′ in height and width. Winter hardiness is Zone 6a-8b.

Hydrangea involucrata in bud
Hydrangea involucrata

Hydrangea involucrata

Hydrangea amamiohshimensis (below), from Japan’s southern Ryuku Islands, was once considered a hydrangea cousin, until a 23andMe test confirmed it was actually a true hydrangea. Prior to the test, it belonged to the genus cardiandra, which was effectively a perennial hydrangea, dying back to the ground each fall like most perennials. It too is in full flower in the woodland garden this week. Perhaps now that it has a recognizable name, more folks will be willing to grow it. This is the only one of the four former cardiandra species that has survived in our climate.

Hydrangea amamiohshimensis

Baby Blue Ice

We have a fairly decent collection of conifers at JLBG, but one that has really caught our eye is Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Baby Blue Ice’. This charming dwarf was found in 1998 by Oregon nurseryman Larry Stanley as a sport of Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Baby Blue’. Our oldest plants are now four years old and are 3′ tall x 2′ wide. The naturally dense growth and conical shape give the impression that it’s been sheared, which is not the case.

Word on the street is that it should mature around 6′ tall, but with newly discovered plants like these, we take those size predictions with a large grain of salt. Undoubtedly, mature size in the Southeast US will be quite different than in the heat-deprived Pacific Northwest.

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Baby Blue Ice’

Elegant Box

One of our favorite evergreen shrubs is the queen of the variegated boxwoods, Buxus sempervirens ‘Elegantissima’. This plants thrives in part sun to light shade, where it looks great every month of the year. This excellent clone, which has been grown in Europe since the mid-1800s, matures at 5-6′ in height. Not only is it great in the garden, but if you have enough, you can cut some to use as a foliage filler in flower arrangements.

Frosty Pearl

One of our favorite broadleaf shrubs is undoubtedly Orixa japonica ‘Pearl Frost’. Orixa is a monotypic (one species) genus in the citrus (Rutaceae) family, that’s virtually unknown in US gardens.

We are particularly enamored with this superb variegated form, brought into the US by plantsman Barry Yinger. Orixa ‘Pearl Frost’ matures at 8′ tall x 6′ wide, and we have found it to thrive in both full sun to light shade, although full sun plants require more moisture.

Orixa japonica ‘Pearl Frost’

Summer Textured Ferners

Here’s a fun textural image from the woodland garden, featuring Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’, Farfugium japonicum ‘Aureomaculatum’, and Athyrium ‘Ocean’s Fury’. Off to the left side are three more ferns, Dryopteris x celsa, Adiantum capillus-veneris, and Ctenitis subglandulosa.

False Larch

We’ve long had an affinity for larches (probably due to a hangover from watching the Monty Python larch skit far too many times), but there aren’t many larches that will survive our hot, humid summers. We can, however, succeed with the false larch, which belongs to the monotypic genus, Pseudolarix. Both larix (larch) and pseuodlarix (false larch) are deciduous conifers, whose foliage turns golden yellow in fall prior to leaf fall.

Pseudolarix is known as an open, airy species, and having seen quite a few over the last 50 years, all were very similar. Imagine our surprise, when a new seedling we purchased in 2017 turned out to be incredibly dense and fast growing. The first photo is our oldest typical pseudolarix, now celebrating 29 years in the garden.

The new clone, which we’ve named Pseudolarix ‘Greensanity’, just 5 years in the garden, is pictured below that. We look forward to working with some woody plant nurseries to get this exceptional form grafted and into the trade.

Pseudolarix amabilis – typical form at JLBG

Pseudolarix amabilis ‘Greensanity’

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.

Stunning Townhouse

Lagerostroemia faurei ‘Townhouse’ is looking great at JLBG this summer. This compact selection was named by the late J.C. Raulston, in addition to the taller, narrower cultivar L. ‘Fantasy’. Townhouse crape myrtle is also highly prized for its dark cinnamon bark…the darkest of any crape myrtle we know. Our oldest specimen is now 35′ tall x 35′ wide.

This selection is from an original 1957 seed collection made by the late Dr. John Creech of the US National Arboretum, on Yakushima Island off the southern coast of Japan. Hardiness is Zone 6b-9b.

They Came, They Listened, They Learned, They shared

We’ve just wrapped up the 2022 Southeastern Plant Symposium in Raleigh, and were thrilled to have nearly 200 attendees. It was great to be back in person after two years of remote Zooming. The symposium is co-sponsored by the JC Raulston Arboretum and Juniper Level Botanic Garden, with all proceeds split between the two institutions (JCRA operations and the JLBG endowment).

Attendees were entertained and enlightened by fourteen of the top horticultural authorities in the country/world. This years symposium was focused on perennials, 2023 will be focused on woody plants (trees/shrubs), and 2024 will focus on geophytes (bulbs, tubers, etc.) as part of our three year rotation.

We hope you’ll join us for 2023, and mark June 9, 10 on your calendar. Not only are the speakers excellent, but the symposium includes a rare plant auction, which this year, offered over 430 plants, most of which aren’t available anywhere else in the world.

Mark Weathington, Director JC Raulston Arboretum
SPS lecture room
SPS speaker line-up
SPS attendees taking a break..speaker Adam Black on left
A few of the amazing SPS auction plants

Rooting for Buckeyes

Here are a few of the many buckeyes that are looking good at JLBG this spring.

Aesculus pavia is native from Illinois south to Texas and east to Florida. Hardiness is Zone 4-8.

Aesculus pavia

The European Aesculus hippocastanum has thrived for us, despite most sources claiming we are too hot in the summer. Aesculus ‘Hampton Court Gold’ emerges with ghostly yellow foliage for an amazing spring show.

Aesculus hippocastanum ‘Hampton Court Gold’

Aesculus x carnea is a hybrid of the European Aesculus hippocastanum and the American Aesculus pavia. This cross was first discovered in Europe in 1812. It is quite stunning in our garden as you can see. Hardiness is Zone 5-8.

Aesculus x carnea ‘Variegata’

The dwarf form of Aesculus glabra only occurs in a small region of Northern Alabama/Georgia. Mature size is 5-6′ tall. Hardiness is Zone 5-9.

Aesculus glabra var. nana

Aesculus sylvatica is one of our oldest buckeye specimens in the garden. This species is native from Virginia to Alabama. Hardiness is Zone 6b-8b.

Aesculus sylvatica

Aesculus sylvatica ‘Sylvan Glow’ is Jeremy Schmidt’s discovery of an amazing seedling of Aesculus sylvatica that emerges rosy red, then changes to orange, before aging to green for the summer. When it gets a bit larger, we will try to propagate this so we can share.

Aesculus sylvatica ‘Sylvan Glow’

So Many Maples, So Little Time

Here are some of our favorite Japanese maples looking quite lovely in the garden this week, starting with Acer palmatum ‘Geisha Gone Wild’. This Buchholz Nursery introduction is a fascinating sport of Acer palmatum ‘Geisha’.

Acer palmatum ‘Geisha Gone Wild’
Acer palmatum ‘Geisha Gone Wild’

The leaf color of Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma Gaki’ has to be seen to be believed.

Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma Gaki’

Our favorite of the weeping cutleaf purple cultivars is Acer palmatum ‘Orangeola’. Our specimen is now 27 years old.

Acer palmatum ‘Orangeola’

Golden Sunshine

Even when the sun isn’t out, the golden willow, Salix sachalinensis ‘Golden Sunshine’ provides a bright spot in the garden. We love this amazing tree. I see quite a few sources who list this on-line as maturing at 18′ tall x 7′ wide. Well, that’s not quite accurate. The five year old specimen pictured below is now 25′ tall x 25′ wide. Growth is much faster in moist, rich soils, but it seems someone needs to trade in their tape measure.

Salix sachalinensis ‘Golden Sunshine’ PP 19,370

To Cercis with Love

A couple of our favorite native redbud selections looking exceptional after flowering today…Cercis canadensis ‘Flame Thrower’ and ‘Golden Falls’…both from the breeding work of NCSU plant breeder, Dennis Werner.

Cercis canadensis ‘Flame Thrower’
Cercis canadensis ‘Golden Falls’

David’s Tree

We’ll certainly remember 2022 for many reasons, but a highlight is the first flowering of our Davidia involucrata ‘Sonoma’. This incredible tree was named for French missionary and naturalist, Armand “Pere” David (1826-1900), who first discovered the tree in its native China.

Like dogwoods, what we think of as flowers are actually bracts, the effect is that of the tree in flower is like a dogwood on steroids. Interesting, davidia is in the black gum family, Nyssaceae, and although this tree is not common, it has acquired the common name of dove tree.

We’ve learned a bit about what davidia likes, having killed five plants since first trying it in 2002. Full sun is not ideal, as is deep shade. Our original plant, which as been in the ground since 2002 has yet to flower. The plant of Davidia ‘Sonoma’, which flowered this year, was planted in 2014, and is thriving in light shade/part sun.

Hail to Halesia

Flowering in our parking lot now is the beautiful Halesia diptera var. magniflora, better known as big-flowered two-wing Silverbell. Native from Georgia across to Texas, this beautiful small tree can be found in low moist woodlands. That said, it thrives in average to dry garden conditions.

The variety “magniflora’ is distinguished from the more northern Halesia diptera var. diptera in that the gulf coast form has much larger flowers. This is our collection from Wilcox County, Alabama, where the foliage is much wider than what is typically seen in this taxa. Plants mature at around 20′ in height. Hardiness is Zone 5-8.

Halesia diptera var. magniflora ‘Pine Apple’

White Spring

Two shrubs that celebrate the end of winter for us are Loropetalum chinense ‘Snow Panda’ and Exochorda ‘Blizzard’. Here are photos this week from the garden. Loropetalum ‘Snow Panda’ in an amazing selection from the US National Arboretum, while Exochorda ‘Blizzard’ is a creation by NC State’s Tom Ranney, combining three species to create this stunning hybrid. The Loropetalum is winter hardy from Zone 7a-9b, while the Exochorda should be fine from Zone 4a-8b.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Snow Panda’
Exochorda ‘Blizzard’

Sweet as Snow Cream

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.

A Forest of Pink

Magnolia ‘Forest’s Pink’ put on a splendid show this year in early to mid-March. Sold as a cultivar of the Chinese Magnolia denudata, some magnolia experts insist that it’s actually a hybrid, due to the intensity of the pink color as well as the form of the plant.

Magnolia ‘Forest’s Pink’ originated as an introduction from Treseder’s Nursery in Cornwall, England, who propagated and named it from an original introduction from China by Scottish botanist, George Forrest (1873 – 1932), that was growing at England’s Caerhays Castle.

Magnolia denudata, a typically white-flowered species, native to Central China, has been cultivated around Buddhist monasteries since 618 AD…in other words, nearly 1,500 years. Another long-cultivated Chinese native magnolia with pink flowers and an overlapping native range is Magnolia liliiflora. The commonly known hybrids of the two species are known as the Magnolia x soulangeana hybrids. Since plant explorer George Forest was known to collect both in the wild as well in cultivated areas, it is quite probably that the magnolia that bears his name is not pure Magnolia denudata, but actually a Magnolia x soulangeana hybrid. Looks like someone will need to do some DNA work to sort out this nomenclatural tussle.

Whatever you want to call it, our 25 year-old specimen of Magnolia ‘Forest’s Pink’ was rather stunning this March. Thankfully, the flowering was mostly complete before our mid-March freeze of 23 degrees F.

Aucuba…the overlooked winter shrub

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.

The Elusive Red Witch Hazel

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.

Glowing Podocarp

Podocarpus macrophyllus ‘Okina’ is looking lovely this winter. This Japanese selection has resided at the base of a large pine tree at JLBG since 2001. We love the white speckled foilage, which really shines in the winter months. Podocarpus macrophyllus is one of a short list of conifers that thrives in the shade of a woodland garden. Our 20 year old plant is now 6′ tall. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.

Dainty Dirca

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.

Winter Magnolias

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.

Winter Sunburst

Pittosporum tobira ‘Kansai Sunburst’ is looking lovely in the mid-winter garden. This Japanese selection emerges with brightly cream-edged leaves which age to green. This selection came to the US, via the former Asiatica Nursery, which brought so many wonderful Japanese selections to American gardeners.

This native of China, Japan, and Korea should mature around 10′ in height. Pittosporum tobira is prized for its spring-produced, intensely-fragrant small white flowers that smell like orange blossoms. We’ve had our plants in the ground since 2007, so they’ve passed the survival test of two winters with low temperatures in the single digits F. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.

Do the Limbata

Here’s an image taken this month of the wonderful Aucuba japonica ‘Limbata’. While most aucubas have yellow leaf specks, this old cultivar, first mentioned in historical literature in 1864, is sadly still quite unknown in gardens. That’s not too surprising, however, due to its slow production time as a commercial nursery crop. For dry shade in Zone 7a-9, this wonderful broadleaf evergreen is hard to beat.

Winter flowering Strawberry Tree

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.

Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’
Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’
Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’ bark

Kaizuka! Bless you.

I first met Juniperus chinensis ‘Kaizuka’ on a mid 1970s student field trip to Florida with the late JC Raulston. As our caravan of University vans crossed from Georgia into Florida, these junipers suddenly appeared everywhere. Although, I was unfamiliar with this architecturally fascinating specimen, I was in love….despite it being common as the proverbial dirt in Florida landscapes. Everywhere from gas stations to the poorest home seemed to have at least one. Most locals know Juniperus ‘Kaizuka’ as either Juniperus ‘Torulosa’ or Hollywood Juniper…a common name it gained due to its ubiquitous presence around Los Angeles. It turns out that Juniperus ‘Kaizuka’ was an introduction from Japan’s Yokohama Nursery prior to 1920. Our oldest plants at JLBG are now 33 years old, and now measure 24′ tall x 16′ wide. The one pictured below is a new 5 year old planting in a new section of the garden. Forty-five years later and still in love!

Grapefruit time in the garden

We love December, since that’s when the grapefruits start to rain down from our xCitroncitrus ‘Dustan’ tree at JLBG. Few people who come to the garden actually look up enough to notice this fascinating plant. xCitroncitrus ‘Dunstan’ is a bigeneric hybrid between the hardy trifoliate orange, Poncirus trifoliata and a grapefruit. The result is a winter hardy fruit that’s pretty darn close in size, taste, and appearance to a grapefruit. To be technically correct, the fruit is known as a Citrumelo. Whatever you want to call it, it’s pretty darn cool to be harvesting hardy citrus here in Zone 7b. Last year, we harvested over 3 dozen fruit off our single tree.

Only the Green Shadow Knows

Here’s one of our favorite hollies, looking great in the garden this week. Ilex integra ‘Green Shadow’ is a variegated (creamy-edged leaves) form of the Mochi holly. This amazing columnar holly, that hails from oceanside mountain slopes in Japan, Korea, Southern China, and Taiwan, reaches 20′ tall x 7′ wide, which is the case with our 16 year old specimen. Although Ilex integra ‘Green Shadow’ will grow in both sun and shade, full to half day sun results in the most dense foliage. This is female clone, but we never see more than a dozen berries, so we assume it needs a male nearby to fruit better. For a narrow evergreen screening plant, it’s hard to beat. Hardiness is Zone 6b-9b.

Selective Love

I’ve never been a huge fan of nandinas in the garden. I find the more typical forms very difficult to integrate from a design perspective, and I find the popular Nandina ‘Firepower’ to be near the top of the list of most grotesquely ugly plants used in American landscapes. Yes, it’s colorful, but the plant lacks any grace, and has the form of a pile of wet red Kleenex.

Of the older cultivars, I like Nandina ‘Harbor Dwarf’, with it’s low spreading form, but the paucity of fruit keeps most people from planting it. The only downside for us is that it spreads to cover a very large footprint, so can choke out other nearby plants. We continue to trial all of the new nandina introductions to see if anything strikes our fancy.

My favorite member of the genus, which I first met at the JC Raulston Arboretum back in the 1980s, is Nandina domestica ‘Filamentosa’. This cutleaf, slow-growing, non-fruiting selection from Japan is often marketed under the trade name San Gabriel. It adds a distinctly Japanese flavor to the landscape, which is why we planted a mass in our new Japanese garden. Here is a photo from this week with it’s lovely rosy winter color. Winter hardiness is Zone 6b-9a.

Narrow-leaf Sweet Box

Sarcococca saligna is one of our favorite species of sweet box, but sadly one of the most tender. If winter temperatures drop below 10F, it dies to the ground, but has always resprouted. When we have mild winters, it becomes an extraordinary woodland garden specimen as is evidenced by this current photo.

Fall Fatsia Flowers

Here is the wonderful Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’ in our garden on Oct 25. This fabulous shrub is a member of the aralia family, and a first cousin of the off-despised running ivies. Not only do we love Fatsia for its amazing bold texture and evergreen foliage, but we love it because it flowers in fall. The second photo was taken a mere four weeks later, when it had exploded in full bloom.

Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’
Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’

Fatsia japonica is a superb pollinator plant at a time when so little is in full bloom. Our winter low temperatures so far have been 27 degrees F, which hasn’t affected the flowers. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.

Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’

A New Ironwood earns its mettle

It’s far more common for new perennials to be discovered than new trees…it’s a size thing. Botanists were excited in 1960, when Chinese professor H.T. Chang published a new small tree that he thought to be a witch hazel, named Hamamelis subaequalis. The original Jiangsu Province collection actually dated to 1935, but it took 25 years to be published based on a herbarium specimen of the fruit.

The new hazel hadn’t been seen alive since 1935, and was assumed extinct, when it was rediscovered in 1988 by a team from the Jiangsu Institute of Botany. After studying live flowering specimens for three years, it became obvious that It wasn’t a witch hazel at all, and a new genus, Shaniodendron was published for the plant. Here, it remained, until 1997, when DNA analysis revealed that Shaniodendron was actually a second species in the formerly monotypic genus Parrotia….only living some 3,500 miles from its nearest relative. Its sibling is the famed Iranian Ironwood (Parrotia persica).

Currently, there are only five known populations in China, so it is quite rare in the wild. The largest plants seen in the wild were 30′ tall, but Parrotia subaequalis should grow slightly taller in cultivation. The photo below is our 13 year old specimen. Most plants of Parrotia subaequalis in the US, including our specimen pictured below, trace back to famed Japanese plant collector of Chinese plants, Mikinori Ogisu. Fortunately, Parrotia subaequalis is quite easy to root from cuttings, so we hope its not long before this amazing plant becomes much more widespread in commerce. In trials so far, it came through -25 degrees F with only slight tip damage, so it looks like a solid Zone 5-8 plant.

Washington’s Palm ready for winter

Due to having three consecutive mild winters, with no temperatures below 20 degrees F, we’ve actually been able to get a trunk on our Washingtonia filifera palm. Typically not hardy in our climate, our plant was grown from seed collected from a wild population in Arizona that had experienced 10 degrees F. We’ll see what this winter has in store.

Don’t Diss Disanthus

In full flower this fall is Disanthus cercidifolius. Ok, so full flower on a disanthus may not seem too exciting to the petunia and pansy crowd, but plant geeks find these flowers pretty darn cool. We’d nearly given up on growing this witch hazel relative after finding in our first few attempts that it has zero heat tolerance. It wasn’t until we obtained a plant from a Chinese population (Disanthus cercidifolius ssp. longipes) of the better known Japanese native, that we realized there is a form we can grow, and grow well. Not only does the Chinese form have heat tolerance, but it also thrives in full sun. The specific epithet “cercidifolius” means foliage like a cercis (redbud).

Information you can trust

With over 60% of retail plants now purchased at the box stores, we wonder if most consumers know you can’t trust much if anything you read on a label at a mass marketer. Our most recent example is this tag on an Illicium parviflorum at our local Lowes. I particularly love the common name, Japanese Anise. Unfortunately, Illicium parviflorum is native only to Florida…quite a few miles from Japan.

The tag mentions full sun, which Illicium parviflorum certainly tolerates, but in the wild, it grows naturally in moist woodlands.

Then, there is the note about cool temperatures and warm soil promotes root growth. Well, warm soil does promote root growth for some plants, but not for all. Wouldn’t the soil have been warmer in mid-summer than now? Just wondering…

And, if that wasn’t enough, our staff taxonomist, Zac Hill spotted this tag for our native bald cypress, Taxodium distichum at a different Lowes store. The problem is that the plant is actually a Chinese Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia instead of a Taxodium. I wonder if they thought…”what the hell, those dumb consumers will never know the difference.”. After all, it’s just another little green lie. As Anita likes to say, ‘The way you do one thing is the way you do everything.”

More Beauty Berries

The beauty berries are looking quite good this fall in the garden. Two forms of Callicarpa americana are a bit unique. The white fruited Callicarpa americana ‘Lactea’ has been stunning, as has the pink-fruited Callicarpa ‘Welch’s Pink’, discovered by Texas plantsman, Matt Welch.

Callicarpa americana ‘Lactea’
Callicarpa americana ‘Welch’s Pink’

A fairly new beauty berry to cultivation thanks to the US National Arboretum is the Chinese Callicarpa rubella. Over the last few years, we have fallen in love with this amazing plant. This is our garden specimen planted in 2015. The new foliage is spring is tinged black…a nice touch!

Callicarpa rubella

Blackburn’s Palm

We love plant mysteries, and Sabal ‘Blackburniana’ fits the bill nicely. This pass-along seed strain has been considered by some to be an old hybrid of Sabal minor, while others consider it to be synonymous with Sabal palmetto, yet others consider it to be Sabal domingensis. Whatever it is, our plant is looking quite good in the garden. After growing it, unscathed, since 2008, we finally decided to propagate some for the upcoming Plant Delights catalog. If you know any more historical background about this curiosity, please share.

Podocarpus ‘Miu’

We have been very impressed with this stunning new selection of Podocarpus from Japanese nurseryman, Yoshio Sato. Podocarpus ‘Miu’ is a wonderfully variegated selection that has shown a good dense habit, great coloration, and no burning in full sun.

Since so many Americans purchase plants based on the name, and Japanese cultivar names make plants a very difficult sell in the US, the US marketing folks sell this as Roman Candle podocarpus. No matter what you call it, it’s a heckuva plant. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer. The marketing folks say this will mature at 15′ tall x 4′ wide, but the in the patent, the originator says it matures at 50′ tall x 25′ wide. Hmmm…that’s quite a discrepancy. Sounds like someone is fibbing.

Podocarpus macrophyllus ‘Miu’ (Roman Candle)

Mamba Combo

Every day as we take the short drive home, we’re greeted with this combination of Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Fernspray Gold’ and a new black elephant ear. We encourage people to be more conscious of textures, forms, and colors in the garden, and to notice how plant placement can be used to create such really pleasing moments.

Burgundy Spice Girl

Calycanthus ‘Burgundy Spice’ is looking so great in the garden at JLBG this fall…right before it strips down for the winter. We love this exceptional purple-foliage selection of the native Sweet Betsy, discovered and introduced by our friends, the Hesseleins’ of Pleasant Run Nursery in NJ.

Tarahumara Oak

One of our prize plants in the garden is the Tarahumara Oak, Quercus tarahumara. This truly odd oak is native to Northern Mexico, where it resides in the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountain range in the Mexican states of ChihuahuaSonoraDurango, and Sinaloa.

In cultivation, Quercus tarahumara is extremely rare and of high conservation value. It seems that there are only a few plants existing in cultivation, although a few others in collections turned out to be hybrids. So far, temperatures in the upper single digits haven’t posed a winter hardiness problem.

Quercus tarahumara is named after the Tarahumara Indians, who live in the botanically rich region, popularly known as Copper Canyon.

Quercus tarahumara

The foliage is ridiculously thick and feels like hard plastic. Turned upside down, the leaves function quite well as a drinking cup or small sink.

Quercus tarahumara

Bottlebrush Splendor

Because we’ve had three consecutive mild winters, we’ve had some survivors that probably wouldn’t have made it through a normal winter. One of those plants is Callistemon viminalis ‘Light Show’, which is looking really superb this fall. Perhaps this year, we’ll get back to our more normal winter low temperatures of 5-10F, but in the meantime, we’ll enjoy these amazing trial plants.

Fresh Olive Oil…anyone?

For the first time in years, our olive (Olea europea ‘Arbeqina’) here at JLBG is loaded with fruit. It’s been a while since we’ve had a crop, not because of cold, but because a f..xy!!!zz? beaver cut our tree completely to the ground several years ago. We offered this through Plant Delights for many years, so we hope others have been equally successful at producing an olive crop.

Blonde Envy and More

I can’t speak to the truth that blondes have more fun, but on behalf of gardeners who grow blondes (gold leaf plants), we certainly have more fun when they’re around. One of our horticultural holy grails has always been a gold leaf elderberry we can actually grow. The horticultural market is dominated by northern cold climate selections of colored-leaf elderberries, which refuse to survive our hot, humid summers.

I can’t tell you how excited we were a couple of years ago to learn of a Keith Mearns discovery of a wild elderberry near Columbia, SC with beautiful golden foliage, Sambucus canadensis ‘Blonde Envy’. Although it took us a while to track one down (Keith says that less than a dozen exist in the world currently), it is now performing beautifully in a prize spot at JLBG. We’ve turned our Plant Delights propagators loose in the hope we can have enough to share in the 2023 Plant Delights spring catalog.

Just prior to the pandemic, we were plant collecting in UK nurseries, and made a stop at the always amazing Cotswold Garden Flowers. Founder Bob Brown’s son, Edmund, had taken up elderberry breeding, and now held the National Sambucus collection. We were able to bring back a couple of his complex hybrid introductions to trial, and to our shock, both are thriving in our summers. Here is a photo of our 2 year-old clump of Sambucus ‘Chocolate Marzipan’ in the garden. Finally, sambucus envy will be over for southern gardeners.

The Fragrance of Fall

Perfuming the garden this week are the amazing Osmanthus fragrans. This Chinese native evergreen shrub is unquestionably the most fragrant flowering plant in the garden. When the clusters of small flowers open early October, they emit a sweet fragrance that can easily waft for 200 feet. While we have nine clones in the gardens at JLBG, our oldest/largest two are Osmanthus fragrans ‘Conger Yellow’ (yellow flower) and ‘Aurantiacus’ (orange flower)…both pictured below.

Our sister institution, the JC Raulston Arboretum probably has the largest collection in the country of these amazing plants. For those old enough to remember, Osmanthus fragrans was a personal favorite of the late Dr. JC Raulston. If you are looking to purchase plants and can’t find them locally, our friend Ted Stephens, who runs a SC mail order nursery certainly has the largest offering in the country of these amazing plants.

Vilmorin’s Oak

Outside of the nerdy members of the International Oak Society, few gardeners have ever heard of Quercus x vilmoriniana. This spectacular oak is a hybrid between the Asian Quercus dentata and the European Quercus petraea. Quercus x vilmoriniana has been known in European gardens since 1894, but is rarely seen in US gardens. The hybrid is named for the late French botanist Maurice Leveque de Vilmorin.

Our 20′ tall specimen at JLBG was planted in 2012 and has developed not only superb foliage, but splendid deeply-fissured bark. There is an old specimen at Cornell in NY, so it shows good cold tolerance in addition to loving our hot, sweaty summers. We have sown acorns from our plant, and if they grow, we will make this available though the Southeastern Plant Symposium Rare Plant Auction in June.

Green Eggs and ….pancakes?

Most everyone is familiar with Blue rug juniper…aka: Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’, but few people know its dwarf cousin, Juniperus horizontalis ‘Pancake’. This amazing selection of the North American native groundcover is much slower growing, shorter, and with much finer textured foliage. Here is a recent photo of this amazing plant in the gardens at JLBG. Why is it that we never see Juniperus horizontalis touted for native plant gardens…hmmm?

Golden Joy

Stachyurus chinensis ‘Golden Joy’ is looking fabulous in our garden. This new gold-leaf sport of Stachyurus ‘Joy Forever’, discovered by plantsman Ron Rabidou, has been a wonderfully bright spot in the woodland garden at JLBG

Flame Thrower

Cercis ‘Flame Thrower’, a JC Raulston Arboretum release from NC State woody plant breeder, Dr. Dennis Werner, was just awarded the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Plant of the Year for 2021. In Europe, Cercis ‘Flame Thrower’ is marketed as Eternal Flame. Here is our plant at JLBG this summer. Congratulations to Denny and the Arboretum for this huge honor!

Beetles Reunion

We were harvesting our abundant fig crop last week, and were astounded by the number of green June Beetles also enjoying the ripe figs. This indulging makes the beetles into a sweet and tasty snack for the likes of crows, grackles, blue jays, and mockingbirds.

After gorging themselves through the summer, the beetles burrow 6-8″ down into the soil where they lay their eggs, which hatch in a couple of weeks and then overwinter as grubs, which feed on compost during the winter months. While living as larvae, the grubs are food for many underground mammals as well as above ground foragers like possums, racoons, and skunks.

Although green June Beetles are voracious feeders of over ripe fruit, that probably isn’t fruit you were going to eat any way, so they really aren’t damaging to the garden. Green June Beetles are much larger and less impactful than the dreaded Japanese beetles.

We actually enjoy these fascinating insects and don’t find any need to try and eradicate them. Since they don’t bite or sting, they are great for kids and adults looking for unusual sensory experiences to handle. Holding a green June Beetle in your hand is the best way to get a real buzz, and still be able to drive safely afterwards. The only downside is that they may poop on your hand, but that also is a new experience for most folks.

Purple and Gold

If you visit JLBG, it’s hard to miss that we like combinations of purple and gold. Here is a favorite summer combo, planted across from the crevice garden, where we use Rudbeckia speciosa as a foot warmer for Calycanthus ‘Burgundy Spice’…a fun combo using two North American natives.

Bobo and Bro

Here’s a fun combination from the gardens today with Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bobo’ underplanted with Sedum ellacombianum ‘Cutting Edge’, which nicely echos the various shades of green in the flowers.

Immaculate Maculata

Even with all of the amazing new Hydrangea macrophylla introductions, it’s hard to beat the old Japanese cultivar, Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Maculata’. Hope you enjoy this shot from JLBG this week.

Great Clips…Not!

One of the great un-clipped shrubs in the long history of shrubs in America is the amazing Dodd and Dodd Nursery introduction of Ilex vomitoria ‘Oscar’. Looking great in our garden this week, our plant of Oscar holly has never been clipped, sheared, or otherwise maimed in its ten-year history with us. Wouldn’t it be nice if more nurseries offered this? Wouldn’t it be nice if customers would pay more for plants like this with longer production times? Imagine the energy that would be saved if people would put the right plant in the right place and end shrub shearing for good. Hardiness north to Zone 7a.

Swamp Titi

Flowering at JLBG this month is one of our favorite small trees, Cyrilla racemiflora…aka: swamp titi. Cyrilla racemiflora was a favorite tree of the late J.C. Raulston, who was constantly extolling its virtues to anyone who would listen. Swamp titi has a native range from coastal Delaware south and west to East Texas. The flowers, which have just recently started here are a favorite of the native bumblebees. Mature size is usually 10-12′ in height, and the contorted nature of the trunks usually produce a plant that is slightly wider than it is tall. Despite its southern origins in swamps, Cyrilla is well adapted to regular garden soils as far north as Zone 5. As far as the common name, we have no idea where “titi” originated. We’ve read theories that it may have been a corruption of TyTy, Georgia, or have some relation to Florida’s Titi Creek, but those are all unconfirmed.

Meet Hamabo

We expect most everyone has grown a hibiscus at one time or another, either tropical or hardy. How many of you have tried the Asian Hibiscus hamabo? This fascinating 8-10′ tall evergreen shrub has thrived in our trials since 2018, and is just now flowering at JLBG for the first time. We had always considered this species tropical, so we were thrilled to hear that it survived as a die back at the SFASU Arboretum in Texas after this springs’ arctic blast of -4F. Dr. Dave Creech at SFASU tells me that it remains evergreen down to 10 degrees F. Has anyone else had experience with growing this outdoors in a cold winter climate?

Gold Farkle

One of our treasured finds from a recent botanizing trip in East Texas with plantsmen Adam Black and Wade Roitsch (Yucca Do), was a gold-foliaged Vaccinium arboreum (farkleberry). The parent plant was 30-40′ tall, but there were plenty of root suckers from a recent road grading. This could turn out to be a wonderfully exciting new native edimental.

Trolling in the garden

Trolls and trolling are generally associated with something unpleasant, so it’s quite bizarre to have such a name associated with an amazingly delightful plant. Gingko biloba ‘Troll’ is a superb dwarf gingko with lacy textured leaves that has been quite a star here at JLBG. Our six-year-old plant is now 3′ tall x 3′ wide as of this week.

Is that really yew?

While folks from “up north” know yews (Taxus), they are far less likely to know its doppleganger, the false yew (Cephalotaxus). I’ve always considered the two fairly interchangable, so was fascinated when DNA showed they actually belong to different plant families, which aren’t really closely related…other than both being conifers. Taxus is now in its own family, Taxaceae, and Cephalotaxus now resides in its own family, Cephalotaxaceae. For most gardeners, the important thing to know is that deer will consume taxus, but not cephalotaxus.

Below are a few favorites from the JLBG gardens. Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Brooklyn Gardens’ is a much wider leaf plant than the better known Cephalotaxus ‘Duke Gardens’. Mature size of ‘Brooklyn Gardens’ is 2′ tall x 14′ wide, so it functions as an evergreen ground cover in either light shade or sun.

Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Brooklyn Gardens’

Our oldest plant of Cephalotaxus ‘Duke Gardens’ is now 27 years old, and measures 3′ tall x 12′ wide. Here it is growing in fairly deep shade.

Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Duke Gardens’

Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Golden Dragon’ is a much smaller selection with bright golden foliage. Our five year old plants are 2′ tall x 4′ wide. The gold color only shows with a bit of sun.

Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Golden Dragon’

Flaming Buckeye

We saw this amazingly colored buckeye (Aesculus pavia) on a recent visit to the NC Arboretum in Asheville. I’ve seen countless individuals of this species, both in the wild and in gardens and have never seen a color like this. We have encouraged them to get this grafted and introduced.

Rare Plant Auction/Symposium

We’re just back from a four-day plant roundup of donations (from some of the regions top plantsmen/women) to the Southeastern Plant Symposium rare plant auction this weekend. So far, we have over 350 plants, many of which aren’t available anywhere else in the world. The Symposium, which is a fundraising event for the JC Raulston Arboretum and the JLBG Endowment @ NC State, is virtual this year, and begins Saturday morning, June 12. The on-line auction has already begun, and runs through Saturday afternoon. If you’d like to check out the auction treasures, you can do so here. Plants which are 1 gallon size and smaller may be shipped, but large sizes are only available to be picked up. You do not need to sign up for the Symposium to participate in the auction, but we’d encourage you to join us for some truly amazing speakers. You can register for the talks here.

Spring fireworks

Magnolia officinalis var. biloba ‘Fireworks’ is stunning in the garden, from its dark purple buds to the vivid pink flowers. Typical Magnolia officinalis var. biloba has white flowers, so this amazing plant is most unusual.

Magnolia officinalis var. biloba ‘Fireworks’
Magnolia officinalis var. biloba ‘Fireworks’

Aucuba show

We find aucubas an invaluable evergreen shrub for dry shade, and one of our favorites is looking rather nice this week. Aucuba japonica ‘Ogon-no-tsuki’ is also one of the slowest growers due to the large amount of gold in the leaf center. It is our hope to perhaps finally have enough to share in the next couple of years.

Aucuba japonica ‘Ogon-no-tsuki’

White as China Snow

Chionanthus retusus ‘China Snow’, a heavy flowering selection of Chinese fringe tree has been stunning for several weeks in the gardens at JLBG. This amazing Don Shadow selection is far more floriferous than the species, which was already quite spectacular.

Bring Afghanistan into your garden.

Every year in late winter/early spring, one of the woody showstoppers at JLBG is the Afghan bush cherry, Prunus jacquemontii. This year was no exception as this stunning deciduous shrub is putting on an amazing show. Our twelve-year old plant is now 4′ tall x 6′ wide.

Loropetalums…not Low Petalums

Oh my goodness, how terrible these wonderful plants are treated by the hedge-clipper wielding masochistic masses! These amazing plants are large shrubs/small trees…not foundation shrubs…geez! We currently grow 27 cultivars, and need to replace three that we managed to kill. Purportedly some of these newer selections actually stay more compact, but that remains to be seen in our in-ground trials. Here are a few of our older specimens along with their actual measured size.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Crimson Fire’ (advertised as growing 4′ tall x 4-5′ wide) measures 6′ tall x 8′ wide after only 4 years. Growth rate is increasing and it looks like it should reach a mature size of 24′ tall x 32′ wide.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Crimson Fire’

Loropetalum chinense ‘Pippa’s Red’ (below) has reached 35′ tall x 20′ wide in 20 years.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Pippa’s Red’

The bicolor, genetically unstable Loropetalum ‘Ruby Snow’ (advertised as growing 6′ tall x 6′ wide) is 6′ tall x 8′ wide after 4 years, so mature size will probably be 24′ tall x 32′ wide. The dueling colors create an amazing effect.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Ruby Snow’

Loropetalum ‘Shang-hi’ (below), marketed as Purple Diamond, has reached 12′ tall x 16′ wide in twelve years, and the growth rate appears to be slowing.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Shang Hi’

Loropetalum ‘Snow Panda’ (below) is 7′ tall x 10′ wide after 5 years. The original plant, introduced by the US National Arboretum is 10′ tall x 8.5′ wide after fifteen years. It’s odd that our plant is growing so differently here.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Snow Panda’

Loropetalum chinense ‘Zuzhou’ (below) is our oldest remaining loropetalum at 26 years. Mature size is now 20′ tall x 24′ wide. We had older specimens of the original US National Arboretum introductions ‘Blush’ and ‘Burgundy’, but these were discarded to make room for more improved selections.

Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum ‘Zuzhou’

Please consider buying a tape measure to help get this sited so that they never need to meet a pair of mutilators (i.e. hedge trimmers) in person.

Pink Painted Buckeye

In 2019, our research staffers were botanizing in Montgomery County, NC, when Jeremy stumbled on this painted buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica) seedling with new pink growth. In the past, we have not had good luck transplanting seedling aesculus, but thankfully this one survived nicely and two years later, it looked great this spring as the new foliage emerged. When it gets larger, we’ll share scions with grafters so we can make this more widely available.

Emily is Berry Nice

Ilex ‘Emily Brunner’ is a superb fruiting holly hybrid (Ilex cornuta x latifolia) that can be used either as a specimen or as part of a hedge. This is our most recent planting, that’s now 4 years old. Our oldest specimens at JLBG, now 21 years of age, have matured at 18′ tall x 18′ wide. For best fruiting, a pollinator holly is recommended. We’re not sure who is providing the pollen for our superb fruit set, but it’s either a nearby Ilex ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ or a nearby Ilex latifolia.

Ilex ‘Emily Brunner’
Ilex ‘Emily Brunner’ fruit closeup

Winter Bloomers

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’.

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.

Distylium buxifolium in flower

Distylium buxifolium flowers closeup