In the crinum lily world, a yellow flower is considered the holy grail by plant breeders, since it only naturally exists in the Australian crinum species, Crinum luteolum. Two other species which occasionally show a yellow blush in the flower are Crinum bulbispermum and Crinum jagus. Crinum luteolum is completely ungrowable in the Southeast US. Consequently, we must find yellow pigment from the other two species.
Many years ago, a secretive California crinum breeder distributed a fuzzy Sasquatch-like photo of what was supposedly his yellow flowered crinum, derived from a white-flowered Crinum bulbispermum. The plant itself has never been seen in person, despite assurances from the breeder that it still exists. In 2008, the breeder agreed to sell us seed from his parent plant, with the caveat that it wouldn’t look like the parent.
Below is the best clone that we selected from our first set of seedlings from Crinum ‘Yellow Triumph’. As you can see, the flower is virtually all white, except for a chartreuse green base. Since it was a nice flowering clone, we gave it the name Crinum ‘White Swans’.
Since 2008, we have repeatedly self-pollinated our original seedling selection, each time selecting those offspring that showed the most yellow color. Over time, the best seedlings were crossed with each other, and the selection process continued.
Fast forward to 2023…15 years after our original seedling flowered, we finally have plants that are showing a decent amount of yellow in the flowers. The yellow shows best as the flowers open in late afternoon. Below are two of our best 2019/2020 seedlings. While these aren’t yet a finished product, we are seeing the proverbial gold light at the end of the long tunnel.
Looking absolutely lovely this week is one of our patches of the late-flowering Narcissus ‘Hawera’. We love these narrow-foliage types which remain looking good after the flowers have faded. Unlike many narcissus we grow, this one also doesn’t require regular dividing to continue to flower well. Interestingly, this gem has been in commerce since at least 1928.
Looking absolutely marvelous in the garden now is the amazing Calanthe ‘Takane’. This Japanese seed strain is a group of hybrids between Calanthe sieboldii and Calanthe discolor. Below is a clonal strain we named Calanthe ‘Golden Treasure’. These thrive in the woodland garden with average soil moisture. The photo below is our 18 year old clump, started from a single 4″ pot, growing under a black walnut tree. Hardiness Zone 7a-9a.
Sedum palmeri ‘Mendoza’ is looking superb in the garden in late winter. This northern Mexico native is one of our favorite species, flowering far earlier in the year than any of the other sedum species we grow. We had tried Sedum palmeri prior to to growing this clone, and never succeeded in getting it to survive our winters.
In 2002, we were eating lunch at a ski lodge near the border with Argentina and Chile, when I spotted this compact form growing in a flower bed. We have no idea how a plant from Northern Mexico got so far from its’ home, but we’re glad it did. This patch in the garden was grown from a single cutting we legally brought home from the trip. We subsequently named this after the nearby town of Mendoza, and introduced it through Plant Delights in 2013. Zone 7b-10b, at least.
We love the late winter flowering Drabas, which thrive in our dry crevice garden. Below is the miniature Draba hispanica, which has been in flower since late February. This Spanish species likes to grow in dry limestone cracks, such as the one we provided here. Unless you’re an avid rock gardener, you may not realize that draba is actually in the cabbage family, Brassicaceae. Once the flowers finish, you’re left with a fuzzy evergreen bun of foliage for the rest of the season. Zone 5a-8a, at least.
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.
Great new plants for the garden do sometimes just happen. They can occur as a spontaneous sport from an existing planting, as a seed selection that has much better garden traits, but many of our most useful and ecologically important plants in the garden have their start in exploration. I was thinking about this today as I observed the tightly-clumping overwintering rosettes of one of our newest introductions to the JLBG—Oenothera riparia, Riverbank Sundrop.
Sundrops hold a special place in my heart. My grandmother loved them and had large swathes of the old pass along yellow standard Oenothera fruticosa/tetragona in her extensive garden. Every June they would burst into flower for a brief week or so, bringing a brilliant light and foil to her many glorious iris. As I mature, I have come to value plants with connections to our being but also the value of similar plants that can provide the same nostalgia while giving us much more in the landscape.
A plant known as Riverbank sundrops may be a perfect example of a great garden plant that is native to the Southeast and provides more of what gardeners love, while also providing the native insects and other wildlife an abundant resource.
Oenothera riparia was described by Thomas Nuttall in 1818 from plants collected along the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, NC. Nuttall provided a very full description of the plant (for the time) though he presumed it to be a biennial—it is in fact a long-lived perennial. J.K. Small recognized the species in a segregate genus as Knieffia riparia in his 1903 Flora of the Southeastern US. In 1937, Munz reduced the species to varietal status as Oenothera tetragona ssp. glauca var. riparia, and after this it was essentially lost to the minds of taxonomists and plant enthusiasts being considered merely part of the immense variability of Oenothera fruticosa by Radford, Ahles and Bell (1968).
In the mid 1990’s while working in the tidal freshwater swamps and marshes of South Carolina, Richard Porcher and I encountered this species growing at the bases of Bald Cypress trees, on stumps, and on floating logs just above the high-water tidal line on the Waccamaw, Pee Dee, and Edisto Rivers. My frustration with its identification led me to the name Oenothera riparia and its recognition as a completely and consistently distinct taxon—which is very unusual in a genus known for its morphological variability and messy taxonomy.
This plant is smooth (lacking hairs) throughout with thick textured dark-green leaves and a very bushy habit—it does not produce long stolons or rhizomes, so it forms a dense clump. The stems generally range from a foot to nearly 3 feet in height and the thick stems become semi-woody, providing a stiffly upright growth form. Rather than a single burst of flowers this species produces masses of flowers over the entire summer (June-late August) with sporadic flowering later in the season.
Imagine, here we could have a sundrop that won’t spread like wildfire, doesn’t flop, and flowers for month after month! Sounds like everything you would want in a plant. There is only one problem, it hasn’t been cultivated. This is where the adventure continues and as we embark on this adventure, I would like to take you along for the ride. There is so much that goes into identifying a potentially great garden plant, evaluating it, and bringing it to the trade.
Our initial collections were made this August (2022) when Zac Hill, my wife Waynna, and I were traveling through the SC coastal plain. We made the stop at the Edisto River in Colleton County where I had seen the plant many years before and just like I remembered, there they were, full of seed and with some flowers still present. The only problem is that they were growing far out in the water along the bases of trees! The Edisto is a blackwater river with a large tidal amplitude at this location and it was full on high tide. If you’re a field botanist you forget entirely about the things that concern other more rational folks, like the multitude of large Alligators, and make for the plants. I found some low branches on a neighboring willow tree that kept my feet in only a couple feet of water, and balancing on the branch, in the water, made my way all the way to the edge of the river where a fabulous floating log provided an abundance of seeds and two small plants from a large cluster of individuals. The only casualty was my prescription glasses which promptly fell from my head into the depths of a rapidly moving Edisto River (my wife will not easily let me forget the cost of this single collection). The first step in the process of bringing a new plant into production is done.
Our two small divisions were placed directly into the sun garden at JLBG and the seed was sown. For this plant to be successful in a garden it must be able to not just survive but thrive in a common garden condition far away from its very narrow niche at the very upper edge of the water along the Edisto. You might think this would be unlikely, but other incredible garden plants are entirely found in wetland communities and thrive under very different conditions in the garden. A good example of this is found in another of our introductions, Eryngium ravenelii ‘Charleston Blues’, which comes from high pH wetlands not too far away from the Edisto River.
Will it be hardy here? Will it survive under normal garden conditions? Will it maintain its distinctive and garden-worthy features? Well at least part of this can be answered already. Our tiny divisions are now large overwintering basal rosettes. The plants have not thought about running away from their tight cluster, and they grew very well during their first autumn in soil that was not kept overly moist.
The real test lies ahead. What will the plants nature be under cultivation? Will it be as good as I think it could be? Will it be better? One can only hope, put in the labor, and follow along to find out the end of this story for Oenothera riparia. It could provide all of us with a stately and handsome bit of nostalgia with far greater design and utilitarian use for humans and our native biota. What’s more, there are other seemingly great garden-worthy Oenothera out there—not in far-flung locations but right here in the Carolinas. Have you ever heard of Oenothera tetragona var. fraseri? If not, look for us to tell you more about that in the years to come, there’s a fantastic form with huge flowers in the Blue Ridge escarpment of South Carolina!
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.
Those old enough to remember the incessant Volkswagen commercials of the 1990s probably still can’t get the word Fahrvergnügen out of their brain. We’ve commandeered the term, which means “The Joy of Driving” to Farfugnügen…the joy of growing Farfugium.
We think more people should be growing this amazing genus of plants in the aster family. While most named selection are made for foliage only, with a less than stunning floral show, here is one of our favorite flowering selections, Farfugium ‘Jagged Edge’, that we’ll make available for the first time next year through Plant Delights. These fall-bloomers put on quite a show, which in most climates, ends with the first hard freeze. Hardiness zone 7b to 10b.
A couple of years ago, we made bi-generic crosses of the North American Manfreda maculosa and the naturally occurring hybrid Mexican tuberose, Polianthes x bundrantii ‘Mexican Firecracker’. These fascinating plants were still in full flower prior to our first hard freeze in the last few days. These are images of our top three clones, which we refer to as x Polifreda. Because we used the non-fragrant tuberose species, there is no noticeable aroma, but we opted for a much more diverse flower color range instead.
Hopefully, next year, we can use these to cross with agaves to create a new series of xHanseras. Pollen has been gathered and stored in the refrigerator in case bloom times don’t coincide next year.
Elliott’s aster (Symphyotrichum elliottii) is the absolute last of our asters to flower at JLBG. It doesn’t begin to flower until the first of November and withstands the mild frosts of October like they didn’t even happen. It is naturally found in tidal freshwater marshes and other moist open sites from the Virginia and Carolina coastal plain south to Florida and west to Louisiana. Though it hails from moist environments it thrives under general garden conditions if the soil isn’t allowed to become too droughty.
The plant has a lot to recommend it besides the time of flower. It forms stiff stems rising 5-6’ tall crowned with a dense pyramidal arrangement of inflorescences of pale pink with a hint bluish-purple ray flowers and bright yellow disk flowers. The lack of lanky branches allows this tall aster to display its flowers without flopping all over the rest of your garden in the manner typical of asters. It spreads via rhizomes, so you need to be sure to give it space to roam a bit. It provides a dramatic impact when planted at the back of borders. Though it spreads, it doesn’t roam far from the parent plant and can be easily kept in place by yearly thinning of the outer edges of the clumps.
The most outstanding feature of this beautiful aster to me is the number and diversity of pollinators it supports. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a plant that attracted more. In addition to swarms of honeybees, bumblebees, carpenter, and solitary bees the flowers draw in numerous pollinating flies, halictids, moths and skippers. I love plants that extend the color season and though we all think about early spring, we really should also plant to extend our love affair with color into the leafless season and Elliott’s aster does this is a big way.
With enough plant diversity, there are all kind of possibilities to target floral interest for certain seasons or even holidays. Since the Halloween season is just past, here are a couple of seasonal favorites.
If there’s ever been a plant designed for the Halloween holidays, Cuphea micropetala has to be near the top of the list. This amazing perennial hails from the subtropical regions of Central and Southwestern Mexico. Below is our plant on Halloween this year. Flowering for us typically starts in early October. Despite its warm origins, it’s a reliable perennial here in Zone 7b.
The other can’t miss seasonal favorite, is our 2005 introduction of Gladiolus ‘Halloweenie’. This crazy gladiolus from South Africa, skips the typical spring flowering season, and instead, starts flowering the week of Halloween.
History is replete with examples of new plant species that are first encountered by intrepid plant explorers, yet described later by taxonomists. Salvia darcyi was discovered and introduced into cultivation by Carl Schoenfeld and John Fairey of Yucca Do Nursery. Three years later, they guided researchers to the site who subsequently described the species without acknowledging the original collector. It is unfortunate that the act of discovery by those in horticultural circles are so seldomly recognized (not to mention the indigenous peoples who have known many of them for eons).
Upon my first visit to Heronswood in the autumn of 2019 I was shown a splendid robust Begoniawith heavily lobed leaves, short upright stems, and amazing tight-clumping habit with yellow (yes yellow!) flowers. I immediately confirmed that this was a heretofore undescribed species. The plants had been grown from the seed collection made by Dan Hinkley along with fellow collectors and nurseryman, Shayne Chandler and Leonard Foltz, from Arunachal Pradesh India. These plants were shared by Mr. Hinkley with Monrovia who immediately released it under the name TectonicTM Eruption Begonia (Begonia sp. DJH18072).
The unknown Begonia has now been given a formal scientific name Begonia lorentzonii by Swedish taxonomist Eric Wahsteen and the Indian researcher Dipankar Borah, based on two specimens collected by Borah in November of 2018 (incidentally, after Dan Hinkley’s collection). No mention of the plant in cultivation or the contribution of Dan is found in the publication despite the fact that quite a few of the Begonia aficionado crowd around the globe had by then become familiar with the plant. Regardless of the name, this species is among the most spectacular hardy garden plants for cool but not cold climates.
Begonia lorentzonii has proven hardy at Heronswood (zone 8a) where it was left outside with only a covering of leaves and straw in temperatures ranging into the low teens and at least a week long stretch of consistently below freezing temperatures which resulted in ground freeze. It forms 2-2.5’ tall dense clumps with one of the best forms I’ve seen in a cold hardy species.
In late summer through late autumn it is adorned with yellow flowers beset with hairlike projections on the outer surface of the tepals produced on stems that equal or are slightly shorter than the leaves. Begonia lovers should visit the Renaissance Garden at Heronswood to see mature plants in their full glory and a pilgrimage to Heronswood is a must for all hardy Begonia lovers as the collection of rare and unusual cold hardy species is probably the best among our public gardens. While this startling plant appears to be perfectly adapted to life in the mild Pacific Northwest it remains to be seen what its tolerance for heat will be. It was an honor and pleasure to grow and nurture these plants during my time at Heronswood and I must admit my heart and mind will forever be drawn to that sacred space of ground whenever I glimpse a Begonia of any species.
You go straight through to the round of botanical superstars if you recognize this little-known southeast native (SC to Florida), Piriqueta caroliniana. This Patrick McMillan collection from coastal SC has thrived all summer in our full sun rock garden, flowering constantly, with new flowers opening every other day. This oddity is a member of the Turneraceae family, which comprises nine other equally obscure genera. We’ve yet to determine if this will actually make a good garden plant, but evaluation continues. Hardiness north of Zone 8a is unknown.
One of the stars of our late summer/early fall garden has been our selection of Chrysopsis mariana ‘Little Miss Sunshine’. We made this roadside collection of this East Coast native in 2020 in neighboring Orange County, NC, unsure of what we had collected, but loving the purple stems of this clone. This planting in our rock garden has produced an amazing 18″ tall x 2′ wide specimen that glows for months. Dry soils and at least half day sun are the keys to success. We’ll start propagating this showy, clumping native perennial in spring. Winter hardiness is Zone 4-8.
Looking lovely in the garden today is the fall-flowering geophyte, Sternbergia sicula. This Mediterranean native is found in the wild growing on alkaline hilly sites. Some taxonomists list it as a subspecies of the more common Sternbergia lutea, but it seems consistently smaller. At JLBG, our plant thrives in the crevice garden. Hardiness is Zone 6a-8b.
Just like the rock group of the same name, these fascinating living stones also look quite old and wrinkled. The genus Lithops are tiny succulent plants native to the deserts of South Africa. Despite virtually all references on-line, they make great garden plants…as long as you have a crevice garden, and grow them when they will not receive any rain in the winter months. These are 4 1/2 years old from seed.
Our plants of Lithops aucampiae have just started their flowering season last week, having sailed through winter temperatures of 16 F last winter, and seemingly enjoyed our hot, humid summers. We’re hoping for single digits F this winter, so we can really put them to the hardiness test. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy the fall flowering season.
How many folks are growing Hypericum hypericoides (St. Andrew’s cross)? The name translates to hypericum that looks like a hypericum….duuuh. We love this native shrub which hails from New Jersey southwest to Texas. St. Andrew’s cross typically matures at 2.5′ tall x 5′ wide and adorned from May through September with small, light yellow flowers, which form an “x”, hence the common name.
In the wild, Hypericum hypericoides is usually found in slightly acidic to slightly alkaline sandy soils, often in pine savannas, but in cultivation, they seem quite adaptable to an array of garden conditions from sun to part sun. In form, it resembles a Helleri holly with yellow flowers. The photo below is a 2 1/2. year old plant at JLBG. Winter hardiness should be Zone 6a-8b at least.
With the trend for green mulch (i.e. groundcovers), we continue to trial a number of new introductions that fit the bill. One of the top performers continues to be Sedum ellacombeanum ‘Cutting Edge’ PP 28,926. This 2016 Brent Horvath introduction has thrived in both sun and light shade, making a perfect ground-hugging mat. Despite being a top performer, sales were miserable when we offered it a few years ago. We’re not sure why it sold so poorly, but we now have some lovely drifts in the garden.
We’ve just enjoyed peak surprise lily week at JLBG. The lycoris season starts for us in early July and continues into early October, but the last two weeks of August is peak bloom. Below are a few samples from the last few weeks.
The first two image are our field trials, where lycoris are studied, photographed, and evaluated for possible introduction.
There are only 6 lycoris species (despite what you read on-line). Four of these have foliage produced in spring, and two have foliage that emerges in fall.
Lycoris longituba is a spring-leafed species with flowers that range from white to pink, to yellow/orange.
Lycoris chinensis is a spring-leafed species with bright gold/orange-gold flowers. There is little variability in the color of this species.
Lycoris sprengeri, whose foliage emerges in spring, is the only pink flowered species, almost always with a blue petal tip.
Lycoris sanguinea is the fourth spring-leafed species, but one that performs quite poorly in our climate, and consequently rarely flowers for us.
Lycoris radiata is one of only two fall-leaved species. Lycoris radiata var. pumila is the fertile form, while Lycoriis radiata var. radiata is sterile and consequently never sets seed. There is little variability with regard to color, but there is great variability with regard to bloom time. Lycoris radiata is the earliest lycoris to flower in July and the last lycoris to flower in October.
Lycoris aurea is the only other fall-leaved species. In appearance, it is indistinguishable from the spring-leafed Lycoris chinensis, except that the foliage emerges six months earler.
Lycoris traubii is a hotly debated plant in taxonomic circles. Occurring only in Taiwan, some taxonomists insist on it being its own species, while other simply find it a form of the mainland Chinese Lycoris aurea…similar to the debate about Taiwan’s political status. Until we see other evidence, we view it as a form of Lycoris aurea.
All other lycoris are hybrids. Sadly, botanists continue to name new lycoris species, but after having grown each, we have yet to find any that are anything more than a previously named naturally occurring hybrid. Below are a few of the validly named hybrids.
Lycoris x albiflora is a group of naturally occurring crosses between the two fall-leafed species, Lycoris aurea and Lycoris radiata. Most emerge yellow and age to pink-blushed. If these hybrids cross back to the Lycoris radiata parent, the hybrids take on lovely orange shades.
Lycoris x caldwellii, named after the late Lycoris breeder, Sam Caldwell, is a hybrid between the spring-leafed species, Lycoris longituba and Lycoris chinensis.
Crosses between the fall-foliaged Lycoris radiata and the spring-leafed Lycoris sprengeri have been made more than any other interspecific lycoris cross. We currently grow over 200 clones of this hybrid, with flower colors that range from solid pink to bright red, and everything in between. Backcrosses onto one parent or the other influence the flower color expression.
Lycoris x rosensis is a hybrid between the fall-leafed hybrid above, Lycoris x rosea and the spring-leafed Lycoris chinensis.
Lycoris x sprengensis is a cross between the spring-leafed Lycoris sprengeri and the spring-leafed Lycoris chinensis. The flower buds almost all show a blue tip, whose color disappears as the flowers age.
Lycoris x straminea is very similar in appearance to Lycoris x albiflora. The only difference between the two is that one parent of Lycoris x straminea is the spring-leafed Lycoris chinensis instead of the fall-leafed Lycoris aurea. Interestingly, Lycoris x straminea is fertile, while Lycoris x albiflora is not. Because Lycoris x straminea is fertile, it can be crossed back onto its Lycoris radiata parent, created some stunning orange-hued flowers
Most Lycoris x straminea clones open pure yellow, and acquire a reddish-orange blush as they age, from the Lycoris radiata parent. You can see an example below with two images taken 2 days apart.
Lycoris ‘Peppermint’ is an old passalong hybrid of two spring-flowered species, known and sold as Lycoris x incarnata…a cross of Lycoris longituba and Lycoris sprengeri. Our studies, however have shown that this plant could not have arisen from such a cross. In hybrids between a spring and fall-leafed species, the offspring always has foliage that emerges in early fall (September, October). The foliage on this emerges in late November, and the only way this could happen if the hybrid included 2 spring species and 1 fall species.
The only species that could provide the red color is the fall-foliage Lycoris radiata and the only species which could contribute the white color is Lycoris longituba. The other parent must be a spring-foliage species, so the only option is Lycoris sprengeri. We now feel confident that this hybrid could only have occurred with a cross of Lycoris sprengeri x radiata x longituba. We call these hybrids, Lycoris x longitosea (longituba x rosea).
To determine which lycoris will thrive in your hardiness zone, simply look at when the foliage emerges. The fall-foliage species/hybrid are best from Zone 7b and south, although some will grow in Zone 7a. The spring-foliaged species/hybrids should be fine in Zone 5, and possibly as far north as Zone 3.
While lycoris will grow and flower in sun, they perform far better in filtered deciduous shade, where the foliage will have some protection from the ravages of winter. The amount of light they receive in summer when they have no foliage isn’t really relevant to their performance.
Most highly prized rock garden plants originated somewhere other than the Southeast US. One notable exception is Bigelowia nuttallii, or if you prefer common names, Nuttall’s rayless goldenrod. This fascinating plant resembles a whisk broom that just swept up a spilled bottle of mustard.
Named after English botanist/zoologist Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859), who lived in the US from 1808 until 1841, this fascinating plant, grown by rock gardeners worldwide, is native in only a few locations from Georgia west to Texas.
Bigelowii nuttallii makes a tight evergreen clump of needle-thin leaves, topped from mid-summer until fall with 1′ tall sprays of frothy yellow flowers…yes, those are actually flowers, but without the typical showy “rays”. Full sun for at least half a day, and good drainage are the key to success with this very easy native perennial. Hardiness is Zone 5a-9b.
It’s always exciting for us when the summer flowering surprise lilies begin to bloom, which usually happens here around mid-July. Lycoris are members of the Amaryllidaceae family, and are cousins of better-know bulbs like hippeastrum (amaryllis), zephyranthes (rain lilies), and narcissus (buttercups).
Since we grow over 700 different lycoris varieties, the flowering season goes all the way from now into October. Below are are few of the early varieties from the start of the flowering season.
One of the most amazing summer perennials we grow is the native Berlandiera pumila ‘Chocoholic’. It is unfathomable to us, why this isn’t grown in every full sun garden where it’s winter hardy. The flowers, which smell like milk chocolate, top the 3′ tall clump nonstop from May until October. In the wild, Berlandiera pumila can be found from NC south to Texas, so its drought tolerance is excellent. We rate this as Zone 7a to 9b, but that’s only because we don’t have feedback from folks in colder zones yet. Please let us know is you have this survive temperatures lower than 0 degrees F without snow cover!
Flowering this week is one of our favorite hippeastrum…what lay people call amaryllis. We think Hippeastrum ‘Germa’ is one of the finest yellow-flowered hybrids ever created for southern gardens. Sadly, this 1995 Len Doran hybrid (Hippeastrum parodii x aglaiae x evansiae) is rarely available any longer. We’ve had our garden specimen growing since 2000. Unlike many cultivars, Hippeastrum ‘Germa’ is a woodland plant.
We are in love with the long-flowering Thymnophylla pentachaeta var. pentachaeta ‘Laredo Gold’, which graces us with masses of gold flowers from spring through fall, in our sunny, dry rock garden. This Patrick McMillan collection comes from a population in Texas. Not only is this short-lived, southwestern US native reseeding perennial great in flower, but the native Navajo Indians also used it as a drug for people who want to dream of being chased by deer….we are not making this up!
If you get your gardening information on-line, where everything written is a fact, you’ll know for sure that acacias aren’t growable in Zone 7b, Raleigh, NC. If that includes you, don’t look at the photo below of Acacia greggii ‘Mule Mountain’ in flower at JLBG. Acacia greggii is a native from Texas west to California. Our seven year-old specimen is from Patrick McMillan’s collection in Cochise County, Arizona.
To be nomenclaturally correct, most of the US Acacias have now been moved into the genus Senegalia, so even though the American species aren’t from anywhere near Senegal, this is now known as Senegalia greggii.
Of course, it you also read the hogwash on-line about native pollinators needed and preferring plants they evolved with, then you’ll also have to ignore the masses of native bees that cause the entire plant to buzz while they’re feeding. It’s good we don’t let our plants and insects read books or the Internet.
A few weeks ago, we posted images of the flower spike of our Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’ just beginning to spike. Now, the giant beast is in full flower. The first photo below is the plant with its full expanded stalk in full bud, just prior to opening. After that, each image shows the progression of the flower development.
Agaves are monocarpic, so those species like Agave ovatifolia that do not make offsets will die after flowering. Agave ovatifolia is, however, one of a handful of species that usually forms baby plantlets on the tip of flowers stalk after seed set.
First flowers just beginning to open
We set up our Little Giant ladder, which allows us to climb up, collect pollen and to make crosses with other agaves.
The lower flower clusters open first and flowering continues to progress each day moving higher up the stalk.
Climbing the ladder gives you a bird’s eye view of the amazing buds as they are ready to open…usually 200-300 per panicle.
Below is a half-open flower panicle. The pollen is ripe before the stigma is ready to receive pollen, so pollen can be easily gathered without worry of self pollination.
Below is a fully open flower panicle. Each panicle weighs 5-10 pounds. No wonder the stalk needs to be so sturdy. Once the temperature warms in the morning, the flowers are abuzz with pollinators…mostly bees.
Looking down from above the flower panicle makes a pretty crazy photo
Our intern Zoe is working with our volunteer agave curator, Vince Schneider to gather pollen and make crosses with other previously gathered agave pollen
I usually don’t climb this high…a fear of heights, but this photo opportunity was just too good to resist
I wonder how many folks know, have grown, or have even seen Hypoxis hirsuta…one of our US native yellow star grasses. This little native is so odd, it’s genus was kicked out of every established plant family to which it was formerly assigned…most recently Iridaceae, prior to that, Amaryllidaceae, Leucojaceae, and and now shoved off to the side into its own family, Hypoxidaceae.
The seven species native to North American are only a fraction of the 100+ species worldwide, although Europe was completely left out when this ancient genus was distributed. Below is Hypoxis hirsuta at JLBG.
South Africa also has an abundance of Hypoxis…below is Hypoxis multiceps, in flower now at JLBG. Most of the South African species we have grown are far more showy in the garden that the US natives. Part sun seems to be ideal for all the hypoxis we’ve grown, despite where they originated.
It only took us five attempts to figure out how to successfully grow the North American native, Stanleya pinnata. For those who haven’t met Stanleya pinnata, it’s a native woody perennial from the Westernmost States (North Dakota west to Southern California), so it really doesn’t find the rainy southeastern US to its liking. After several siting failures (learning experiences), we have finally found a location where it is thriving, a dry sloped berm in partial shade.
Stanleya was named after Lord Earl Smith-Stanley, The English 13th Earl of Derby (1775-1851) , who was quite a naturalist and president of the Linnean Society. This Lord Stanley wasn’t the only member of the Stanley family to have important items named in his honor. The NHL Ice Hockey trophy, the Stanly Cup, is named after his relative Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley (1841-1908), who was the son of Lord Edward Smith-Stanley, The 14th Earl of Derby, so it’s all in the family…Lord have mercy.
It’s been quite a floral extravaganza this spring in the dryland garden sections. Here are the latest of our flowering barrel cactus that have bloomed recently at JLBG. All of our cactus are growing outside without any winter protection in our zone 7b garden. The key for most is simply good soil drainage.
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.
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 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.
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 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 ‘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.
Here is a small sampling of the amazing array of flowers that are in the garden currently (late April/early May) on our pitcher plants. The genus Sarracenia is native to North America and hails from Canada south to Florida, where they are found in seasonally damp bogs. In the garden or in containers, they are incredibly easy to grow as long as they have moist toes (roots), and dry ankles (base where the crown meets the roots). Winter hardiness varies based on the species, but most are hardy from zone 5a to 9b.
Spring is unquestionable peak cactus flowering season at JLBG. Although many of you are familiar with our large opuntia (prickly pear) collection, we thought we’d focus on the more diminutive barrel cactus, which you will see if you visit during our spring open house. Keep in mind that most close at night, not reopening until 10am-noon the following day. The photos below are just a tiny sample of the cacti that will be in flower.
I fell in love with puccoons several decades ago, when I first saw them growing on the Michigan dunes as I hiked around the shoreline. I was immediately smitten with this native member of the Borage (pulmonaria) family. There are 21 different species of Lithospermum (puccoon) in the US, where some go by the common name, stoneseeds.
It would take me five transplant attempts over the next three decades before we were able to successfully get one established in the garden. The photo below is our collection of Lithospermum caroliniense (hairy puccoon) from East Texas, flowering now in it’s new home adjacent to our crevice garden. This species is partial to acidic, sandy soils, so our next task is to figure out what other conditions it will tolerate and then to get it propagated, so we can share.
We are just starting with the first wave of Cypripedium (ladyslipper orchids) in the garden this week. One of the earliest selections to put on a show is Cypripedium ‘Rascal’, an outstanding cross of Cypripedium kentuckiense and Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum…all US natives.
Here is a clump of Calanthe ‘Takane’ in our garden in early April. This amazing and easy-to-grow terrestrial ground orchid forms a dazzling clump with age. This mass started as a single division in a 4″ pot, 17 years ago. Not only do they thrive in the ground, but in Japan, they are prized as container plants.
Calanthe ‘Takane’ is a group of hybrids between Calanthe sieboldii and Calanthes discolor, so each seedling is slightly different in flower color. The foliage remains evergreen during most winters for us, but when temperatures drop near 0 degrees F, the foliage will die back completely. Calanthes thrive best in light shade. Winter hardiness is Zone 7a-9a.
Last week we had a few rainy days, which resulted in some amazing patches of Dog Vomit fungus (Fuligo septica) on mulched areas in the garden. I remember back to my Master Gardener days, when you could always expect early spring phone calls from frantic gardeners looking for something to spray to rid their garden of this terror. The reality is that it causes no ill effects in your garden.
Dog vomit fungus, which has a worldwide distribution, was first named back in 1727, so it’s been around a lot longer than most of us. Why can’t we learn to embrace this amazing natural phenomenon? Other than not appealing to folks who were raised as germaphobes, this is one of many amazing shows that nature provides.
Not only does dog vomit fungus not bother your plants, it’s not actually a fungus. It belongs to a group of saprophytic slime molds, meaning it feeds on decaying organic matter. If the common name turns you off, you can use the newer PC name, Scrambled Egg slime mold. Within a couple of days, the color of the fruiting bodies will fade to brown and it will fade away, but isn’t it cool while in fruit!
The South African (Eastern Cape) Bergeranthus vespertinus has been absolutely fabulous this late winter/spring season. Here it is growing in one of our rock gardens, where it is mostly protected from winter moisture. (Hardiness Zone 7b and warmer…at least)
Here are a few buttery-colored plants flowering today in garden, starting with Arum creticum ‘Golden Torch’. This started as a small field division of a particularly large flowered selection from our 2010 expedition to Crete.
Paeonia mlokosewitschii is known for being un-pronouncable, so most folks refer to it as Molly the Witch peony. This is a particularly lovely butter yellow form from Ellen Hornig of the former Seneca Hill Perennials.
Trillium sp. nov. freemanii is a still unpublished new trillium species (hopefully soon), that we discovered in 1998. Normally red flowered, this is a rare yellow-flowered form.
We love all of our trout lilies, but Erythronium ‘Goldstrike’ is hard to beat. This is our named selection of Erythronium americanum ssp. harperi. Occurring from Tennessee south of Mississippi, this amazing form graces low woodlands in very early spring. This collection was made by our Plant records/taxonomist, Zac Hill in Alabama. Hardiness is Zone 6-9 at least.
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.
Trillium cuneatum ‘Oconee Gold’ is a rare gold-flowered selection of the typically purple-flowered southeastern toadshade. We found our original plant of this in Oconee County, SC, and have propagated them from seed since that time. If we keep the yellow-flowered plants isolated from purple-flowering clones, we have more than 50% that reproduce with yellow flowers. The time from seed to flower is usually five years. Winter hardiness is Zone 5a-8b.
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.
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.
The fragrance of the fall-flowering osmanthus continues. First, we saw good rebloom on Osmanthus fragrans ‘Tianxiang Taige’. This amazing cultivar has the largest flowers of any of the selections of this species.
The overpoweringly sweet fragrance of Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Kaori Hime’ has been hard to miss over the last couple of weeks. Despite having tiny leaves, this is not a dwarf. Our 8-year old garden plant is 6′ tall x 7′ wide.
We’ve been experimenting to see how many species of asclepias will survive in our climate, and one that has been quite fascinating is Asclepias subulata. This odd species from the southwest deserts of the US has evergreen glaucous stems, and not much in the way of leaves. It will be quite interesting to see what the butterfly larvae actually consume. It did flower for us this fall for the first time. This will be our first winter, so fingers crossed it can take our cold and wet temperatures. We sited this on a slope in one of our crevice gardens, so it wouldn’t drown in our summer rains.
We’ve tried growing living stones (Lithops) a few times over the last decade in the garden, but could never get them to last longer than a couple of years. We weren’t loosing them to cold temperatures, but to moisture. So, when we built the crevice garden, lithops were one of the first plants we wanted to try again. We designed the crevices with overhangs to keep water completely off certain special plants, and that’s where we planted our seed-grown living stones.
For those who haven’t grown these irresistible gems, Lithops are South African succulents in the Azoiceae family, native to very dry and mostly tropical regions. They are prized for their odd appearance that consists of only two camouflouged succulent leaves.
We’ve never been able to coax a lithops to flower until last week. In their new crevice home, several finally decided to bloom this fall, with a sucession of flowers that still continues. We are currently growing only one species, Lithops aucampiae, but now that we’ve been successful, we’ve planted seed of more species to try. It takes us about 18 months from seed to get a plant large enough to go into the garden.
Despite everything written about lithops being tropical, we have not found this to be the case. Like so many plants, not enough people have been willing to experiment in colder climates in the right conditions. Of course, if you believe everything written on line, you’ll know for sure that they can’t take anything below 40 degrees F. Hint…ours have made it fine in the garden to 13F, so we expect them to tolerate even colder temperatures if kept dry. Wish us luck and be sure to check out the stones growing in the crevice during our next open house.
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.