Florida Sunshine in North Carolina

We thought we’d share a photo taken this week of the original plant of Illicium parviflorum ‘Florida Sunshine’ from our garden. All plants sold worldwide originated with cuttings taken from our specimen. The original plant has now been in the ground here for 22 years and measures 8′ tall x 8′ wide. The foliage becomes brightest in the cool temperatures of winter. Who says Southeast US native plants look ugly? Hardiness zones 6a to 9b.

Illicium parviflorum ‘Florida Sunshine’

The Little Asparagus that Could

In 2006, NC plantsman, and our long time customer, Graham Ray of Greensboro, emailed to see if we were interested in a dwarf Asaparagus densiflorus (Sprengeri) fern that he grew in his rock garden, and had been winter hardy for several years in his Zone 7a garden.

We had already worked with several asparagus species for years, and have a great fondness for the ornamental potential of the genus, so of course, we jumped at the opportunity. We were perplexed, however, how a dwarf version of the marginally hardy Asparagus densiflorus could have survived in Greensboro, which is a 1/2 zone colder than our garden south of Raleigh.

Despite our skepticism, we planted our new treasure in fall 2006, which thrived here, despite our winter hardiness concerns, not blinking during three upcoming single digit F winters. A few years later, we sent a plant to our friend Hans Hansen at Walters Gardens in Michigan for further testing. Despite their winter temperatures well below 0F with no snow cover, it thrived there also. What was going on, we wondered, since this simply shouldn’t be possible.

A mature plant of the dwarf asparagus fern, 'Graham's Cracker' growing in our rock garden.
Asparagus ‘Graham’s Cracker’

Our mystery was finally resolved this summer when taxonomy researchers from the University of Georgia, working on the phylogeny of the genus Asparagus, learned of our extensive collection of Asparagus species, and came by to take samples for their research. This fall, we got word that our dwarf plant which we had named Asparagus ‘Graham’s Cracker’, was in fact not a selection of the common hanging basket species, Asparagus densiflorus, but was instead a seedling of the Zone 4 hardy Asparagus cochinchinensis.

As we re-traced the plants origin, it turned out that Graham had purchased the plant here at Plant Delights, as a dwarf seedling he found in one of our sale house flats, which our staff had failed to notice.

Above is a photo of a mature plant of Asparagus ‘Graham’s Cracker’ at JLBG, which has finally reached a whopping 15″ in height…a perfect plant for the rock garden or in larger bedding schemes. Like the species, the fall foliage is a brilliant gold.

Asparagus ‘Graham’s Cracker’ in fall

And here’s mama, Asparagus cochinchinensis ‘Chuwang’.

Asparagus cochinchinensis ‘Chuwang’

Golden Limo

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

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

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

Freeze Frame

Here’s a garden shot just prior to our expected first freeze of the year. Foreground to back: Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, Salvia darcyi, Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’, Cuphea micropetala, Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’.

Garden just before the first freeze - Foreground to back: Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, Salvia darcyi, Juniperus conferta 'All Gold', Cuphea micropetala, Salvia 'Phyllis Fancy'.
Garden just before the first freeze – Foreground to back: Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, Salvia darcyi, Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’, Cuphea micropetala, Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’.

Gold Dragon

The false yew, Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Gold Dragon’ is looking particularly lovely during the fall season here at JLBG. This is one of our six year old specimens. We find that half day sun seems to bring out the best color without foliar burn. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.

Cephalotaxus harringtonia Gold Dragon looking great during the fall
Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Gold Dragon’

Parrot Paradise

Ajuga ‘Parrot Paradise’ is one of many new next generation colorful ajuga groundcovers that have hit the market in the last few years. These have been amazing in our trials, as you can see from the October photo below. Best of all, we haven’t seen any seedlings, which have been a problem with several of the more common clones in commerce. We think both the color and growth habits are truly outstanding.

Ajuga Parrot Paradise, a wonderful perennial groundcover
Ajuga ‘Parrot Paradise’

Gold Crest

In our hot, humid climate, we really struggle with keeping most cultivars of Caryopteris x clandonensis alive for very long. A lovely exception in our trials has been Caryopteris ‘Gold Crest’, a recent introduction from the plant breeders at Ball Hort. Here is our three year old clump in the garden this week. The foliage is deliciously fragrant…more so than any other caryopteris we’ve ever grown, and the native bees find it incredibly attractive. We’ll be adding this to the new Plant Delights catalog in January. Winter hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.

Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Gold Crest'
Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Gold Crest’

Sum of Summer

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

Summer Garden facing South
Summer Garden facing South

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

Summer Garden facing North
Summer Garden facing North

Little Prospect

The lovely native witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana ‘Little Prospect‘ with its variegated foliage, looks amazing even when it isn’t in flower. The leaves show no foliar burn in full sun and it is just as beautiful in part shade. Hardiness Zone: 3a to 8b.

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’

Clean up on Aisle 15

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!

Next-gen ajugas

Here are images of three of the “next generation” ajuga cultivars, all selections of the Italian Ajuga tenorii. These in-ground photos were all taken at JLBG on April 1. These new ajugas don’t spread wildly or seed around like many of the older, more commonly grown offerings. We think they are pretty darn amazing! The top photo of Ajuga ‘Blueberry Muffin’ represents several plants, planted on 1′ centers. The second image is a single plant of Ajuga ‘Cordial Canary’, and the third is a single plant of Ajuga ‘Petite Parakeet’. These are actually non-staged images, unlike the highly staged, completely unrealistic, manufactured photos you often see in the Dutch-centric catalogs. Hardy from zone 4a to 9b.

Ajuga ‘Blueberry Muffin’
Ajuga ‘Cordial Canary’
Ajuga ‘Petite Parakeet’

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.

Golconda

I remember first meeting the golden foliaged Leyland cypress back in the early 1980s at the JC Raulston Arboretum, and falling in love. Despite eventually removing almost all of our other cultivars of Leyland cypress from the garden due to size issues, we still treasure this gem. For us, x Cuprocyparis leylandii ‘Golconda’, which was discovered in the UK in 1972 as a branch sport, has been a wonderfully slow grower in our climate….4′ tall in 25 years. We understand it grows much faster in climates with cool summer nights, but we’re thrilled ours is slow enough to stay garden-sized.

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.

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

A Tasty Treat

Looking and tasting great in the garden now is Origanum ‘Drops of Jupiter’. This amazing creation combines the taste of culinary oregano with oreganos which are grown solely for flowers…the ultimate edimental and a superb plant for pollinators to indulge.

Golden Chains

Arundo donax ‘Golden Chains’ is looking quite nice in the garden this month. We love this selection of the giant ornamental grass that’s used for making reeds for wind instruments. Arundo ‘Gold Chains’ is much less vigorous than the the typical species, and much easier to fit into smaller gardens. Here’ we’re growing it as a marginal aquatic, where it thrives as well as it does in typical to dry garden soils.

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.

Gordon is Gold

The foliage of Amorphophallus konjac ‘Gordon’s Gold’ is truly superb in the gardens, looking like a forest of small golden palm trees. This is a great discovery from California plantsman, Dave Gordon.

This year, one of our plants had a leaf chimera mutation so that half of the leaf mutated to green, while the other half remained yellow. Most likely, this is a one year occurence.

Ajuga madness

We’re trialing quite a few of the new colored-foliage, non-invasive ajugas, and are quite excited so far. Here is one of several that we really like, Ajuga ‘Parrot Paradise’ in the garden. These ajugas open up a wealth of color combination possibilities for garden designers. Hopefully, you’ll see this gracing a Plant Delights catalog in a few months.