Exciting times in Juniper Level

Having lived in Juniper Level, NC for 35 years, we’ve driven past the old Juniper Level School (just a few hundred feet from JLBG) countless times, anxiously waiting for promised renovations, before the building fell too far into disrepair. Well, after numerous starts, renovations are going full speed and we’d like to share the amazing story.

The two oldest buildings remaining in the unincorporated township of Juniper (Juniper Level) are the Juniper Level Church and adjacent schoolhouse. The 3,000 square foot Panther Branch/Juniper Level Rosenwald School, operated from 1926 until 1956, and is one of only sixty remaining Rosenwald Schools in existence.

If you don’t know the story of Rosenwald schools, here’s the back story. In the early part of the 20th century, Sears & Roebuck president, Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932) teamed up with renowned African-American education leader Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) of the Tuskegee Institute, to try and remedy the chronically underfunded, segregated education system for African American children. They worked together to fund construction of state-of-the-art middle schools for African-American students around the country. Between 1913 and 1932, 5350 schools (and associated structures) were constructed thanks to a matching grant program (1/3 Rosenwald funds, 1/3 local government funds, and 1/3 community funds) devised and set up by Rosenwald and Washington.

Front of the Juniper Level / Panther Branch School during renovations Jan. 22, 2021
Juniper Level /Panther Branch School sign and donation information. With renovation expenses in the neighborhood of a quarter million dollars, we’re sure any financial help would be welcomed.

Walter Magazine recently wrote a great article on the restoration and history of the school, so instead of repeating their work, here is a link to their article.

Architect plans guiding the renovation efforts

The Rosenwald schools were all based on designs by the country’s first accredited black architect, Robert R. Taylor of the Tuskegee Institute. These plans were later standardized by Samuel Smith of the Rosenwald Foundation. Some Rosenwald schools accommodated as many as seven teachers, while others had only one. The schools, which were all conceived to also be used for community functions, were designed based on daylight considerations and the effect on the light on student eye strain. All schools have an east/west orientation, along with pale colored walls and expansive windows.

Renovation work in the main classroom with the lunch counter connecting the kitchen on the right. The three-teacher school taught students from grades 1-7 (and eventually 8th grade). Plans are to make the space available as a community center for events once the restoration is complete.

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Juniper Level Missionary Baptist Church across the street, which owns the school property and headquarters the foundation that manages the restoration.

Juniper Level Missionary Baptist Church, which owns the Rosenwald School property, was first established in 1870 in a small log building, which continued to expand, culminating in the current main building, which was constructed circa 1920. Other adjacent structures were added later as the church grew.

We are honored to be part of the Juniper Level community, so perhaps now you understand more about why we named our garden after this tiny, almost forgotten, but historically significant community here in Southern Wake County. We’ll keep you posted on the progress of the Rosenwald School renovations and will let you know when it will be open for visitors.

As an aside, another of the many connections we have with the JC Raulston Arboretum is that they are also adjacent to another defunct African American school where the same Julius Rosenwald helped fund additions. This Rosenwald partnership was with local educator/businessman/philanthropist Berry O’Kelly. By 1931, The Berry O’Kelly School, located in the former emancipated slave village known as Method, was the largest African-American high school in NC. Only two buildings, which are now preserved, remain from its glory days. O’Kelly’s daughter, the late Beryl O’Kelly Brooks, is the namesake for the road where the JC Raulston Arboretum resides and the arboretum itself sits on land purchased from O’Kelly’s estate in 1936. I hope you have time to also read about that project and the incredible work of Berry O’Kelly here.

Take a Look at Our Fall Bloomers!

For many, fall is the best time of year to garden. The heat of summer has finally broken and the crisp autumn air is a delight to work in. Fall perennials take over for the summer flowers and keep the garden showy as the days get shorter.

Here are some fall bloomers from the garden this week. Be sure to check out all of our fall blooming plants during the Fall Open Nursery & Garden Days, September 18-20 & 25-27, 2020.

Make Your Shade Garden Cool!

Variegated plants have part of the normal green portion of the plant leaf being replaced by white, cream, yellow, or occasionally other colors. How cool is that!

As a design element, variegated plants are often used as the center of attention or as a focal point in the landscape to lighten up a normally dark space.

Plants with bold variegation seem to scream for attention in the garden, hence their use as accent plants. As with all brightly variegated plants, they show off best when contrasted against a dark background. Whether planted against a mostly green hedge, or a larger backdrop of deciduous trees, some background is needed to properly display variegated trees, shrubs and perennials.

It’s not easy being variegated!

Opuntia – Prickly Pear

Opuntia is a rather large genus of cacti, containing some 200 or more species native to the deserts of the Americas. Opuntia are amazingly adaptable and can be found native in almost every US state and Canada. Plant Delights Nursery at Juniper Level Botanic Garden has a large collection of opuntia with over 300 unique clones.

Many of our opuntia clumps have gotten quite large over the years and are in need of dividing. We will be offering pads of select clones to give away (pick up only) during our 2020 Summer Open Nursery & Garden Days. What a great time to start an opuntia collection!

Opuntia phaeacantha ‘Tahiti Sunrise’

Opuntia species have a distinctive look, with flat pads, beautiful, large flowers and fig-sized, maroon fruits. Both the fruits and the young pads are edible provided that you carefully remove all of the thorns and hairs.

Opuntia ‘Coral Carpet’
Opuntia mesacantha ssp. mesacantha

Container Gardens for Summer Color

Add summer color to your patio, pool or deck with perennial container gardens. There are many great summer blooming perennials that work well in containers and provide a pop of color even if you have limited garden space to plant. There are many types of containers that can be used and left outside year round. The containers shown here are a resin material that is weather resistant and come in an array of sizes and colors that can fit into any decor. These containers may need to have holes drilled into the bottom for drainage, and many have punch-out holes. They are light-weight and are easily moved even after planting. There are also ceramic and concrete planters that are frost proof and available in every conceivable shape, color and size.

Colocasia, perennial Hibiscus, Sarracenia (pitcher plants) and Bletilla

Some colorful and long blooming summer perennials you may want to consider for your containers include colocasia, perennial hibiscus, cannas, verbena, flowering maple, dahlias, monarda (bee balm), and daylilies. Other evergreen and variegated perennials can be grown in containers as well, such as aspidistra (cast iron plants), agave, mangave, and cacti. Hostas also make great container plants for the shady spot on your patio.

Canna ‘Orange Punch’, Verbena peruviana, perennial hibiscus and abutilon (flowering maple).

It is important to consider plant hardiness when creating your planter. Remember that since the plants roots are above ground and not insulated, they will be subjected to colder air temperatures during the winter. Depending on the length and severity of the winter, some plants may be just fine through the winter, or your container garden may benefit by being brought into the garage, sun room or porch area during the winter, or situated in a micro-climate, like next to a south facing brick or stone foundation.

Got the blues? If not, we can help.

Amsonia (aka: bluestar) are one of the best temperate genera (18 species) of blue-flowered perennials for the spring garden. We’ve offered quite a few different species and selections through the years, rotating them in and out as propagation successes allow and as sales dictate. All but two of the species, (Amsonia orientalis from Europe and Amsonia elliptica from Asia) are North American natives. Most are extremely drought tolerant, while others like Amsonia rigida and Amsonia tabernaemontana can tolerate very wet soils.

Amsonia montana is a commonly grown plant of mystery, having just appeared in horticulture, but never been documented from a wild population. A few of the amsonia species have flowers so pale blue that they appear white in the garden with only a hint of blue on the flower corolla. Amsonia are quite promiscuous in the garden, so if you grow more than one species nearby, you will have hybrids from seed. We hope you’ll explore this amazing genus of perennials.

Done goneii or Gone dunnii?

Amorphophallus dunnii has long been one of the stars of the winter-hardy love lily clan, but now we’ve gone and really “dun” something even more odd. Amorphophallus dunnii is in flower right now in the garden with it’s typical 1′ tall peculiar, but fragrantless flower spike. This year for the first time, our collection of Amorphophallus dunnii from Lai Chau in North Vietnam flowered, and we were thrilled to measure it at just over 3′ tall. The super-sized petiole and leaf last summer gave us a hint of what was to come. Evidently plants from this region in North Vietnam are dramatically taller than those of the same species from mainland China. We are now working to vegetatively propagate this special form so that we can share it in the future.

Who needs Viagra when you’re Soo hot?

Last week, I was innocently feeling up the spadix on our flowering Sauromatum, when I noticed it was incredibly hot…not in the biblical sense, you understand. We grabbed our new Covid thermometer to take its temperature, and with an ambient outdoor temperature of 61 degrees F, our Sauromatum spadix registered 96.3 F….that’s a 35 degree F fever!

In the plant world, this “fever” is known as thermogenesis. Pretend you’re a plant, and a pretty homely one at that. You’re ready for the big once-a-year moment and are probably wondering if you’ll get lucky in the short time window that your sexual parts will be functional. You also know you were born with an aphrodisiac to help you get laid, but it’s only good if you can get the word out. That’s where thermogenesis comes in handy. Many members of the aroid family (think anthurium and philodendron) were born with the ability to crank up the temperature in their sexual regions to disperse the fragrance of their aphrodisiac. In the case of aroids, that would be the smell of rotting flesh. Once our sauromatum got the heat going, there was a steady stream of incoming flies looking to get laid. Actually, they were looking for food and got tricked into satisfying the desires of our horny sauromatum. Isn’t nature amazing!

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda Bought a Sedge

Back in 2004, I was botanizing in rural Bienville Parish, Louisiana, where I ran across this fascinating narrow-leaf native sedge, a small piece of which returned home for trials. After six years of trialing, we named it Carex retroflexa ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ (alluding to the location where the famous pair met their demise) and added it to our catalog offerings, where it sold a whopping 150 plants over a four year span, ending in 2013. The term “whopping” is used here as a point of sarcastical understatement. Not wanting to discard all of the unsold plants, we planted them around our new patio, where they were interspersed with Heuchera ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ and Penstemon ‘Blackbeard’. Here are a few images from that planting, taken this week. Maybe as the interest in carex increases, we can afford to offer this again.

Carex retroflexa ‘Bonnie and Clyde’
Carex retroflexa ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, Heuchera ‘Smoke and Mirrors’, Penstemon ‘Blackbeard’ (background)

A Fairy Wing and a Prayer

Epimediums have long been a staple of the woodland perennial garden, but it wasn’t until plantsmen like Darrell Probst (US) and Mikinori Ogisu (Japan) began discovering and sharing the amazing wealth of unknown Chinese fairy wing species that their popularity began to take off.

It wasn’t until 1998 that epimediums begin appearing in the Plant Delights catalog, because before that time, the available horticultural offerings just weren’t that impressive. Plants like Epimedium x youngianum ‘Niveum’ are just hard to get excited about…if you’ve got much of a horticultural pulse. Sadly, that’s still the most dominant choice at most garden retailers.

Epimedium x youngianum ‘Niveum’

Another reason epimediums have been slow to become mainstream is the difficulty in getting good images. Because epimediums are so three-dimensional and prone to flutter in the wind, it takes quite an effort to take good images. Single flower closeups, which are much easier to take, always make me skeptical about how nice the entire plant will look in the garden.

When we were preparing to offer epimediums for the first time, we were faced with the decision of which of the three common names to use; fairy wings, barrenwort, and horny goat weed. Well, it doesn’t take much marketing savvy to choose from that list. That said, if we’d known that porn megastar Ron Jeremy would soon have his own line of epimedium tablets for male enhancement purposes, we might have reconsidered.

PDN/JLBG epimedium trials and study area

Once we became enamoured with fairy wings, we did as OCD people are prone to do, and built an entire research structure for the study, development, and trial of epimediums. We currently grow over 330 different epimedium taxa…some for study, some for conservation, and some which have enough garden value to share. It usually takes us about five years to fully evaluate a new epimedium seedling, comparing it to all other varieties on the market.

Since 2000, we’ve introduced over 27 of our own epimedium selections with more in the queue. Here are a few that we’ve already introduced that have proven to be excellent performers. We hope you’ve tried them all.

So, what’s next? Here’s a sneak peak of some of selections that have passed the final stages of in-ground trialing and are ready to head to container production trials. Our standards include good garden vigor, good floral showiness, and uniqueness from all other epimediums on the market. We like to think our standards are pretty high. We’d love to hear which of these future introductions below are your favorites.