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.

How About a Skirt?

We’re always on the look out for great skirts in the garden. Skirt is the garden design term we use for groundcovers, which reduce the need for mulch, while still keeping with the textural integrity of the garden design. Here are a few images of plants that we consider great skirts.

Erigeron pulchellus ‘Meadow Muffin’

We love this US native groundcover. The foliage is great and the flowers in very early spring are superb. At our home, we used it as a skirt for Acer palmatum ‘Orangeola’.

Ajuga tenori ‘Valfredda’

One of the top ajugas ever introduced because it doesn’t spread quickly or reseed. Very durable, but truly thrives in moist, compost rich soil. Here it is in flower this spring.

Ajuga reptans ‘Planet Zork’

Another of the absolutely finest ajugas we grow. Ajuga ‘Planet Zork’ is a crinkled leaf sport of Ajuga ‘Burgundy Glow’, which is a miserable performer in our climate, but this sport is indestructible. It’s so mutated that we’ve never seen a flower, but who cares.

Nepeta ‘Purple Haze’

In our climate, Nepeta ‘Purple Haze’ is one of the best performing catmints, and one that is quite unique from others in the trade. We cut it back after flowering and it starts over and flowers again.

Pycnanthemum tenuifolium ‘Campbell Carpet

Our sales of this amazing PDN/JLBG selection of the US native fine-leaf mountain mint (Pycnanthenum tenuifolium) weren’t nearly what we’d hoped, so we planted the unsold plants out along the road in front of our home, here providing a nice textural contrast to another great US native plant, Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’. We’ve made several selections of mountain mint over the years, but this is truly the star. We sure wish more people had tried this amazing plant.

Sisyrinchium ‘Suwanee’

Another native that simply didn’t sell the way it should is the iris relative, Sisyrinchium ‘Suwanee’. This is unquestionably the best blue-eyed grass ever!!! Found native in north Florida, it’s solid winter hardy in at least zone 6 and never reseeds like the native Sisyrinchium angustifolium. We believe this represents an un-named species, that’s in full flower here now if you drive by the nursery and see the mass of unsold plants we planted in our roadside ditch.

You can find more great garden skirt possibilities at our Groundcover link.

Do You Remember Ginger?

There are lots of different gingers to keep straight, starting with a memorable one that was a part of the band of misfits stranded on Gilligan’s Island. Horticulturally speaking, however, ginger refers both to a group of plants in the Zingiberaceae and Aristolochiaceae (birthwort) families. Hardy members of the Zingiber family are plants who mostly flower in the heat of summer, while the wild gingers (asarum) of the birthwort family tend to be mostly winter/spring flowering.

So, while it’s late winter/early spring, let’s focus of the woodland perennial genus asarum, of which we currently grow 86 of the known 177 asarum species/subspecies. In late winter/early spring, we like to remove any of the winter damaged evergreen leaves, which makes the floral show so much more visible. Few people take time to bend down and observe their amazing flowers, so below are some of floral photos we took this spring. View our full photo gallery here.

Asarum arifolium (Native: SE US)
Asarum caudatum (Native: NW US)
Asarum asaroides ‘Jade Turtle’ (Native: Japan)
Asarum asperum ‘Fault Line’ (Native: Japan)
Asarum campaniflorum (Native: China)
Asarum caudigerum (Native: China)
Asarum hirsutisepalum (Native: Japan)
Asarum ichangense ‘Huddled Masses’ (Native: China)
Asarum magnificum ‘Bullseye’ (Native: China)
Asarum nobilissimum ‘Crown Royal’ (Native: China)
Asarum nobilissimum ‘King Kong’ (Native: China)
Asarum porphyronotum ‘Irish Spring’ (Native: China)
Asarum senkakuinsulare (Native: Japan)
Asarum speciosum ‘Bloodshot Eyes’ (Native: SE US)
Asarum splendens (Native: China)