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)

A Concrete Idea

Unless you’ve been hiding under a piece of concrete, you’ve no doubt heard of our crevice garden experiment, constructed with recycled concrete and plants planted in chipped slate (Permatill). It’s been just over three years since we started the project and just over a year since its completion. In all, the crevice garden spans 300′ linear feet and is built with 200 tons of recycled concrete. The garden has allowed us to grow a range of dryland (6-12″ of rain annually) plants that would otherwise be ungrowable in our climate which averages 45″ of rain annually.

One of many plants we’d killed several times ptc (prior to crevice) are the arilbred iris, known to iris folks as ab’s. These amazing hybrids are crosses between the dazzling middleastern desert species and bearded hybrids. Being ready to try again post crevice (pc), we sent in our order to a California iris breeder, who promptly emailed to tell us that he would not sell them to us because they were ungrowable here. It took some persuading before they agreed to send our order, but on arrival, they became some of the first plants to find a home in the new crevices. Although we’ve added more ab’s each year, the original plantings will be three years old in August. Here are a few flowers from this week.

Iris are just a few of the gems that can be found in our “cracks”, continuing below with dianthus. As we continually take note of our trial successes, more and more of those gems will find their way into our catalog and on-line offerings…as long as we can produce it in a container. Please let us know if any of these strikes your fancy.

If that’s not enough, here are some more shinning stars currently in bloom.

If any of this seems interesting, you probably should be a member of the North American Rock Garden Society…a group of similarly afflicted individuals. If you are specifically addicted to cracks, check out the nearly 2000 strong, really sick folks on Modern Crevice Gardens on Facebook

Brexit Redux – Part V (final)

Our final stop was about 5.5 hours north of Tregrehan, when we had the honor to visit Kerley and Co. I didn’t actually make the connection when this was first mentioned to me, but when owner David Kerley mentioned us seeing his primrose breeding, it clicked that this was the home of the amazing Belarina primroses that perform so well in our hot, humid summers. Kerleys’ is not open to the public and they do not sell plants. They breed the plants and then license their genetics for sale.

Breeding Trials

Both Hans and I were duly blown away during our tour with David’s son, Tim. Primula are one of several crops bred by the Kerley’s. In their primula program, the Kerley’s focus on better vigor and branching, unlike what has been done with the inexpensive common annual primroses. They do so by going back to some of the older varieties that had better perennialization and branching qualities, and then working to upgrade the flowers without losing the vigor.

So far, all of the Belarina lines released are double flower forms, but after watching Hans and Tim in the greenhouses, it wouldn’t surprise me if a line of their amazing single colors will be coming in the future. I’ve grown a lot of primulas in my time, but I’ve never seen anything like the amazing plants we saw here.

After a quick, but exhilarating trip, it was time to return home…thankfully before Coronavirus fears began to grip the world.

Despite another significant bureaucratic shipping snafu, which was thankfully resolved after only a week of our plants being held hostage, we did receive our plants and most are recovering nicely.

Other than the bureaucratic landmines that await those trying to import plants, there are tremendous costs involved. For every $100 of plants we imported from this trip, we incur a landed cost of $250. In other words, each $10 plant we purchase actually costs us $25 by the time it arrives home.

We would be remiss if we didn’t thank the US Import Inspectors for their hard work in keeping American agriculture safe from new foreign pests. Now, if we can only have a productive conversation with their permitting division to revise a process and regulations that can only be described as draconian, overly complex, and barely functional.

Brexit Redux – Part IV

Our next focus was to re-purchase plants that we had picked up on our 2018 trip, but due to a bureaucratic shipping snafu, the majority of the 2018 shipment was killed during a six-week delay in transit. These pick-up stops included a couple of personal favorite nurseries, Cotswold Garden Flowers and Pan-Global Plants, as we worked our way south. One new stop was in Devon, at a wholesale woody plant propagator, Roundabarrow Farms, whose owner Paul Adcock had visited PDN/JLBG the year prior.

Although Paul had no electricity at his remote nursery location, he was kind enough to allow us to use his open potting shed for our bare-rooting chores. For those who have never shipped plants internationally, the process is at best arduous. First, you must check the extensive USDA list to see which plants are allowed entry into the US. Next, plants must be bare-rooted and scrubbed free of all soil and potential pests. For a shipment of 100+ plants, this operation takes about 8 hours. This was the first time I’d had the pleasure of doing the tasks outdoors in the snow, rain, and gale force winds. Thank goodness darkness coincided with the onset of frostbite.

Plant wrapping was finished that evening and the following morning at our room nearby, which wasn’t dramatically better than Paul’s potting shed, since the bathroom was not attached to the room and the strung out property manager kept turning off the heat to the room.

Our final stop in Southern England was at Tom Hudson’s Tregrehan Gardens in Cornwall. This was my first trip to Cornwall, but after hearing that Tregrehan was the finest woody plant collection in the entire UK from several of the UK’s best plantsmen, it was not to be missed. I will admit that all the talk I’d heard about the mild climate of Tregrehan, I wasn’t expecting the frigid weather we encountered including intermittent sleet and snow.

Tom Hudson, Owner

We had the pleasure of walking the amazing collectors garden with Tom and his dogs. Despite the difficult weather, we had an amazing visit as we walked among many of the towering specimens, many of which were 150 years old.

Boulevard Cypress (Chamaecyparis psifera ‘Squarrosa’ @ 150 years of age. Look ma…it isn’t so dwarf after all.
Fatsia polycarpa ‘Needham’s’ was in full flower
It was great to see the giant leaf selection of Fatsia japonica ‘Hsitou Giant’ as well. Tom had shared one of these for our 2019 Southeastern Plant Symposium auction. Perhaps another will show up for the 2020 auction.
Huodendron is a plant I’ve killed four times, but three of those times, it died before even making it into the ground. What an amazing specimen of this evergreen styrax relative.
Illicium simmonsii was in full flower, as was this still unidentified species.
Tregrehan has a wonderful collection of hardy scheffleras, most of which are sadly ungrowable for us because of our hot summers.
Not bad for a specimen of the US West Coast native Douglas Fir.
Rhododendron were everywhere including some early flowering species
It was hard not to be impressed by 150 year old specimens of Rhododendron arboreum.

The ideal time to visit Tregrahan is during their Rare Plant Fair and Sale, held every year in late May/early June (the plant fair is currently under review, due to the fast moving nature of the Coronavirus). Vendors and the foremost plant collectors come from all over the world to this amazing event.

Brexit Redux – Part III

The next morning, we were in for a weather event. The storm that had swept over North Carolina a few days before had followed us to the UK, and predictions were for torrential rains and 60-80 mph winds. For the night prior, we had stayed at the lovely Colesbourne Inn, part of the Colesbourne Estate and Gardens.

Colesbourne Inn
Our rooms were built in the 1100s, making it one of the older inns in which I’ve had the pleasure to stay in my travels. Despite the age, the rooms had been well updated with the modern conveniences on the interior and made for a delightful accommodation.
We enjoyed a lovely dinner with Sir Henry and Carolyn Elwes, the current heirs of the estate, along with Dr. John Grimshaw, who formerly managed and re-invigorated the estate gardens. The food at the Colesbourne Inn is quite extraordinary…highly recommended.

John Grimshaw was a trouper, agreeing to take us around Colesbourne in the difficult weather. Taking photos of galanthus in the pouring rain and 30-50 mph winds was quite an experience, but here are a few images that turned out reasonably well.
Naturalized drifts of galanthus at Colesbourne Gardens
Galanthus ‘E.A. Bowles’
Galanthus ‘Comet’
Galanthus ‘Hippolyta’
Galanthus ‘Lord Lieutenant’
Galanthus ‘Green Tear’
Galanthus ‘Nothing Special’
Galanthus ‘Primrose Wartburg’
Galanthus ‘Wasp’

We were also shown the first lilium monograph, The Genus Lilium, written by Sir Henry’s grandfather, the late plantsman H.J. Elwes, in 1880. Hans and I were both interested in tracking down a copy until we learned that when they are available, they usually fetch between 15k and 32k each. Oh well…

Across from the Colesbourne Inn was a public foot path (so designated by sign), so we took a walk to see what grew in the wilds of Colesbourne. Well, the answer is galanthus…non-native galanthus everywhere. In fact, much of the countryside has been taken over with these invasive exotics. It’s easy to see why they’re still on the CITES endangered list.

For the Love of Hostas

Hostas are incredibly tough plants and will get along fine in almost any garden…but they look their absolute best with just a little extra attention. Here are some tips to grow beautiful hostas in your garden.

Despite hostas durable nature, there are many myths circulating about growing hostas, one of which is the term Originator’s Stock. Originator’s stock is simply a superfluous term for saying that the plant in question is the correctly named clone. Click here for more debunking!

Cold Hardy Palms of the Carolinas

Did you know that North Carolina has twice as many native palms as California?

Join garden volunteer, Mike Papay, on a virtual tour of Juniper Level Botanic Garden as he discusses native and cold hardy palms of the Carolinas as part of our Gardening Unplugged garden chat series, held each day of our Open Nursery & Garden Days.

Windmill Palm – Trachycarpus

Agave x striphantha

When creating hybrids, especially with plants like agaves, it takes many years to know exactly what the offspring will look like. We have a pretty good guess, since we’ve done this for so long, but here’s an updated photo of a cross we made in 2013 of Agave striata x Agave lophantha. The hybrid, that we call Agave x striphantha is now 3′ wide, which is the same width of the Agave striata parent. We expected the hybrid to stay a bit smaller, but it did not. What we still don’t know is what will happen when it flowers. Agave striata is the only hardy species that doesn’t die after flowering, while the flowering rosette of the other parent, Agave lophantha cashes it in after its sexual encounter. Hopefully, it won’t be long before we know about the hybrid, and hopefully it will produce viable seed.

Learn more about growing agaves.

Agave x striphantha (striata x lophantha)
This is the Agave striata parent
This is the Agave lophantha parent.

Gardening for winter

Here are a couple of images of the gardens at JLBG to show how we garden for the winter months. By selecting and designing your garden for the winter season, it will automatically look great during the other three seasons.

Plants featured include hellebores, rohdea, ophiopogon (mondo grass), sabal palm, Illicium ‘Florida Sunshine’, and a number of conifers.
Here’s one of our woodland streams featuring Aucuba ‘Limbata’, carex, and rohdea. With proper plant selection, the garden in winter doesn’t have to be a lifeless canvas of mulch.

Falling Waters in the Garden

Here’s a new photo we just took in the garden that showcases the amazing architecture of xMangave ‘Falling Waters’ when it reaches maturity…pretty amazing!

Find out more about xMangave and their uses as a container specimen on FaceBook @MadAboutMangave.

xMangave ‘Falling Waters’

The genus xmangave is an exotic botanical curiosity that was derived from a cross between an agave and a manfreda. Crosses between two genera are somewhat rare in cultivation and extremely rare in nature. However, agave and manfreda have broken all the rules and ‘hooked up’ on more than one occasion to produce the attractive offspring called x Mangave. The ‘x’ on the left side of Mangave tells you that it is a cross between different genera.