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)

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

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.

Cyclamens in the cracks

When we completed our crevice garden, we wanted to see if it would be a good home to cyclamen, since they like to grow naturally in well drained sites, and sites that are very dry during their late spring/early dormant period. Here, they also get a couple of hours of morning sun, but shade after that and no supplemental water. The soil mix is about 50% Permatill and 50% native soil/compost. Here are some photos recently taken this winter showing how they have fared. The joy of growing cyclamen is that each seedling has a different leaf pattern…what amazing plants!

Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen coum
Cyclamen coum

Late Fall Alliums

Although it’s a bit late, we wanted to share a new image we took of Allium kiiense in the gardens last fall. For us, this is one of the best small alliums for the garden, but because it flowers so late in the year (2nd week of November for us), few people ever see it. Every year, we produce more than we can sell because we keep assuming that word of this treasure will finally get out in public. Since it has a slightly pendant habit, Allium kiiense is best located where you can see it close up, and ideally from slightly below.

Winter Bloomers

Walking around the garden in mid-winter, we spotted a couple of nice woodies in full flower in addition to the winter blooming perennials. The first is one of many witch hazels we grow…in this case, Hamamelis ‘Orange Peel’.

Hamamelis ‘Orange Peel’

Growing nearby is Distylium buxifolium, also in full flower. D. buxifolium is a cousin to the better known D. myricoides. As best we can determine, it was not in cultivation in the US until a recent wild seed collection by Scott McMahan of the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Our plant is 3 years old from seed and measures 3′ tall x 10′ wide.

Distylium buxifolium in flower

Distylium buxifolium flowers closeup