2008 Plant Delights Nursery July Newsletter

We hope everyone is having a great summer and preparing for your visit to PDN for our Summer Open House, July 11-13 and 18-20. The gardens look fabulous and I’m sure you’re likely to see a few things that will strike your fancy. It got a little warm after our last email with four straight days in the 100’s … a record for June in our part of NC. Those in the Pacific Northwest are enduring the opposite problems … daytime highs in some regions hadn’t risen out of the 50’s by the end of June. At that rate, their tomatoes won’t ripen until 2010. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who live along the Mississippi River and watched their homes and livelihoods swept away or buried under the swollen waters. We’ve had a good year from a rainfall perspective and are actually finally running slightly ahead of normal for the year … a far cry from 2007. I wish we could share more rain with our friends in Atlanta, whose main supply, Lake Lanier, is still 15′ below normal. I spoke with folks from the Georgia Green Industry last week who told me that 20% of the nurseries in Georgia went out of business in 2007, and they anticipate some larger nurseries may bite the dust this year … a sad fate for a once vibrant industry.

In other items of interest, if you didn’t see it this spring, we wrote an article in the News and Observer newspaper about the senseless annual butchering of trees, especially crape myrtles.

In other cool stuff … if you live in or near the Triangle region of NC, check out Larry Hatch’s Google Map of Great Trees of the Triangle, which locates significant specimens of cool trees. This would be a great project for neighborhoods around the country.

If you haven’t checked out our shipping cam in a while, we have upgraded our camera to give you a much better view of your plants being shipped. We hope you will take a peek as time permits. Most of our shipping and packing takes place Monday-Thursday, 8am-4:30pm EST and in summer, mostly Monday and Tuesday.

Many of you have heard of our collaboration with elephant ear breeder, Dr. John Cho of Hawaii, to bring new unique elephant ears to gardeners around the world. John’s real job is working as a plant pathologist for the University of Hawaii and developing disease resistant varieties for commercial taro production. I thought I’d share a note from John about a recent non-gardening project.

Letter from Dr. Cho:

Just returned from a successful mission to the Dominican Republic (DR). I have been working with the IDIAF (DR’s counterpart to our USDA) to develop strategies to return the country’s taro (they call yautia coco) production back to what it was before taro leaf blight was introduced into the country in 2004 and essentially eliminated taro production since 2004.

My first visit was in October 2006, where I developed short term and long term strategies using cultural and breeding tactics to return their production to what was a $10 (with potential for $25) million industry where taro was grown on about 4,000 acres.

As a result of my recommendations, IDIAF research and extension scientists have initiated a breeding program using my elite taro hybrids as parents to use in crosses with their local taro variety. Because the breeding program would probably take at least 2 to 3 years, I recommended to jump start their taro production and that they identify cooperator-growers located in drier parts of the Dominican and away from the affected taro growing areas to grow taro using only clean tissue cultured plant materials under drip irrigation.

In September 2007, IDIAF identified one grower in a distal, dry part of the island and helped plant 4,000 tissue cultured plantlets generated from their laboratory. When I returned to the Dominican last week, IDIAF scientists and I visited this farmer. The grower since September had aggressively taken also very lateral shoots from the 4,000 tc plants and their progeny and we found that he had over 2.3 million plants in the ground, was planting 300,000 plants (lateral shoots) every month, would be harvesting his first crop of about 300,000 plants in June 2008. This grower from our estimates stands to make over $3 million this year with the potential of over $7 million in two years.

We had to conclude that this was a success story in the making and that the Dominican Republic would be back to their 2003 production levels before taro blight was introduced into the country within two years. At the present time another grower has been identified by IDIAF and planting will be initiated some time this year.

I feel good about helping the Dominican Republic and I have a clear conscious about Hawaii’s taro growers because the Dominican production will not compete with Hawaii in any way since their taro is produced for a different food use, different market, and uses a different type of taro.

In sad news, we regret to report children’s book illustrator Tasha Tudor of Vermont passed away at the spry age of 92. Fans of the book, The Secret Garden are familiar with her work, which graced nearly 100 books including non-garden favorites like Little Women and The Night Before Christmas. You can leave messages for the family at www.tashatudorandfamily.com.

If you have an interest in ferns, you most likely encountered the dynamic Richmond, VA fern guru, Nancy Swell. I’m saddened to report we lost Nancy last week after a long illness. If you’d like to send your condolences or have questions, you can contact Gina McMillan at (804) 245-0518 for more info.

On a happier note, we’d like to wish a Happy 100th Birthday to the delightful Ruth Bancroft. If you don’t know Ruth, her garden was the first in the country selected for preservation by the Garden Conservancy. I’ve had the pleasure of several visits to Ruth’s Walnut Creek, California garden and Ruth has generously shared many plants that now grow here at PDN. There will be a big bash/symposium on July 18 and 19 to celebrate. To find out more, go to www.ruthbancroftgarden.org/. I hope you will all have the opportunity to visit the garden and meet this special lady.

For those who are worried about having enough water for your garden, you may want to consider growing more geophytes. Geophyte is a fancy word for herbaceous plants with underground storage organisms which include bulbs, tubers, tuberous roots, rhizomes, and corms. Plants developed these underground storage organs to assist in surviving adverse conditions such as extended droughts.

Last month I wrote about the wonderful spring-flowering martagon lilies, but now I’d like to focus on more of the wonderful species lilies that pick summer to flower. If you’ve purchased dried up, virused bulbs often shipped in from overseas, you’ll have a surprise when you purchase one of our vigorous specimens, many of which are seed-grown. In addition to their beauty, another of the great characteristics of lilies is they are very drought tolerant. Consistently, one of our top sellers is Lilium formosanum. This native to Taiwan not only flowers the first year from seed, but reaches an amazing height of 7′ tall when grown in full sun and decent soil. It’s one of the latest flowering of the lily species, starting for us around August 1. Lilium rosthornii, a close relative of the Chinese L. henryi, is another favorite. These lilies will be opening any day now and have large clusters of orange flowers on arching stems. You shouldn’t have to stake a Lilium rosthornii if it is grown in full sun, but it will arch, so plant accordingly.

Lilium brownii ‘Sichuan Splendor’ is another superb species that will be opening shortly. The sturdy upright stems are topped in early summer with huge clusters of white flowers with a dusty purple back. Another recent Chinese species to be re-collected is Lilium sargentiae. This 5′ tall specimen is topped right now with large white trumpets. While this species does produce a few axillary bulbils to aid in reproduction, its numbers are tiny compared with the vigorous bulbil-producing species like Lilium lancifolium.

While I’ve started with the Asian species, let’s not forget some of our great natives, starting with Lilium michiganense. This 6′ tall lily spreads by horizontally-growing rhizomes, and is topped now with pendent orange flowers. This species prefers a moist, rich soil to perform its best. Another native lily with the same preference is the new species, Lilium pyrophilum, which was discovered growing with pitcher plants in NC. Although it adapts well to drier soils, this lily is stunning when well-grown and it bursts into flower with large clusters of bright orange in July.

Another bulbous star of the summer garden is the summer-flowering hymenocallis. Hymenocallis are members of the amaryllis family numbering around 50 species which occur from North American south through Mexico and into South America. A few of the species flower in early spring but most are summer flowering and in bloom now. Most hymenocallis prefer moist soils and are right at home in a bog. That being said, they are amazingly tolerant of dry soils, although flowers will not be as prolific. All hymenocallis have similar white flowers with long white tepals at the base of a white cup (corona), held in multi-flowering umbels at the end of tall stalks. We are pleased to offer 7 different hymenocallis with many more in the pipeline.

One of the smallest of the summer-flowering species is the NC native Hymenocallis pumila, which is found in scattered ditches along the coastal plain. In the ground, it makes a nice sized patch of 8″ tall rosettes that spread by underground rhizomes.

H. maximiliani is a Mexican species and has been tremendously vigorous and floriferous in our trials. The narrow, dark green glossy leaves are topped with a cloud of 30″ tall flowers for much of the summer … a clump is simply amazing.

Hymenocallis ‘Tropical Giant’ is the largest of the hymenocallis we currently offer. Most folks consider this to be a selection of H. caribaea, but that species is completely confused in the trade with the tropical H. littoralis. Compared to H. maximiliani, the leaves are much wider and lighter green. The flowers, which are also in full bloom now, are much larger in all parts than H. maximiliani, but like the aforementioned, have a long flowering period in summer.

Crinums are another member of the Amaryllid family that are superb at withstanding drought. Many of the species hail from the deserts of Africa, where they form huge underground bulbs able to withstand months and even years with little moisture. A mature crinum bulb can easily exceed the size of a large softball. Some crinum species such as C. bulbispermum start flowering in May, but July is without question one of the peak flowering months. You’ll find some crinum bulbs offset quickly, while others grow solitary for years … hence the variability in price. We have been successful with multiplying some in tissue culture, which allows for a much lower price than would be otherwise possible. We have also had very good success with others by slicing the basal plate … basically cutting the bulb into four pieces. We hope you will enjoy our extraordinarily large offering of these amazing bulbs.

Many of you have been kind enough to purchase our nursery-propagated trillium, which also have an underground storage organ … in this case, a rhizome. If you’ve never tried growing trilliums from seed, you can’t imagine what is involved. First, the trillium flowers need to be hand pollinated to get maximum seed set. Sure, you’ll get a few if you don’t, but recent research shows 40% more seed will be produced if you hand pollinate. Then you wait until they are almost ripe before they are gathered. I say almost ripe, because ripe trillium seed are covered with a sweet substance, known as an eliasome. Eliasome makes the seeds attractive to pollinators, which in turn help with distribution. In doing so, the eliasome create headaches for nursery folks trying to gather and plant the seeds as ants usually commandeer the seed capsules a day before you are ready to harvest them.

When we were planting the seed this week, PDN Research Horticulturist Jeremy noticed insects were stealing the seed in the rows as fast as we could plant them. According to Jeremy, 1 large ant or 1 wasp could handle a seed each, while it required 5 smaller ants to work together to haul a single seed. I should mention trillium seed are about the size of an okra seed. These eliasomes have been called Ant Nip by Alabama trillium guru Harold Holmes, but we think it’s more like Insect Crack. If you’ve got some extra ripe trillium seed nearby, spread them on the ground, grab your camera, and get ready for some great photos. Did I mention … from seed, it takes 4-5 years to produce a flowering-size plant?

As always, we thank you for your continued support and patronage.

Please direct all replies and questions to office@plantdelights.com.

Thanks and enjoy