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.
We are saddened to announce the passing (May 12) of one of our closest friends, plantsman Alan Galloway, age 60. In addition to serving as an adjunct researcher for Juniper Level Botanic Garden, Alan was a close friend and neighbor, living less than two minutes from the garden/nursery.
Alan was a native North Carolinian, who grew up on a farm in Brunswick County, NC, where he developed his love for plants and the natural world. After graduating from UNC-Wilmington with a Computer Science degree, and working for his alma mater for two years, he made the move two hours west to Raleigh. There, Alan worked at NC State University in IT administration and management for 30 years, until retiring in Fall 2018 as Director of IT Services.
Starting in 1999, Alan would save up his vacation time from his day job at NC State, and spend 3-4 weeks each fall, trekking through remote regions of the world where he felt there were still undiscovered aroid species to find, document, and get into cultivation. From 1999 to 2018, he managed 21 botanical expeditions around the world, that included the countries/regions of Cambodia, Crete, Hong Kong, Laos, Mallorca, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Alan routinely risked life and limb on his travels, whether it was getting attacked by a pit viper in Thailand, barely missing a land mine in Cambodia, or tumbling down a mountain and almost losing a leg in Laos.
I had the pleasure of botanizing in Crete, Thailand and Vietnam with Alan, which was an amazing experience, although not for the faint of heart. Alan was a tireless force of nature, but was not one to suffer what he viewed as stupidity or laziness. Although he was very respectful of people from all walks of life, he also regularly burned bridges to those whom he found incapable of meeting his meticulously high standards.
Alan was botanically self-taught, but his obsessive compulsion led him to become one of the worlds’ leading experts on tuberous aroids, specializing in the genera Amorphophallus and Typhonium. To date Alan is credited with the discovery of 30 new plant species (see list below). He was working on describing several more plants from his travels at the time of his death.
Not only did Alan’s botanical expeditions result in new species, but also new horticultural cultivars of known species. Two of the most popular of these were Leucocasia (Colocasia) ‘Thailand Giant’ (with Petra Schmidt), and L. ‘Laosy Giant’.
As a scientist, Alan was both meticulous and obsessive. It wasn’t enough for him to observe a new plant in the field, but he felt he could learn far more growing it in cultivation. He would often work through the night in his home research greenhouse studying plants and making crosses, so he could observe seed set and determine other close relatives.
Alan was overly generous with his knowledge, believing that sharing was necessary for the benefit of both current and future generations of plant scientists. Without his expert understanding of crossbreeding tuberous aroids, we would never have been able to have such incredible success in our own aroid breeding program. Seedlings from his crosses were then grown out and observed, often resulting in a number of special clonal selections.
After his tuberous aroids went dormant each year, all tubers were lifted from their containers, inventoried, and carefully cleaned for photography and further study. Visiting his greenhouse during tuber season was quite extraordinary.
In his amazing Raleigh home garden and greenhouse, Alan maintained the world’s largest species collection of Amorphophallus and Typhonium, including 2 plants named in his honor; Amorphophallus gallowayi and Typhonium gallowayi. Alan’s discoveries are now grown in the finest botanical gardens and aroid research collections around the world.
After returning from what proved to be his last expedition in Fall 2018, he suffered from a loss of energy, which he attributed to picking up a parasite on the trip. It took almost eight months for area doctors to finally diagnose his malaise as terminal late stage bone cancer, during which time Alan had already made plans and purchased tickets for his next expedition. I should add that he made his travel plans after being run over by a texting pickup truck driver, and drug under the truck for 100 feet through the parking lot of the nearby Lowes Home Improvement, which ruined his kidney function.
Alan was certain, albeit too late, that his cancer came from a lifetime addiction to cigarettes, which he was never able to overcome. Over the last 18 months, it’s been difficult for those of us who knew Alan to watch him lose the vitality and unparalleled work ethic that had been his trademark. Despite his loss of physical ability, his trademark independent/stubborn nature would still not allow him to even accept help driving himself to chemo infusions and blood transfusions, which he did until he passed away. Alan was also never one to complain or bemoan his circumstances, only continuing to accomplish as much as possible in the time he had remaining.
After the initial shock of his diagnosis, Alan systematically began distributing massive amounts of his ex-situ conservation aroid collection to gardens and gardeners around the world, since he also believed that sharing is the most effective means of plant conservation.
One of his hybrids that Alan had shared and asked us to keep a special eye on was his cross of Amorphophallus kachinensis x konjac. We talked with him last week and shared that the first flower was almost open, and he was so excited to see his baby for the first time, but by the time it opened early this week, it was too late. So, here is the photo of his new cross, seen for the first time that would have made him so proud.
Alan Galloway new plant species discoveries:
Amorphophallus allenii (2019 – Thailand)
Amorphophallus acruspadix (2012 – Laos)
Amorphophallus barbatus (2015 – Laos)
Amorphophallus bolikhamxayensis (2012 – Laos)
Amorphophallus brevipetiolatus (2012 – Laos)
Amorphophallus claudelii (2016 – Laos)
Amorphophallus crinitus (2019 – Vietnam)
Amorphophallus crispifolius (2012 – Laos)
Amorphophallus croatii (2011 – Laos)
Amorphophallus ferruginosus (2012 – Laos)
Amorphophallus gallowayi (2006 – Laos)
Amorphophallus khammouanensis (2015 – Laos)
Amorphophallus malkmus-husseinii (2019 – Laos)
Amorphophallus myosuroides (2007 – Laos)
Amorphophallus ongsakulii (2006 – Laos)
Amorphophallus prolificus (2006 – Thailand)
Amorphophallus reflexus (2006 – Thailand)
Amorphophallus schmidtiae (2006 – Laos)
Amorphophallus serrulatus (2006 – Thailand)
Amorphophallus umbrinus (2019 – Vietnam)
Amorphophallus villosus (2019 – Vietnam)
Typhonium conchiforme (2005 – Thailand)
Typhonium gallowayi (2001 – Thailand)
Typhonium khonkaenensis (2015 – Thailand)
Typhonium rhizomatosum (2012 – Thailand)
Typhonium sinhabaedyai (2005 – Thailand)
Typhonium supraneeae (2012 – Thailand)
Typhonium tubispathum (2005 – Thailand)
Typhonium viridispathum (2012 – Thailand)
Aspidistra gracilis (2012 – Hong Kong)
Not only has Alan been a good friend for over 30 years, but he has been extremely generous in sharing with us at PDN/JLBG. Over 1500 plant specimens in our collection came directly from Alan. It still seems surreal that we have lost such a vibrant soul that has been so important to expanding our body of knowledge about the botanical/horticultural world. Farewell, my friend…you will be sorely missed.
We will be coordinating with his niece April and her husband Mark to plan a celebration of Alan’s life, which will be held here at PDN/JLBG at a future date, which we will announce when it is set.
Ok, the spelling of “Susanna” is slightly different, but don’t let that deter you from growing one of the greatest groundcover clematis that we’ve ever grown. Yes, that’s right…no mailbox post or staking required. We’ve been growing this amazing, compact clematis as a groundcover for years and it is truly superb. Here it is in the garden this spring, but it will also continue to flower into summer. What’s not to love about Cezanne!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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