Need an Inspiration?

Sometimes we’re all in need of inspiration, and this spring, ours came from its namesake, Magnolia ‘Inspiration’. This stunning evergreen hybrid between Magnolia doltsopa and Magnolia laevifolia was developed by our old hosta friend, Barry Sligh of New Zealand, who sadly passed away in 2019. Our amazing seven-year old specimen is now 10′ tall x 10′ wide and as you can see if absolutely loaded with deliciously fragrant flowers. Pat McCracken of Garden Treasures Nursery tells me that he produced it for a while, but stopped because it grew too fast in containers. I agree with his assessment that it is the proverbial ugly duckling when young, but it sure makes a heckuva swan when it ages.

Magnolia ‘Inspiration’
Magnolia ‘Inspiration’

Six Shooter

We have long enjoyed the winter-flowering, evergreen Clematis armandii, but had no idea the variability that existed until we acquired this new form from China in 2012. Unlike the more commonly known Clematis armandii var. armandii, which has 4 petals per flower, the subspecies hefengensis from Southwest Hubei Province in China has six petals. We have given this exceptional clone the cultivar name Clematis ‘Six Shooter’. We haven’t started propagating this yet, but are thinking about doing so. Would anyone be interested?

Clematis armandii var. hefengensis ‘Six Shooter’

Winter Bridal Bouquet

Flowering this week is our selection of Magnolia floribunda ‘Bridal Bouquet’. When we visited Yunnan, China in 1996, we were able to return with three seed of Magnolia floribunda, a species which seemed completely absent from American horticulture. The resulting seedlings were planted into the garden, where two promptly died during the first winter. Thankfully, one survived and is still thriving today 25 years later.

Magnolia floribunda ‘Bridal Bouquet’ forms an upright, somewhat open evergreen that sometimes starts flowering as early as mid-January. This year, thanks to our consistent cold, it waited until early March to start its floral show. The flowers have a distinctive and fascinating fragrance that we find unique among our magnolia collection. We have shared cuttings with several woody plant nurseries and donated plants to a few rare plant auctions in the hopes of getting this more widely cultivated.

Magnolia floribunda ‘Bridal Bouquet’
Magnolia floribunda ‘Bridal Bouquet’

Winter Anise

Looking lovely this week is the winter flowering anise, Illicium anisatum. This clone is Illicium anisatum ‘Murasaki no Sato’, which has creamy-centered leaves and new purple growth that’s just scrumptious. The winter floral show is also truly spectacular! This is first cousin to the tender Chinese anise, Illicium verum, whose pods are used medicinally. Illicium anisatum, however, is best used only ornamentally, since it’s fruit are toxic when consumed.

Confused Sweet Box

We’re not sure why this sweet box is confused, but we love it nevertheless. Flowering now at JLBG with an insane fragrance emitted by the tiny white flowers. Here is our eight-year old evergreen clump in flower now.

Sarcococca confusa

Blue Ice is Hot

One of our favorite blue-foliage conifers that thrives in the southeast heat and humidity is Cupressus arizonica var. glabra ‘Blue Ice’. This is a four year old planting of the Arizona native that’s already made a nice size specimen. Cupressus ‘Blue Ice’ is great to use for Christmas arrangements, due to it’s color, foliage fragrance, and ability to hold up very well after being cut.

A Yew for You

Our 30-year-old plant of Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Duke Gardens’ has reached 3.5′ in height and 14′ in width. This amazing deer-resistant shrub, discovered at the nearby Duke Gardens, is a superb evergreen that tolerates both sun and shade as long as the soil is well-drained. As is our garden policy, our plant has never been sheared.

Broadleaf Evergreen Royalty

One of the broadleaf evergreen trees that always elicits oohs and aaahs is Castanopsis cuspidata ‘Angyo Yellow’ and the cream centered counterpart ‘Nakafu’. These yellow-variegated Japanese selections of the the Japanese chinquapin is as rare as the proverbial hens teeth. Our 14 year old specimen pictured here in the winter garden is starting to make quite a show. We expect them to eventually reach their mature size of 25′ – 35′ in another few decades. In Japan, they are propagated by grafting, although they will root from cuttings, albeit in ridiculously low percentages. It’s our dream to one day make these more widely available if we can figure out the propagation that would allow this to happen.

Castanopsis cuspidata ‘Angyo Yellow’
Castanopsis cuspidata ‘Nakafu’

Goldfeather

We can’t imagine gardening in a climate where we couldn’t grow these amazing bold-textured evergreen winter wonders. Here is Aspidistra ‘Goldfeather’ in the garden this week, glowing in the winter light. For those in colder winter climates, the common name of cast iron plants give an indication of how tough they are as house plants in low light conditions.

Aspidistra elatior ‘Goldfeather’

A New Fatsia

In 2008, we met the deeply-lobed Fatsia polycarpa (aralia family) on its’ home turf in Taiwan. From our expedition, we were able to import several seedlings, which are now mature. Only one clone had ever flowered before this year, and cold temperatures always killed the developing buds. Finally, this winter, a second clone, Fatsia polycarpa ‘Taroko Treasure’ flowered for the first time, and these flower stalks have withstood the winter temps, which so far, have only dropped to 21F. If these seed mature, we may finally be able to offer this rarely available species…finger crossed.