Rock Garden Daphnes

While daphnes have a reputation for being tough to grow, many are actually quite easy if given proper siting. My life with daphnes changed significantly after my 2010 botanical expedition to Crete. I was shocked to find daphnes growing in full baking sun in bone dry regions among large rocks. Before then, I had obviously taken far too good care of my daphnes. Once we constructed the crevice gardens at JLBG, we replaced all the daphnes we’d killed in “better” garden locations. Here’s the Cretan native Daphne sericea in full flower.

And the pricks are off…

Yes, cactus flowering season has begun at JLBG with our two earliest specimens. Both Notocactus hasselbergii from Argentina and Pediocactus simpsonii from the Western US are the first two to bloom each season. We should have an incredible cactus flowering this year, which should still be in full swing for our spring Open Nursery and Garden days.

Notocactus hasselbergii

Where corydalis fear to tread

We live in a climate of heat and humidity where most of the really cool perennial corydalis fear to tread. One outstanding selection that has thrived here for the last quarter century is a discovery from our friend, Dan Hinkley, that he named and introduced as Corydalis leucanthema ‘Silver Spectre’.

Part of the secret to its survival is that it has the good sense to sleep through the summer months, emerging in late fall and grow through the winter months. Here’s a photo in the garden this week in full flower. We’ve found it very adaptable and easy to grow, although rich, slight moist compost is ideal. We haven’t offered this in a while, but if you think we should put it back in production, that wouldn’t take much arm-twisting.

Corydalis leucanthema ‘Silver Spectre’

Another cool corydalis that we love is one that came to us as a hitchhiker (we think), but one that we gladly adopted is Corydalis speciosa. Thanks to corydalis guru Magnus LIden for the identification. The winter foliage emerges heavily ruffled and then flattens, with flowering starting in late winter. I think this may make it’s way into propagation.

Corydalis speciosa foliage
Corydalis speciosa currently in flower

A Dilly of a Daffodil

Although narcissus are far from my favorite bulb…mostly due the terribly obtrusive foliage, we have grown quite a few species and cultivars through the years. My love is really for the smaller plants, which usually come with smaller foliage. One cultivar that has stood out through the years is Narcissus ‘Hawera’. Here is our oldest clump, planted in 1997, and despite not being regularly divided, it still puts on a fabulous show every year. Our plants are from our dear friends Brent and Becky Heath at Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.

A bleeding Ox….really?

There are several tiny rock garden-sized phlox, bred in the EU, and sold by specialist nurseries as forms of the Western US native, Phlox douglasii. The only problem is that Phlox douglasii isn’t really growable much outside climates similar to its native haunts. Phlox expert Charles Oliver determined these are actually hybrids between Phlox douglasii and the East Coast native Phlox subulata. This week, one of those hybrids, Phlox ‘Ochsen Blut’ is ravishing, and thriving in our crevice garden. The name, which translates to Ox Blood, indicates that the breeder most likely doesn’t have any training in marketing.

Bring Afghanistan into your garden.

Every year in late winter/early spring, one of the woody showstoppers at JLBG is the Afghan bush cherry, Prunus jacquemontii. This year was no exception as this stunning deciduous shrub is putting on an amazing show. Our twelve-year old plant is now 4′ tall x 6′ wide.

Loropetalums…not Low Petalums

Oh my goodness, how terrible these wonderful plants are treated by the hedge-clipper wielding masochistic masses! These amazing plants are large shrubs/small trees…not foundation shrubs…geez! We currently grow 27 cultivars, and need to replace three that we managed to kill. Purportedly some of these newer selections actually stay more compact, but that remains to be seen in our in-ground trials. Here are a few of our older specimens along with their actual measured size.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Crimson Fire’ (advertised as growing 4′ tall x 4-5′ wide) measures 6′ tall x 8′ wide after only 4 years. Growth rate is increasing and it looks like it should reach a mature size of 24′ tall x 32′ wide.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Crimson Fire’

Loropetalum chinense ‘Pippa’s Red’ (below) has reached 35′ tall x 20′ wide in 20 years.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Pippa’s Red’

The bicolor, genetically unstable Loropetalum ‘Ruby Snow’ (advertised as growing 6′ tall x 6′ wide) is 6′ tall x 8′ wide after 4 years, so mature size will probably be 24′ tall x 32′ wide. The dueling colors create an amazing effect.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Ruby Snow’

Loropetalum ‘Shang-hi’ (below), marketed as Purple Diamond, has reached 12′ tall x 16′ wide in twelve years, and the growth rate appears to be slowing.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Shang Hi’

Loropetalum ‘Snow Panda’ (below) is 7′ tall x 10′ wide after 5 years. The original plant, introduced by the US National Arboretum is 10′ tall x 8.5′ wide after fifteen years. It’s odd that our plant is growing so differently here.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Snow Panda’

Loropetalum chinense ‘Zuzhou’ (below) is our oldest remaining loropetalum at 26 years. Mature size is now 20′ tall x 24′ wide. We had older specimens of the original US National Arboretum introductions ‘Blush’ and ‘Burgundy’, but these were discarded to make room for more improved selections.

Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum ‘Zuzhou’

Please consider buying a tape measure to help get this sited so that they never need to meet a pair of mutilators (i.e. hedge trimmers) in person.

Swept Away

Sweeping sedge is in full flower in the garden today. The North American native (Canada south to Florida and west to Texas) Carex bromoides swept us off our feet! This delightful small evergreen sedge forms a 6″ tall x 30″ wide, delicate-textured patch of green hair-like foliage. Although it prefers moist to mucky wet soil, ours has fared beautifully in well ammended compost. Carex bromoides is a favorite meal food for a number of butterfly and skipper caterpillars, wood ducks, grouse, and several songbirds, which in turn eliminates any need for fertilizers. We think you’ll really love Carex bromoides, either as a solitary specimen or in mass.

Safe Landing on Planet Zork

There are a number of very exciting new ajugas to hit the market in the last few years, but one of our favorites has a longer history. Ajuga reptans ‘Planet Zork’, which we first acquired in 2004, is a non-flowering, crinkled-leaf sport of Ajuga ‘Burgundy Glow’. It was brought to the US from Japan, and later named and introduced here by plantsman Barry Yinger. We first grew Ajuga ‘Planet Zork’ in light shade, but it really showed its true colors when we transplanted it into full sun and moist soils. It’s parent, Ajuga ‘Burgundy Glow’ is ungrowable in our climate, rotting at the sign of rain during our hot, humid summers. Unlike many ajugas, this is a tight clumper that doesn’t seed around…an ideal groundcover.

Pink Painted Buckeye

In 2019, our research staffers were botanizing in Montgomery County, NC, when Jeremy stumbled on this painted buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica) seedling with new pink growth. In the past, we have not had good luck transplanting seedling aesculus, but thankfully this one survived nicely and two years later, it looked great this spring as the new foliage emerged. When it gets larger, we’ll share scions with grafters so we can make this more widely available.