2011 Plant Delights Nursery February Newsletter

Unlike many gardeners in the upper states of the country who are still having winter, we’ve turned the corner and have been enjoying several days of spring-like temperatures. Hopefully, we won’t have too many of these days until the danger of frost has passed. For folks looking to escape the cold, we’d like to invite you to our Winter Open House, starting this week, Friday and Saturday, February 25, 26, from 8-5pm. Our Open House also continues next weekend, March 4, 5 at the same times. We’ll be opening up the shipping greenhouses for shopping, as well as the display gardens for exploration and photography. As always, we’ll be here to answer your gardening questions…we look forward to seeing you! Visiting Information

Garden photography has geared back up as the winter-flowering plants begin to put on their wonderful show. As I was laying on my stomach photographing Helleborus niger over the weekend, I was amazed to see all the honeybees visiting the flowers. This got me thinking about the ways many of the winter-flowering plants attract pollinators in a season where insects aren’t at their greatest abundance. It seems that a majority do this through fragrance. Starting with winter-flowering shrubs and small trees, fragrant plants include Hamamelis (witch hazel), Prunus mume (flowering apricot), Edgeworthia (paper bush), Michellia maudiae and Michellia floribunda (winter-flowering magnolia), Magnolia denudata (Yunnan magnolia), Mahonia x media (Oregon Grape), Daphne odora (winter daphne), and Mahonia gracilis (Mexican grape). Fragrant winter perennials and small bulbs include Nothoscordum sellowianum (yellow false ipheion), Narcissus (winter daffodil), Symplocarpus (skunk cabbage), and Iris unguicularis (winter-blooming iris). Despite my nose not being able to detect a fragrance from the hellebores, there is obviously something that the insects can detect. Although we don’t offer shrubs and trees, we hope you will consider adding more fragrant plants to your winter garden.

Over the last few years, there have been a number of Helleborus niger hybrids to enter the market. These include crosses of Helleborus niger and Helleborus argutifolius (Helleborus x nigercors), Helleborus niger x Helleborus argutifolius x Helleborus lividus (Helleborus x ericsmithii), and Helleborus niger x lividus (Helleborus x ballardiae). We have now tried 18 different clones, and while all are nice, the one that has really impressed me recently is Helleborus x ballardiae ‘HGC Pink Frost’. It’s been difficult for breeders working with Helleborus niger to get great amounts of color saturation in the flowers, but this is the exception. The flowers emerge a lovely shade of pink and darken as they age. I think you’ll really love this one if you haven’t tried it yet.

With plants popping quickly in our region, it’s time to wrap up some of the winter maintenance chores in the garden. If your clumps of ophiopogon or liriope are burned from the winter, these can be cut back now before the new growth begins. The same is true for epimediums, which are much easier to cut back before the new flower stalks begin to emerge, and for us, this is only days away. Ornamental grasses that look beat up from the winter are also ready to re-sprout, so don’t delay cutting these back or you’ll be cutting the new leaves as well as the old ones. Evergreen plants like aspidistra, ruscus, and danae hold onto their foliage for several years, and as you can imagine, the old foliage can begin to look ragged after two seasons. I like to go through these clumps now and remove the oldest foliage to keep the clumps looking their best.

If you want to do some really interesting seed propagation, look around the base of your Aspidistra elatior clumps where you will find the nearly ripe seed pods which look like 1-1.5″ green jawbreakers. These should soon be ready for harvest, and I’ll almost guarantee that you’ll be the only one in the Master Gardener class growing aspidistra from seed.

Years ago, we built our first hypertufa trough that we now keep on our patio near the house. No matter what we planted in it, the plants had a short life expectancy thanks to our cats, especially Pearl, who finds laying in a trough of rocky soil preferable to the soft cat beds that we purchased for her…a trip to the kitty shrink is in her future. After years of trying, we finally found one plant that would survive in the trough without being killed, and that is Teucrium marum…a plant we nicknamed “kitty crack” for its hallucinogenic properties. While Pearl still lays in the trough, often stoned for hours, she is very protective of her kitty crack. This made it all the more surprising when I arrived home the other day to find a stray cat laying in the trough…in an obvious transcendental state of “what, me worry”. Although we don’t know the name of our wide-eyed interloper with a Cheshire-like grin, we’ve nicknamed it Smiley Cyrus.

In some very interesting new research by Kansas State Professor Raymond Cloyd, published in HortScience 45: 1830-1833 (2010), it was discovered that Bounce® original brand fabric softener dryer sheets were quite effective in repelling fungus gnats. As it turns out, the Bounce® sheets that make your clothes smell so good, contain linalool, benzyl acetate, beta-citronellol, and hedione…very effective chemicals against fungus gnats. If you’ve grown plants from seed, you have no doubt run into fungus gnats, which are tiny black flies that live on the surface of moist potting soils. Fungus gnat larvae eat developing seedlings, some even before they emerge from the soil. I recommend sowing your seed, then covering the pot with a Bounce® sheet and securing it with a rubber band. The sheets will allow light and water to pass through while keeping the fungus gnats out. Once the seedlings are large enough, the covers can be removed. Good air movement and keeping the soil surface dry are also very important in controlling fungus gnats.

I recently got a note from Dr. Paul Capiello, director of the Yew Dell Arboretum in Crestwood, Kentucky (just outside Louisville). Paul is looking for a Garden Manager, which is the primary full time staff member dedicated to management of Yew Dell’s gardens, plant collections, plant records, garden staff, and volunteers. For those who don’t know Yew Dell, it was the home of the late plantsman Theodore Klein. Paul would like a candidate with either a 2 or 4 year degree, 3 years of garden supervisory experience, a good handle on plant databases and a passion for plants. This is a great chance to learn and be a part of a great plant collection. Click here for more information.

Last month, I wrote about the controversy at the US National Arboretum, where senior garden staff had decided to discard the azaleas on the Mt. Hamilton hillside at the arboretum. Well, as is often the case, there was more than met the eye and I thank everyone who wrote to share more detailed information about the situation. As it turned out, the arboretum gardens staff had also decided to de-accession (a botanical word for eliminate) several other plant collections including the boxwood collection, the species daylily collection, and the daffodil collection. Bizarrely, these decisions were made without consulting with pertinent stakeholders (a government term for interested parties who don’t work for the government) and even their own USDA researchers, some of whom use the collections in their work.

On the azalea hillside, our friend Don Hyatt of the Azalea Society tells me the azaleas slated for removal are actually not culls from the Glen Dale breeding program, which is a somewhat different situation which I addressed in my last newsletter. Don says the hillside includes both released plants whose tags were lost and more hybrids planted out for evaluation. If so, then the arboretum should work with the Azalea (Rhododendron) Society to evaluate the collections, re-label where possible, and then decide which plants should stay and which should go. I still have the same question…do we really need more than 454 Glen Dale azaleas…of which 312 were selected and named from the original 1000 selections planted on the Arboretum’s hillside plantings? How many of these turned out to be good enough to be widely grown…certainly not 454?. As a plant breeder, I cannot imagine naming more than a handful of truly worthwhile and distinctive plants from 1000 initial selections…certainly not 454 cultivars. I would hope that any further named releases from the hillside would be far more judicious.

Part of the problem with some of the collections targeted for removal is that they draw little interest from large numbers of the visiting gardening public. In the case of each of these collections (other than the azaleas), they are isolated and not incorporated well into with other collections. How many of you who visit the arboretum ever spend time in the boxwood collection? This is actually the National Arboretum’s only NAPCC (similar to the UK National Plant Collections) national collection. I will admit to spending over half a day in the boxwood garden one winter many years ago, and I found it amazing. I’ve been on a crusade for years to get folks to realize there are few evergreen plants better in the woodland garden than boxwoods. Yes, boxwoods are not full sun plants, and are much happier growing among hostas and ferns…and no, they never need pruning. In my opinion, the arboretum would do much better to re-arrange the collections and add other plants to draw visitors into these neglected parts of the garden.

So, why the rush to discard important plant collections? Supposedly, this is a budget decision in response to losing two gardener positions. Interestingly, this happens at the same time as the arboretum announced plans for a new 22-acre Chinese Garden. If you think this is a new problem, think again. When the Arboretum’s world-renown holly breeder, Gene Eisenbeiss passed away in 1997, the Holly Society of America pleaded with the Arboretum to save his unparalleled collection of 400 ilex species. Those pleas fell on deaf ears and the collections were bulldozed. As it turned out, there were those within USDA that felt the world didn’t need another holly. This combined with Gene’s dyslexic plot maps and overgrown collections were enough to justify a major deaccessioning. Like the boxwoods, I spent a good bit of time in the holly collections when Gene was alive. While I’m all for bulldozing culls after a breeding program ends, cooperating with the stakeholders would have undoubtedly saved some valuable germplasm that is now lost. Fortunately, a couple of Gene’s hollies managed to escape before the destruction, including a plant now known as Ilex ‘Cherry Bomb’, which is possibly one of the finest evergreen hollies on the market today. We also grow a compact, hardy form of Ilex chinensis, which still needs to be named, that was salvaged from Gene’s collection.

As the red-headed stepchild of the US Department of Agriculture, the US National Arboretum has long had funding problems. The Congress approves the budget of the USDA, which then doles out portions of that budget to its divisions, which include the arboretum. I remember visiting a couple of years ago to find all the turf at the arboretum nearly knee-high. Some bright bureaucrat had decided that to save money, they would outsource the grass-mowing and only do it on a set schedule, regardless of when the grass actually needed mowing. Public outcry finally brought that disaster to a halt. The recent public response to the proposed plant removal was another great exercise of how our system of government (by the people) is supposed to work. Also, in response to the azalea fiasco, the Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) announced a $1,000,000 gift to the arboretum to start an endowment to help preserve the collections slated for removal.

To address the recent public relations fiasco, the USDA has also appointed a new director, Dr.
Colien Hefferan. Dr. Hefferan is known in USDA circles as a “fixer”…one who can re-orient the arboretum, study alternative funding sources, and reconnect with both its own researchers and its stakeholders. Prior to her appointment, Dr. Hefferan was director of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (formerly the Cooperative State Education Extension Research Service), and before that, an adjunct assistant professor of behavioral economics at Penn State. To that end, Dr. Hefferan has established a feedback site on the Arboretum’s collection policy that you can find here.
We encourage everyone to offer their comments about the direction of the arboretum.

I also encourage everyone who hasn’t spent time at your National Arboretum to do so when you find yourself in our nations capital.

Finally, if you or your friends have been jumping on the all-native plant bandwagon after reading emotion-wrenching books like Bringing Nature Home, you’ll enjoy this scientific article that cast things in a much different light.

If you entered our Top 25 contest for 2011 (the deadline for entries has passed), you can track the results live here.

There are a number of surprises so far, including the leader of the pack, Iris ‘Red Velvet Elvis’, as well as Paris polyphylla, both new listings for 2011. It’s still early, so we’ll see if “Elvis” can stay at the top with Colocasia ‘Thailand Giant’ nipping at its heels. Other 2011 first time offerings that cracked the Top 25 so far include Helleborus ‘Berry Swirl’ and ‘HGC Pink Frost’ at #8 and #9 respectively, Colocasia ‘Kona Coffee’ at #10, Salvia ‘Madeline’ at #14, Gladiolus ‘Purple Prince’ at #15, Zephyranthes ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ at #18, Uvularia ‘Jingle Bells’ at #20, and Arisaema serratum var. mayebarae at #25. That’s a lot of newcomers at the top!

Thanks for taking time to read our newsletter and we hope you enjoy the new catalog and website.

-tony

2009 Plant Delights Nursery October Newsletter

September was a busy month at Plant Delights, not only with our Fall Open House, but also with a visit from 655 of America’s top garden writers as the group descended upon the Raleigh-Durham area for their annual convention. It was great to meet so many folks at the nursery whose names I’d only heard, including the infamous owner of Burpee seed, George Ball. Dan Hinkley later told me that George was probably looking for more land to purchase. Not to worry… we don’t have any for sale. The weather cooperated, everyone was in good spirits, and a great time was had by all… except perhaps those involved in the post-convention bus trip mishap. To read a wonderfully unique perspective about the bus travails check out The Grumpy Gardener. Our sincere thanks to our local site chairman Pam Beck, the local organizing committee, and for those attendees who took time to visit PDN in person and make the convention such a success.

Do you have your 2010 calender started yet? Mark down Sunday, October 10 – Wednesday, October 13 when the International Plant Propagators Society Southern Region pulls into Raleigh for its annual convention. This is our first opportunity to welcome the group to our area and we hope you will make plans to join us for a super meeting. IPPS is an international professional society dedicated to propagating plants and sharing propagation information. Students, as well as anyone actively involved in plant propagation, are welcome to attend the meeting. Not only will the nursery and garden tours be top notch, but the list of speakers is a virtual “who’s who” in the nursery and academic field. Headquarters for the meeting will be the downtown Sheraton Raleigh, so save the dates, and we’ll update information about the meeting as it evolves.

Because of some major changes in the show, I’d also like to mention our upcoming NC State Fair Flower Show, which runs from October 15-25. For those who may not know, I spent my first 16 years after college working for our NC Fairgrounds, with our flower show being one of my main focuses. I’ve now been gone for 15 years and to say the show had gone downhill would be an understatement. I’m very excited, however, about this year’s NC State Fair Flower Show, now under the direction of retired NC Master Gardener Coordinator Erv Evans. Erv took over the management of the show this spring and has already made an amazing transformation on the way to returning the show to its former splendor and beyond. If you haven’t been in a few years, I hope you’ll make time to check out the changes. You can find out more about attending at The NC State Fair website.

As I mentioned last month, we’re all faced with budget cuts this year, except for many of the fruit/vegetable and the annual color producers, many of which have had record years. I’ve previously detailed some of the industry casualties and this month we add Monnier’s Country Gardens in Oregon to the list. Ron & Debbie Monnier ran an amazing nursery which specialized in fuchsias, featuring an incredible listing. It’s always a great loss when such a specialist nursery closes its doors.

Not only has the economic downturn hit nurseries, but also some botanic gardens are feeling the pinch. Due to the economic lunacy in California, the entire staff of the University of California Santa Cruz Botanic Garden has been laid off. Donations are currently being sought to keep the garden functioning. It’s a shame that folks in positions of authority don’t realize the difference between collections of living plants and other programs that can be temporarily shelved and then restarted. If you are in a position to help, visit the arboretum’s website to see how to donate to the “Save the Staff Fund”.

In other bouts of lunacy, this week I received a most disturbing national survey from the folks at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Texas. I’ve always been a big fan of the center, so I was truly appalled at the moronic survey they sent. The center has obviously been hijacked by a bunch of brainwashed, koolaid-drinking eco-Nazis that wouldn’t know science if it bit them in the backside. It’s people who perpetuate these out and out lies that cause the general public to dismiss real science-based environmental issues. Let me give you a few examples. The opening letter reads “Gardeners and growers, often seeking show-off plants, import misplaced species without any awareness of their environmental impact. As a result, we’ve imported plants, like kudzu and loosestrife, overrun natural areas, while others have just taken more water and energy than they deserve.”

Hmmm…more water and energy than they deserve? What exactly does that mean and who was anointed to decide that? Kudzu… imported without any awareness of it’s environmental impact? I don’t think so. Few plants have been as widely researched as kudzu, which was studied by our Federal Government (the folks behind the bailout), who then encouraged its widespread planting all because of its known environmental impact…it grew where little else would and held the ground from washing away. European loosestrife actually behaves well as a garden plant until it comes in contact with our native loosestrife and it is their offspring that have become the poster child for the botanical ethnic cleansing crowd.

If that’s not enough, here are more examples of the actual survey questions.

2-“Were you aware of the economic benefits of using wildflowers as opposed to other readily available plants, as listed below? They use less fertilizer, use less pesticide, and require less maintenance.”

Those statements are so moronic, it’s hard to know where to start. Native plants, as a group, DO NOT use less fertilizer, they DO NOT use less pesticide, and they DO NOT require less maintenance. These statements are patently false. For all plants, it’s about using the right plant for the right place. With proper soil preparation, no plant ever should need chemical fertilizers! If any of these statements were true, then native plants would be running wild and there would be no issue with invasive plants.

4-“Were you aware of the environmental benefits of using native plants as listed below? The absorb CO2 (carbon dioxide) and produce Oxygen. They attract beneficial wildlife such as bees and songbirds. They conserve water resources and prevent water pollution. They create natural habitat landscapes around buildings that provide energy savings.”

Again, where to begin with such mindless drivel? Note to whoever wrote this…even 3rd graders know that almost all plants regardless of their nativity absorb CO2 and produce Oxygen. Many foreign born plants are much preferred by bees and songbirds than many of our natives (read the study on the “invasive” Chinese tallow tree), and plants regardless of where they are from can produce energy savings when used correctly. As for preventing water pollution, research has shown that few plants can rival a good lawn in this regard.

I’m sure the person who wrote this letter and survey is well-intentioned (probably a big assumption), but surely someone with some measure of common sense should have proofread this garbage before it was sent out as a national survey. We are passionate about native plants…not because they are somehow better, but because they some are truly great plants. I have spent the last eight years serving on our North Carolina Plant Conservation Scientific Committee, and it is junk like this that undermines our science-based efforts to protect endangered native species. Folks, please stick to the science! Now, dismount from the soapbox and let’s get back to more plant stuff.

In our crop monitoring last month, we were shocked to find an infestation of foliar nematodes on our crop of Buddleia ‘Blue Chip’. Foliar nematodes are problematic not only because they damage the foliage and therefore the plants vigor, but they also spread by splashing water to surrounding plants.

Buddleia ‘Blue Chip’ is one of the few plants that we do not propagate ourselves due to the contract with the patent owner and the contracted grower. When our plants arrived in late spring, we didn’t detect a problem, but as it turned out, the contract grower had sprayed the plants with chemicals which masked the foliar nematode symptoms, making them impossible to detect initially. After growing the buddleias in our warm climate without regular spraying, the nematode populations regrew to levels which caused the symptoms (brown interveinal chlorosis) to be expressed.

We have visited two large wholesalers who grow Buddleia ‘Blue Chip’ and the plants they received are infested also. We know that the contract grower started with clean plants, so the infestation more than likely occurred in their propagation facility due to poor pest monitoring. We know that all plants which we received after May are infested, but we are unsure about the plants we received last fall and shipped out early this spring. We have clean stock plants in our garden and have stuck cuttings from these. As soon as this new crop is ready, (probably spring 2010) we will replace all plants shipped this year. Just to be on the safe side, we recommend destroying all Buddleia ‘Blue Chip’ plants received from us this year. The other option is to have your plants checked by your state Department of Agriculture. Please let us know if you would like a refund, credit, or replacement when the new plants are ready. We apologize for this unacceptable occurrence and appreciate your help as we get this situation resolved. Since all plants sold in the US are coming from the same grower, you should also question your retailer if you purchased Buddleia ‘Blue Chip’ from someone else.

One other smaller screw-up to report was with Hedychium densiflorum ‘Stephen’. The label on our garden specimen had been moved and the wrong plant was subsequently propagated. Again, we are re-propagating the correct clone and these will be available in spring 2010, so please contact us to get a replacement, credit, or refund.

Hedychium Brugmansia If you’re one of those who think that the only cool flowers in bloom now are pansies and garden mums, boy are you missing out on some great garden plants! The cool nights of fall have reinvigorated many summer flowering plants, while a number of others are just starting their season of bloom. The ginger lilies (Hedychium) have put on their best show of the summer now that the blooms don’t fade as quickly in the 90 degree plus heat. Their deliciously scented flowers are truly super during a garden stroll. Other similar plants for delicious nocturnal fragrance are the angel trumpets (brugmansia), which like the gingers love the fall weather, when they flower like crazy.

fuchsia malvaviscus Dahlia Dahlias are another perennial whose best season in our climate is fall. Yes, they look good from spring through summer, but they are simply superb in fall as their floriferousness multiplies. Ditto for the native malvaviscus, whose summer-long display of mini-hibiscus flowers are still produced in extraordinary abundance. I still feel I haven’t raved enough about the heat-loving, winter hardy fuchsia hybrids from Japan. The poorly named Sani-series are truly one of the most amazing horticultural break-through that I’ve ever seen… still in full bloom after an entire summer of flowering.

Geraniums Salvia Abutilon Hardy geraniums, such as G. ‘Rozanne’ are also still in full flower along with most of the salvias, especially the S. gregii types, S. guaranitica, S. regla, S. leucantha types, and any of their hybrids. Lest I forget, the amazing abutilons are another plant genera that flowers through the summer, but just explodes in bloom when fall arrives.

Rostrinucula dependens Clinopodium georgianum Cuphea micropetala Tricyrtis When thinking of plants that are only fall bloomers, the toad lily, Tricyrtis hirta, is the first one that comes to mind. Certainly toad lilies aren’t the only fall bloomers, so consider the likes of aconitums, Cuphea micropetala, the native Clinopodium georgianum, and my personal favorite, rostrinucula…a plant that should be in every fall garden, but probably won’t sell until we change to name to something more recognizable like a ‘salvia’ or perhaps hire it a better PR firm.

Solidago Helianthus Coreopsis helianthoides Aster Other not-to-be-missed plants that only strut their stuff in fall includes most of the native goldenrods (Solidago), the native swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius), the fall flowering native Coreopsis helianthoides, and a wide array of native asters (frankly we don’t care that the evil empire of taxonomy no longer considers them true asters). Come to think of it, they can kiss my Symphyotrichum.

Muhlenbergia Saccharum arundinaceum Two of the most beautiful of all of the ornamental grasses are also just coming into full flower. If you want to ‘Super Size’ your garden, Saccharum arundinaceum is a grass for you, with 12′ tall pink plumes appearing now. If you need something a bit smaller, Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘White Cloud’ is hands down the most elegant grass we grow. The only downside is that it doesn’t flower for us until now, when most garden visitors have departed for the season. If you already enjoy the typical pink-flowered version, the white-flowered form is even better…simply indescribable.

Cyclamen Gloxinia nematanthodes xAmarcrinum We’re still enjoying good blooms on many of our favorite geophytes as we move into October. The amazing hardy cyclamens, especially C. hederifolium is still in full flower, despite having been flowering for months. Gloxinia ‘Evita’, which grows from a small rhizome, also continues to flower with its blazing, fluorescent orange-red blooms. On a larger scale, xAmarcrinum ‘Fred Howard’ simply loves fall weather, as it produces stalk after stalk of fragrant pink flowers.

For those who entered our Top 25 contest to compete for the $250 worth of plants, here are the results though early October. Echinacea ‘Tomato Soup’ has widened the lead over Colocasia ‘Thailand Giant’, looking to be the first plant in nearly 5 years to steal the top spot away from the elephant ear. One of the big movers was the fall-flowering Muhlenbergia capillaris, which jumped from 19th to 16th place. The two real shockers for the October list were two plants that only appeared in the fall catalog, Agave bracteosa ‘Monterrey Frost’ at 17th and Hydrangea ‘Spirit’ at 20th. It’s very rare for a plant that only appears in fall to be able to crack the top 30. When we calculate the winner of the Top 25 contest, these plants will be excluded since they did not appear in the spring catalog.

We hope your choices are faring well as we countdown to the contest winner in December.

As always, thanks for taking time to read our rants and most of all, thank you so much for your support and orders this year!

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

Thanks and enjoy

-tony