For many, fall is the best time of year to garden. The heat of summer has finally broken and the crisp autumn air is a delight to work in. Fall perennials take over for the summer flowers and keep the garden showy as the days get shorter.
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
Our next focus was to re-purchase plants that we had picked up on our 2018 trip, but due to a bureaucratic shipping snafu, the majority of the 2018 shipment was killed during a six-week delay in transit. These pick-up stops included a couple of personal favorite nurseries, Cotswold Garden Flowers and Pan-Global Plants, as we worked our way south. One new stop was in Devon, at a wholesale woody plant propagator, Roundabarrow Farms, whose owner Paul Adcock had visited PDN/JLBG the year prior.
Although Paul had no electricity at his remote nursery location, he was kind enough to allow us to use his open potting shed for our bare-rooting chores. For those who have never shipped plants internationally, the process is at best arduous. First, you must check the extensive USDA list to see which plants are allowed entry into the US. Next, plants must be bare-rooted and scrubbed free of all soil and potential pests. For a shipment of 100+ plants, this operation takes about 8 hours. This was the first time I’d had the pleasure of doing the tasks outdoors in the snow, rain, and gale force winds. Thank goodness darkness coincided with the onset of frostbite.
Plant wrapping was finished that evening and the following morning at our room nearby, which wasn’t dramatically better than Paul’s potting shed, since the bathroom was not attached to the room and the strung out property manager kept turning off the heat to the room.
Our final stop in Southern England was at Tom Hudson’s Tregrehan Gardens in Cornwall. This was my first trip to Cornwall, but after hearing that Tregrehan was the finest woody plant collection in the entire UK from several of the UK’s best plantsmen, it was not to be missed. I will admit that all the talk I’d heard about the mild climate of Tregrehan, I wasn’t expecting the frigid weather we encountered including intermittent sleet and snow.
We had the pleasure of walking the amazing collectors garden with Tom and his dogs. Despite the difficult weather, we had an amazing visit as we walked among many of the towering specimens, many of which were 150 years old.
The ideal time to visit Tregrahan is during their Rare Plant Fair and Sale, held every year in late May/early June (the plant fair is currently under review, due to the fast moving nature of the Coronavirus). Vendors and the foremost plant collectors come from all over the world to this amazing event.
The next morning, we were in for a weather event. The storm that had swept over North Carolina a few days before had followed us to the UK, and predictions were for torrential rains and 60-80 mph winds. For the night prior, we had stayed at the lovely Colesbourne Inn, part of the Colesbourne Estate and Gardens.
We were also shown the first lilium monograph, The Genus Lilium, written by Sir Henry’s grandfather, the late plantsman H.J. Elwes, in 1880. Hans and I were both interested in tracking down a copy until we learned that when they are available, they usually fetch between 15k and 32k each. Oh well…
Across from the Colesbourne Inn was a public foot path (so designated by sign), so we took a walk to see what grew in the wilds of Colesbourne. Well, the answer is galanthus…non-native galanthus everywhere. In fact, much of the countryside has been taken over with these invasive exotics. It’s easy to see why they’re still on the CITES endangered list.
From Ashwood, we headed south, stopping for the evening near the town of Shaftesbury at the small, but lovely Coppleridge Inn. We arrived just after dark, which made the last hour of driving down narrow winding roads more treacherous than we would have preferred, but at least we arrived before the dinner hour wrapped up. The English love of drinking is legendary and sure enough, it seemed that everyone in the town was at the Coppleridge Inn pub for their evening rounds of drinking and socializing.
After a lovely breakfast at the Coppleridge Inn, we headed out on the short 10 minute drive into the quaint town of Shaftesbury for the annual Shaftesbury Galanthus Festival…my first chance to see rabid galanthophiles in action. Galanthomania (maniacal collecting of snowdrops) has exploded in the UK, like coronavirus in the rest of the world, with both being quite costly once you become infected.
When we arrived for the morning talks, we were informed that the town doesn’t have enough parking and because of that, the pay lots require that you leave for 1 hour, after a four hour stay.
At breakfast, we had discovered that we were only a 30 minute drive from Stonehenge, so we decided that it would be our lunch break. Neither Hans or I had ever visited Stonehenge, so this break allowed us to check out what should be a required mecca for all serious rock gardeners.
Despite not seeing a single road sign until we reached the turnoff to the stones, the site receives over 1 million visitors annually. We arrived to find a bright sunny, but brisk day, where for time’s sake, we opted to ride the buses from the visitor center to the stones. In recent years, the Stonehenge visitor center had been moved quite a distance away from the stones to preserve the integrity of the site.
Time to return to Shaftesbury for the final talk of the day, a lecture by our friend Dr. John Grimshaw.
With the ink barely dry on the Brexit signing in early February, and well before Coronavirus panic hit, it was time for a return trip to the UK for another round of plant collecting. Accompanying me is Walters Gardens plant breeder, Hans Hansen of Michigan. Who knows how much more difficult it might become to get plants from across the pond into the US in the future. In reality, it’s pretty darn difficult even now.
Our trip started with a return to John Massey’s Ashwood Nursery, which is widely regarded as home to the top hellebore and hepatica breeding programs in the world. Although I’d been several times, I’d never managed to catch the hellebores in flower, and although it’s hard to predict bloom timing, we arrived at the beginning of peak bloom. We were able to visit the private stock greenhouses, where the breeding plants are housed, and what amazing specimens we saw. Below are the latest selections of Helleborus x hybridus from the handiwork of long-time Ashwood breeder, Kevin Belcher. We were able to return home with a nice collection of plants very similar to these to add to our gardens and breeding efforts.
I had long wanted to see some of Kevin’s special hybrids (below) with Helleborus niger. The first is Helleborus x ashwoodensis ‘Briar Rose’, a cross of Helleborus niger x Helleborus vesicarius.
The other is Helleborus x belcheri ‘Pink Ice’ , a cross of Helleborus niger x Helleborus thibetanus. I’m pleased to report that both are now in the US.
Next we were allowed to visit the hepatica breeding greenhouse…an amazing greenhouse where plants were just beginning to flower. Below is Ashwood owner, John Massey (r) and Hans Hansen of Walters Gardens (l).
Our final treat before we departed was a walk around John’s amazing home garden…a treat during any season…even winter. Although the light was too bright for good photography, I hope these photos can in some part convey the amazing wonder of his garden.
Hostas are incredibly tough plants and will get along fine in almost any garden…but they look their absolute best with just a little extra attention. Here are some tips to grow beautiful hostas in your garden.
Despite hostas durable nature, there are many myths circulating about growing hostas, one of which is the term Originator’s Stock. Originator’s stock is simply a superfluous term for saying that the plant in question is the correctly named clone. Click here for more debunking!
When creating hybrids, especially with plants like agaves, it takes many years to know exactly what the offspring will look like. We have a pretty good guess, since we’ve done this for so long, but here’s an updated photo of a cross we made in 2013 of Agave striata x Agave lophantha. The hybrid, that we call Agave x striphantha is now 3′ wide, which is the same width of the Agave striata parent. We expected the hybrid to stay a bit smaller, but it did not. What we still don’t know is what will happen when it flowers. Agave striata is the only hardy species that doesn’t die after flowering, while the flowering rosette of the other parent, Agave lophantha cashes it in after its sexual encounter. Hopefully, it won’t be long before we know about the hybrid, and hopefully it will produce viable seed.
Learn more about growing agaves.
Here are a couple of images of the gardens at JLBG to show how we garden for the winter months. By selecting and designing your garden for the winter season, it will automatically look great during the other three seasons.