Founder’s Message

Happy New Year!  It is with great joy that we share our inaugural Juniper Level Botanic Garden Members Newsletter. We have been hoping to get our membership program started for several years, but it’s finally getting off the ground beginning January 1, 2024. Everyone joining this year will be forever known as JLBG Founding Members and will continue to receive future newsletters, so we hope many people will take this opportunity to join and share the news with your gardening friends worldwide.

Winter garden berm: xMangave, Opuntia, Asparagus, Agave, and Yucca

While we hope the membership benefits will entice you to join, we also hope you will join because you share our passion for ex-situ conservation of the world’s plant genetics and our ideal that plants should be shared widely. Every year, it becomes more challenging financially to continue our work, both travel and research, so our mission cannot continue at this level without your support.

We look forward to seeing you during our first 2024 Open Nursery and Garden in late February.

-Tony Avent, Proprietor

Upcoming Events

February 23-25, March 1-3

Our next winter Open Nursery and Garden days are coming quickly, starting on Feb. 23, 2024. We’ve switched our times slightly, so we’re open from 9-5 on all three days: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. If you’ve never attended in the winter, we think you’ll find the garden fascinating even when many of the perennials are still asleep there are many winter-blooming treasures and a wealth of evergreen herbaceous perennials. You can find out more here.

June 7,8, 2024

Southeastern Plant Symposium and Rare Plant Auction

We invite you to join us for our 6th annual Southeastern Plant Symposium and Rare Plant Auction on June 7-8, 2024. Sponsored jointly by JLBG and the JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University. This program is a can’t miss event for serious plant people. Not only will you have the opportunity to meet many of the country’s top plant experts, but you will also hear over a dozen talks from leaders in the horticultural field. The focus of the symposium in 2024 is herbaceous perennials. The concurrent rare plant auction affords participants an opportunity to purchase plants that are nearly impossible to otherwise acquire. Symposium and auction proceeds benefit the JC Raulston Arboretum and the Tony and Anita Avent Endowment For The Juniper Level Botanic Garden At The JC Raulston Arboretum.

June 14, 2024

Juniper Level Botanic Garden Endowment Inaugural Fundraising Event

Tony and Anita Avent invite everyone to attend the opening of their 4-acre home garden (adjacent to the JLBG parking lot) for the JLBG Endowment Inaugural Fundraiser on Friday, June 14, 2024, from 3:00 pm – 8:00 pm. This will be the first of what we hope will become an annual event. Tickets are $1,000 per individual or $1,500 per couple. Income will go directly to the NC State Endowment to preserve Juniper Level Botanic Garden. Tony and our garden staff will be on hand to chat with you and answer questions. Our partners at North Carolina State University will also be available to talk with you about the JLBG Endowment at NC State. The event will include heavy hors d’oeuvres while you enjoy the garden. Capacity is limited, so we encourage you to sign up early. Sign up link will go live in late January.

On the Road Again

Tony & Doug will be hitting the road this spring, with several speaking events. We hope to see you there.

February 3 – Intro to Gardening in the South – JC Raulston Arboretum (Doug)
March 4,5 – Davidson Garden Symposium – Davidson, NC (Tony)
March 22 – Seacrest Arboretum – Wooster, Ohio (Tony)
March 23 – Propagation of Herbaceous Perennials – JC Raulston Arboretum (Doug)

From the Garden Manager’s Desk

The winter can sometimes be a rather drab time in the garden, but luckily here at Juniper Level we find beauty year-round. The cold and grey months can be a real opportunity to view the garden’s skeleton, to really see the form and layout. It is a time to gather inspiration for future projects and to appreciate the stillness. The barren trees and largely dormant perennial bed displays make the evergreens and the few plants that are brave enough to flower this time of year really shine.

Right now the hellebores (Helleborus) and rice paper plants (Edgeworthia chrysantha) are sending out early buds waiting patiently to bloom within the coming month. The Japanese sacred lilies (Rohdea japonica) are showing off their brazenly colored fruits contrasted against their leathery evergreen foliage. There are even a few Iris unguicularis sending out richly colored purple flowers in the dead of winter. Best of all, the spring ephemerals are lying in wait, right around the corner, to put on a dazzling show with carpets of flowers throughout our woodland shade gardens. By the winter open house in late February, we should start to see the garden really coming back to life.

For the mean time the garden crew is busy plugging away on cutbacks, soil amendments, mulching and trail maintenance to ensure that all of our spaces are freshly manicured and beautiful in time for the winter open house. It will take the entirety of the next two months to make sure everything is in tip-top shape for our anticipated visitors. We eagerly await the opportunity to show off all of our hard work and share the diversity and beauty that Juniper Level Botanic Garden has to offer. We hope to see you soon in the garden!

-Logan Clark, Garden Manager

From the Garden Curator’s Desk

The question was simple and asked with all earnestness: “Are we (Plant Delights Nursery and Juniper Level Botanic Garden) concerned about the prediction that this winter, the winter of 2023/2024, was going to be a cold one, and do we go to great lengths to protect plants from cold?”

The answer is simply and resoundingly NO!

I continue to suffer from people considering me just a pretty face. Juniper Level Botanic Gardens might have the same problem, that people think of it as just a pretty place to visit. And it is a pretty place, a place where tens of thousands of beautiful plants are grown in beautiful combinations in beautiful settings. And please know that we are thrilled to share these gardens with visitors who come just to enjoy this beauty. Yet these gardens are first and foremost research plantings.

Tony Avent was never interested in just growing the tried-and-true, any more than Dr. J. C. Raulston was at the NC State University Arboretum that he started in 1976 and is now named for him. To do so would have left the garden world stuck where it was almost half a century ago. A polar-opposite approach was followed: grow everything that has even a slight chance of succeeding under the local growing conditions. And those growing conditions include the temperature extremes, both summer’s highs and winter’s lows.

Tony chose to focus on winter-hardy-herbaceous-perennials back in the early 1980s when there were few nurseries offering them. There were many nurseries growing woody-perennials, that is trees and shrubs. An example of how insignificant herbaceous perennials were back then would be my own experience in the late 1970’s: In an excellent year-long, landscape plant ID class we were only required to know five (yes, five) winter-hardy-herbaceous-perennials because perennials were considered to be too high maintenance compared to shrubs and trees.

So, bring on the cold. It cannot be determined if a particular plant is winter hardy in Zone 7 unless one has a Zone 7 winter. And whether a plant survives a certain low temperature is more important to JLBG’s ongoing research than having the plant in the collection if it does not survive the cold. We will be out recording our observations after a cold spell if one does occur.

There is value in studying wild plants in their native habitats, yet what one might learn from doing so is sometimes far from the whole truth. Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) for example, is native to the Southeast US, most frequently in seasonally flooded bottom lands. Yet it is winter hardy well into Zone 4 New England and does not require flooded soil, or even wet soil. So, plants often prove to be much more cold-hardy than their provenance might suggest. You just don’t know until you try!

Trillium underwoodii ‘Dazzler’ in bud

A cold snap might seem like a threat to many of the winter blooming perennials that are a big part of the floral display during a JLBG Winter Open House. It rarely is for our woodland natives. They evolved to grow through the winter months to make use of the sunlight that is available under the now-leafless tree canopy. Even today, December 13, 2023, a few trilliums are poking up. Hepatica are starting to bloom. The false rue anemone (Isopyrum biternatum now Enemion biternata) has already been blooming for a month or more as have the Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis).

I have not determined the origin of these predictions of a cold winter, whether from hard science or the rumor mill. My 100% guaranteed prediction is that we will either have a cold winter or not. A solid cold Zone 7 winter would be of great value to PDN/JLBG in its ever-ongoing research in the suitability of new plants to our growing conditions. I can always add a ski mask and additional layers to my winter ensemble if the predictions for a cold winter come true.

-Douglas Ruhren, Garden Curator

From the Taxonomy/Plant Records Desk

This past year has brought in more than 1,700 new plants to add to the collection here at JLBG including almost 300 new plants from Hengduan Biotechnology in China, including quite a few new gesneriads (members of the African violet family, Gesneriaceae) for us to trial for cold hardiness in our USDA zone 7b garden. We also purchased several new species of Calanthe and Cymbidium orchids to trial for winter hardiness. One such plant that we bought in a few years ago, Cymbidium goeringii ‘Xueshanbiancao’, boasts white margined foliage and variegated green and white flowers. It flew through the winter of 2022-2023 withstanding temperatures of 11 degrees F without damage and successfully flowered that same spring!

Cymbidium goeringii ‘Xueshanbiancao’

This year we also increased our Camellia species collection, with visits to Massee Lane Gardens in Fort Valley, Georgia. Massee Lane is the national headquarters of the American Camellia Society. Additional camellia cuttings were collected from Hopelands Garden as well as the property of Woodlanders Nursery, both in Aiken, South Carolina. Bob McCartney was our tour guide. Bob founded Woodlanders with the late Robert and Julia Mackintosh in the 1980s and it is still shipping out rare and unusual woodies and other cool plants.

We made several collecting trips this past spring to the former garden of the late Dr. Clifford Parks in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with the permission of his son David Parks. David runs Camellia Forest Nursery. His father Cliff founded Camellia Forest Nursery with his wife Kai-Mei. You can check out their rare plant offerings at https://camforest.com/ .

This year saw us adding another 10 clones of Aspidistra including the incredible Aspidistra luodianensis which can have leaves up to a meter long. Ours already has leaves about two-thirds of the way there. 2023 saw our first flowering of Aspidistra letreae, possibly the first time this species has bloomed in the United States.

Aspidistra luodianensis

This year we also learned that in late 2022 the commonly grown Thuja ‘Green Giant’ was published as a nothospecies (a hybrid between 2 species, not between 2 hybrids), as Thuja x soeegaardii. See https://bibliotekanauki.pl/articles/2130188.pdf for the whole paper. We also gained another 43 clones of Snowdrops (Galanthus) this season, expanding our collection tremendously. We printed another 4,100 engraved tags for the garden this year with the help of the Curatorial Plant Records Assistant, bringing the total number of tags printed to over 20,000 since we got the laser engraver in 2021.

-Zac Hill, Plant Records Specialist/Taxonomist

From Research, Evaluation, and Field Production

In addition to routine maintenance, much of 2023 was spent re-arranging sections of our field trials and production. Over the last decade, our Lycoris collection had expanded so rapidly that it was scattered over an acre, making side by side evaluations difficult. This year we have now consolidated all Lycoris into one trial section, with spring-leaf emergers in one area, and fall-leaf varieties in another. This will make our data collection and study far more efficient. Our long-term goal is to produce a monograph for the genus Lycoris.

Lycoris x caldwellii ‘Eye Scream’ field production

Because our agave/mangave breeding program has been so prolific the last few years, we had to expand that trial area significantly. Hundreds of new selections went in the ground earlier this year, in anticipation of a cold winter to help us with the culling process.

Agave and xMangave field evaluations

In September, we had a great visit from elephant ear breeder, Dr. John Cho, who flies in from Hawaii each fall to evaluate all of his latest Colocasia hybrids in our trial garden. Bill Reynolds and his team did a great job getting the plants ready, and then removing the plants that didn’t measure up, as John makes those decisions during his visit. Each year, John returns home with new breeding ideas for the upcoming season. We have been so blessed to be a part of his breeding since 2009.

Dr. John Cho collecting colocasia pollen at JLBG

What’s Buggin’ Bill – Juniper Level Botanic Garden and Biodiversity

As many of you may know, Juniper Level Botanic Garden (JLBG) is home to thousands of plants, more than 27,000 different types! But did you know, hundreds, if not thousands, of animal species (mostly invertebrates) also call JLBG home? Botanic gardens, like JLBG, often serve as an “oasis for nature” in our ever-developing world. Sadly, we are often unaware of what we have living alongside us. One of JLBG’s goals is to enlighten the public and raise awareness of the importance of gardens with regards to the welfare of the natural world.

Juniper Level Botanic Garden is dedicated to preserving as much of the natural world in conjunction with our gardens as possible. JLBG is also dedicated to providing educational programs and awareness of the importance of biodiversity.

As public interest in the natural world increases, pollination ecology and pollinator health has taken center stage. Gardening has for many years focused on insect pests and not the benefits insects bring to our gardens. Here at JLBG, we are gardening to increase insect presence and diversity through selective IPM (Integrated Pest Management) programs. Our goal is to minimize the negative impacts and collateral damage pest control practices have often yielded in the past.

Plants did not evolve in a vacuum; the intimate, mutualistic, and symbiotic relationships of insects and plants is only now becoming more evident. With ever-increasing public awareness, JLBG strives to create new and cutting-edge programs and practices, as well as a source for the dissemination of knowledge. A healthy garden is an insect rich garden; insects are not only important in the role of plant health, pollination, and reproduction, but they are also a significant element of the food chain for many other animals, including songbirds, reptiles, and amphibians (many of which are in decline). Although much less visible, we are surrounded by wildlife during the winter months. Many of the more prevalent species seen during the warmer seasons are either dormant, hibernating, or hiding in plain sight in much less recognizable forms (especially insects overwintering as eggs or pupae/cocoons).

Citheronia regalis, hickory-horned devil at SCBG

Many common cultural yard and garden practices can be detrimental to overwintering wildlife. Among the most destructive are cutbacks and disposal of leaf litter.  For many plants, and the animals calling them winter refuge, it is best to cut back after new growth begins to emerge in the spring. Dead growth and barren limbs are often the support structures for mantid egg cases and giant silk moth cocoons like the cecropia, polyphemus and luna (for additional information on these species, refer to links below). Leaf litter can be blown or raked to the periphery of green ways, garden beds, around trees, and even used as a natural mulch in gardens.  Retaining leaf litter provides harborage for beneficial species like frogs, toads, salamanders, lizards, and even the threatened eastern box turtle (links below). Among the leaves themselves are overwintering caterpillars for some of our native butterflies, cocoons, butterfly chrysalids, and beneficial insect eggs. So rather than bag up your ‘yard waste,’ consider reusing it as nature intended. Let your yard be a refuge for many of our increasingly rarer species. As habitat is lost to development, every little thing we do can make a difference for beneficial wildlife.

Cecropia Moth:  Species Hyalophora cecropia – Cecropia Moth – Hodges#7767 – BugGuide.Net

Polyphemus Moth: Species Antheraea polyphemus – Polyphemus Moth – Hodges#7757 – BugGuide.Net

Luna Moth: Species Actias luna – Luna Moth – Hodges#7758 – BugGuide.Net

Red-spotted purple: Subspecies Limenitis arthemis astyanax – Red-spotted Purple – BugGuide.Net

Carolina Mantis:  Species Stagmomantis carolina – Carolina Mantis – BugGuide.Net

Eastern Box Turtle: Eastern Box Turtle (ncwildlife.org)

Frogs & Toads of NC: Frogs and Toads (herpsofnc.org)

Lizards of NC:  Lizards (herpsofnc.org)

Among our future projects, we are hoping to organize and open our gardens to bioblitz projects, so be sure to follow our social media posts and program listings for upcoming events. In the meantime, please share your observations and garden photos. Your photo contributions will better help us identify, recognize, document, and preserve the species calling our gardens home. We look forward to hearing from you and seeing your pictures. Should you have any questions, please contact us.

-Bill Reynolds, Research & Outdoor Production Supervisor

JLBG Staff/Volunteer News

To start off our inaugural newsletter we thought it would be appropriate to ask several of our long-time volunteers what they thought about the garden, their experience volunteering here over the years, and how they’ve seen the garden grow and change. Some of these fine people have been with us for several years and average over 200+ volunteer hours every year. Our garden would be a far cry from its current glory without the reliable and enthusiastic help from our volunteer staff that keeps our garden growing.

Kathy Phillips (8+ years): “….I keep coming back once a week because I enjoy working in such a beautiful world class botanic garden and helping to keep it beautiful. I see something different and learn something new almost every week. Much of what I’ve learned about plants and garden maintenance at JLBG I can use in my own home garden. I keep coming back because I have made many lasting friendships with other volunteers and staff. Since I’ve been volunteering many changes have happened: new crevice gardens, bog gardens, berms, and of course many new plants. I hope to continue to volunteer for many more years to come!”

Susan Waggoner (7+ years): “… I have learned so much about gardening from the staff and other volunteers. What I learn each week helps me to know what to do in my own garden at home. For example, I’ve learned how to arrange plants in more attractive color combinations and leaf textures. Also, I’ve put in a bog garden. It’s fun to see how JLBG has changed and evolved over the years. Plus, at times I bring home some great plants for my garden, and I’ve made great friends with the other volunteers.”

Currently, our volunteers have been busy in the garden helping us tidy everything up this winter in preparation for our upcoming Winter Open Nursery & Garden days. In addition to all the work they accomplish in the garden and volunteering during open house, several volunteers spend their time during the fall and winter helping us clean seeds. These seeds will be used either in our nursery production or shared with a variety of collaborators and other plant aficionados. If you’re interested in taking on some of our backlogged seeds, please reach out to our seed specialist, Emily.

As we move into 2024, we are anticipating many changes in the garden and we are planning to expand our volunteer opportunities to a wider variety of tasks. Check out the new Plant Delights Nursery and Juniper Level Botanic Garden website when it is launched in early 2024. If you’re interested in joining in our volunteer program, please reach out to Logan Clark.

-Logan Clark

Patrick’s Plant Profiles

Ravenel’s Eryngo

  • Eryngium ravenelii A. Gray
  • ‘Charleston Blues’
  • Apiaceae – The Carrot Family
  • SE Native that is found in SC, GA, FL
  • Supports swarms of native pollinators, particularly wasps
  • Cold-hardy (USDA zones 6a-9b) and heat tolerant.
  • Easy to cultivate in average garden soil and full sun.
  • Masses of blue flowers in August

Ravenel’s eryngo (Eryngium ravenelii) is named for Henry William Ravenel (1814-1877) and was originally discovered by Ravenel in Berkeley County, South Carolina in the 1840s. For some time, it was known only from its original location, Santee Canal, St. John’s Parish in Berkeley County. It was later found to also range into Georgia and Florida. It is critically imperiled in the wild throughout its range but is incredibly rare in South Carolina and Georgia. When I began my lifetime of exploration of South Carolina, this was one of my “holy grails,” one of several species that was collected only once, in SC by H.W. Ravenel and never seen again in that state. My mentor and partner on thousands of days of field work, Dr. Richard Porcher is a native of Berkeley County and is descended from the Ravenels and was infatuated with rediscovering this species and Ravenel’s pipewort (Eriocaulon ravenelii) in SC. The location where H.W. Ravenel first collected the plant had long been lost by the flooding of St. John’s Parish for the construction of Lake Moultrie, we had to look nearby and elsewhere.

Eryngium ravenelii ‘Charleston Blues’ mass in flower

For nearly a decade we scoured thousands of acres of what appeared to be good habitat in the Lowcountry of South Carolina without success. I knew from my experience in Florida that Ravenel’s eryngo is most abundant in marl prairies and marl savannas. Marl savannas are open, wet, grassy expanses punctuated by scattered trees [mostly pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens)] with frequent low-intensity ground fires and most importantly, underlain with limestone that is close to the surface of the soil. Without frequent fire such sites very quickly transform into hardwood forests as the soil is much better for woody growth than the sterile, deep sandy soils that you are probably familiar with in most longleaf pine savannas. Armed with this information, Richard and I began our search looking for remnants of such habitats by visiting sites where the soil maps indicated the proper conditions. In each and every case, we came up empty. We found many, many other poorly known and rare species but not the coveted Ravenel’s eryngo.

I’ll never forget the 11th of August 2001. That was the day, quite by chance, that this glorious eryngo was to be revived as an actual living member of the flora of South Carolina. I was miserable that day. I’d spent most of it slogging through pocosin and Carolina Bay habitats while doing a study for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the US Forest Service. I’d seen many great things that day, but I was hot, tired and had little blood left to give me strength (having been mostly removed by Blaspheme-vine (Smilax laurifolia), hundreds of ticks, and biting insects). I stopped in the Bulls Bay store for a hot dog and coke before heading back out to one last site. I got lost and ended up on a small dirt road I’d never travelled on before (we didn’t have google to extract us in those days). In the worst habitat imaginable—a thicket of young loblolly pines (Pinus taeda) bordering a small stream swamp forest, in a roadside ditch were thousands of brilliant blue ornaments swaying in the breeze of a passing storm. I drove into the ditch! Yeah, I drove right into the ditch, and it took about 30 minutes to get out of that one. I didn’t have a care! Here at long last, growing in mucky, lime-rich soil in a site that is today far in distance and in time from any marl savanna, was the plant I had longed to see, Ravenel’s eryngo. I returned twice, once later in August and then in early September with Richard Porcher, who was beaming with joy at finally seeing for himself the greatest sight he had seen in years. It is one of those shared moments that really bonds true and deep friends forever with a joyful moment.

The September plants had something that wasn’t present in August, some had viable seeds. We shook out a few dozen and packed them away to be started at the South Carolina Botanical Garden. To my surprise they grew great in the greenhouse. To my chagrin, they barely survived in my bog gardens built for carnivorous plants. They died when I tried planting them in richer media in bogs. What the heck? Luckily, we shared. We shared a plant with Juniper Level Botanic Garden and true to form, Tony tossed it out into standard garden conditions just to “see what happens.” On my next visit I was completely floored when I saw the immense clumps overburdened with hundreds of flowers growing under standard garden conditions. Tony, with that typical smile on his face, was busting at the seams because he’d been so successful. It turned out that what this plant really wants in cultivation is just good garden soil that is not allowed to get bone dry and full sun. That’s it!

If you have not tried this amazing plant, you should. It has everything to offer to any sunny garden space. It flowers when the garden is struggling (August-September). It is tightly clumping with narrow strap-like leaves in a basal clump and its candelabras of heads packed with tiny blue flowers make a dramatic show. It is the native plant most attractive to pollinators at JLBG during its flowering season and is especially attractive to wasps. You may be saying to yourself: why would I want wasps? Wasps are incredibly important native pollinators and many also double as pest control, even controlling Japanese beetle larvae. Ravenel’s eryngo can tolerate extreme heat but not drought, so make sure to give them water when conditions become dire. It’s amazing that a plant that only survives in a very narrow habitat in the wild would be so adaptable in cultivation. It isn’t that surprising, however. Many plants grow where they can, not where they grow best. The lack of competition in our gardens allows Ravenel’s eryngo to flourish.

Some taxonomists that haven’t seen this plant enough in the wild or have never seen it, have traditionally lumped it with its close relative, swamp eryngo (Eryngium aquaticum). While swamp eryngo can have heads of bluish flowers in some individuals, it never approaches the delicate nature, nor the narrow-leaved, tightly clumping form of Ravenel’s eryngo. The distinguishing characteristic in keys are found in the tiny bractlets that subtend each flower in the dense cluster (head). The bractlets in Ravenel’s eryngo have three cusps towards the tip that are nearly equal in length and swamp eryngo has a central cusp that is noticeably longer. But there is no need to waste time using this microscopic feature once you’ve truly seen Ravenel’s eryngo. You’d have to be blind to not notice how different the two actually are.

That’s the story, and though twenty-two years and five months have elapsed since that day in August, it seems like yesterday. In 2021-22, five more small populations were found in Berkeley and Charleston counties by John Nelson, Keith Bradley, and me but the plant remains incredibly rare in South Carolina. Though my hair has grayed, and my companion’s turned white, we still have the spirit and gait of youngsters when we make our way through the savannas, every season, in search of that other goal, Ravenel’s pipewort—yet to be rediscovered in South Carolina. Thank you for supporting Juniper Level Botanic Garden, where stories like this carry on, retold every August by the cloud of blue flowers.

-Dr. Patrick McMillan, JLBG Adjunct Researcher

Botanical/Horticultural Garden Industry News

Most people have probably never heard of the group Triangle Gardens, started by the late Dr. J.C. Raulston.  J.C. felt that the botanic gardens and arboreta in the Triangle Region of NC needed to network better to allow each garden to share their passion, and for staffs to benefit from better communication. Since the 1980s, the meeting has rotated between the four gardens in the triangle:  JC Raulston Arboretum, Sarah P. Duke Garden, North Carolina Botanical Garden, and Juniper Level Botanic Garden. On June 29, JLBG was pleased to host the annual meeting of Triangle Gardens, where we welcomed over 70 participants for lunch and a tour of the gardens and facilities. 

In mid-September, Tony Avent and Alycia Thornton (NCSU Development Director) attended the Wave Hill Gardens fundraiser in Bronx, New York, honoring garden writer, Margaret Roach. You can read more about the event in our JLBG blog.

In late September, Tony was an invited speaker at the American Public Gardens Association (APGA) Symposium at Franklin Park in Columbus, Ohio, to discuss a topic near and dear to our hearts:  Ex-Situ Plant Conservation.

In late October JLBG welcomed the Southeast Regional meeting of the International Plant Propagators Society (IPPS). Busloads of 225 attendees from all around the world descended on the gardens. This is the first time since 2010 the group has visited.

Bits and Pieces

One of our most interesting projects this year has been the replacement of our boiler system that heats our propagation house.  It’s well known that most cuttings root much better when they are given bottom heat. Our boiler feeds hot water through a recirculating system of black spaghetti tubes providing root zone heat.

What should have been a fairly simple project turned out to be anything but that. Our old system, known as a Delta – T system, was common in greenhouses around the country. But somewhere in the last 25 years, unbeknown to us, they had gone out of business. This left us scrambling for a replacement. After contacting a number of local vendors who all passed on the project, we were routed to a newly formed company:  MTC Heating and Air, a company made up of three boiler nerds.

Since there was no package system available, they built us a new system like the old Johnny Cash song says, “One Piece at a Time”.  The eight-month project finally went on-line in December, with the last step installing MiraLAX (Polyethylene Glycol) into the system to keep it from freezing…we’re not making this up!

JLBG Salute

Edith R. Eddleman

“We can’t grow perennial borders in the South” was a frequently heard refrain from those returning from a tour of the gardens of England back in the early 1980s. Edith Eddleman of Durham, NC probably did more to dispel this myth than any other horticulturalist with her 370’ long perennial border at North Carolina State University’s JC Raulston Arboretum.

The border originated in 1982 with a request from Dr. J.C. Raulston for a plan for a perennial border for the arboretum. This request was made to a NCSU planting design class that Edith was taking. J.C. selected Edith’s plan, which was then installed and has been maintained ever since. Edith oversaw the execution of her design and was the lead curator/maintainer through most of the decades up through 2022.

Edith’s perennial border exhibits a vast array of winter hardy herbaceous perennials as well as a few winter-hardy woody perennials (aka shrubs and trees) and even a few annuals and tender perennials (those non-winter-hardy perennials treated as annuals) all beautifully arranged for year-round interest. For certain there were no six-foot-tall Delphiniums or impossibly blue Himalayan Poppies (Meconopsis), that one might see in an English garden, yet it was undeniably a perennial border and one that won several national awards over the years. It was no stepchild to the English borders for many of the perennials that are the mainstay of the English perennial plantings are North American natives.

Edith designed many other public garden plantings as well as private gardens. Just a few of the public gardens are the Perennial Allee at Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham, NC, the seven display gardens for the grand opening of Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Belmont, NC, The Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden’s perennial border in Kernersville, NC, and a shade perennial garden at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, MA.

Edith’s designs clearly demonstrated that the southeast US is a prime location to grow a vast range of perennials. And with Edith’s exceptional sense of design these same perennials are combined into beautiful borders, beds, and other configurations. Tony Avent considered Edith’s Perennial Border at the JCRA to be foundational to his interest in the world of winter-hardy-herbaceous-perennials. So, thank you Edith Eddleman for the education and glorious inspiration of the endless potential of winter-hardy-herbaceous-perennials.

J.C. Raulston and Edith Eddleman at the JC Raulston Arboretum. Photo by A. Lacy

Almost Forgotten: Remembering Horticultural Icons

Dr. J.C. Raulston

In this inaugural issue of the JLBG newsletter it seemed essential to honor the one person who inspired so many up-and-coming horticulturalists from 1976 through 1996, the late Dr. J.C. Raulston of North Carolina State University.

It is hard to understand the depth and breadth of Dr. J.C. Raulston’s impact on ornamental horticulture and the nursery industry unless one knows what preceded it, or stated another way, how little there was before J.C.’s time. The nursery industry pre-JC offered a moribund selection of serviceable but dull shrubs such as red tip photinia, Japanese holly, ‘Burford’ Chinese holly, common evergreen azaleas, Pfitzer junipers and boxwood. Boredom was a leading cause of death amongst nursery owners back then.

J.C. showed up on the scene with the modus operandi of let’s try growing everything we can get our hands on that no one has tried before. (Sounds like a certain Tony Avent, doesn’t it?) Many new introductions proved to be suitable for the local growing conditions, and worthy of growing, and the offerings of the green industry grew, some say, by 100-fold. The arboretum collection became a must-see for all serious plant people.

But J.C. was equally a people-person. He took personal interest in his students, encouraging them in their future in the green industry. He was a tireless promoter of good new plants to established nursery people, and in all that J.C. did, he did it with great kindness.

I guess it’s impossible to know if the Triangle area of North Carolina and beyond would be the horticultural hotbed that it is now if J.C. didn’t light a fire that started it all, but those of us who knew this area before J.C.’s arrival might feel that it very well might still be Burford hollies to the horizon. J.C. died in a car accident in 1996 at age 56. You can read more about J.C.’s amazing life in the book, Chlorophyll in His Veins by Bobby Ward.

A winter-hardy-perennial thanks to you, J.C. Raulston!

Did You Know?

I’ll give you my Gunnera when you pry it from my Cold Dead Hands

The government in the United Kingdom has banned one it its country’s most popular designer plants, giant gunnera. Virtually every American who has taken a garden tour to the U.K., has lusted for this amazing, prehistoric-foliaged giant. Here in the Southeastern US, we could only hope to keep the South American native Gunnera alive, since it truly detests temperatures north of 80 degrees F. I’ve lost track of how many gunnera plants we’ve killed.

Gunnera has now been deemed an invasive species in the U.K., so going forward, its sale has been forbidden. In implementing the ban, governmental officials had to first determine what species was actually being grown in gardens, which are either labeled Gunnera manicata or Gunnera tinctoriaGunnera tinctoria was actually banned in 2017, but the reportedly well-behaved Gunnera manicata was issued a pardon.

As it turned out, new DNA tests showed that actually there was no Gunnera manicata grown in the U.K., and all plants labeled as such were either Gunnera tinctoria or a hybrid of Gunnera tinctoria x manicata, now known as Gunnera x cryptica.  As it turns out, both have the same invasive tendencies, and so are now illegal to sell.  Gardeners who already grow gunnera are allowed to keep it but are required to keep it from seeding and spreading.

In Case You Missed It

At the June 8 annual convention of the National Agricultural Alumni Development Association in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Tony and Anita Avent were recognized as winners of the 2023 Ruby McSwain Outstanding Philanthropist Award. This award recognizes an individual or individuals with a record of sustained giving to support agriculture, agricultural higher education, Cooperative Extension, and/or land grant universities. It also recognizes the individual(s) role as an advocate for agriculture and natural resources and for their philanthropy in community organizations, religious institutions, art, environment, and social services.

JLBG Library Profile

This year we added 102 books to the JLBG library from a donation from the late M.K. Ramm of Hillsborough, North Carolina. M.K. had a book collection unlike any other. Notable books added to the library from this donation included the two-volume set of Mosses of Eastern North America, Beth Chatto’s Woodland Garden, My Rock Garden and The English Rock Garden Vol I and II by Reginald Farrer, and A Guide to the Spring and Early Summer Flora of the Piedmont, North Carolina by Hugo L. Blomquist and H.J. Oosting, just to name the highlights. 

A Must-Read Book by Zac Hill

My World of Hepaticas by John Massey and Tomoo Mabuchi was published in 2022 and is available from Ashwood Nursery in the UK. This stunning treatment of the genus Hepatica is filled from cover to cover with exquisite images of some of the most striking of all winter flowering perennials out there. Not only covering the taxonomy of the genus, but it is also filled with field notes and travelogues of seeing them in-situ throughout their range, as well as visits throughout the world discussing them with a who’s-who of other passionate plantspeople. There are sections on propagation, using both old methods as well as new methods, such as tissue culture. It is only available from Ashwood Gardens, so if you want a copy, follow this link:  https://www.ashwoodnurseries.com/news/my-world-of-hepaticas-john-masseys-new-book/

-Zac Hill

Until we meet again – happy garden trails.

-The JLBG Staff

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