Berry Nice! Winterberry

When most people think of holly, the image conjured up is one of bright red berries, glossy evergreen foliage and Christmas decorations. So when you talk to the average homeowner about deciduous holly (Ilex verticillata) they look at you as if you were moron. That's because many people consider deciduous holly is an oxymoron. A holly has glossy evergreen leaves, right. No, not always. Ilex verticillata, Winterberry Holly, or Winterberry is our native, wetland holly that looses it leaves each autumn. This is a beautiful shrub is all the more showy because its loss of leaves makes the berry display all the more showy. After the leaves have turned yellow and have fallen, you are left with a breathtaking view of thousands of brightly colored berries clinging to every stem. What a joy to have such color in the middle of winter.

Ilex verticillata is an amazing plant with a tremendous geographical range and a very diverse genetic expression. The native population of Ilex verticillata stretches from Nova Scotia, south to Florida and west to Missouri. It can be found throughout Michigan in low grounds, moist woods, swamps and occasionally in higher, drier soils. Even though it is most commonly found in low swampy soils, it can also be grown quite successfully in your average garden soils. It is an easy to grow plant that has few serious insect or disease problems. As for its genetic variation, this plant can range in heights from 3 feet to 15 feet. The width of the plant is also variable. In wet sites it normally suckers to form a dense spreading thicket. In drier garden soils, it tends to form a tighter clump. At blooming time this plant has little to attract attention. It has very small, inconspicuous white flowers, with male flowers and female flowers found in different individual plants. It is autumn, however, when this plant comes into its own, when its slender branches are draped with small but numerous berries right to the branch tip. The berries remain on the plant until midwinter adding color to the landscape when it is most needed. To facilitate a good berry set it is advisable to purchase at least one male for every three to five female plants and to plant the male in close proximity.

There are a good number of named cultivars to choose from in the market. The red fruited cultivar 'Oosterwijk' is a Dutch selection that is very popular in Europe for the production of cut branches. It is noted for holding its color and berries as a cut branch in flower arrangements. The most popular American selection for cutting is 'Winter Red'. The bright red berries are of medium size and produced in abundance. It is a multi-stemmed; erect plant maturing at 8 to 9 feet in height. One of my favorites is called 'Cacapon'. This beautiful plant has attractive, dark glossy green leaves and compact branching. It has abundant bright red fruit and makes a great landscape plant with year round interest. It matures to 6 to 8 feet and has a nice rounded habit. If you are looking for a smaller plant, 'Red Sprite' is a fantastic low mounded selection that matures at 3 to 5 feet. It has attractive, clean, dark green foliage, and tight branching right down to the ground. This plant makes a great low hedge or mass planting. Its low stature makes it an indispensable variety. For those looking for something a bit different, try 'Winter Gold'. This is yellow-berried sport of 'Winter Red'. The berries are not really gold, but instead and attractive pinkish-orange that lighten up with age. Another attractive color variation is 'Aurantiaca'. This beauty has bright pinkish-orange fruit that lighten with time. It is a eye-catching plant, although a bit untraditional.

Having a rich abundance of Ilex verticillata in Michigan, it is impossible not to hone in on a few exceptional native specimens. After years of observation we have chosen two plants worthy of introduction. One plant was located about ¼ mile off a local road, and for years it never fail but to catch our eye. It has dark red shinny berries produced in great abundance and a well branched rounded habit. The berry display was so nice, we simply named it Berry Nice. We had also been observing a native plant located in a ditch right along side the road. For years we would drive by this plant, and every autumn it would produce a very heavy crop of bright orangish-red fruit. After years of admiration we finally introduced this beauty under the name Berry Heavy. After observing these two selections for the last eight years, I was pleasantly surprised that they have the added benefit of losing their leaves well before other cultivars. This is a real benefit as you can enjoy a better, more unobstructed fruit display in the autumn.

No matter which selection you grow, Ilex verticillata is a shrub worth getting to know and understand. Landscapers on the East Coast, who are blessed with a climate which allows for the growing of many fine evergreen hollies, have adopted winterberry as a regular staple in their landscaping palette. If you're a landscaper, or a designer, I urge you to try at least one new plant a year and make Ilex verticillata this years plant. It is a tough, easy to grow shrub that looks great in mass. Use it in place of Viburnum dentatum, Arrowwood Viburnum. It will the perfect plant for wet, or poorly drained sites. Use it around retention ponds or near a runoff ditch. Don't reserve this worthy plant just for wet sites, is will grow just fine in drier soils. With the new demand for native plants, winterberry fits the bill and looks good too! And as the old commercial use to says "Try it - You'll like it!"

What Are Your Favorite New Plants?

I was recently asked to give a talk at the GLTE - Great Lakes Trade Exposition and I was asked to speak on my 10 favor shrubs. I don't know about you but this is nearly an impossible task. Every day I have a new list of favorites - depending upon what's going on in the garden.

Any way it got me thinking - and I added some pics of a few of my current favorites to the bottom right hand side of my blog page. I also thought it would be interesting to hear about your favorite plants - especially any new plants that you think are exciting and would like to share with everyone.

So Tell Me - What are your favorite plants? And tell us why.

Post your list as a comment and tell us your favorites.

The JC Raulston Arboretum - A Plant Lovers Candy Store

In my last post I featured Lo & Behold 'Blue Chip', a new dwarf buddleia developed by Dr. Dennis Werner. I should have noted that Dr. Werner is the Director of the JC Raulston Arboretum, which is run by NC State University.

If you love plants and if you have plans to visit Raleigh, North Carolina, then a visit to the JCRA is essential. It is one of my favoite places to visit because I always come across many new plants that I never seen before.

The JC Raulston Arboretum is a nationally acclaimed garden with the most diverse collection of cold hardy temperate zone plants in the southeastern United States. As a part of the Department of Horticultural Science at NC State University, the Arboretum is primarily a working research and teaching garden that focuses on the evaluation, selection and display of plant material gathered from around the world. Plants especially adapted to Piedmont North Carolina conditions are identified in an effort to find better plants for southern landscapes.
The Arboretum is an 8-acre jewel that has been largely built and maintained by NC State University students, faculty, volunteers, and staff. The Arboretum is named in honor of its late director and founder, J. C. Raulston, Ph.D., who founded it in 1976.

Plant collections include over 5,000 total taxa (species and/or cultivars) of annuals, perennials, bulbs, vines, groundcovers, shrubs, and trees from over 50 different countries, which are displayed in a beautiful garden setting.

Plant breeding has been, and continues to be, a part of the arboretums function. While Lo & behold Buddleia ‘Blue Chip’ is the newest plant to be released from the arboretum, many of you have also heard of Sinocalycanthus ‘Hartlage Wine’, which was also developed at the JCRA. This remarkable plant was the first hybrid between Calycanthus and Sinocalycanthus.

Two excellent ways to stay in touch with what is happening at the JCRA is through the frequent e-mail postings from the Cuttings from the JC Raulston Arboretum listserv and the JCRA e-Updates. Cuttings from the JC Raulston Arboretum features current events and developments at the Arboretum. The monthly JCRA e-Updates offer another great way to read about current and upcoming happenings at the Arboretum.
Have you every visited the JC Raulston Arboretum? Please post a comment let us what you think.

A Spiraea with Fragrant Blue Flowers?

Image if you can - a new selection of Japanese Spiraea

One with blue flowers ...
that's fragrant ...
that blooms from mid-summer to frost ...
that attracts butterflies ...
Can it be true? Does such a plant exist?

The answer is NO and YES.

No - there is no such thing as blue flowered Spiraea. I’ve looked.

Yes - there is a plant that has the same neat mounded habit as a Japanese Spiraea and that has loads of fragrant blue flowers. What is it?

Lo and Behold‘Blue Chip’ - A new Butterfly Bush (Buddleia hybrid).

Personally I have a love hate relationship with Butterfly Bush. I love the bright colors, I love the sweet fragrance, I love the long bloom time, I love the flock of dancing butterflies that it attracts and I love that it’s easy of grow.

But at the same time, I hate that it can look so darn scraggly and beat up. Let’s face it people don’t know how to prune buddleia and with time the plant can look really bad! I also hate seeing the blown out - overgrown containers that some growers put out on the market. One day you have a really nice looking three gallon, but the next day you have a tangled mess on you hands. Buddleia can grow too fast for it own good.

But now, Lo & Behold ‘Blue Chip’ is about to change the way we think about buddleia and how we use it in the garden and in the landscape. Credit for this revolutionary breed goes to Dr. Dennis Werner of The J. C. Raulston Arboretum . This is the first of a series of dwarf and compact plants that will be sold in the Lo & Behold series name. This remarkable plant is perfectly at home in a perennial garden, it makes a very cool patio container, and it can even be used a mass planted ground cover.

As an added bonus it does not have to be dead-headed to keep on flowering. Normally you have to remove the old flowers on buddleia to keep it looking good and keep it flowering. With this new plant, the new flowers just keep on coming while the old flowers fade away. And if that was not enough, this plant is essentially seedless – you need not worry about stray seedlings popping up around the garden.

Don’t bother asking me where to buy it - because it’s not yet available for sale.
Better independent garden centers will have a limited number of plants in the summer of 2008. There should be wider availability in the spring of 2009. Lo and Behold 'Blue Chip is a Proven Winners ColorChoice flowering shrub, so garden center buyers will have to contact a Gold Key Proven Winners ColorChoice grower if they hope to offer this plant in 2008.

Kudos to Dr. Dennis Werner for redefining the Butterfly Bush.

Little known Ginkgo cultivars from Hungary

During our visit to Hungary we were surprised at the number of unfamiliar tree cultivars of Hungarian origin. I suspect that during its 44 years under communism the country did not have full access to the genetics of the West, and thus nurseries developed their own selections. We saw a good many Hungarian selections of Ginkgo biloba. Here are three Hungarian selections (above) that we had never heard of before venturing into this Eastern European country.

If there are any tree growers reading this, I would suspect that you would find the wide array of Hungarian tree selections quite interesting. You might consider making a trip to Hungary to see for yourself. We saw many interesting Hungarian tree selections including many unique cultivars of Morus, Platanus, Pyrus, Prunus, Salix and Sorbus. We were particularly impressed with the selections of Sorbus. I will post of few of the more interesting cultivars in my next post.

Hungarians are very fond of conifers and most of their gardens feature a wide array of cultivars. Many of these are Hungarian varieties that were selected to be tolerant of high light levels and lime soils. Here is a sampling of some Hungarian conifer selections.
Anything interesting for you? Let's here your comments.

Plant Hunting in Hungary

What a joy it was to spend a week in Hungary, visiting nurseries, plant breeders and botanic gardens. While I am still exhausted, and suffering from jet lag, I am still glowing with joy after seeing good plants, meeting wonderful people, tasting great and unexpected foods and sampling some most unusual local spirits.
First and foremost the Hungarian people were kind, generous and fun. They are a proud people with a rich heritage in architecture, cuisine, plants, beer and wine. Everyone we met insisted that we sample some special Hungarian meal. My goodness, I think I gained 10 pounds on this trip - but I must say that it was well worth it. I took pictures of some of our meals and I expect to share their food with you as well, over the next few posts.

One of the highlights of our trip was a personally guided tour of Budapest at night. The sights were incredible and rich with colored lights reflecting off the mighty Danube River. Statutes, castles, bridges and the sights and smells of Budapest at night made a lasting impression. Oh how sorry I felt for the tourists that missed out on this city in favor of the more routine. Sure Paris is beautiful, but in Budapest we felt as if we had it all to ourselves.

Stay tuned for my next few posts and I will show you the plants we found and some of the food we enjoyed. See you soon. Until then - get out and enjoy your garden. The hydrangea paniculata are in peak autumn color and the caryopteris is in full bloom.

Plant a Hydrangea on your Tree

There are few plants that create as much excitement as does Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris) especially when seen in full bloom, lighting up the trunk of a tall oak tree. This is an outstanding plant that deserves greater use. Climbing Hydrangea is native to the woodlands of Japan and coastal China. The lacy, creamy-white blooms are 6 to 10" in diameter and appear in late June or early July. The blooms are actually comprised of numerous small flowers, some fertile and some sterile. The sterile flowers are larger and showier and encircle the smaller fertile flowers in the center of the bloom. The effect is unforgettable! Climbing Hydrangea is an attractive plant even when not in bloom. It has glossy heart-shaped leaves and cinnamon colored stems with exfoliating bark that make this plant interesting all year long.
Climbing hydrangea can reach heights of 50 to 80 feet if it has the support of a large tree to do so. It looks great on tall trees, on stone pillars, on brick walls or cascading over a rock pile. It is not overly aggressive like some vines can be. Dr. Michael Dirr, author of the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants calls it "The Best Vine!"

Climbing Hydrangea is most often sold as a container grown plant. Planting can take place from spring until fall. Plant it next to a brick wall or aside tall tree with an eastern or westward exposure. The planting depth should be the same depth as it was grown in the nursery. On poorly drained soils, planting depth may be raised several inches and soil should be sloped up to the original soil level of the container. The addition of organic matter such as compost, aged manure or peat moss will improve plant growth. Once situated at the proper depth in the planting hole firm the soil around the root ball and water thoroughly to remove any air spaces. The addition of a surface mulch of 3-4” will help retain soil moisture. Climbing Hydrangea is not the fastest plant to establish and growth will be slow for several years after planting. Once established the growth will improve with each passing year.

Climbing Hydrangea is a great plant that has tremendous potential. Few people have ever seen this plant. Once they have they will never forget it and will most certainly want one of their own!

There are several new cultivars of climbing hydrangea that are worth looking for. 'Skyland's Giant' (see above image) is a new variety selected for especially large flowers. 'Fire Fly' is a new variegated selection of climbing hydrangea that is simply spectacular in in the spring when the plant flushes. It has the same great flowers as the species. As the season progressed the variegation becomes less pronounced.

Budapest - Our next plant Hunting Trip

Budapest is truly one of the world’s most beautful cities

My next plant hunting trip takes us to the beautiful city of Budapest and the surrounding countryside. I have met some wonderful Hungarian nursery people and plant breeders during our travels and finally I get to visit them and this beautiful city.
Do I have a rough job or what?
I am truly amazed by the number of people that subscribe to my blog, and I am equally amazed that we have subscribers from across the globe, so today I am seeking your advice.

With our upcoming trip to Hungary, I was hoping that some of my subscribers might offer me some advice. If you are from Hungary, or have travelled to Hungary - tell me about your experiences there and offer me some tips on things to see or foods to try. While we do not normally have a lot of free time for your typical tourist activities, we do on occasion see a few things besides plant nurseries.

And if you have followed my blog for any length of time you know that food is high my priority list when travelling. Can any of you recommend a must have dish or a gem of a restaurant?

I've never been to Hungary so I'm counting some good tips and advice.

Hunting for New Plants in the Netherlands

I just got back from a week in the Netherlands and now that I've recovered from jet lag, I thought I would share a few new discoveries.

What do you think? Commet on your favorites.

Skimma japonica 'Magic Merlot'

Pieris japonica 'Passion'

Cornus x 'Venus'

Lavendula 'Garden Beauty'

Sedum 'Elsie'

Finding New Plants is Not Difficult

One of the great benefits of having a job such as mine is to be fortunate enough to discover a new plant developed by a breeder, seeing the original plant and then actually getting to see that same cultivar out and about in residential landscapes.

It has been about eight years since I saw my first Limelight Hydrangea, and now with paniculata hydrangeas in full bloom, I see this variety in yards wherever I go. My neighbour about six houses down, whom I don’t know, planted about six Limelights around her front porch. Even my wife Tracy beams with pride when the Limelight in our front yard is in bloom. Every day, people walking by are compelled to stop and ask its name.

There is no doubt that Limelight is a breath-taking, one in a million plant, but surprisingly there were many professional nursery people that did not recognize it as such when they first saw it. About the second year we had plant at our nursery, and before the plant was introduced, we had a visit from the Ohio Nursery Association “Plant Selection Committee.” Made up of about six well respected plants-people, the group identifies plants that merit growing and recommends them to the trade. Well here they were, on the nursery looking at about 200 three gallon limelight plants in full bloom and none of the hardly took notice. "Who wants a green flowered Hydrangea" was their comment. The famous Plantsman, Mike Dirr has nothing good to say about Limelight, while at the same time sales of Limelight continue to climb and consumer forums like are littered with personal accolades for the plant.

How it is that the professional get it so wrong? Time and time again, when we introduce a new plant, nursery people respond with scepticism. When we introduced Weigela Wine & Roses, I was told it was no better than ‘Java Red’ and that no one would bother changing.

The problem with nursery people is that they look at a plant as a horticulturist. With four years of college, and years of on the job experience, we become cynical; we need to extend our opinion, finding fault with every new we plant meet - after all we are the experts. It takes a concerted effort to change the way we look at plants so that view that as a consumer, in particularly a female consumer. We need to start accessing the positive points of a new variety as well as the negative points. Certainly every plant has its shortcomings. There is no such thing as a perfect plant and we need to understand these weaknesses, but we need also to see beyond them.

We discover numerous new and unusual plants on every trip we take. Every week someone is offering us a new plant. There is no shortage of new plants. Hunting for new plants is not the difficult part of the job, it’s understanding which new plants are worthy of introduction that is difficult. And surprisingly, it is very easy to dismiss or underestimate an exceptional new plant, because we think too much like horticulturists and not enough like consumers.

Guest Author - The Perennial Diva

Once upon a time several years ago, Sinclair Adam Jr of Dunvegan Nursery of West Chester, Pa. He had a whole field of Phlox 'David', and lo and behold a pink mildew phlox appeared. We know 'David' is the father and we suspect 'Eva Collum' is the mother, but only the pollinators know for sure.

I trialed the plant and he called it 'Shortwood, in honor of my garden. 'Shortwood' is not short, but a medium sized phlox in bright pink. The combination produced one of the most mildew resistant phloxes on the market.

Phlox 'David' is a studly plant. In my garden'David' crossed with 'Shortwood' to producea beautiful bi-color phlox. It will be released in'08. Since I found it I named it 'Blushing Shortwood'. It's dramatic and fragrant. The end of my story unless 'David' finds a new conquest.
PHLOX paniculata SHORTWOOD - PP#10379 - Tall 42" - Plant 20 " apart. Zone 4-8. The mildew resistance of P. David with the bright pink blossoms of P. Eva Cullum. Strong, sturdy stems are excellent for cutting. Forms a broad clump. A Blooms of Bressingham selection. Shortwood can be purchased on line at Bluestone Perennials.

The guest author of this post of the Plant Hunter is ...
Stephanie Cohen is "The Perennial Diva"

Known by many names throughout the horticultural world -- the "Vertically Challenged Gardener" and the "Dr. Root of Perennials," among others -- Stephanie Cohen has much to offer your club or institution.

She specializes in giving unique garden lectures, writing attention-getting, informative articles and designing award-winning garden spaces. Stephanie Cohen has taught herbaceous plants and perennial design at Temple University for more than 20 years. She is the former director of the Landscape Arboretum at Temple University, Ambler. Stephanie is a contributing editor for "Fine Gardening" and The HGTV Newsletter; sits on the advisory board for "Green Profit" and is on the advisory board of "Green Scene"; and she is a regional writer for the Blooms of Bressingham Plant Program. She also writes for "Country Living Gardener" and "American Nurseryman" magazines.

She has received four awards from the Perennial Plant Association for design, and received the group's Service and Academic Award. She has received awards from Temple University, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and The American Nursery & Landscape Association for Garden Communicator of the Year 2000.

Stephanie has written a book on design called "The Perennial Gardener's Design Primer," which is published by Storey Press. It was the publisher's best-selling book for 2005. In 2006 she and co-author Nancy Ondra, along with photographer Rob Cardillo, were awarded Storey Publishing's Garden Media Award for the year's Best Overall Product: Book. Stephanie has started on her second book in 2006.

Stephanie has lectured coast to coast, including in Alaska. She has been on QVC TV as the "Perennial Diva." In April 2005 she became a Temple University Alumni Fellow, the most distinguished award that can be given to an alumna. She does a monthly show for CNN TV.
For more information, or to arrange a speaking engagement or consultation, please contact Stephanie at (610) 409-8232 or e-mail to

Clethra: The Sweetest Summer Shrubs

I distinctly remember my first encounter with Clethra alnifolia (Summersweet or Sweetpepperbush). The air was thick with its spicy sweet fragrance and it begged me to search for it source. Tucked into the center of a large shrub boarder was a tall, gangly plant with small white spires about eight feet in the air. Not much of a plant, but it was obvious that it had never been pruned or cared for. Despite its poor habit, I felt that any plant that smelled that sweet deserved to be used. Some years later I specified Clethra in a landscape design. Of course I was a naïve greenhorn, too foolish to realize that it was not available in the trade for purchase. But I was smart enough to realize it was a plant worth growing.

Times have changed and so have our pallet of plants. Today Clethra is available to purchase at nearly every landscape pick-up yard, so are a host of improved cultivars. How is it that within a period of 25 years, so much can change?

It all started with Clethra ‘Hummingbird,’ the first dwarf form of Sweetspire. It was an obscure plant that Fred Galle of Callowway Gardens had discovered and for the most part had been forgotten. Then Richard Feist, a Callowway intern at the time, saw the plant and bells went off. With the permission of Galle he registered the plant as ‘Hummingbird’ and then wrote an article in Field Notes in American Nurseryman. All of a sudden Clethra was worthy. Clones started coming out of the woodwork; ‘Rosea’, ‘Pink Spires’, ‘Creal’s Callico’, ‘Fern Valley Pink’, ‘Hokey Pink’, ‘Cottondale’, ‘September Beauty’, ‘Ruby Spice’, ‘Sweet Suzanne’, ‘Sixteen Candles’, ‘White Dove’ and ‘Sherry Sue’ just to name a few.

While Clethra is relatively easy to fine these days, it is still greatly under used. In my travels to Europe, I am amazed that the plant has gained little respect; it is available only at collector type nurseries. How can it be?

Summersweet is an American native that can be found along the Eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida and west into Texas; along its western range it is native as far north as Tennessee. As a facultative wetland species is most likely to be found growing in low, moist woodlands, especially in the South, but in its northern range it is not unlikely to find the plant on higher, drier ground. You need not plant this shrub in a swamp to have success. My garden is nearly pure sand, and with the regular irrigation the plant grows just fine. Just remember that Clethra is not a plant for droughty soils. USDA zones 5-9.

Plant height varies greatly depending upon the cultivar. While the species can reach eight feet in height, cultivars such as ‘Hummingbird’, ‘Sixteen Candles’ and White Dove™ max out around three feet. Regardless of cultivar Summersweet benefits from pruning especially at a young age. Regular pruning creates a bushier, fuller plant as opposed to a leggy bare bottomed plant. Clethra alnifolia, especially the variety tomentosa can be suckering or stoloniferous. My observation has been that suckering is more prevalent in moist soils, while it is almost nonexistent on drier soils. Even where suckering is prevalent, it is never so aggressive that it presents a problem.

Flowers while typically white, can also be pink (‘Pink Spires’, ‘Hokey Pink’, ‘Rosea’) or near-red, dark pink such as ‘Ruby Spice’. The light pink varieties are quite attractive and should not be abandoned totally in favor of the darker ‘Ruby Spice’; even though the flowers may fade to near white as they age it is still a pleasing pink in the garden. The blooms appear in late summer; in Michigan we begin to see flowers in late July with August being prime bloom time. The cultivar September beauty™ extends the flowering season several week later than the other cultivars. Leave color ranges from a grey-green (‘Cottendale’) to dark green (Hummingbird, September Beauty, Sixteen Candles and White Dove™) with most other cultivars falling somewhere in between.

A check list of Cultivars:

‘Anne Bidwell’ - Panicle inflorescence with multiple racemes. Selected by Anne Bidwell.

‘Cottondale’ (var. tomentosa) - A selection with very large racemes up to 16” in length and grey-green leaves, suckering. Selected by Woodlanders Nusery.

‘Compacta’ - A very attractive selection with compact branching and a rounded habit of about 4’ in height. Selected by Tom Dilatush.

‘Creels Calico’ - A suckering plant with highly variable variegation. More of a curiosity than a landscape plant. Selected by Michael Creel.

'Fern Valley Pink' - Long, light pink flowers. Selected by Tom Clark.

‘Hokie Pink’ - Light pink flowers, more compact than typical. Selected by Jime Monroe.

‘Hummingbird’ - A low, compact, mounded plant maturing around 3’. Very dark green foliage and good yellow fall color. Selected by Fred Galle.

‘Pink Spires’ - Light pink flowers, matures at 6’-8’.

‘Rosea’ - Very similar to Pink Spires

‘Ruby Spice’ - A sport mutation of 'Pink Spires' with red flower buds that open to a rich pink. Does not fade to white. Very good yellow fall color. Selected by Andy Brand.

‘Sherry Sue’ - Typical white flowers, young stems are an attractive cherry red. Brought to us from the J.C. Raulston Arboretum.

‘Sixteen Candles’ -A seedling of Hummingbird with tight growth and larger white flowers. A fine plant selected by Mike Dirr.

Sweet Suzanne’ - Another seedling of Hummingbird with large flowers. Has been a weak grower for us, not as good as above. Selected by Mike Dirr.

var. tomentosa -A suckering plant with grey green leaves. ‘Cottondale’ is a superior selection

White Dove™ - Another seedling of Humingbird, Compact habit and larger white flowers. Selected by Flowerwood Nursery.

Related Species:

Clethra acuminata: Cinnamon Pepperbush - A small tree or larges suckering shrub at 12-15' in height. White flowers borne in termial racemes, with only slight fragrance. Attractive cinnamon colored bark. USDA Zones 6-8.

Clethra barbinervis: Japanese Pepperbush - A small tree or large shrub 15'-20' in height. White, fragrant flowers in terminal panicles in mid-summer. Superb exfoliating bark. An excellent plant for USDA Zones 6-7.

Behind the Iron Curtain

Poland stirs my soul. The people are warm and loving. The food is superb, yet unpretentious (The mushroom porogies were unforgettable). It is a country of many contrasts. I am struck by the difference between the stark cement Soviet architecture of Warsaw and the old world beauty of Krakow. I feel the pride and triumph of Lech Walesa and the sorrow and cries of Auschwitz. But more than anything I feel Poland’s enduring love for freedom.

For decades, little was known about the nurseries of Eastern Europe and what plants they were cultivating there. There were rumours of Syringa (Lilac) breeding in the Soviet Union and of vast conifer collections in Czechoslovakia, but few if any Eastern plants defected and turned up in the West. With the fall of the Soviet Empire and the Iron Curtain the door was opened to discover what if anything might be found in Eastern Europe. From a cultural and climatic standpoint my greatest hopes were in Poland, East Germany, The Czech Republic and Hungary. Of these, Poland was the most interesting. Its people had a reputation for plants, gardening and hard work. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain Poland lead the East in the importation of nursery stock and cut flowers. Clearly the Polish people had an appreciation for plants. It was my hope that a nursery culture and perhaps even an underground nursery industry had survived the cold war.

Mateusz Milcznska was our key to Poland. A former intern at Spring Meadow, Mateusz volunteered to be our guide and translator while touring Poland. He spoke excellent English and he had the driving skills essential for navigating the narrow and hectic roads of Poland. Mateusz had arranged all of our appointments including of our most pleasant surprise, the nursery of Lucjan Kurowski. One look at Lucjan Kurowski’s nursery and you could tell he had a passion for plants.

Mr. Kurowski established his nursery in 1960. Initially it was started on a small acreage and his market was limited to his local area. Over the years the nursery prospered and had grown to its current size of 24 hectares, which includes 12 hectares of container plants and 4 hectares of in-ground plants. The fall Iron Curtain had a dramatic effect on his business and as a result Lucjan now exports to Russia, Ukraine, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Lithuania, Belarus and Hungary.

We were surprised at the quality plants at Lucjan’s nursery and we were especially surprised by the mix of plants he was growing. All of the latest Western introductions were there. He had wasted little time in accumulating the best new plants from the West. We were also delighted to learn he had active breeding program and had even introduced five of his own selections.

The one plant that caught our eye was a narrow upright barberry with bright golden foliage called SunjoyTM Gold Pillar Barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Maria’ ppaf). Adding to its appeal, hues of red and orange tinged the new growth. In essence it is a golden version of Helmond’s Pillar. With Mateusz translating, Lucjan explained that his selection was more than just beautiful; it was also extremely burn resistant - a bonus because most gold leaved variates burn in full sun. Lucjan showed us the proof; Sunjoy Gold Pillar was the only clean plant in a full sun test bed that included all the latest varieties.

While the discovery of Sunjoy Gold Pillar made our trip to Poland a success, importing it was whole new challenge. The problem is that some species of Berberis are host to a disease called Wheat Rust. While Sunjoy Gold Pillar and all other selections of Berberis thunbergii are resistant to wheat rust, Federal Law prohibits the importation of cultivars that are not listed as certified rust resistant. Obviously this plant was not on the list. The catch 22 was we had to import the plant in order to have it tested, but we could not import it because it had not been tested. With a bit of hard work and a lot of luck we were able to import the plant directly to the Federal Wheat Rust laboratory and after two years of testing and yet another two years to get the plant published on the Federal list, we are now able to offer this plant legally in the United States. While the entire process took over six years, it is exciting to see that our trip to the former Eastern Block was a success.

Getting a new plant can be a struggle, but it is nothing compared to the struggles Poland has endured to gain its Liberty. Still - I find satisfaction in both and I am not alone. According to Thomas Jefferson "The boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave” and “The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture."

Ban All Plants!

State, Federal and local lawmakers have been scrambling to solve the problem of invasive plant species. Unfortunately for the American gardening public, one of the best solutions to the problem is being completely ignored; creating, promoting and growing cultivated varieties (or cultivars) of these species that do not possess invasive characteristics.

Plant scientists, horticulturists, farmers and gardeners have been selecting and breeding cultivars since the dawn of agriculture. Historically, cultivars have been developed to produce greater crop yields or larger, more colorful flowers. These same techniques can and have been used to produce well behaved, environmentally friendly plants that are not invasive threats like their parents.

It is welcome news that lawmakers and the public now recognize the threat of certain exotic species which can displace native species and alter our native ecosystems. Gardeners, nurserymen, landscaper architects and other land stewards need to act responsively to preserve native habitats. No one wants to be responsible for the next purple loosestrife, kudzu, or multiflora rose; all well known examples of problematic species. The proverbial Pandora’s Box has been opened; now the question for lawmakers is how to close the box.

Banning the sale and production of plant species “deemed invasive” is the approach under consideration by some states. For example Connecticut is on the verge of placing restrictions on roughly 70 plant species. Banning most of these weedy, seedy plants would please environmentalists and gardeners alike. Most have no ornamental value with the exception of Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) two very popular garden plants.

Should gardeners, landscapers, nurserymen and garden centers be forced to forgo some of their best performing plants? The question could be irrelevant, if lawmakers would only recognize how relatively easy it is to tame these species. Many environmentally friendly cultivars are already available, but are, or will be, banned by unknowing legislators. One example is Common buckthorn Rhamnus frangula. Most would agree that the species, which has a germination rate in excess of 95%, is an invasive threat. One would be hard pressed to say the same about a new buckthorn cultivar called Fine Line™, grown for it attractive lacy foliage and distinctly narrow habit. Fine Line is not an environmental threat because it is nearly impossible to grow from seed. Even under ideal university conditions, germination studies yielded a meager 6% germination rate. There are also environmentally safe cultivars of Burning Bush and Japanese barberry. Rarely will you find a seed on the dwarf Burning Bush cultivar ‘Rudy Haag’ or the dwarf purple Japanese Barberry cultivar ‘Concorde’ but this may be irrelevant in states that don’t recognize the genetic diversity of plant species and the potential of breeding. Cultivars that have the potential to, in part, solve the invasive plant problem are being banned along with the culprit species.

Gardeners need not feel guilty for growing exotic plants, if they are environmentally safe cultivars. It’s frustrating because plant breeders across the country are addressing this issue and their work is going to waste because people are simply uneducated. Legislators are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Cultivars are part of the solution and should not be labeled as “outlaws” just because their parent species are problematic.

At the moment few people seem to care about the cultivar issue because they don’t know that “safe” cultivars exist. Gardeners, like environmentalists, are proud of our natural heritage and want to preserve native habitats. They want to do what is morally right, but they also want to create beautiful gardens in our man made habitats. Cities and suburbs present challenging growing environments and exotic plants often perform better than native plants. Contrary to popular dogma native plants are not more adaptable than exotic species. And they are not more resistant to insect and disease attacks. Quite the contrary; exotic species are often used by plant breeders to create new pest resistant cultivars that do not require the use of pesticides.

There are others who do know about non-invasive cultivars and are content to keep quiet because they’re not gardeners and they don’t want to complicate the invasive plant issue. Their goal is to keep the process moving. And the process is moving and moving fast. The question is “will gardening public wake up and smell the roses?” Perhaps, but it may be too late to make a difference. States continue to ban species of plants along with popular cultivars that pose no threat to the environment.

Now imagine the police showing up at your door and fining you $100 for each rose in your yard. It may not be as outlandish as it sounds. Many popular disease resistant roses were derived from the outlaw multiflora rose. There’s even a good chance it’s the rootstock on your prized tea roses as well. Combine this with the intent of Connecticut House Bill 5614 which proposes a $100 fine per violation (50 plants could be 50 violations) and you get the picture. Perhaps it’s time for a little common sense dealing with the problem of invasive plants. Gardeners and growers are not the bad guys and they need not be the losers. Cultivars are the answer and not the problem in the complex issue of invasive species.

California Pack Trials - A Pleasant Surprise

I just got back from the California Pack Trials and have the sunburn to prove it. This was my first visit to the Pack Trials and it proved to be a very interesting experience. If you are not familiar with Pack Trials, it is a week long event where some forty different breeders and growers showcase their new plant introductions. Attendees travel the coast of California making stops at greenhouses and display gardens to get the inside scoop on what’s new for the coming year. In the past, the Pack Trials were almost entirely dedicated to seed grown annuals and growers would come out and evaluate how the new annuals presented themselves in trays or cell “packs.” Times have changed and very few if any plants are seed grown and the plants are no longer displayed in trays.

For me Pack Trials was an opportunity to gage people’s reaction to new introductions. What is it that really gets people talking? I have never had much belief in focus groups when it relates to plants. I much prefer to go to a garden center and play detective. What are people putting in their carts? What are the plants that draw the attention of people in the store? The same is true for pack trials. It was interesting to see which plants got people excited.

At the Proven Winners display located at EuroAmerican Propagators, just north of San Diego, I was amazed at the reaction that people had towards the new line of OSO EASY roses – (Oso Easy ‘Peach Cream,’ Oso Easy ‘Fragrant Spreader,’ and Oso Easy ‘Paprika’) Prior to this, I had been repeatedly told that it was the absolutely worst time to introduce roses. Keep in mind that only one week ago, the leading name in roses - Jackson and Perkins was sold. The mighty have fallen, because the rose industry is in a fast, deep downward spiral. No one wants tea roses or grandifloras any more. Gardeners refuse to spray roses. For better or worse, growers and retailers have become fixated on ‘Knockout’ roses, just as they had done twenty years ago with ‘Stella d’Ora’ daylily. The herd mentality of the nursery industry is alive and well, so it was a pleasant surprise to watch the reaction of growers and retailers when presented a new line of roses. There was genuine excitement in eyes of everyone as they first caught a glimpse of the Oso Easy Line - And why not? These are great roses.

I know how good these roses are because I have been evaluating them for the last five years. I get test roses from five different rose breeders and I have tested countless selections - but only these three plants have made the grade. Our nursery grows many roses, and most all of them are a grower’s nightmare. For roses to go through the high heat and humidity of our propagation and production system and to stay clean is nearly impossible. Unlike the All American Rose testing process, we do not spray our test roses; not in the ground and not in production. Undoubtedly these are darn good roses. But to see buyers, growers and retailers get excited was confirmation that these roses have a bright future despite the bleak state of the rose industry. It was a pleasant surprise.

Flowering Shrub Evolution - Part II

Lo & Behold Dwarf Butterfly Bush

In my last post I wrote about new breakthrough plants that have changed the evolution of flowering shrubs. This post continues the discussion, and I've listed the shrubs that I think have changed the way we think about, and use them in our gardens and landscapes.

Have I left anything off the list? Send me your thoughts and comments.

Plant Name - Significance to the Industry

Abelia mosenensis
A Zone 4 Abelia with better fragrance than Viburnum carlesii

Berberis thun. ‘Concorde’
Dwarf, grape purple foliage, that’s nearly sterile

Buddleia davidii
English Butterfly Series™

A new series with dwarf growth. They actually look good in a one gallon.

Caryopteris incana Sunshine Blue®
A hardy, strong growing Caryopteris with bright yellow foliage and rich blue flowers. Move over Worchester Gold. Move over Gold Mound Spiraea?

Caryopteris Petit Bleu™
A dwarf Caryopteris with dark glossy leaves

Clethra ‘Hummingbird’
Sixteen Candles may be the best, but it was Hummingbird that started it all.

Clethra ‘Ruby Spice’
Andy Brand discovers the first pink Clethra that actually stays pink.

Corylus a. ‘Red Majestic’ pp#16,048
The first contorted filbert with red foliage. Year round excitement.

Deutzia gracilis Chardonnay Pearls®
The first Deutzia with season long color. Bright lemon yellow foliage rivals Spiraea

Diervilla ‘Butterfly’
Landscaper know the Diervilla is as tough as nails but Butterfly is attractive enough for retail

Euonymus alatus ‘Rudy Haag’
Grow this dwarf selection to be environmentally proactive in the fight against invasives.

Forsythia ‘Golden Peep’
Who has room for a 12 foot Forsythia? Not me, nor do many people. This is a great plant for around the deck

Fothergilla major ‘Blue Shadows’
A blue leafed Fothergilla that actually lives. Yes it’s true. Gary Handy discovers a Blue Mount Airy.

Hibiscus syriacus Chiffon™ Series
A vigorous rose of Sharon that will make money for nurseries and flowers like crazy. Unique Lacy flowers

Pink Chiffon

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Hayes Starburst’
A first! Hayes Jackson discovers a double flowered form of arborescens.

Hydrangea Endless Summer
Great news for us in the Midwest with Hydrangea envy. Blooms on new wood. More to come.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’
A Pee Gee with bright green flowers, strong stems. Does not flop like Pee Gee and finishes fast.

Hydrangea paniculata Little Lime
The best. A dwarf with strong stems and full flower heads

Little Lime

Hydrangea paniculata Quick Fire
Why wait until August for Blooms. Quick Fire flowers in June and turns pink before Pink Diamond even flowers.

Hydrangea ‘Snowflake’
The best oakleaf with it doubled, hose in hose blooms that turn pink as they age. Very healthy and great fall color.

Hypericum ‘Blue Velvet’
Blue Leaves on a Hypericum, yes. Paul Cappiello delivers a hit.

Indigofera ‘Rose Carpet’
Rich pink blooms from Late June until frost. Hugs the ground like a rug. I mean carpet.

Itea Little Henry®
The first dwarf Sweetspire.

Kerria ‘Honshu’
A hard to find Kerria with big flowers and superior stem hardiness. The only selection with fragrant flowers.

Leptodermis oblonga
A neat little known treasure with vivid pink flowers that keep on coming all season long.

Physocarpus Diabolo®
The first ninebark with purple foliage.

Physocarpus Summer Wine®
The first compact ninebark with purple foliage. Who has room for a 15 foot ninebark? Not me. A cross between Diabolo® and ‘Nana’.

Physocarpus Coppertina
The first ninebark with orange red foliage.

Potentilla Pink Beauty
A pink Potentilla that actually comes out pink and lives more than a year.

Rhamnus Fine Line®
An environmentally friendly Rhamnus with cut leaves and narrow columnar growth. Remember how many Tall Hedge you used to sell.

Rosa Knock Out®
It proved that a rose can be grown without having to spray

Rosa Home Run®
The most disease resistant, most attractive rose on the market. Comes in Red and Pink. 

Rosa Morden Sunrise
Yes, a strong growing, healthy yellow rose.

Sambucus Black Beauty
The first black leaf elder with pink flowers.

Sambucus Black Lace
The first cut leaf black elder with pink flowers. Incredible texture. As elegant as a Japanese Maple.

Sambucus ‘Sutherland Gold’
The best yellow leafed elder.

Spiraea ‘Gold Mound’ / 'Goldflame'
The plant that started it all. Lime Mound was first but never caught on.

Spiraea Pink Parasols®
The first pink flowered Spiraea fritscheriana. Ground covering habit. Landscapers forget about Rhus ‘Gro-low’ this plant is great for mass planting and it has large pink flowers.

Thuja Spring Grove®
A hardy northern selection that is deer resistant.

Viburnum ‘Cayuga’
An improved fragrant Viburnum with disease resistance.

Viburnum Cardinal Candy
The best plant in the garden in late summer. Loads of tightly packed cardinal red fruit. No pollinator necessary.

Viburnum nudum BRANDYWINE
A new variety that does not need a pollinator to enhance fruit set.

Viburnum plicatum ‘Popcorn’
A hardy, heat tolerant snowball Viburnum.

Viburnum p. tomentosum ‘Summer Snowflake’
What’s better than a Viburnum? A continuous blooming Viburnum

Viburnum ‘Mary Milton’
A Snowball Viburnum with pink flowers.

Weigela Midnight Wine®
The first dwarf purple leafed Weigela.

Weigela My Monet
The first dwarf variegated Weigela. Very hardy, bright pink

Weigela 'White Knight’
The best reblooming Weigela. White flowers with a touch of pink.

Weigela Wine & Roses®
Dark burgundy foliage and vivid pink flowers.