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Adam’s notes from the garden
Throughout the past year, I touted how winter, specifically late January through February, is arguably the most beautiful time to experience Peckerwood. This was based on the winter I found when I came to work here. Those two months were a riot of foliar and floral color, a confused mix of brilliant “autumn” color of maples, oaks and other deciduous trees combined with abundant flowering Camellia, Magnolia, Mahonia and flowering apricot cultivars. We didn’t offer any open days during that time frame so few got to see the display. We knew we needed to offer visitor opportunities this year.
I could tell this past December that our current winter was not going to follow the same pattern. Some trees that were in full fall display in early February 2016 were in color again the same year.Other deciduous trees seemed to be on schedule, but the leaves had been blemished with leaf spot fungi stemming from the excessively wet conditions in April and May.
The pressure was now on the winter flowering trees to dominate the show. On cue, the pinks, whites, reds and yellows started lighting up the woodland garden.
Then…a two-day hard freeze hit in early January, plummeting to 17ºF one morning and 18ºF the next, with extended night-time durations in the low 20s and daytime highs barely above freezing. Though in no way record low temperatures for our area, the long duration caused more damage than a single, brief dip followed by significant warming. This didn’t harm the buds on the flowering trees, just the flowers that were currently open.
What it did temporarily harm though was the woodland garden understory – browning the foliage of many of the cycads, ferns and the masses of Farfugium japonicum. In last year’s mild winter, with only two brief dips into the low/mid-20s , these plants never missed a beat, and the groundcover was unscathed.
Though initially disheartening after playing up a winter spectacle on par with last year, plants will be back soon enough. The Farfugium are resprouting, and many winter ephemerals are emerging. Several species of Trilliums are unfurling, and the often boldly patterned leaves of various Arum selections are standing proud.
A few individuals among our large patch of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) couldn’t stay in the ground any longer, and one rebellious individual already has flowered. More Magnolia species and cultivars are flowering by the day, new Camellia cultivars are being swarmed by honeybees, and more Mahonia species continue to come into flower. Among these headliners are many unique winter surprises coming into peak performance in the upcoming weeks.
There’s more good news regarding some not-so-seasonal damage to the garden’s lawns and plantings. Recent visitors touring the garden could not miss the damaged grass in the arboretum from marauding feral pigs. They had gotten to a point where they simply wouldn’t enter our live traps anymore, probably after watching their relatives get caught. Though our staff is good at piecing the sod back together every morning, a new morning routine of taking care of other priorities will now ensue. We are pleased to report we are finally fortifying the west edge of the property with a secure fence.
Visiting exciting plant collections through the Carolinas
By Adam Black
I had long been meaning to visit old friends and meet new ones in the country’s epicenters of hardcore horticulture: North and South Carolina. This area has long harbored great plantsmen, nurseries, and botanical gardens, many quite influential to American gardening. I planned to visit one site per day, which was quite ambitious in some regards, but I’m prone to going overboard. This trip turned out to be one of the most rewarding in terms of meeting up with old collaborators on a different level in my new position affiliated with Peckerwood, while also initiating long-overdue contact with other botanical greats of the region.
I drove from Texas for 17 hours to South Carolina in one day, dragging a trailer with a few plants to share that I was able to quickly muster in my rush to leave. As I made my way through northeast TX toward I-20, I began to see an ever-increasing abundance of possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua) along the roadsides, prominent this time of year with the masses of scarlet fruits adorning the leafless stems.
One particular individual spotted on the westbound side of the interstate had strongly weeping branches. We have the cultivar ‘Pendula’ at the garden but it is only gently downward arching at best.
Hopefully I can propagate this new find in the near future. Eventually arriving in Columbia, SC for the night long after dark, I eagerly anticipated my morning visit to Moore Farms Botanical Gardens in Lake City, SC, a small town just south of Florence. Senior horticulturalist Katie Dickson had visited Peckerwood last year during a plant gathering expedition for the garden, so I looked forward to visiting her again as well as meeting with their propagation coordinator Leanne Kenealy, whom I had heard about from many mutual acquaintances as having amassed likely the most complete collections of Taxodium and Magnolia grandiflora cultivars, among many other interesting things.
Touring Moore farms was quite an experience, seeing how they use quite rare or underutilized plants in both formal landscapes as well as more naturalistic. Not being open to the public, it was quite peaceful and desolate. There was so much to take in that it was hard to focus on any of the actual plants, which were immaculately maintained. As we proceeded back to the nursery area the green roof on one of the buildings really caught my attention. Most green roofs are flat, but this is sloped, which shows off the plants very well to viewers at ground level. Furthermore, most green roofs tend to default to sedums and masses of other low-growing xeric plants. This innovative roof, designed and constructed by research horticulturist Kirk Laminak was quite different, with a diversity of perennials, larger shrubby plants and vertical accents of trunked yuccas and accentuated with bold plants like Agave ovatifolia. A catwalk accessed by a spiral staircase allowed for closer inspection, and once on the expansive roof it was hard to believe there was a building underneath, looking more like a lushly planted hillside. I was told there were many spring bulbs that will be creating a colorful display soon.
The Magnolia grandiflora cultivar collection was interesting in that, as presumed, there are many unique standouts, while also too many that simply run together with other similar-appearing selections. Still, there were some very distinct cultivars that Leanne had tracked down that I had never seen before, including some narrow leaf forms, plus a lot of interesting hybrids that may prove to be popular landscape plants in the future.
Off to the nursery, Leanne and Katie began loading me down with plants. Though the Taxodium collection was leafless this time of year, it was still clear how extensive Leanne’s grafting prowess had amounted to a quite a signature collection for Moore Farms. Having longed for a very blue Taxodium mucronatum I had once seen in Noel Weston’s Raleigh nursery years ago, I asked and sure enough Leanne had it, and even had a spare grafted plant to share with Peckerwood! Added to this were dozens of Asian rarities from wild collections of Ethan Kaufman, former director of MFBG, a Baptisia hybrid collection, and so much more – quite an exciting haul!
When leaving Moore Farms to work my way north towards Raleigh, NC, I saw a sign for Lynches River County Park. I had remembered the river’s name from old geological reports in reference to one of my other interests: paleobotany. Hoping to track down some fossil plant exposures, I followed the signs and found a nice park with trails through beautiful mixed forest. Though there were no fossiliferous outcrops along this stretch of the river, perhaps due to high water levels, I did find some interesting modern living plants, most notably a highly contorted sparkleberry, Vaccinium arboreum. Being a larger shrub, its twisted and kinked branches were of a size that displayed the nice peeling reddish bark. Further back in the woods, well off the trail, I found an old home site indicated only by the brick fireplace and tall chimney still standing, the base surrounded by a thicket of deciduous pinxter azalea (Rhododendron canescens) in bud. Growing from between the chimney bricks were many spleenworts, likely Asplenium platyneuron glowing in the dappled light that lent a tropical feel to the chilly afternoon shade.
The next morning I drove to Raleigh to one of my long-time favorite botanical gardens – the JC Raulston Arboretum. There I meet up with director Mark Weathington and off we went for a stroll through the garden, seeing old favorites that had grown significantly since I last saw them while also being introduced to new plantings. This arboretum is interesting in that new plants are constantly being trialed in limited space, so as things get big decisions are made and less valuable plants are removed to open up space for new plantings. Rare and significant specimens are left indefinitely as deemed necessary. It makes for a very dynamic garden with a wealth of things that need to be grown more in the southeast. Huge specimens of Prunus mume cultivars were in full flower, including the weeping white-flowered selection ‘Bridal Veil’ released by Camellia Forest Nursery years ago. The tendril-like clusters of witch hazel flowers also were catching the light in various colors ranging from yellow to red. Mark took me back to the nursery and loaded me down with all sorts of plants from his own wild collections from China and beyond, plus other material received from elsewhere, including some exciting small perennials suitable for our developing rock garden complex.
The following day was the requisite visit to see Tony Avent’s famous Plant Delights Nursery and Juniper Level Botanical Garden. This place is best summed up by a comment Dr. Jason Smith once made after his head was left spinning from a past visit – accurately likening it to the horticultural equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Every time I visit Tony’s empire, at least once a year, there is so much expansion with the trial and display gardens that it is increasingly difficult to take in everything in one day. It was quite an honor to see one of my Taiwanese collections I shared with him a few years ago, Debregeasia orientalis, listed in the current issue of their extremely popular catalog. Plant records specialist Zac Hill showed me several of the other plants I had contributed to the collection and soon our attention turned to the many southeastern US Yucca species and hybrids in the trial garden areas, some quite impressive. It was interesting to learn the origin of some of the hybrids date back to Nazi Germany when there was a breeding program to produce superior forms for fiber! They were beautiful plants in themselves, and neat that they are preserved here. I secured cuttings of many of Tony’s beautiful Taiwanese evergreen oaks for Peckerwood’s collection, and among other things he shared with me a promising hardy Ficus species with huge heart-shaped leaves.
The next morning I was off to Charlotte, NC to a much-anticipated collection I had yet to visit. Bartlett Research Arboretum is a branch of the country-wide tree service company, Bartlett Tree Specialists. Their seemingly endless property is packed with rare woody plants, especially oaks, magnolias, conifers, and hollies. Research plots are scattered throughout the trial plantings and the rolling hills and lakes make for sweeping vistas of the assemblages. Garden director Greg Paige toured me around the grandiose property, which left me content that my first visit was in winter when a third of the holdings were leafless, as the remaining evergreen species were enough to keep my mind on sensory overload. I had heard of an exceptionally blue Keteleeria species that was high on my list to see. It did not disappoint, and was happy to be given access to all the cuttings I wanted to add to Peckerwood’s holdings of this underutilized genus. Nearby was another plant others had raved about – an exceptionally blue form of Taiwania cryptomerioides, a beautiful warm-climate conifer from, you guessed it, Taiwan. The shady Rhododendron garden gave the instant impression that we were suddenly jettisoned to the Pacific Northwest. The customary trip to the nursery area resulted in more treasures being added to the trailer for Peckerwood’s collections.
With the ability to focus on another plant completely gone, it was time to go see more at the nearby home of long-time plant collector friends Scott and Julie Antrim. Scott mainly collects conifer cultivars and species, and has quite a diverse and immaculately maintained landscape which clearly sticks out like a sore thumb among his neighbors. It was nice to see many plants I had shared with him doing exceptionally well under his care. Scott and Julie flew out to Peckerwood and back on the same day a few months ago and intended to bring with them donations of several Mexican pines that were not going to be hardy for them in the ground. They were too large to bring on the plane, so they had to leave them behind for me to finally pick up on this trip. When going through his greenhouse looking for more plants that would be more reliable in Peckerwood’s climate, he handed me a Cupressus cashmeriana that was exceptionally silvery white. Looking at the tag, the handwriting was familiar and realized it was one I had given him a few years ago from a seed collection by my late friend and conifer enthusiast John Silba off an exceptional tree at the Mirov Pinetum in San Diego. I had forgotten about this seed batch as I must have unexpectedly shared everything away before realizing I hadn’t kept any for myself. As continues to be the case, sharing plants is beneficial in so many ways, not the least being the reclamation of plants back you forgot you had in the first place!
At dusk Scott arranged to take me over to see the garden of Paul Pawlowski, who has a quite a collection of hardy cacti, agaves, and other desert plants displayed very effectively. With flashlights, we explored his xeric landscape, which included a number of Peckerwood plants Paul had ordered from Yucca Do Nursery. His greenhouse full of tender cacti and succulent specimens was beautifully arranged and well-tended.
After the whirlwind of plant camaraderie the past several days, it was nice to finally have a relaxing evening with Julie and Scott and get a long night’s sleep in a comfortable bed after a few nights sleeping in the car. After a quick morning coffee and run around Scott’s frosty property for a few cuttings, I was off to Aiken SC to finally meet the legendary Bob McCartney in person. Bob owns the connoisseur collector plant nursery Woodlander’s Inc., which he describes as having the market cornered on plants that nobody wants to buy! An exaggeration, of course, alluding to the niche market for many lesser-known plants, but many great landscape plants, both native and exotic, have stemmed from Bob’s wild collections over his years combing the swamps, forests, and sandhills of the southeast and west to Texas. Beyond the nursery, Bob has worked with the city of Aiken to create an extensive “city-wide arboretum”, where rare plants are used in beautifying city parks, roadsides, and municipal landscapes. There is a famous mile-long stretch of oaks in a strip between a railroad and a highway, with each tree being an often-exceptionally rare species from Mexico, Europe, Asia and the US. It was quite surprising to see oaks from California and the Mediterranean region thriving in the humid southeast.
The tour of Hopeland Park was a real treat, containing a diverse array of rarely-seen plants Bob had planted in this Aiken city park. Highlights included rare members of the Laurel family, including the beautiful Persea grijsii and Actinodaphne lancifolia, with multicolored peeling bark that rivals any crepe myrtle or lacebark pine. Immense specimens of deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara) tower over historic buildings on the site along with ancient sprawling live oaks. Near a cypress swamp, one of the unexpected highlights was a tall, shrubby species of smooth-bark St. John’ wort (Hypericum lissophloeus) with tall trunks bearing peeling shiny chocolate brown bark and needle-like leaves on strongly pendulous branches. It resembled some odd plant you would expect to see in Australia rather than a native to the Florida panhandle, where it has a very limited range in only two counties. This was my first time seeing this plant and I was in love! A wonderful feature of this city-wide arboretum is that each plant is clearly labeled with a unique number, and more information on every plant can be accessed via a recording accessed by cell phone. Back at the nursery, Bob generously loaded me down with a number of oaks from Mexico and Asia, many I had never heard of. Despite his extensive collection of oaks in the nursery and planted around the city, he was especially happy to receive one of our seedlings of Quercus tarahumara, the fabled handbasin oak that all the collectors want to get their hands on.
After a night in the circa 1900 nursery house, and a quick morning stroll down some of the streets for a closer look at Bob’s specimens in the median plantings, I was off to central Georgia to collect cuttings of a very rare and stunning golden live oak that is deserving of its own article, which I will report on in the next newsletter. On the way there I was quite distracted by a variety of plants in the sand hills south of Augusta, GA from which I made several collections. It was also fun to take the back roads through small antiquated towns bearing huge deodar cedars, china firs (Cunninghamia lanceolata) and sizeable deciduous magnolias in full flower. Old homesites were denoted by naturalized clusters of daffodils already flowering along the roadsides. This was truly one of the most memorable plant-gathering forays on both a personal and professional level that reinforces the passion and dedication of plantsmen and plantswomen of the southeast while further bringing value to Peckerwood’s collections with the incorporation of all the treasures so generously shared by all.
Follow Peckerwood on Instagram or Facebook!
We maintain an active Instagram ““@peckerwoodgarden” and hope you will become one of our followers and join our hosts, Adam Black and Craig Jackson. On Facebook, “peckerwoodgarden” shares images of what the garden is like that week and what is happening soon, hosted by Bethany Jordan and Adam Black. “@PeckerwoodG” on Twitter also updates you on current happenings at Peckerwood Garden and is hosted by Bethany Jordan.
- Sat, Feb 4, 2016, Peckerwood Insider’s Tour, 10 am
- Sat, Feb 11, 2016, Monthly Training, 9 am
- Fri, Feb 17, 2017, Evening at Peckerwood Garden Lecture, 7 pm
- Sat, Feb 25, 2016, Open Day, 10 am – 3 pm
- Sat, Mar 4, 2017, Peckerwood Insider’s Tour, 10 am
- Sat, Mar 11, 2017, Monthly Training, 9 am
- Fri, Mar 17, 2017, Evening at Peckerwood Garden Lecture, 7 pm
- Sat, Mar 25, 2017, Open Day, 10 am – 3 pm
Plant of the month: Brazoria Palm (Sabal x brazoriensis)
By Adam Black
It was only six years ago that a long-known, mysterious palm growing in Brazoria County, Texas was scientifically described. This population contained palms that had trunks over 25’ high. The only other native trunking palm, Sabal mexicana, is limited to the Rio Grande Valley near Brownsville and a small population further north near Victoria, TX, about 65 miles west of the Brazoria stand. The common Sabal minor may rarely form a short above-ground trunk, but nowhere near the proportions attained in the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge. During the “hardy palm” collector craze that ramped up in the ‘90’s and early 2000’s, more attention was directed to this enigmatic palm, which became occasionally available in horticulture. The long-standing thought was this was a natural hybrid between S. minor and S. mexicana, inheriting the trunk from the latter species. My first experience with it was when I started working at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, FL in the early 2000’s. They had a group of potted young Brazoria palms in the nursery area, but I assumed these were from open-pollinated seed that occasionally was made available to collectors, and potentially hybridized. I had also once collected seed from a young, short-trunked plant growing in the scree garden at the J.C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, NC, testament to its cold hardiness.
In 2011, Douglas Goldman of Harvard University and collaborators published their genetic studies of this palm, and the DNA analysis yielded some unexpected results on the parentage. It turns out the tree did originate from an ancient hybrid, and S. minor was indeed one of the original parents. The most interesting part of the story, however, is that the trunking characteristic was inherited from Sabal palmetto, not the presumed S. mexicana. The closest naturally occurring Sabal palmetto (Cabbage Palm) is in western Florida, well over 600 miles to the east. It can be deduced that the range of Sabal palmetto extended further west into gulf coastal Texas perhaps thousands of years ago when habitats were different, and then its range shrunk eastward to its current distribution from FL to coastal NC. It was only the chance hybrid with S. minor that remained in the area leaving us a bold reminder that plants are far from static in their range.
Out of the blue, North Carolina palm enthusiast Jesse Perry called recently to see if we would be interested in being recipients of some wild-collected seed legally obtained from the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, and he sent us seed lots from individual marked trunking trees. We happily accepted them in order to eventually plant on site to serve as a germplasm collection. In talking to Jesse, it turns out that the potted plants I encountered years earlier at Kanapaha Botanical Garden, now in the ground, were one of Jesse’s earlier distributions to botanical gardens for preservation, and he was happy to hear of their success.
Thank you to our Volunteers
By Bethany Jordan
Monthly events at Peckerwood Garden continue to be a success thanks to our team of volunteers. We are seeking docents for those members, volunteers, or other interested people. There is a time commitment for training and for leading tours after but the work is rewarding and the classes are informative.
Open Day this past Saturday was a pleasant day for all with Deciduous Magnolias, Camellias, and more showing off. We are looking forward to the February Open Day and having some of our volunteer team back in town with us again.
Volunteers continue to maintain large areas of the property around the buildings and are working with Adam on new plantings and plans for this year. Harvey Newman and Brenda Wilson are consistently here for our 2 weekly volunteer workdays. Others join them for ongoing work or special projects and their work continues to bring the vision for this property to life.
Nursery work has been an ongoing project with Frank and Cherie Lee helping Adam re-pot many plants and organize the nurseries. Frank and Cherie have also been a huge asset to Open Days and each week always able to lend a hand where needed. A new volunteer joined us for Open Day in the nursery this past week and Pam Romig gave her an orientation to our volunteer work and an introduction to Peckerwood Garden.
Our Open Days and other increasing events are possible only because our volunteers are here to assist guests in every area from sign-in and parking to tours and nursery sales. Craig Jackson and I led tours for Open day and Harvey Newman has been here to assist with every tour this month from the Peckerwood Insider’s tour to the Open Day tours. We have had chilly but beautiful days with a lot to share with our guests.
Thank you, volunteers, for your time, support, hard work, and for sharing our needs with those you know.
Join us in remembering 2016 at Peckerwood Garden with this slideshow.
Need transportation to Peckerwood from the Houston area?
By Adam Black
Do you want to visit Peckerwood Garden but refuse to fight with the hectic traffic? Are you planning to visit Houston and need a ride from the airport to the gardens and points beyond thereafter? Gardens supporter Albert Howell, an independent contract driver licensed by the city of Houston, has generously agreed to offer his driving services to Houston area residents and visitors to/from the gardens. Even more generous, Albert is offering discounts to our members as one of our newest partner businesses. His late model Chevy Equinox is very fuel-efficient and can seat up to four passengers. Albert is a very friendly plant enthusiast so there will surely be some great botanically-oriented conversation on the way! Please feel free to coordinate directly with Albert for a ride in advance of our open days or other events. His phone number is: (832) 206-1877 and you can also find his contact information on our website.