Monday, July 14, 2008

Garden of Plant-ly Delights

I love visiting Plant Delights Nursery, just south of Raleigh, NC, even though my Visa account doesn't care for it at all. Based on Tony Avent's catalog rants about planting "drifts of one" and lack of planning "on paper", you'd expect to find a sort of "plant zoo", and you wouldn't be disappointed. However, as the garden has grown (I've been attending the infrequent open days off and on for the last ten years or so), it's clear that there IS a method to his madness. I usually take tons of close up pictures, mostly to aid in plant identification and to formulate future wish lists, but this time I decided to photograph broad vistas. This can be a little depressing upon returning home to our quarter acre (PDN now encompasses more than 20), and it's a test of my photography skills (or maybe my camera), but it's good for me to remember that even a consummate plant collector does think about design occasionally. Because it was a hot day, I deposited three friends at a movie theater in Raleigh; sadly, summer movies don't tend to be as long as the January Oscar contenders, so my time at Juniper Level Botanic Garden was limited.

I have to apologize that I'm not displaying much creativity in my blog posts lately, but this is taking up prime gardening time, and the summer is beginning to dwindle already!

Above is a spectacular allee of Golden Dawn Redwoods (cv."Ogon", I think?) which flanks a walk just above the relatively new sunken garden (below), built for utilitarian purposes, but functioning artistically as well.
Another planting designed for waste water management is the original bog, which demonstrates sarracenias in their natural habitat, supported, but not overrun, by sedges and other plants. I spend a lot of time weeding among the pitchers of mine, but the symbiotic benefits of leaving a few companions is very much apparent here.
Along the walkway in front of the Avent's house is this mix of tropical and temperate perennials; love the purple phlox growing with the Hymenocallis and Colocasias.
A canna which has been on my "wish list" - a selection of C. iridflora called "Ehemanni". PDN doesn't list it, but I have recently found a couple of sources, so I may have to break down and get one (where is it going?)
I didn't do a great job of showing scale in this picture, but the Agave in the center is easily as large as a Volkswagon Bug.
Sabals and Hedychium in the tropical garden...
I'm not particularly a "maple person" - I like them, but haven't really gotten into growing more than the one I have. This one, however, is incredible.
Lots of humor in this garden, as one would expect from reading the PDN catalog.
This is an enormous clump of Hemiboea subcapitata, a hardy gesneriad which I grow as well, though my clump is nowhere near the size of this.
Crinum test beds and some of the production hoop houses at the rear of the retail area.
Name this plant! Every summer I enjoy seeing it, am confounded by trying to identify it (not everything here is labeled), and forget to ask anybody what it is. My best guess so far is that it's a Schima (wallachii perhaps?), a member of the camellia (tea) family allied to the Gordonias, Franklinias, and Stewartias. Anybody know if that's correct, or of a possible source? PDN has never listed it for sale, and neither does anybody else, from what I can tell (which makes me want one even more...go figure). [Note added 7/17 - According to the folks at PDN, it's Schima argentea.]
This picture speaks to me on so many levels - it might ultimately be the best use for a computer keyboard (inorganic mulch?) The internet has brought me so much information; opened doors to communicating with other gardners, writers, and experts; made available plants I never could have purchased before; and enabled me to chronicle my hobby in ways I never imagined. It has also eaten up hours and hours which I could have spent weeding, pruning, and improving the health and lives of the "inmates" in my own garden. I suspect I'm not alone in feeling this way!


Cosmo said...

What a fabulous place--I've never been, but I'm adding it to my must-see list. And I think the photographs are wonderful. Do you have to worry about some NC plants being a little tender for our area? I've found that occasionally when we make our annual trek to the Elizabethan Gardens (though they've always warned me . . .)

Jeff said...

Hi Cosmo-

You're probably gardening in a spot that's a little colder than I am, being a bit farther inland, but if you look at the zone maps you'll notice that the triangle area of NC is actually a bit colder in winter than we are (our being near the coast moderates our temps a bit, usually). Granted, lots of things affect hardiness, and I'm always aware that some things might not make it. I'm really into propagation, so I almost always make sure I have a "spare" before trying something outside. The other thing is that you can monkey with hardiness by providing better drainage (this is Tony Avent's big secret - almost everything is planted on a berm so nothing stands around the roots, except for bog plants, etc.); I bet your soil is sandier than mine, so that would actually tip things in your favor a bit!

Manteo, on the other hand, sits squarely in zone 8, so some things from there might not make it here - again, they're nearer the Gulf Stream than we are. I spent a couple of summers there singing in The Lost Colony, and played in a consort in the Eliz. Gardens a couple of days each week, so I have fond (and some un-fond) memories of being there!


Cosmo said...

So you're a singer! When were you in The Lost Colony? I saw the performance in maybe 1998? Maybe I saw you perform!

We're 7b and heavy clay. I've actually lost only one plant from the Elizabethan Gardens, and they told me it was tender--it just didn't like the transition into the house in the winter (or my care, though I tried to coddle). The crazy thing I picked up there that LOVES it here is Harlequin Glorybower--I have dozens of them now. It's like the beauty berry--unexceptional until autum--but we have a lot of land to fill and they transplant really easily.

Thanks for the insight about tender plants in berms--in recent years, my plant list has been trimmed to natives and plants that do well in clay--not that that's turned out to be a bad thing. But it's nice to know there might be an option.

Will you blog about propogating (or maybe I should read back a bit?)--I have pretty good luck with easy things like hydrangea, but the only way I've ever grown from seed is to throw it on the (well-tilled) ground and cross my fingers. I'm still very impressed by that olive seed story . . .

Les, Zone 8a said...

Thanks for the pictures. Some of my co-workers and myself took a busman's holiday to Raliegh several years ago, and PDN was the highlight. We called ahead to see if we could come on a non-open day to which they said yes. I too was impressed with the Ogon Redwoods and have since given one to my parents who have room for one or two. I would have guessed Gordonia on your mystery plant, let me know when you get its real I.D.

Jeff said...

Hi Cosmo and Les-

Cosmo - I was in "Lost Colony" soon after the ORIGINAL colonists wandered into the wilderness - my last season was 1982! I still sing, but I spend most of my time these days shoving songs down other throats :o).

I did write an entry on growing from seed (March 2), but there's not much "how to" info there. There are lots of other sources that are much more capable of explaining things clearly than I ever could. A great book on the subject is "Making More Plants" by Ken Druse, and here are a few websites that lay things out pretty well:

If you want to contact me directly for my experience with specific plants, feel free to email me at

Les- you might be right about the Gordonia thing. It's definitely not G. lasianthus (I have two pitiful, struggling examples of that species right now), but there are others listed (none of which I've seen in person). I sent the pic to PDN, so maybe they'll get back to me with the id.

Phillip said...

Great tour of the Plant Delights nursery. I suppose one advantage to visiting in person is to avoid those ridiculous postage prices. Could that mystery plant be magnolia sieboldii?

Jeff said...

Hey Phillip-

Trouble is that we live at least one tank of gas away from PDN, which more than negates the cost of postage...not to mention treating three people to a movie!
I'm pretty sure that's not a magnolia - those have a pretty distinctive central structure (like a quasi-cone shape). M. sieboldii is beautiful, though.