week we're in historic Aiken, South Carolina, visiting a
rare and exotic plant nursery. Bob McCartney is one of the
owners of Woodlanders Nursery. Woodlanders is an international
mail order plant nursery specializing in rare, hard to find
plants, trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, palms and ferns.
This is a connoisseurs nursery. They supply plants to novice
gardeners, but mostly to sophisticated gardeners, master
gardeners, arboretums, botanical gardens, universities,
etc., because most of their plants are unknown. They get
seeds from arboretums, botanic gardens, foreign countries,
from other plants men who travel the world and they travel
and collect seeds and plants themselves. These plants are
unusual but not necessarily hard to grow. Bob starts by
showing us a Neolitsea, Neolitsea Serica, it's a relatively
new introduction from thefar east. The growth in spring
looks like a suede material, like golden hair. It has a
greenish-yellow flower early in the season. It is evergreen,
at this point we don't know how big it will get, probably
around 25 feet tall. The leaves when crushed are aromatic,
almost like a bay leaf and is part of the Laurel family
Daphniphyllum Humile is from England. Bob introduced it
to this country in 1972. It looks like Rhododendron but
is not related. It's more closely related to the Poinsettia.
It has little blue berries and a nice coarse texture. Male
and female are on separate plants and it is evergreen. Euscaphis
Japonica is from Korea. When J.C Rosten at North Carolina
State brought this plant into the country he had a contest
to find a common name. Don Shadow at Shadow Nurseries in
Tennessee suggested Sweetheart Tree and that has stuck.
It has clusters of greenish flowers that are followed by
splitting pods that have red heart like berries inside.
It has seasonal interest two times a year and grows to about
25 feet tall, a good sized residential tree. It doesn't
have known insect or disease problems. Rhododendron's don't
tolerate heat very well. "Cynthia" is a Rhododendron
hybrid. A cross between the European Rhododendron Ponticum
and an Asian or Appalachian Rhododendron. It likes a cooler,
moist climate but tolerates heat, attracts attention in
the spring because of it's showy bloom. It needs good drainage,
yet a constant supply of moisture, so it needs irrigation
in the summer. Natives refer to a wide range of plants,
anything native to North America. Many plants (trees, shrubs,
vines) occur in specific habitats. Some are good garden
plants and grow under a variety of conditions, but some
are site specific. They need a certain kind of soil, a certain
exposure, drainage, all kinds of things. Some people when
they hear the term "native" assume the plant will
do well without any care whatsoever. That is not necessarily
true. Some exotic plants like Ligustrum will grow anywhere,
others require specific conditions. Chionanthus Virginicus
or Fringe Tree or Granddaddy Gray Beard or Gransy Gray Beard
is a native plant. It has been split by some botanists into
two plants a Northern and Southern form. The southern form
has a more narrow, glossy, leathery leaf. There is another,
somewhat similar plant, the Chinese species, Chionanthus
Retusus. They have a nice fragrance and yellow fall color.
They are a durable plant for many parts of the country.
Bob has the only yellow flowered Magnolia in the world,
although it has been used as a parent to make some yellow
flowered hybrids. Magnolia Cordata is primarily native to
the Piedmont areas of Georgia, although it does spill into
surrounding states. It is a close relative to the Cucumber
Magnolia but the Cucumber Magnolia doesn't have the good
yellow color in the flowers. Cordata has nice, big leaves,
is deciduous, but not evergreen. The flowers bloom before
the leaves come out. When the sun is bright, at its peak,
during the mid part of the day a good choice for colors
are pure hues. The "Purple Wave Petunia" is an
example of a strong hue. It works great in full sun, it
wouldn't be good in low light nor would a tint work in full
sun, they look insipid or weak. For full sun use pure hues.
Virginia Sweetspire, Itea Virginicia, is a relatively common
plant throughout eastern North America. It is found along
streams and has a white flower. Woodlanders introduced a
variety called "Henry's Garnet." The typical form
is white flowered. Bob has a friend in Florida that found
a pink flowering Itea, which no one had seen before, she
had a daughter "Sarah" so they have named it "Sarah
Eve." It grows typically in a moist, shady stream.
But with more sun and open conditions it blooms more. It
grows in sun or shade, but needs adequate moisture and good
garden soil. Chinese Itea, Itea Chinensis, is a much bigger
shrub, is evergreen and not deciduous. This one came from
the Arnold Arboretum in Boston. They brought it in from
China and it probably wouldn't survive New England winters.
It has a nice spire of white flowers. It probably can be
pruned to make a tighter plant. As our properties get smaller,
we look for two dimensional plants. Vines are such a plant.
Wisteria Frutescens is not as invasive and aggressive as
the common Asiatic plant. It blooms later, the flower clusters
are not as long hanging and it is fragrant. Headly Nursery
in South Carolina has introduced a variety called "Amethyst
Falls." It grows typically up trees in river edge situations
where it gets a fair amount of sun, it is not high climbing,
doesn't girdle trees and generally keeps to it's space.
"Red Buckeye," Aesculus Pavia, is a native under
story tree. An understory tree in the forest is one that
grows under the forest canopy, not out in the crown of the
forest, but down under other trees. Red Buckeye is related
to the Horse Chestnut tree. It grows from Virginia down
to Texas, has beautiful red flowers and will grow in full
sun. It produces a large seed pod, that is the buckeye.
Historically buckeyes were carried in ones pocket for good
luck. Bob also has an Ohio Buckeye tree. It has greenish-yellow
flowers, a seed husk with little spines which readily separate
it from other Buckeye species. During the late part of the
day, the sun saturated part of the day, a good choice of
color is a shade. A shade is a color or hue where black
has been added. Coleus is a good choice for late afternoon
or early evening where the sun angle is low, but it is still
warm. Ornamental grasses are also a good choice, for the
shade and for late parts of the day. Bob has done a lot
of work with endangered plant species. Many endangered plants
are rare plants that occur in very specific habitats, they
are threatened because they were never common in the first
place and in other cases their natural habitats are almost
gone. The federal government prohibits the interstate commerce
of endangered species plants. Bob would like to see the
law changed to allow for the sale of endangered species
plants that have been artificially propagated, separating
them from those that have been dug from the wild, which
he doesn't approve of and doesn't do. He feels that by transporting
artificially propagated plants the plant will become more
common, less rare and endangered. Bob has quite a few of
these plants at his nursery.
If you want a herbaceous perennial that is a real show stopper
try Baptisia Minor. When Bob started the only Baptisia in
the marketplace was Baptisia Australis. It is available
in white, yellow and two blues. It's a member of the Pea
family as evidenced by the flowers. Pea flowers have pods
with peas in them. The Australis has a dark pod that is
reasonably ornamental. The Minor has a fairly attractive
seed pod and an especially attractive flower. It has silver,
blue foliage that provides a cooling effect in the garden.
The habitats of the Baptistias provide a wide range of choices,
some are the white flowered kind, some very tall ( 6 feet)
with a long spike of white flowers. Native in the sand hills
is Baptisia Perfoliata, it's stem goes through the middle
of the leaf, causing people to call it Eucalyptus. They
require little care, are not heavy feeders, but you need
to keep them from being overwhelmed by other plants Amsonia
is a herbaceous perennial, similar to the Baptisias and
has a blue flower. One species was originally known to gardeners,
Amsonia Tabernaemontana. Others have recently been introduced,
including the now very popular Amsonia Hubrectii, from Arkansas.
Amsonia Ludoviciana, which means Louisiana, is a new introduction
and one of Bill's favorites. Mountain Laurel is always popular.
Bob has some different varieties such as the wild form of
Kalmia Latifolia. Kalmia is found from New England down
to the Gulf Coast. It's common in the sand hills, it's an
evergreen shrub. In Connecticut Dr. Richard James at the
University of Connecticut has introduced a lot of very colorful
hybrid Kalmia's. Some have a very red bud, some deep pink
flowers. One that works in the south is pure white with
no other color, it is named "Pristine." It is
being reproduced with tissue culture which is the most practical
way to reproduce this plant. Another selection has narrow
leaves and they're trying to get it into tissue culture,
it is named "Willow Wood." The southern Kalmias
seem to do much better in the south than the northern selections.
They like a sandy, acidic, well drained soil with a constant
supply of moisture. They grow where there is kale or in
heavy clay underneath the topsoil because it retains moisture.
Mulch will help, pine needles are best because they create
an acidic environment. They don't like wet feet. Dr. Rick
thanks Bob McCartney, he has educated even Rick today.
By Justin Hancock, Costa Farms Horticulturist,
Photographs courtesy of Costa Farms
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