Six on Saturday #13: Montrose Garden

Montrose Garden is a beautiful private garden, the life’s work of Nancy Goodwin, in Hillsborough North Carolina (see also this old New York Times story).  Once or twice a year, Nancy opens the garden and has a plant sale.  The open house was today, so the kids and I were there just after the gate opened at 10:00.

Our first stop was, of course, the sales area.  The children helped to pick out plants, and we came away with Calanthe discolor, Kniphophia ‘Lola’, Orostachys erubescens, Orostachys japonica, and a couple of white-flowered Cyclamen hederifolium. Then, we went to see the gardens.

Last year at the open house, the flowerbeds were filled with colchicum flowers.  We didn’t see many today, and I wonder if the lack of rain over the past six weeks has delayed their flowering.  The soil seemed very hard and dry in the flowerbeds, but there was still plenty of color from drought tolerant plants.

1. In the Metasequoia Garden

Metasequoia garden

During the 1980s, Nancy Goodwin ran a mail-order nursery out of Montrose.  The Montrose Nursery was known for its garden propagated hardy cyclamens at a time when many nurseries were still selling wild-collected tubers, and Nancy has planted huge drifts of Cyclamen hederifolium and other species on the wooded slopes leading down to the Eno River.  Sadly, the woods were closed today, but there were still plenty of cyclamens to be seen elsewhere in the garden.  Here, they are flowering with Sterbergia lutea (autumn daffodil) under two large Metasequoia glyptostroboides (dawn redwoods).

2. Looking towards the lath house


On the right, Eldest Offspring is trying to photograph a monarch butterfly.

3.  Monarch butterfly on red Dahlia (photo by Eldest Offspring)


4.  Incarvillea arguta (Himalayan gloxinia)


5.  Cuphea llavea (Bat-faced cuphea)


I suspect this one is moved into the greenhouse in cold weather.  I don’t think it would survive our winter in the ground.

6. Magnolia macrophylla (big leaf magnolia)


With its perfectly domed shape, this is one of the best M. macrophylla I have ever seen

While I go outside and try to decide where this morning’s purchases should be planted (and whether I’ll need a pickaxe to get through the desiccated clay), why don’t you visit some other garden blogs participating in “Six on Saturday.”  Check out The Propagator for his six and for links to other blogs.

(Hoping for rain this week)


Six on Saturday #10

This week has felt distinctly autumnal, with a couple of days barely getting into the 70s (21-24 C), and the rest of the week in the low to mid 80s (27-29 C).  The number of hummingbirds fighting over the feeders has decreased sharply, and I am starting to notice the first hints of color in the forest trees.  The tulip poplars and black tupelo, always the first to show the change of season, are dropping their leaves all over the driveway and paths, but peak color is probably another six weeks away.

In the garden, there are fewer flowers, but more seeds and berries.  Several plants whose flowers featured in earlier blog posts are back again this week.

As always, navigate over to The Propagator to see his six and those of other garden bloggers.

1.  Canna ‘Flaming Kabobs’


I love the spiky seed capsules of Canna species and hybrids.  This plant was blooming for “Six on Saturday #4” on July 15 and shows no signs of stopping.  Has anyone ever tried germinating Canna seeds?

2. Gloriosa superba (flame lily)


My G. superba plants have produced seed capsules that are now starting to split.  The ripe seeds, like the rest of the plant, are highly poisonous.

Gloriosa-seeds 2
an unripe seed capsule

3. Aesculus sylvatica (painted buckeye)


I showed the flowers of this species back in April.  It is one of the first woodland species to leaf out in spring, and it’s also one of the first to drop its leaves in autumn.  In a dry year, leaves will start yellowing in August. Unlike their relative the horse chestnut, North American Aesculus have smooth capsules.  The seeds also seem to be softer than horse chestnut seeds.  I don’t think they’d be very good for conkers.

4.  Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry)


C. americana, with a native range extending from southern Maryland to eastern Texas, is one of the most beautiful of our native shrubs.  Birds adore the berries, so it is a great species to grow if you want to attract wildlife.  Despite the beauty of the native species, I notice that its Asian relatives are frequently used by landscapers.  The native is larger in every way than the Asian species, so perhaps they’re better suited to smaller gardens.  If you have the space, I think C. americana is superior, and you can cut it back to the ground in early spring to keep it under control. It blooms on new growth, so you’ll still have a good crop of berries in autumn.

Because it grows fast and spreads wide (my largest is about 8′ (2.4 m) tall and 10′ (3 m) wide), it’s useful as a quick source of shade for woodland perennials.

4b.  Callicarpa americana var. lactea


A recent purchase still in its nursery pot.  I have wanted a white beautyberry for a while but only saw Asian plants at nurseries.  Finally found this one at the Raleigh farmers market last week. I haven’t decided where to put it yet, but I think the white berries will brighten up a shady spot.

5. Hymenocallis occidentalis


Here is some self-pollinated seed from the plant that bloomed in early August.  I’m not quite sure what to do with these seeds.  Most tropical Hymenocallis and Crinum seed germinates soon after it ripens, whether or not it has been planted, but H. occidentalis comes from regions that have a distinct winter.  Do its seeds need a cold stratification before sprouting?

I have planted about half the seeds and will keep them warm in the greenhouse over the winter.  These remaining seeds I will probably store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for six weeks before planting.

Big fleshy amaryllid seed like this usually does best if you just press it into the surface of the soil rather than burying it.  When it germinates, it produces a single sprout that grows down into the soil and swells into a tiny bulb.  Only later does the little bulb produce a leaf.

6.  Rudbeckia species

Rudbekia sp

And finally, some flowers.  I wish I could remember what Rudbeckia species this is.  I got the seed some years back from the NC Botanical Garden, but I forgot about the pot. The seedlings rooted into the ground through the pot’s  drainage holes, flowered, and produced a second generation in the ground at the back of  my shade house.  Now I have several clumps of volunteer plants growing in less light than is ideal.  Perhaps this winter I’ll move them to a sunnier spot.  If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll uncover a label in the leaf litter.

Bigleaf magnolia

As I was getting ready for work this morning, I glanced out the window and noticed a blob of white in the woods.  One of my bigleaf magnolias is blooming, and its dinner-plate sized flower is hard to miss.  That’s flower singular; there’s only one this year, but such a large bloom on a  5-foot (1.5 m) tall sapling is still impressive. The curling petals are each about 8″ (20 cm) long, and the flower has a natural spread of about 12″ (30 cm).  Even that is dwarfed by the giant 24″ (61 cm) leaves.


The bigleaf magnolia, Magnolia macrophylla, is native to a couple of counties in the western North Carolina piedmont and, more broadly, to the southern Appalachians southeast to Louisiana.  If you live in the Durham/Chapel Hill/Raleigh area, you can see a stand of trees in Chapel Hill, in Battle Park.

The closely related Magnolia ashei (syn. Magnolia macrophylla subsp. ashei) is found only along the Apalachicola River in northern Florida.  This is a smaller tree, often a large shrub, with proportionally smaller leaves and flowers (though still very large compared to most trees).

Both Magnolia macrophylla and M. ashei are fantastic garden plants.  The flowers are beautiful and wonderfully fragrant, though short-lived, and children are fascinated by the giant leaves.  I have planted three young trees at the edge of the woods in partial shade.  Two were labeled M. macrophylla and one M. ashei, though to be honest, I can’t see any difference between them.  The flowering tree is the one that was labeled M. ashei, and that species is reported to bloom when very young.  However, the size of the flower seems to be a better match for M. macrophylla.  I don’t know.  Perhaps it is a garden hybrid of the two.

Last year’s flower. This year’s is somewhat larger.

A tale of two buckeyes

When is a native plant not a native?  It might seem like an absurd question, but as more gardeners try to help wildlife by planting native species and more nurseries cater to them by selling “native” plants, I think it is a question worth considering.  Nurseries often apply the “native” label to any plant from North America, but sometimes it may be important to be more precise.  Two of my favorite small spring-flowering trees, the painted buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica) and red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) illustrate the point.

Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) flowering in my garden this week

The genus Aesculus includes a number of large trees such as  A. hippocastanum,  the European horse chestnut (conkers, anyone?), and A. flava, the yellow buckeye.  A. sylvatica and A. pavia are built on a much smaller scale and make great understory trees for shade gardens.  A large garden is not required.  After nine years in the ground, my A. pavia tree is only about eight feet tall, and A. sylvatica often can’t decide if it wants to be a tree or a shrub.

A. pavia has tubular red flowers, clearly an adaptation for pollination by ruby-throated hummingbirds on their spring migration up the east coast.

Aesculus pavia flowers. A hummingbird’s delight.

A. sylvatica flowers–while they are virtually identical in shape–are yellow and have a smaller volume of more concentrated nectar, the better to attract bees [1].

Aesculus sylvatica buds and flowers flowers are greenish yellow as they open
Mature Aesculus sylvatica flowers are yellow with a few streaks of orange

A. sylvatica is a plant of the southeastern piedmont, ranging from southern Virginia to northern Georgia and Alabama.  Here in our part of the piedmont, it is  one of the first trees to leaf out in spring, and on moist, shaded slopes above streams and rivers,  its bright green leaves add a splash of color to woods that are still brown.

Small Aesculus sylvatica trees (green foliage) next to a little creek near our house in late March.

The A. sylvatica trees in my garden grew from seeds that I collected in the woods adjacent to our property.  It doesn’t get much more native than that.

A. pavia, while it is also native to North Carolina, is a plant of the coastal plain.  The range of the two species in NC seems to overlap only in four counties in the south central part of the state:  Chatham, Lee, Harnett, and Cumberland Counties [2].  This overlap suggests that A. pavia‘s range has extended inland along the Cape Fear River.

Although the two species are clearly distinct, they hybridize readily in cultivation.   It would seem that hummingbirds sometimes visit yellow A. sylvatica flowers and/or bees visit the red A. pavia.  I (and the squirrels) have planted seed produced by the trees in my garden, and the first of the second-generation trees to bloom has bicolored red and yellow flowers, suggesting it is just such a hybrid.

A probable hybrid buckeye (A. pavia x A. sylvatica) grown from seed produced by my Aesculus pavia tree.

So this creates a dilemma for piedmont gardeners who purchase A. pavia as a “native” tree.  By cultivating red buckeyes within the natural range of A. sylvatica, we have the potential to alter the gene pool of the true natives.  Perhaps a truly conscientious native plant grower should only cultivate A. sylvatica in the piedmont.

But I’m not yet ready to cut down my red buckeye for three reasons.

First, I’m not a very conscientious native plant grower.  While I try to avoid potentially invasive species and want my garden to be wildlife friendly, I grow lots of Asian, African, and South American plants that interest me.  For instance, I grow Aristolochia fimbriata, native to Brazil, rather than the native pipevines simply because I like it better and it functions just as well as a host plant for swallowtail butterflies.

Second, judging by the number of A. pavia trees that I see growing locally, in private gardens, public botanical gardens, and arboretums, this ship has already sailed.  If cultivated A. pavia interfere with the genetics of A. sylvatica, removing my little tree won’t have any significant effect.

Third, the same thing happens naturally.  In northern Georgia, an extensive hybrid zone has been identified where naturally occuring hybrids grow.  This hybrid zone overlaps the natural range of A. sylvatica but not A. pavia, suggesting that migrating hummingbirds carry A. pavia pollen from the coastal plain to the piedmont [3].  I would bet a bucket of buckeyes that there is also natural  gene flow from A. pavia to A. sylvatica in North Carolina.


  1.  Burke, JM, Wyatt, R., dePamphilis, CW, Arnold, CW. (2000).  Nectar characteristics of interspecific hybrids in Aesculus (Hippcastanaceae) and Iris (Iridaceae).  Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 127: 200-206
  2. Radford, AE, Ahles, HF, Bell, CR. (1968).  Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.
  3. Modliszewski, JL, Thomas, DL, Fan, C, Crawford, DJ, dePamphils, CW, Xiang, Q-Y (2006).  Ancestral chloroplast polymorphism and historical secondary contact in a broad hybrid zone of Aesculus (Sapindaceae).  American Journal of Botany 93:377-388.

Flowers that fly

A tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) visits wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). It’s too early for mantises, so I suspect a bird or lizard took the chunk out of its wing.

It has been chilly for the last couple of nights, but I think we have dodged the possibility of a late frost.  There should be lots of flowers for the nectar sippers this year.  The first ruby throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) have arrived in the garden, just in time for the peak of wild columbine blooming, and tiger swallowtail butterflies are chasing each other through the trees.  Pipevine swallowtails (Battus philenor) have been checking out the newly emerging leaves of the white-veined pipevines (Aristolochia fimbriata), but if they are wise they’ll wait a few weeks before laying eggs.  Being patient will guarantee that there’s plenty of delicious, poisonous foliage for their caterpillars.

It feels as though we have passed a dividing line in the last few days, transitioning from tentative early spring to SPRING!  In the woods and along the roads, the native dogwoods are wrapping up their annual show.

A dogwood tree (Cornus florida) in our woods earlier this week. Trees that grow naturally in the forest have a much more open appearance than those cultivated in full sun.

The predominant colors of spring are becoming much more saturated and vibrant as the azaleas take over.  For a couple of weeks, piedmont gardens will be almost garish, and then we’ll have a green interlude until the summer perennials begin their show.

Florida flame azalea (Rhododendron austrinum) is native to the Florida panhandle and southern Alabama and Georgia, but it is perfectly hardy in the North Carolina piedmont.