Welcome to the Garden

Notes from the Garden - May June July 2013

The cold, dreary days of winter are long gone and the beautiful botanical displays at the Garden are taking center stage. This is a wonderful time to get out and explore the Garden, enjoying the many different flowering and foliage plants that create the rich tapestry of colors that blanket our beautiful site.    

 May: Happy 25th Birthday – The Silver Anniversary
The Garden is celebrating its 25th birthday in this year and since opening day was May 21, 1988, this is the perfect month to highlight the our signature plant to commemorate this Silver Anniversary. Throughout the Garden you will find a very distinctive foliage plant called cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) with silvery-gray leaves on three to four foot tall plants. This herbaceous perennial is in the Aster family and is native to the dry regions of the Mediterranean. Quakers first brought it to America back in the 1700s as part of their kitchen gardens. Cardoon has edible stems and is a relative of the globe artichoke.

While it has been grown for culinary purposes, it is the dramatic architectural aspect of the spiny, silver foliage that makes it such a great ornamental plant. It grows in well-drained soil in full sun and adds a tropical effect to the landscape. It can be used in perennial borders and containers and when the violet-purple thistle-like flowers open in July it is spectacular – bees and butterflies swarm to get a taste of its nectar.

You will see cardoon used throughout the site as a symbol and reminder of the Garden’s 25th anniversary – come celebrate with us and enjoy the beautiful flowers and foliage along the way.

 June: Gardenias
When the heat kicks in it is always wonderful to find a plant that loves to bloom as the temperature is rising. One such plant is gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides). Although this fragrant broadleaf evergreen has been around since the 1800s, it is a new day in the world of gardenias, with numerous hybrids being released each year.  Gardenias are prized for their deep, glossy green leaves and very fragrant, pure white flowers beginning in late May and being at their peak in June. This is one plant that in the past would be impacted by a cold winter every few years and often plants would be killed to the ground and then regrow from the roots.  In north Alabama we would look to plant ‘Kleims hardy’ or ‘Daisy’ and even one called ‘Frostproof’ to beat the cold weather. However, with recent winters not being as cold, plants have been able to thrive and in many cases grow to over eight feet tall in the landscape.

Since gardenias are almost as synonymous with the South as azaleas, hydrangeas and camellias, the desire for more selections has been great.  The new breeding efforts centered on three goals – better cold hardiness; smaller, more compact growth habit; and an extended flowering season. These new introductions have been great additions and have met these goals head on, offering better garden performance in smaller more compact plants. Look for new releases such as ‘Jubilation’ (a member of the Southern Living collection), plus ‘Crown Jewel’ and ‘Heaven Scent’ from Dr. Michael Dirr of the University of Georgia.

While the heat definitely rises in June, there is nothing like the sweet perfume of a gardenia to cool one down on a hot, muggy day.

July: Butterfly Bush
Just like gardenias, butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii),  has long been a southern favorite and with the increasing interest in gardening for wildlife, especially butterfly gardening, use of butterfly bush in the landscape has been magnified. At the Garden we have used many cultivars of butterfly bush both in our permanent plantings throughout the site as well as in the Purdy Butterfly House. As the name implies, this is a butterfly magnet, producing an abundance of flowers (thus nectar) for butterflies to enjoy during the hot summer months. There is a wide variety of colors available from white to pink to blue and purple with many variations in between. For me, the varying shades of pink, blue and purple are the most effective in the landscape and provide a great floral display through the hot, humid months of summer.

The truly old fashioned butterfly bush selections were large growing shrubs in the landscape, with some reaching ten to twelve feet tall with over an eight foot spread. These sizes made it hard for many gardeners to find a spot in their garden for these plants to flourish. As with other breeding programs, a more compact size was desired, and now we have plants such as ‘Adonis Blue,’ ‘Purple Emperor,’ and ‘Peacock’ that are a more compact five to six feet in size. More recently, ‘Blue Chip’ and ‘Lo and Behold,’ reaching only three feet tall, were released.

In some parts of the country, especially the northeastern states, butterfly bush has been shown to be an invasive species due to proliferation of viable seeds it releases. Breeders are now working to make these plants sterile – keeping the amazing flowering habit, but making the seed not productive. The new ‘Flutterby’ series from North Carolina State University is the first of its kind and an exciting addition to the wonderful world of flowering plants to keep our butterflies happy.