Gardening Unplugged - Broad Leaf Evergreens

Gardening Unplugged - Broad Leaf Evergreens

In this edition of Gardening Unplugged, recorded during our 2023 Winter Open Nursery and Garden Days, Tony takes guests on a walk through the garden and showcases some of his favorite broad leaf evergreens.


Broad Leaf Evergreens featured in this video:

  • Mahonia
  • Ligustrum lucidum 'Little Moon'
  • Fatsia japonica 'Variegata'
  • Schefflera delavayi
  • Trochodendron aralioides (Wheel Tree)
  • Exbucklandia
  • Camelia sasanqua
  • Sabal minor
  • Ilex chinensis (Tree Holly)
  • Aucuba
  • Ilex 'Solar Flare'
  • Lithocarpus edulis (Japanese Stone Oak)
  • Boxwoods
  • Trachycarpus fortunei (Windmill Palm)
  • Sarcococca hookeriana
  • Metapanax davidii
  • Fatsia polycarpa
  • English ivy
  • Hedera helix
  • Ilex x Cherry Bomb
  • Camellia japonica 'Tsubaka'
  • Camellia japonica 'Black Magic'
  • Pyrrosia lingua (Tongue Fern)
  • Daphniphyllum macropodum
  • Rhododendron P.J.M.
  • Eriobotrya japonica
  • Illicium parviflorum 'Florida Sunshine'
  • Illicium floridanum
  • Cinnamomum chekiangensis

Video Transcript

Good morning. I'd like to welcome everybody to Juniper level botanic garden and Plant Delights and today we're our gardening unplugged we talk about “BLE's”, which is a term that plant people use for broad leaf evergreens. And that's anything that keeps its leaves, that doesn't have narrow leaves, or doesn't have needles. So, let's start walking, we'll look at some things that have some potential for winter gardens.

Now this year we've had a very interesting winter. It's getting closer back to our normal winter and what we saw this year, when we dropped down cold, we got to 11 here, was a lot of wind. And the plants that suffered the most were the ones with the biggest leaves, which means broad leaf evergreens. So, we saw damage we typically do not see. Simply because… now plants do not feel wind chill, that's a human factor, but they do… are subject to desiccation. So, a lot of things that normally would have been fine at 11 degrees, got burned because of the wind. So, it's a little different year, but again, each year seems to be different.

We’ll start with a plant that you'll see some damage on... on this one, this is a Mahonia. There are a lot of mahonias out there. This is a really good landscape plant. Some of the older ones, the common ones you see in the trade, will get up to 10 to 12 feet tall and those flower in the middle of winter. So typically, these are in bloom in December. This particular one is a summer bloom or spring bloomer. And then there are others that bloom in fall. So, it's a really good group of plants and you'll see a lot of different ones as we walk around today.

A commonly grown plant is exhibited here in an uncommon form. This is known as Ligustrum or privet. This is not your normal privet; this is a dwarf /super dwarf privet called ‘Little Moon’. Now the un-dwarf form of this would be a probably 15 feet tall now 12 to 15 feet so I think that's actually pretty neat.

If you want on anything as you're walking around to know how old the plant is the dates are on every tag right below the RF code so 2011. So that is 12 years old. Now no plant in our garden ever gets sheared, we don't own hair pair of head shears because we think that's sort of silly. I'd rather pick up a shovel and move it once and then pick up a head shear over and over again several times a year.

Okay, over here on the other side, couple of interesting plants I'll point out right here by the stairs is a beautiful broad leaf evergreen called Fatsia, f-a-t-s-i-a. This is in the Aralia family. There are hardy fatsias and there are not hardy fatsias, so this is one of the hardy ones. This is one called ‘Variegata’ and this is pretty much mature size of that. It blooms in late fall. Really nice clusters of white flowers and some years it actually, if we don't get too cold, we'll have fruit.

A closely related plant over here is a Schefflera if you've ever been to Florida, especially Disney World, schefflera is in the dominant tree planted in commercial landscapes. Normally not hardy but there is one from Central China that does fine here and that's what this is. This is Schefflera delavayi. So, it's a great plant to give you sort of a tropical feel in the garden.

One of the weirdest trees is this right here, this is called the wheel tree and it's called that because the leaves are all put together like the spokes of a wheel and this is the genus, pass around, this is a genus Trochodendron. it's a really odd plant but really neat and very slow growing. This will eventually get into a tree with a trunk like this, not in your lifetime, but in your grandkids lifetime so it takes a long time.

Behind is another wonderful broad leaf evergreen and probably the oddest of the ones we've looked at this is a weird genus called Exbucklandia. It's a first cousin to witch hazel so it's basically an evergreen witch hazel and that comes from China.

Another couple of broad leaf plants right here in the middle, is a plant we'll see a lot of as we walk around, and these are camellias. There are many different species of Camellias, over 200 different species, most people know two or maybe three; Camellia Japonica which is the classic spring flowering Camille sasanqua which is the fall flowering, and Camellia sinensis which is the one you drink, but there are many, many more hybrids. This is a sasanqua hybrid.

And then below that are one of the great broad leaf evergreens that's native in this area are the sable palms. Not many people think of palms as being natives, but they are palms used to be native, we know, within 20 minutes of here. We've got pictures from the 1940s when it was cleared for agriculture. They're incredible in the winter garden. They will grow in sun, they will grow in shade, they will grow in standing water, they will grow with cactus, so there are very few plants that have the diverse ability to grow in places as disables this is a dwarf one here, you'll see different ones as we go through and these are all Sable minor.

Above me is another wonderful broad leaf evergreen, this is a holly. Now most hollies that people know are things that you keep as shrubs. This is a tree holly, this is Ilex chinensis. If you were here a week ago, before the wax wings came through, it was loaded with ten thousand berries. And of course, they come through and, when they do, they strip every holly in the area or most hollies in the area, but what an amazing, amazing tree.

...for dry shade, there are very few plants better than aucuba.

Another great broad leaf evergreen that we're ready for it to come back in cycle, this is… plants are very cyclical, like fashions, generally got about 30 years in fashion, 30 years out of fashion, and that is the genus Aucuba. Aucubas are native to China and Japan and a lot of people don't realize that they have these wonderful flowers in wintertime. So, there's the flowers. On aucuba, they're really fascinating, they have male and female. Some people like the female because they have large red berries, I actually like the males because they have these amazing flowers. And the aucubas range from things that are three foot tall to things that are eight to ten foot tall but, for dry shade, there are very few plants better than aucuba.

A couple of interesting ones here another Holly this is Ilex ‘Solar Flare’. Again, that has never been pruned so we're all about teaching people to get the plants in the right place. And really an amazing plant.

Back in the back, the very tall thing is one of the many evergreen oaks. Most people know oaks they think, “Oh, oaks drop their leaves in the winter”, there are actually more evergreen oaks than there are deciduous oaks. It's just that most everybody knows the deciduous ones. So, this is a really nice Lithocarpus edulis from Japan. It’s called the Japanese stone oak.

...a plant that everybody knows but uses incorrectly, are boxwoods.

Now, with not as wide leaves, a plant that everybody knows, but uses incorrectly, are boxwoods. Boxwoods are woodland plants; they're not designed for sun. They don't like full sun. They'll take a few hours of sun but if you put them out in full baking sun, especially if you clip them, they're probably going to die or they're going to look really bad. Boxwoods are amazing in the woodland garden, and they bring it to life in the winter. Because typically a woodland garden you see this time of year, it's pretty brown. And that's what we want to show people is by using more of these broad leaf evergreens you can make your woodland garden in the middle of winter look pretty darn nice.

We looked at Palms earlier that were native. This is a Himalayan palm; this is a Trachycarpus or windmill palm. This is the fastest growing of the trunk palms for us and again, a great broad leaf evergreen.

Below that, another fascinating plant, this is also a Himalayan native; this is Sarcococca. Has anybody grown sarcococca? Okay, wonderful plant. You can find sarcococcas that are this big, you can find them that are five to six foot tall. The cool thing about them is they flower in the winter, and they have tiny little flowers that are excuse me white and extremely fragrant uh so a great thing and it is in the same family as boxwoods. It's basically a first cousin to boxwood, both in the Buxaceae family. So just looking at some of the diversity, that boxwood is the same age as this boxwood. So, you can pick… there are literally hundreds of cultivars… you can pick pretty much any size and shape you want.

Now we looked earlier at plants in the Aurelia family here's another one this is called Metapanax and this is Metapanax davidii, a Chinese native, wonderful plant. This matures at only about 10 to 12 feet tall, so it stays very compact and has that very tropical look that we like. And then another Aurelia, remember we looked earlier at the fatsia, the variegated one. This is a different species from Taiwan, this is Fatsia polycarpa.

A plant a lot of people don't think about as a broad leaf evergreen are English ivy. English ivy is a really interesting plant. When it's young, just think of it as a young child, it runs around and gets in a lot of trouble, causes a lot of trouble. When it grows old, it becomes mature and stops running around. So, this is an adult ivy. It has to go up a tree for 20 years before it decides to become an adult and then if you climb up there and take a cutting from it, it now becomes a shrub, but a great broad leaf evergreen. Same plant, just no longer the pest it was when it was young, just like young children.

And then here beside me is another holly, one of the really great hollies, I think, this is one called ‘Cherry Bomb’ that this is a spineless holly because it's crossed with a holly called Ilex pedunculosa that has no thorns. And this thing you can see a few fruit remaining but look at the amount of flowers. Everywhere there's a flower there is going to be a fruit this fall. I think that's one of the greatest hollies available that very few people actually know about.

Q: They’re really fragrant…

A: Oh yeah, all hollies are incredibly fragrant. Yes, pass this along.

All right let's walk this way.

Just take a look as you come by so here's two more acubas: female with the fruit, male with the flowers, and these have incredible flowers.

As we walk through, you'll see a diversity of camellias. We looked at a few but take a look over here to your left, a beautiful, more typical of a camellia, and if you look back to the right you'll see the weeping camellia, this is Camellia Japonica ‘Tsubaka’ and it actually has branches that hang down and weep.

There's quite an array of camellias as you're seeing. One of my favorites is the one right here. This is one called ‘Black Magic’ and it has flowers that actually hang down that you have to walk under to actually see. It's an amazing plant. Feel that… and the flowers feel like plastic. It's one of the neatest camellias you'll find.

Q: How old is that one?

A: That's probably been in for 10 to 12 years.

It doesn't grow real big. A lot of camellias get very large, that one is a very thin camellia so it doesn't take up a lot of room in the garden.

Now, a broad leaf evergreen that most people generally don't think of as being a broad leaf evergreen, because we focus on trees and shrubs, are [in] the hanging baskets here. These are called tongue ferns of the genus Pyrrosia. These, typically in the wild where they grow in Japan China and Taiwan, hang onto trees. They're not used to growing in soil. Now we generally try to grow them in soil but we thought, well let's try to grow them in a hanging basket and leave them out all winter. These were not brought in when it got down to 11 and they look absolutely amazing. A few burned leaves, but we'll take that. It's pretty neat to have a fern hanging basket, you don't have to rush to get in when it freezes in fall, so I think that's a neat addition to our broad leaf evergreens.

The plant above you is a fairly unusual plant but I think it's wonderful and you'll see a lot of these, this is the genus Daphniphyllum. Even with the name it’s not related to a daphne, it just lookes like some daphnies. But a really amazing thing, bright red petioles when it comes out and, if you have a female, they're loaded with blue fruit.

Now we don't have a lot of rhododendrons, but you'll see a few around. Typically, rhododendrons are not good for us in the Southeast. I've killed more rhododendrons than I would care to admit but we can find some. This is an improved hybrid over a really old one called ‘P.J.M.,’ which is fantastic here. It's one of the earliest blooming of all. And you see through there, you'll see another rhododendron you generally have to go back to the species either Rhododendron fortunei or Rhododendron hyperythrum. Anything that's bred with those lineage-wise will do fine for us. So, commercially in the market, there's a new one now or a new series, that have come out of the Southern Living program called the Southgate Series. So, if you're looking for one good rhododendron, ‘Elizabeth Ard’, a-r-d, is the plant. It is absolutely bulletproof here in the Southeast. Beautiful flowers, very compact foliage, it's by far the best rhododendron for our climate.

Now right above us is one of my favorite and because, not only is it a beautiful evergreen but it produces edible fruit if the winters aren't too cold. And when I say too cold, if it doesn't drop below 15, we get amazing fruit off this. This is called a loquat. It belongs to the genus Eriobotrya. This is Eriobotrya japonica, it flowers around Christmas time. The flowers are white and fragrant. It is fabulous for arranging in the house for Christmas arrangements. It just… you truly can't beat it. So, I think, for me, that's a multi-season interest great plant.

Q: What was it called again?

A: It's a loquat. Eriobotrya… e-r-i-o-b-o-t-r-y-a japonica, which means from Japan.

A couple more and then we'll stop. right behind here is a really neat selection of a native plant, this is an Illicium parviflorum. This is a Florida native, the only place it grows is the panhandle of Florida and it normally is green. We just happened to visit a nursery down there who grows seedlings out by the hundreds of thousands, and I looked out in his rows and there were three gold seedlings. So, we asked him what he was going to do with him and he said “I'm gonna throw them away, nobody wants that crap”, I said, “we do”, so we brought them back and wound up selecting one and gave it the name of ‘Florida Sunshine’. I think it's one of the finest broad leaf evergreens to hit the market in literally decades. If you haven't… when we finish, walk over there, break a leaf off and crush it. Smells like anise, it's just an incredible plant.

... we gave it the name 'Flordia Sunshine'. I think it's one of the finest broad leaf evergreens to hit the market in literally decades.

Another illicium is this wonderful broad leaf evergreen shrub here. This is also from Florida, that's Ilicium floridanum and if you come back for Spring Open House, that will be in full flower. It has bright red flowers about the size of a half dollar that are just amazing. So again, as a native screening plant, it's hard to beat anything like Ilicium floridanum. You can get them in red flowers, you can get them in white flowers.

And then right above that, I'll end with this one, this is a fascinating plant. This is a hardy cinnamon. For those that like cinnamon, I don't know if we can still reach the leaves, but if you could, you can crush it and you can get the smell of cinnamon. And that's what cinnamon comes from the genus Cinnamomum. Normally they're tropical, but we found so far about three different species that will survive here. This is the best, this is Cinnamomum chekiangensis. And the great thing about that, a lot of broad leaf evergreens do have a problem with ice, because the leaves are broad, they hold a lot of ice and when you get an ice storm that accumulates, the broad leaf evergreens are always going to suffer worse than anything else. The beauty of that one, it's super limber. It's like these people that can move their arms every direction, it's just completely folds down and it will lose no limbs. So, it's really an amazing adaptability that we don't see with a lot of our other broad leaf evergreens.

So, I’ve probably gone on too long. Do we have any questions?

Q: Since you brought up ice damage, where I live I had 2 degrees below zero…

A: Oh, bless you…

Q: … so most of the mahonias I bought here got seriously burned […] or there’s ice damage. Wait and see what happens or …?

A: Yeah, if there's ice damage, yeah, wait and see what happens and then I would say wait on most everything… a lot of the plants are going to be fine that lost their leaves. Broad leaves typically don't lose them, this year a lot of them lost them. Basically go on the stem and you can tell. Take a knife and scrape the stem, just go in there and just start scraping. If you see green underneath, it's probably going to be fine. You will not know for sure until the second week of June on your evergreens. That's the date by which… you have some things that will look fine, all of a sudden that first week of June they’ll collapse. So that's…yes?

Q: Now, talk about these [illicium] from Florida, the average gardener, do you have to do something to the soil to make it more…

A: Great question. Any plant we plant, we always improve the soil. We're just huge proponents because then the plant is much more healthy. It's all about feeding the microbes and giving it a place where the microbes have food and air. So, every bed on our property is 50% native soil 50% compost, every bed. Now, does that affect survivability winter? No, it just makes the plant overall grow better and be healthier.

So it's interesting, we talk a lot about Florida plants, one of the big myths is you have to look at where a plant’s native and that tells you where it's going to grow. that is completely untrue, but it's been repeated enough that people actually believe it. It's not where the plant is occurs or where the plant is native, it’s where the genetics originated. So, probably 50% of the plants native in north Florida originated in the Ohio and Delaware valleys when America was glaciated. We've been glaciated 17 times; climate change is not new. All those plants, the glaciers came down, the plants like - look there's a glacier coming, let's move to Florida. That was as far as they could go without falling in the water. So they all got stuck there and they held on to their winter hardiness, it's called latent hardiness, and plants will hold on to that for millenia, I mean for millions and millions of years. So now you can take them back up and many of them will grow better back up in the Delaware Valley.

Sort of one of the classic children of that is the Franklin tree, Ben Franklin tree, or Franklinia. It was found by Bartram back in the 1800s… 17-1800s, down in Georgia, hanging on a cliff. It was a glaciation dump. It was one of those that moved South and it realized it could not thrive in the heat. So it was… the last plants were in the process of dying when Bartram found them. It's never been found again. You plant it down here, it sucks. You take it back up to Delaware Valley, it thrives and seeds around everywhere. So we can't look at where the plants are native, it’s where did the genetics originate back in the day. If you go to southern Japan, a great example, the Ryuku islands, again get down in Okinawa, never freezes there. And yet plants there, are absolutely fine here. 30 degrees cooler because Okinawa all those islands used to be 30,000’ volcanoes before they sunk. So all those genetics were from much higher and now they're tropical. So plant genetics is really a fascinating thing. So, you know when I started out, I thought we had to match climates to find a plant that would grow here and that's simply not the case.

Any other questions?

Q: Does it matter the compost?

A: Does it matter the compost? No, it does not. Any compost is good. There are people that get caught up in this, all compost matures… is going to mature somewhere around neutral.

Q: Oh, alright. I’ve got to admit I got caught up in that…

A: No, it's all about volume. It's just about having enough. Not about what it used to be. Yes, gardening is really much simpler.

Well, hope you all enjoy the rest of the garden I'll be out here if you have other questions. Thank you very much. Okay.


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