Our story

Growing up in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, I spent many happy hours tromping through the local woods. I remember rescuing wildflowers just ahead of the bulldozers and getting excited when I found new or unique plant form. Even at a young age, I was amazed by the diversity that existed within a single species. I decided that I was going to open a plant nursery and share these plants with the world.

When I attended NC State University to study horticulture, most of the students and professors there were focused on the common plants that were already found in the trade instead of looking at introducing new plants to the market. The notable exception was the late Dr. J.C. Raulston, who showed up on the scene with the modus operandi of “let’s try growing everything we can get our hands on that no one has tried before”. J.C. was the motivation that I and several other students needed to realize that our ideas had merit.

It is hard to understand the depth of Dr. J.C. Raulston’s impact on ornamental horticulture and the nursery industry unless one knows how little there was before J.C.’s time. The nursery industry pre-J.C. offered a moribund selection of serviceable but dull shrubs such as Japanese holly, common evergreen azaleas, Pfitzer junipers and boxwood. The Triangle area of North Carolina wouldn’t be the horticultural hotbed that it is now if J.C. didn’t light the fire that started it all. Tragically, J.C. died in a car accident in 1996 at age 56.

In 1986, my late wife Michelle and I felt ready to pursue careers in the nursery industry. We acquired a 2.2-acre abandoned tobacco field in Southern Wake County, complete with a newly built starter house. We had to choose a niche for our business and Dr. J.C. Raulston was very supportive of my idea to open a specialty plant nursery. Our founding principle was to offer a large diversity of unique and rare perennial plants best suited for growing in Noth American climate. That meant the conventional route of ordering liners from large commercial growers was not an option for us. So we started propagating small quantities of each plant and slowly increased production as our facilities grew.

True to my young self, I was interested not only in selling these plants but also in growing and learning about them firsthand. That’s how Juniper Level Botanic Garden was born. We used JLBG to showcase the plants we sold as well as to propagate them, and eventually to serve as one of the most extensive ex-situ plant conservation gardens in the world.

Today Plant Delights Nursery offers over a thousand new, rare, unique, and unusual perennials online. Every year we introduce brand new plants to horticulture, with over 1,400 introduced so far. We ship domestically and internationally and have loyal customers all over the world. Four times a year we open our nursery and garden to the public, so that gardeners can see the beautiful results of planting for diversity and feel inspired to think differently about their own gardens. Welcome to Plant Delights Nursery and Juniper Level Botanic Garden.

- Tony Avent