Plants that make me giddy in anticipation

Lady Banks in her full glory.


By Kit Flynn

Because I am intellectually interested in plants, I have a large, diverse plant collection in my garden. This doesn’t mean that I’m crazy about all of them—in fact, there are some that I find so dull that if they were my dinner companions, I’d fall asleep from boredom. And then there are some that I cannot stop talking about, thereby causing my dinner companions to snooze away at my yattering.

A few of these are particular camellias. I love ‘Snow Flurry’ as it’s the first in my garden to bloom in the fall, assuring me that eventually, the temperatures will moderate. In the spring, I anticipate ‘Lavender Prince’, a large, commanding C. japonica, as its large blossoms in March create a much-needed statement in the garden after the grey winter skies that can predominate in January and February. The C. japonica ‘Jacks’ bears perfectly shaped flowers that enchant me well into the first half of April.

I have two Lady Banks roses that charm me even when they aren’t in bloom. With luck, absent a deep freeze towards the end of March, they burst into flower and become plants of sheer beauty. This species rose only flowers once, but its canes drape so gracefully, so beautifully that they draw admiration even after their bloom cycle.

One of mine drapes itself over the outside fence, along a well-traveled path navigated by deer who have never touched this rose. I’ve read that this rose is not particularly enticing to deer, an endearing fact that appears to hold up. She blooms on old wood, so prune her right after she’s finished blooming if you must.

This is truly a historic rose species. The largest Lady Banks rose, covering 8000 square feet, resides in Tombstone, AZ. There’s a great story that accompanies this particular rose, one that is worth reading. Suffice it to say that this thornless species of rose belongs in every garden if you have the room.

Berberis jamesonii

Sara Wilson, who used to have a camellia nursery, helped me to establish my garden. I was the expert on perennials, while her forte lay in choosing shrubs. One day she brought around two shrubs for the back of the fence, saying they were a type of barberry. After digesting the thought that a barberry could be remotely interesting, I grew to have a fascination with this nameless one.

By the end of March, it has rows and rows of small yellow berries that will gradually turn red in color. The effect is subtle as the berries are quite small – there is nothing garish about this particular shrub. Suddenly, I was overcome with the thought that if two of these nameless barberries made me happy, several more would make me positively joyous. However, there was a catch: There are many barberries, so I had to discover the name of this particular cultivar.

I turned to the Triangle’s resident plant expert, Tony Avent, who doesn’t know me at all—but I, like most Triangle gardeners, certainly know him. Obtaining his e-mail, I sent him a description, only to get an immediate response asking me to send a photo. Of course, I complied, and it turned out that my mystery plant was Berberis jamesonii, a native of Ecuador. And that is the total information Google is willing to hand out.

I will only add that it’s a treasure, and should you ever come across one in a nursery, be sure to snap it up. The offerings of this fabulous shrub are as slim as the information about it. One note: This is not a seedy plant; in the ten years it’s resided in the garden, there have been no offspring.

A third shrub I’m crazy about is actually a small tree. Euscaphus japonicus entered my life because of JC Raulston who was the plant guru of all plant gurus when I moved down to the Triangle. His mission was to increase the variety of plants American gardeners put in their gardens. He felt we could do better than simply relying upon the ubiquitous azaleas.

Long after his tragic death from an automobile accident in 1996, I read a description of this tree that he had introduced to the Triangle; I greedily knew I was meant to own one. The plant sleuth in me suddenly emerged (it’s never deeply hidden) and I located not one, but two Euscaphus japonicus that I snatched up. Both are doing well but the one in bright sun is the one that puts on the yearly show – and what a show it is!

Nicknamed the Korean Sweetheart Tree, Euscaphus japonicus produces red heart-shaped seedpods that emerge from the insignificant spring flowers. Eventually spitting open during the summer, these seedpods expose a black seed that remains hanging on the red heart-shaped seedpods for a good month.

Is seeding a problem? Absolutely not. In the ten years I have had the trees in my garden, only two seeds have taken root. This dearth of viable seeds is because they require vigorous temperature changes and scarification to sprout, making this tree difficult to reproduce.

Now that I have exposed my favorite plants to paper, I shall try not to pontificate on them for the remainder of the growing season. Of course, I can’t promise this as I am a creature of habit, but I shall try.

After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at

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