Return to Raleigh

Return to Raleigh

Last week I headed down to Raleigh, North Carolina with local garden designer, Gary Keim and former Curatorial Intern and Head Gardener of the British Embassy, Jim Adams. We had all signed up for the JC Raulston symposium which is held every two years at the JC Raulston Arboretum on the campus of North Carolina State University.

In 1993 the Scott Arboretum staff went on a staff retreat to the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. JC Raulston had arranged our itinerary for the three-day visit and the entire Arboretum staff stayed at JC’s house. This was a wonderful introduction to the wealth of gardens, nurseries, and avid gardens that abound in this area.

For decades JC Raulston was a passionate professor at North Carolina State University. Without a doubt, he was considered one of the premier plantsmen in the world. His generosity to his students, colleagues and fellow professionals was unequaled. Tragically, in 1996 he died in an automobile accident.

The Scott Arboretum has been a great beneficiary of the generosity of both JC Raulston and in more recent years the JC Raulston Arboretum (formerly North Carolina State University Arboretum), named in his honor and memory. Some of our most interesting and ‘cutting edge’ plants were given to us by JC, such as Poliothyrsis sinensis and the wonderful Euscaphis japonica which has beautiful pink fruits which ripen to red and then burst open revealing the shiny black seeds. Both plants will be featured in the Scott Arboretum’s Horticulture Seminar “Cutting Edge Trees, Shrubs and Vines” to be held on October 11th.

Before we headed south we contacted Melanie Blandford and Todd Rounsaville who both worked at the Scott Arboretum, but now work at the world renowned, Plant Delights Nursery. With the help of the nursery’s owner, Tony Avent (whom we had originally met in 1993), they made suggestions of gardens to visit.

One stop was the wonderful collection in east Raleigh of Norman Beale. The influence of JC Raulston was evident. The collector’s garden abounded with the rarest woody plants including Firmiana simplex, Poliothyrsis sinensis, and Pterostyrax corymbosa .

The Friday before the symposium we met Melanie and Todd, and spent the entire day touring Plant Delights Nursery. In addition to the nursery, Tony Avent has developed the adjacent Juniper Level Botanic Garden which holds over 13,000 taxa of plants (different kinds of plants). To put that in perspective the Scott Arboretum has 3,300 taxa on 125 acres and Tony Avent has amassed four times as many plants on 7 acres! The woody, perennial and succulent collections are all equally impressive. The older part of the garden has a fantastic Lagerstroemia faurei, which was popularized by JC Raulston in the late 1980’s. It is a garden where you could literally spend days exploring and not be bored. Digging through the layers of plants I spotted the extremely rare conifer, Cathaya argyrophylla which is found in the subtropical mountains of China in only four isolated areas. A few years ago we received one plant via James Waddick. Unfortunately, our tree did not survive and we are currently seeking a new source to try this species in the Arboretum’s collections.

Cutting edge perennials also abound. I came across this fantastic miniature sunflower, Helianthus ‘Low Down’. Many of the Helianthus, Heliopsis, Rudbeckia and Silphium which produce sunflower-like flowers are much too imposing in size for most gardens, however, this new introduction of Helianthus will inevitably be a highly praised perennial.

While at the symposium on Saturday there was ample time to explore the JC Raulston Arboretum. JC was well known and admired for his ability to comprehensively collect taxa within many of the popular genera from Juniperus to Cercis. Over the years, both before and after JC’s death, I have always seen the Raulston Arboretum as a great source of knowledge. Even on this past visit I made notes and took pictures of plants I had never seen before and covet for the Scott Arboretum. I was excited to see a large foliage selection ofthe Chinese tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera ‘JC Raulston’.

For the Scott Arboretum to grow its collections it is essential that we build relationships with other botanical institutions throughout the U. S. and abroad. Botanic gardens and arboreta have always been an invaluable source of both plants and information, and I have always found them to be a critical component to our collections development.

In 1991 JC Raulston received the Scott Garden and Horticulture Award. It is given annually to “…an individual, organization or corporate body who, in the opinion of the Selection Committee, has made an outstanding national contribution to the science and the art of gardening.”

Andrew Bunting
  • Jared Barnes
    Posted at 14:31h, 06 October Reply

    Glad our paths crossed when you were in Raleigh.

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