Magnolias featured plant at 2013 UD Botanic Gardens sale

April 2, 2013 under CANR News

UDBG fall plant sale features magnoliasJohn Frett is a like a kid in a candy store when it comes to choosing magnolias for the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens plant sale – he wants them all.

“How can one resist those magnificent flowers, some appearing in early spring, some in late spring or summer,” notes Frett, who is director of the gardens. “Then there is the fragrance, the evergreen foliage and, to round out the package, colored fruits in the fall. I would love to include every magnolia variety in the sale, but I have to pare down my selection to a few exquisite gems.”

Magnolias are one of the featured plants at this year’s plant sale, to be held April 26-27. Many gardeners like to plant early blooming (and non-native) magnolias, such as Magnolia ‘genie,’ which will be available at the sale. But there is distinct advantage to the native varieties, says Frett.

“You need to be patient because our native magnolias don’t flower until mid- to late season, from about mid-April until summer. But on the upside, you won’t need to worry about frost damage like you do with saucer magnolia and the other early bloomers,” he says.

A few early magnolias could be close to bloom when Frett leads garden walks on April 3-4 that focus on magnolias and other plant sale highlights. The gardens feature an extensive magnolia collection centered around Townsend Hall and also in a large planting near the UD swimming pool.  If time allows, Frett will duck into the greenhouses to show off container plants started from seed by UD students.

“The sale is a real learning opportunity,” says Frett. “A number of our undergraduate classes take part in starting seeds and grad students help with propagation.”

One of the rare magnolias offered at the sale is Magnolia ashei Ash Magnolia, a native with coarse leaves that can get as large as 18 inches long. “It gives the plant a real tropical feel,” says Frett.

At maturity, Magnolia ashei Ash Magnolia will reach 15 to 20 feet. If you don’t have a lot of space, instead consider a dwarf magnolia such as Sweet Thing, a dwarf cultivar of native sweetbay. This little guy tops out at 5 to 8 feet in high after 15 to 20 years.

Rhododendron is another plant that is well represented at the sale. Six different selections are offered, all of them native. The Catawba rhododendron, which features dark-red flowers in late May, is probably the most common native rhodo in local gardens. And for good reason. It’s known to be an excellent performer and is a good food source for butterflies and hummingbirds.

If you enjoy surprises, pick up a flame azalea for your yard. Another butterfly friendly selection, this plant features vivid orange blooms. Or yellow, pink, salmon or scarlet ones. The plant flowers in May so it’s anyone’s guess which color you’ll be getting at the UD sale.

Guided walks

April 3-4:  Learn about plants offered at the sale during a stroll through the UD Botanic Gardens. 4 p.m. $10. To register call 831-2531 or email

Plant sale

April 26, 3-7 p.m., and April 27, 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Sale is located across from Fischer Greenhouse on UD’s South Campus in Newark. For more information, call 831-2531 or email

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


“Design Ideas and Plant Combinations for Winter Gardens” Lecture

February 21, 2013 under CANR News

If you haven’t registered yet, there is still time to sign up for C. Colston Burrell’s lecture titled, “Design Ideas and Plant Combinations for Winter Gardens,” scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m.

The onset of winter brings a respite from heat, and signals the start of a season filled with berried branches and seductive silhouettes. This lecture focuses on the unique challenges of creating interest with both living and built elements and presents a variety of approaches to fashioning plant combinations that add texture, color, and fragrance to the unsung season. Burrell is an acclaimed lecturer, garden designer, award-winning author, and photographer.

UDBG Friends members: $15; Nonmembers: $20

Location: The Commons, Townsend Hall

Another event you won’t want to miss….

Plant Sale Highlights Lecture

Wednesday, March 13, 7–9 p.m.

Please come enjoy the lively repartee of dynamic plant gurus Dr. John Frett and Dr. Bob Lyons as they describe and illustrate many of the perennial and woody plants offered in the catalog and at the sale.

UDBG Friends members: $5; Nonmembers: $10

Location: The Commons, Townsend Hall

To Register for these UDBG events: Email or contact Sue Biddle at 302-831-2531


University of Delaware Botanic Gardens Winter Learning Opportunities

December 11, 2012 under CANR News

January isn’t a great time to garden, but it’s a fantastic time to learn about it. Come join the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG) this winter at the following events:

“Small Flowering Trees” Lecture Series and Lab by UDBG Director and Professor John Frett.

Lectures: Wed., Jan. 9, 16, & 23, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Lab: Sat., Jan. 19, 9 – 11 a.m.

If you have a small garden, garden room, tight spot, or just want the right plant for the site, then this is the course for you. This three lecture survey of small flowering trees will present cultural and landscape characteristics for a variety of evergreen and deciduous plants. The lab will view live plants and discuss more fully their characteristics.

UDBG Friends: $25/class and lab; Nonmembers: $35/class and lab

Lab is free if you register for all three classes. 

Registration and prepayment required: Email or contact Sue Biddle at 302-831-2531

Location: Room 132 Townsend Hall

In the event of snow, classes will be held the following evening. Payment will be refunded if cancellation is made 10 business days prior to class.

“Design Ideas and Plant Combinations for Winter Gardens” Lecture by C. Colston Burrell

Tues., Feb. 26, 7 p.m.

The best part of the gardening year begins as the asters are fading. The onset of winter brings a respite from heat, and signals the start of a season filled with berried branches and seductive silhouettes. Comfortable spaces and artful planting conspire to provide places to relax as well to grow myriad winter-blooming plants such as daphnes, hellebores, and minor bulbs that excite us and connect us to the natural world. This lecture focuses on the unique challenges of creating interest with both living and built elements and presents a variety of approaches to fashioning plant combinations that add texture, color, and fragrance to the unsung season.

Cole is an acclaimed lecturer, garden designer, award-winning author, and photographer. A certified chlorophyll addict, Cole is an avid and lifelong plantsman, gardener, and naturalist. He has shared his encyclopedic knowledge of plants and his abiding respect for regional landscapes with professional and amateur audiences for 35 years. He is the author of numerous books, including Hellebores: A Comprehensive Guide and Perennial Combinations, among others. These two books will be offered for sale after the lecture.

UDBG Friends members: $15; Nonmembers: $20

Registration: Email or contact Sue Biddle at 302-831-2531

Location: The Commons, Townsend Hall


University of Delaware Botanic Gardens offers mini-series on small flowering trees

December 7, 2012 under CANR News

It will be four long months before the pink, purple and fuchsia blooms of the Eastern redbud burst forth. Even longer before we’ll see the light pink and white blossoms of serviceberry or the snow white blossoms of native dogwood.

What’s a gardener to do until spring arrives?

For Catherine Buckminster, of Newark, the answer is simple – learn. “I’ve earned a certificate in ornamental horticulture from Longwood, I take Master Gardener workshops, and, coming up in January, I’m enrolled in a mini-series on small flowering trees offered by the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens,” says Buckminster.

John Frett talks about small flowering treesLast year was the first time that the UD Botanic Gardens offered a January lecture series and the response was excellent, says Valann Budishak, volunteer and education coordinator for the gardens.

The beginning of the year can be a hard time for local gardeners, says Budishak. In late fall and early winter, leaves can be raked and composted, fall cutbacks can be completed, and other garden tasks accomplished. By January it’s usually too cold to do outside work while it’s a bit too early to start seeds indoors. The mini-series fills a void for Buckminster and other gardeners who are eager to stay engaged in their hobby.

UD Botanic Gardens Director John Frett teaches the series and he’s designed it so that each of the three lectures stands alone. The series also includes a Saturday lab held in the botanic gardens and UD greenhouses. At that session, he will show off some of the cultivars previously discussed. And, rest assured, there will be plenty to admire, even without a single flower in bloom in the gardens.

“The structure of the trees, shrubs and woody plants are more evident in winter when there are fewer things competing for your attention,” he says.

Like Frett, Buckminster appreciates the form, texture and structure of small flowering trees just as much as the blooms. “People want flowers all season long but most trees are only in bloom a short time,” notes Buckminster, who is a member of the UD Botanic Gardens Friends’ group and a frequent volunteer at the gardens. “I select trees with a nice branching structure – like dogwoods – that are going to look good after the blooms are gone.”

Which is not to say Buckminster doesn’t appreciate a pop of color in the landscape come springtime. Her half-acre Newark yard already has many well-established, larger trees so she is currently developing the understory of smaller shrubs and trees.

“I want a better understory for visual effect, as well as to provide food and shelter for birds,” says Buckminister.

Currently, she has redbuds at the perimeter of her backyard, growing at the edge of woodlands, and dogwoods as specimen plantings throughout the property. She’d like to add some more small, flowering trees in the front, underneath larger trees, to enhance the curb appeal.

At the lecture series, Frett may suggest that she consider the wide variety of magnolias that thrive in Delaware, including native sweetbay magnolia. Like all native magnolias, the sweetbay is a late bloomer – depending on the cultivar, it blooms from May to early summer.

He’ll spend a portion of the Saturday lab session showing off the UD Botanic Gardens’ magnolia collection, which has been expanded to 100 taxa of magnolia, with some 125 magnolias in all. Magnolias are widely scattered throughout the UD gardens but large groupings can be found between Townsend and Worrilow halls, south of Townsend, and also north of UD’s outdoor pool.

For those who have very limited space, Frett suggests the M. virginiana “Perry Paige” cultivar of sweetbay – this new dwarf variety tops out at only five to eight feet tall.

Other small flowering trees that Frett will discuss include native serviceberry and hawthorn and native and non-native cherries.

About the series

The UD Botanic Gardens’ small flowering trees mini-series takes place Jan. 9, 16 and 23, from 6:30-8:30 p.m., with a lab on Jan. 19 from 9-11 a.m. Cost for the public is $35 per lecture or lab; if you sign up for all three lectures the lab is free. To register, or for more info, call 831-2531.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


Learn about native color in the garden at UD lecture planned Sept. 4

August 27, 2012 under CANR News

Get John Frett and Lyons talking about color in the garden and (good-natured) sparks are sure to fly.

Frett is a connoisseur of a “refined” color palette. Director of the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens, Frett gets more enthused about the form, texture and structure of a plant than the shade of its blooms. In contrast, when it comes to color, Lyons’ motto is “bring it on.”

“You should see the containers on my front porch,” says Lyons, director of UD’s Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture. “Oranges, yellows, reds, blues, purples – I’ve got every flower color imaginable. I’m not into the bland stuff, like some people are.”

“Bob is all about ‘in-your-face color,’” retorts Frett with a chuckle.

Although they enjoy tongue-in-cheek needling, Frett and Lyons also respect each other’s talents and sensibilities. So when Frett needed an expert to talk about color in the landscape, he looked no farther than Lyons, who has lectured widely on the subject.

Lyons will present “The Color of the Native Plant Palette … and other Related Thoughts” on Sept. 4 in UD’s Townsend Hall. A kick-off event for the annual UD Botanic Gardens Fall Plant Sale, the talk will focus on readily available herbaceous plants that pack a wallop of color.

Like the spiky, show-stopping red blooms of cardinal flower. Or, the bright yellow flower heads of sunflower, which can extend a foot in diameter, on plants that are 12 feet tall. Or, the vibrant, tangerine-orange blooms of butterfly weed.

What’s more, this panoply of color comes from plants that are native to Delaware.

“Some people think that the exciting colors are only found on exotic plants and that blandness reigns in the world of natives,” says Lyons. “But bright color can be achieved with many northeastern U.S. native herbaceous species and other North American species.”

After his house burned to the ground two years ago, Lyons decided to re-build on the same site and has focused his time ever since on the reconstruction project. As a result, some invasives, including Japanese knotweed, have made inroads into his yard. This summer — his first in the new home – Lyons has plunged into revitalizing his garden.

To satisfy his craving for color, he has planted native varieties of azalea and hibiscus as well as alumroot, Joe Pye weed and butterfly weed. A small meadow, predominantly of wildflowers, will be planted this fall. Lyons hopes to feature a jumble of hues, from the purples and lavenders of New England aster to coreopsis, in shades of lemon and butter yellow.  Closer to the house, Lyons’ garden becomes more intensely cultivated, with pops of color from native perennials such as Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica), which has bright red and yellow blooms.

Lyons also uses annuals for a blast of color. He selects non-natives, such as petunias, geraniums and impatiens, as well as annuals native to Delaware, including Black-eyed Susan and coreopsis.

Lyons’ Sept. 4 lecture will feature plenty of photos of brightly hued private and public gardens. He’ll also present info about the “fast trackers” – those new hybrid varieties of natives notable for their color. Indian Summer Rudbecka and Sunrise Echinacea are two such “current darlings of the industry,” says Lyons.

The lecture will begin at 7 p.m. Admission is $5 for members of the UD Botanic Garden Friends group; $10 for nonmembers. The plant sale will be held Sept. 7, 4 p.m.-7 p.m., and Sept. 8, 8 a.m.- 11 a.m. To register for the lecture, or for more info about either event, call 831-0153.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


Butterfly season only average, according to UD entomologist and others

July 17, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Brian Kunkel’s weekend strolls at Middle Run Natural Area make him see red – not because he’s angry but because the red admiral butterfly has been abundant at this 850-acre park east of Newark. A large, red-banded butterfly, the red admiral has been seen in large numbers throughout Delaware this summer.

“The red admiral is experiencing an irruption – a rapid and irregular increase in population numbers,” says Kunkel, an entomologist with UD Cooperative Extension. “It’s not just here in Delaware; this irruption also has been reported in New Jersey, the Poconos, western New York and other Northeastern locales. The last time a red admiral irruption was seen locally was 2001.”

The red admiral is the bright spot for Delaware butterfly watchers this summer. All in all, it’s shaping up to be just a so-so season for butterflies.

“Butterfly numbers were good at the end of May and into June but then things really backed down,” says Sheila Vincent, a group program coordinator for the Delaware Nature Society who maintains Ashland Nature Center’s Butterfly House.

“Mid-July to mid-August is typically the peak of butterfly activity in Delaware but we’ve seen fewer individuals flying,” says Vincent, “Right now, I don’t think we’re going see a repeat of 2011 and 2010, both of which were very good years for butterflies.”

Butterfly populations are influenced by a complex interplay of temperature, moisture and food supply. Different species are impacted by different factors. For example, a species that overwinters in the adult form – such as the mourning cloak — will have better survival rates in milder winters, says Kunkel. If the butterfly’s host plant flourishes during a rainy spring, odds are that butterfly will do well that season, too.

“With so many factors influencing population density, I can’t begin to speculate on why overall butterfly numbers appear lower this year,” says Kunkel.

Delaware has about 120 species of resident breeding butterflies. Considering that most states have about 100 species, Delaware is a pretty good spot for butterfly watching.

“Delaware is home to both the Piedmont Plateau, in the north, and the Coastal Plain, in the middle and southern parts of the state. This makes for a greater diversity of butterflies,” says Vincent. “For example, we don’t get cloudless sulphur butterflies in the Piedmont but on occasion you see a straggler cloudless sulphur fly up from the Coastal Plain.”

If you want to attract butterflies to your yard, Kunkel has two important tips. “First, get lots of plants that caterpillars like,” he says. “Gardeners tend to focus on nectar plants that provide adult butterflies with energy but you also need plenty of food sources for caterpillars – the next generation of butterflies.”

Most caterpillars eat only one specific plant or from one plant family. Do your research. If you love the great spangled fritillary butterfly, plant violets, the food source for this butterfly’s caterpillar. If it’s Eastern tiger swallowtails that you’re trying to attract, plant tulip poplar, sweetbay magnolia and black cherry trees.

If you’ve always prided yourself on a flawless, neat-as-a-pin garden, you may not like Kunkel’s second piece of advice – “tolerate insect feeding.”

Caterpillars eat the leaves and stems of plants, which mean, of course, little holes on the leaves of your plants. “If you want to enjoy the sight of the pipevine swallowtail butterfly, with its brilliant blue wings, you’ll have to accept that your pipevine plants are going to get chewed up a bit by this butterfly’s caterpillars,” says Kunkel.

At the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens, feeding the caterpillars is seen as just as important as feeding the butterflies. The gardens’ Lepidoptera Trail, which opened in 2009, features a wide range of plants to attract caterpillars.

“The trail is not a butterfly garden, which is designed to attract butterflies to feed on nectar,” says garden director John Frett. “It is an ecosystem to attract Lepidoptera throughout their life cycle. It’s a place for them to lay their eggs, which become larvae or caterpillars before entering the inactive pupal stage and then emerging as butterflies, moths or skippers.”

Besides, caterpillars are cool in their own right. “Take the caterpillar of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly. It looks like something out of a cartoon,” marvels Kunkel.

This caterpillar features oversized fake eyes on its thorax and is a garish neon green color at certain stages of development. The fake eyes and bright color is supposed to make the caterpillar look like a snake and thus scare away birds and other predators.

The Lepidoptera Trail, as well as the rest of the UD Botanic Gardens, is open daily from sunrise to sunset for free self-guided trails. For more info, go to or call 302-831-0153.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Brian Kunkel

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


UD horticulturalists see understated attractions of winter landscape

January 26, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

The lyrics of “California Dreamin'” by John and Michelle Phillips are well known and appropriate for the season: “All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey, California Dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.”

Although many yearn to flee the First State during the long slog of winter, not everyone is dreaming of California. For every Delaware gardener poring over seed catalogs and wishing for spring, there’s another gardener like John Frett who’s outside every day enjoying the landscape, regardless of the weather.

Frett, the director of the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG), loves winter and spends time in his yard or the botanic gardens every day, all year long.

“I grew up in Chicago and lived in Maine for three years,” says Frett. “Delaware doesn’t know what cold weather is.”

Beyond a hearty constitution for the cold, Frett has an appreciation for the understated attractions of the winter landscape.

“The structure of the trees, shrubs and woody plants are more evident in winter when there are fewer things competing for your attention,” says Frett.

At the 15-acre UD Botanic Gardens, the leaves are long gone (evergreens excepted) so it’s easy to see that trees come in all shapes and sizes. There are columnar, round, conical, broad-spreading, upright-spreading, weeping and elliptical trees in the gardens. And a wide range of texture is now revealed, from the peel-away bark of the paperbark maple to the ridged and furrowed bark of the tulip poplar.

But it’s not just a lack of competing attractions that makes the winter landscape visually arresting for Andrew Olson, public landscape manager for the Delaware Center for Horticulture. He points out that the weaker winter sun casts a different light on things.

“The lower angle of the sun in the winter really highlights grasses and garden structures,” says Olson. “Even the silhouettes of trees ‘pop’ in the waning afternoon light. A garden or natural landscape that may seem brown and bleak can be spectacular as the sun rises or sets.”

Carrie Murphy, New Castle County horticulture agent for UD Cooperative Extension, notes that a landscape’s backbone is completely revealed in winter. “Everything is completely naked and the landscape’s overall shape and structure becomes a focal point.”

“I also appreciate how sounds move through a winter landscape — everything is much more audible — the whipping winds, rustling leaves and movements of wildlife,” she says.

Eileen Boyle looks for the small details in the landscape. “While the perennials sleep off the winter and the bulbs wait their turn, I am enjoying the daily show of the ferns, mosses and other little plants that are last to go dormant,” says Boyle, a horticulturalist at Hagley Museum and Gardens.

Fellow Hagley horticulturalist Renee Huber says that she appreciates the structure of beech and sycamore trees in winter.

“I always enjoy the sycamore trees against the Brandywine this time of year; they’re like gentle giants with white and gray blotched bark,” says Huber.

Sue Barton, UD Cooperative Extension specialist for ornamental horticulture, likes the sycamore in winter, too. Other favorites include river birch, winterberry holly and the Emerald Sentinel variety of Eastern red cedar, which has vivid blue fruit.

Bob Lyons, director of UD’s Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture, admits that he doesn’t much like winter. However, he does appreciate the architecture of trees now, especially when they’re outlined by a wet snow.  He particularly enjoys sweet gum, tulip poplar and deciduous hollies.

If the winter landscape looks enticing — that is, until you read the forecast and hear the winds howl — Olson has just two words of advice: “get outside.”

“Put on some layers and get out there,” he says. “You will be so glad you did.”

Here are some of the things to see in the late-January landscape:

• At the Delaware Center for Horticulture’s gardens, which are free and open to the public, a bloodtwig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Flame’) gets lots of attention this time of year because of its intensely colored red and orange stems. Also look for the black pussy willow, which is beginning to display purplish black catkins. The Kentucky coffee tree, paperbark maple and river birch also look great this time of year, says Olson.

• Evergreen fans will want to check out the UD Botanic Gardens, which has a large collection of both conifer and broad-leaf evergreens. Native species include the loblolly pine and American holly. And you’ll find many other hollies — the UDBG features 50-plus varieties and is a test arboretum for the American Holly Society.

• At Hagley Museum and Gardens, snowdrops are in bloom in front of the Hagley residences and skunk cabbage is blooming in the woods and by the river. Boyle notes that the bright orange rose hips on old-fashioned antique variety roses provide perching and food for local birds.  Hagley arborist Richard Pratt loves Hagley’s osage orange in wintertime. “It stands like a large bronze sculpture with its deeply furrowed copper-colored bark on its majestic trunk and its crown spreading high and wide into the sky,” says Pratt.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily


Botanic Gardens tour highlights flowering magnolias

March 23, 2011 under CANR News, Events

Magnolias will be featured on the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens tour and at the annual plant sale.

When John Frett leads a guided walk of the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens on March 31, he’s hoping to point out a few early blooming magnolias. More likely, though, he’ll head to the greenhouse to show off magnolias in flower.

Non-native magnolias typically start blooming in Delaware in April while the native varieties wait until May.

With plenty of other March blooms to enjoy — winterhazel, forsythia, hellebores and some dogwoods — why the rush to spot magnolias?

The walk is a spring tradition that highlights plants available at the UD Botanic Gardens Plant Sale. Along with winterhazel, magnolias will be a featured plant of this year’s sale, which is open to the public April 29-30.

Almost everyone loves magnolias. Frett, the director of the UD Botanic Gardens, is no exception. However, he’s reluctant to single out a best-loved cultivar or species. “It’s like picking a favorite child, they’re all fabulous,” says Frett.

Magnolias vary widely. The 80 or so recognized species include trees and shrubs; deciduous plants and evergreens; cold-hardy varieties that do well in Maine and others that flourish in the tropics. About the only thing they have in common are the distinctive, tulip-shaped flowers. And most — but not all — are highly fragrant.

Under Frett’s leadership, the magnolia collection at the UD Botanic Gardens has been expanded to 100 taxa of magnolia, with some 125 magnolias in all.

“The UDBG’s fantastic collection of magnolias includes a nice variety of native and non-native species and cultivars,” says Sue Barton, Cooperative Extension’s ornamental horticulture specialist.

Magnolias are widely scattered throughout the UD gardens but large groupings can be found between Townsend and Worrilow Halls, south of Townsend, and also north of UD’s outdoor pool.

In assembling the collection, Frett looked for a progression of flowering, from the earliest species, in April, to varieties that are still going strong in June. He also included rich and unusual colors, found in the hybrid varieties. In addition to characteristic pink or white petals, magnolia blooms can be light to medium purple, deep purple that is almost red, and yellow.

Barton has one of the yellow varieties in her backyard. “I bought the ‘Elizabeth’ cultivar from the UDBG sale a number of years ago because my older daughter is named Elizabeth,” she explains. “This tree will be covered with yellow flowers in about a month.”

Despite its name, “Elizabeth” isn’t Barton’s favorite backyard magnolia. That distinction goes to the native sweetbay magnolias growing near her patio. “They’re multi-stemmed so they help enclose the patio but you can still view through them so they don’t make it claustrophobic,” she says.

Carrie Murphy, the Extension horticulture agent for New Castle County, says the sweetbay is the top pick for most Delaware gardeners. “Including me,” she adds.

“The sweetbay magnolia is by far one of my favorite plants — it has beautiful late spring and early summer blooms and is lightly fragrant.”

But what Murphy really likes about the sweetbay isn’t apparent at first glance. “I love the underside of the foliage — when the wind blows and rustles the leaves, the silver underside of the leaves becomes visible and it’s absolutely gorgeous,” she says.

Several sweetbays have been added to the Master Garden Demonstration garden at the county Extension office in Newark. At the demo garden, home gardeners often ask for recommendations for small flowering trees and sweetbay nicely fits the bill. It prefers moist soil and some shade and even works well in wet sites. But it’s also adaptable to drier conditions, says Murphy.

Three cultivars of sweetbay will be available at the plant sale: “Mardi Gras,” with a butter-yellow variegated leaf; “Perry Paige,” a new dwarf variety only five to eight feet tall; and “Green Shadow,” a selection that Frett describes as “nearly an evergreen.”

Two other native magnolias will be sold, Magnolia macrophylla “Big Leaf Magnolia,” featuring huge leaves with a tropical feel and Magnolia pyramidata “Pyramid Magnolia,” which is considered rare. Also available will be three hybrids from native species, including two that originated from a cross with the native cucumber tree.

Guided walk

March 31: An hour-and-a-half walk through the UD Botanic Gardens, focusing on plant sale selections. 4 p.m. $5. Call 302-831-2531 or email [] to register. Maximum 35 people.

UDBG plant sale

Public sale hours are 3-7 p.m., April 29; 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., April 30. For more information, call 302-831-2531 or go to the UDBG website.

Article by Margo McDonough
Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be read online on UDaily by clicking here.


UD Botanic Gardens March Events

February 25, 2011 under CANR News, Events

Longing for Spring?  Join the UD Botanic Gardens for March events.

Wednesday, March 16 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.–Plant Sale Highlights
The Commons, Townsend Hall
UDBG Friends: Free; Nonmembers: $10
UDBG Director John Frett presents the fabulous winterhazels (Corylopsis) and many of the other plants offered at the 19th Annual Benefit Plant Sale. Refreshments served.

Thursday, March 31 from 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.–Guided Walk
Meet @ Fischer Greenhouse
UDBG Friends: Free; Nonmembers: $5
Dr. Frett will lead a guided walk around the gardens focusing on landscape-size plants that will be offered at the Sale.

REGISTRATION: Contact Donna Kelsch at or 302-831-2531.

Don’t forget to check out the Plant Sale Catalog on the UDBG website, Hardcopy will be bulk mailed soon.


May 11: Bitner to discuss conifers in UD Botanic Gardens lecture

May 10, 2010 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

Gardeners delight in the first blooms of a flowering shrub, the vibrant color of a summer wildflower, a deciduous tree aflame with fall foliage. But no one stops to admire the conifer, which is often reduced to hiding home foundations or grown as a solitary sentry in the middle of an expanse of lawn.

Well, a few people do stop to admire conifers, such as Richard Bitner, a Longwood Gardens teacher, board-certified anesthesiologist, and author of Conifers for Gardens: An Illustrated Encyclopedia.

Bitner will speak about conifers at a UD Botanic Gardens lecture at 7 p.m., Tuesday, May 11, in the University of Delaware’s Townsend Hall on South College Avenue in Newark. Cost is $10. To register or for more information, send email to [] or call (302) 831-0153.

Bitner will focus on the great diversity of shapes, textures and color in this plant group and how to integrate conifers into a landscape with other woody and herbaceous plants.

Conifers are cone-bearing trees (and a few shrubs) that include such species as pines, firs, junipers, cedars, redwoods, yews and spruces. Conifers grow naturally almost everywhere in the world, including this region, which has 12 native species.

“Since they are green in the winter, conifers are often used as screens and windbreaks but they offer much on their own,” says John Frett, director of the UD Botanic Gardens. “You’ll find distinct textures in the conifers as well as varied plant form, including rounded, weeping, conical and fastigiated [narrowing toward the top].”

Like Frett and Bitner, Sue Barton is a fan of conifers. “Most home gardeners aren’t too enthused by conifers,” says Barton, the ornamental horticulture specialist for UD Cooperative Extension. “They want plants that stay green all year and flower all summer — and such a plant, of course, doesn’t exist.”

So gardeners turn to what they view as the next best thing — broadleaf evergreens, which unlike conifers, often have a spring or summer bloom period. Although Barton likes broadleaf evergreens and uses them widely, she says they can’t deliver the textural impact that conifers do.

Conifers also offer a wide range of colors, notes Barton. She uses unusually colored or variegated conifers as accent or specimen plants in her garden.

“The native Eastern red cedar has several cultivars. The most popular, Emerald Sentinel, has a blue-green color that turns purplish in the winter,” says Barton. “There are lots of blue conifers but none are native to Delaware except Emerald Sentinel.”

White pine has a silverly stripe on the needles that can give the tree an attractive grayish cast, says Barton. Although the white pine isn’t native to Delaware it is native to the East Coast. “There also are pines with yellow bands on their needles that make an interesting effect in the garden,” says Barton.

The region’s native conifers include seven pines, two cedars, a hemlock, a juniper and one deciduous conifer, a bald cypress. The pines include shortleaf, pitch, pond, table mountain, Virginia and loblolly. Delaware’s native cedars are Atlantic white cedar and Eastern red cedar.

“I have Eastern red cedar planted in my home meadow,” says Barton. “In winter, I love the look of the dark green needles next to brown winter grass. It looks even better planted near winterberry holly, which has bright red berries in winter. UD landscape engineer Tom Taylor has used the combination of Eastern red cedar and winterberry in a number of places on UD’s Newark campus.”

UD’s Botanic Gardens also has its share of Eastern red cedars and other conifers. The Clark Garden, directly in front of Townsend Hall, features an area of dwarf conifers.

Another good place to check out conifers is Winterthur’s Pinetum, which was started by Henry Algernon du Pont in 1914. This diverse collection of conifers includes pines, firs, spruces, cedars, and their relatives.

Downstate, look for mature and old-growth loblolly pine in the Inland Bays region and around the Nanticoke River, at such sites as Barnes Woods and Assawoman State Wildlife Area. In Kent County, you can find mature loblollies at the Milford Neck Conservation Area.

If you plan to add conifers to your yard, choose your site carefully. Most do best with full sun and well-drained soil. And be sure to get them into the ground at the right time.

“For most plants, spring or fall work equally well for planting. But it’s best to avoid planting evergreens in the fall,” says Barton. “So plant now.”

Article by Margo McDonough

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