Garden Photo of the Day

Unusual Plants in a Collector’s Garden

Gardening off the beaten track

Mark Mitckes is a collector who likes rare plants and gardens in Zone 7a on a hill overlooking a lake in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He has over 300 woody plants and at least as many perennials. He has been gardening for over 35 years and also has visited many gardens on his travels. His favorite area for buying plants is the Pacific Northwest coast, both in person and ordered off the internet. He has learned by experience that many of these plants will not survive his hot humid summers or cold wet winters.

Chinese sweetshrubSinocalycanthus chinense (Chinese sweetshrub, Zones 5–8). This beautiful shrub is the Asian equivalent of our native sweetshrub, Calycanthus floridus. It blooms in spring and early summer in the shade with these beautiful flowers.

ButtonbushCephlathus occidentallis (buttonbush, Zones 5–9). This native shrub, which produces these unusual balls of flowers in summer, thrives in light shade and moist soils.

Gloriosa lilyThe unusual Gloriosa superba (gloriosa lily, Zones 8–11) is a scrambling vine, and it produces these glorious flowers in summer. Though not hardy over winter north of Zone 8, this plant does produce bulbous roots that can be dug and stored over winter like a dahlia or gladiolus for replanting next year.

bat flowerTacca chantrieri, also known as the bat flower, has some of the most unusual blooms in the gardening world. Though sensitive to frost, it can be grown as a houseplant, or outside for the summer and overwintered indoors in colder climates.

pink jack in the pulpitArisaema candissmum (pink jack-in-the-pulpit, Zones 5–8) is an Asian relative of our native jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum Zones 4–9). It has elegant flowers painted with stripes of white and pink.

blood lilyThough Scadoxius puniceus (blood lily, Zones 9–11) can’t survive cold winters, its bulbs can be dug and wintered indoors, or grown in containers and brought inside for the winter. The reward is these dramatic and unusual flowers.

'Little Honey' oakleaf hydrangeaThe native oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia, Zones 5–9) is already a wonderful plant, but this cultivar, called ‘Little Honey’, is perhaps even better, with its beautiful yellow foliage.

sapphire berryIt is easy to see how Symplocus paniculata (Zones 4–8) got the common name of sapphire berry.

mountain camelliaStewartia malocodendron (mountain camellia, Zones 5–9) is a relative of the Asian camellias but is native to the forests of the southeastern United States.


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View Comments


  1. User avater
    meander_michaele 12/24/2019

    Hi, Mark, I'm a fellow east TN gardener (Friendsville...a bit south of Oak Ridge). Anyway, your collection of exotic beauties is quite eye opening and impressive. I'm especially intrigued by the flamboyant Gloriosa superba and the Scadoxius puniceus which looks like a burst of fireworks. You must have a very disciplined work ethic of digging up and wintering over the various bulbs and bulbous roots that produce the special plants that give your garden such an exotic flare. Thanks for sharing.

  2. User avater
    treasuresmom 12/24/2019

    Love you ‘Little Honey’. I have searched & searched for it this past year but the one place I found it was out of stock :( . All so lovely!

  3. Cenepk10 12/24/2019

    Stunning collection. I have a friend who has gifted me with some of his collection. He like you, has been at it for decades. He is a very special person as I suspect you are. I appreciate you sharing & am awaiting your next post !!!

  4. btucker9675 12/24/2019

    Gorgeous!! That gloriosa lily certainly earns its name!

  5. User avater
    simplesue 12/24/2019

    Such unusual and interesting garden choices you have there... That Jack in the Pulpit has my attention and I could grow that in my zone 6b garden! Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. User avater
    antonioparker 02/17/2020

    There is a generally accepted opinion that irises need to be divided and transplanted immediately after flowering, so that they can be taken before winter. But if in your area the autumn is warm and long, you can take your time with the transplant. In fact, irises can be planted in spring, and autumn, and in summer after flowering. The main thing is not to forget to transplant irises every 3-4 years, and Siberian irises - at least once every ten years, otherwise they degenerate, grow and cease to bloom

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