Don Shadow with a variegated sourwood he is working to stabilize.

A family vacation to the mountains of Tennessee presented me with the always welcome opportunity to visit a couple of my favorite nurseries on the east coast. I dropped in on Don Shadow at Shadow Nursery virtually unannounced and was quickly whisked away on a whirlwind tour of the nursery fields and collection greenhouses despite Don having been up most of the night for the birth of a kiang (apparently an extremely high elevation donkey from Tibet) and an American bison. It's always an experience going on these tours, driving through fields to see newly grafted rows of dogwoods and redbuds then slowing down to pass by enclosures with Bactrian camels or various forms of Asian deer, and then going off-road to visit a gold-foliaged Acer buergerianum that Don's been watching patiently for 15 years. After several hours and with a few plants in the trunk (my wife will not be happy about finishing our vacation with half the trunk full of plants) and a list of plants to send to Don, he sped off saying he had to load a camel on a trailer to take to the vet.

I finally got my hands on Pinus bungeana 'Great Wall' from Don, a plant I have been lusting after for 6 years.Harald Neubauer doesn't have time to slow down even though he is "retired" and just piddles around the nursery as he puts it.

Hidden Hollow Nursery presents quite a different scene with a much smaller, contained footprint and no "alternative livestock" as Don likes to call his animals. The high quality grafted material in the field is mostly confined to plants that are a bit more difficult to propagate and are some of the finest field grown liners available on the market. Alex Neubauer was away on vacation when I stopped by (the economy must be improving if nurserymen are on vacation) but his father Harald, who started the nursery, was able to show me around. The nursery had grown since my last visit but still looked great. I was especially interested in checking out the new redbuds the Neubauers were growing. Just wait, there are some fantastic selections coming out of NCSU and the nurseries in TN. Alex and Harald have a great eye for good plants and are looking at some possible introductions including a seedless American persimmon (I got one to trial at the JCRA) and some variegated Halesia. I also picked up their new upright, deep green-leafed blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica 'Green Gable') that should make a great street tree to go with the small-leafed tulip poplar, 'Little Volunteer', that we've been growing for years.

Follow me at @jcramark because life is too short for boring plants.

One of 3 variegated Halesia seedlings at Hidden Hollow Nursery but probably the only one with a chance of being stable.One of the Neubauer's discoveries, 'Little Volunteer' tulip poplar with small leaves and a compact habit.