August 23, 2012
Author: Dottie Miles
Photographer: Quill Teal-Sullivan
Hidden within a hedge of ‘Nellie Stevens’ holly and other “spiny” plant material, Plant Delights Nursery at Juniper Level Botanic Gardens is an eclectic collection of diverse plants gathered from near and far. Passionate founder, Tony Avent, describes it as a research and botanical garden funded by a plant nursery operation with a mission, “to discover, study, select, preserve, and make available new hardy perennial plants for both shade gardens and sun gardens around the world.”
Looking for non-invasive plants that can be hardy in the North Carolina climate, Avent is the mythbuster of horticulture, noting, “where you find it in the wild is not necessarily where it grows best.” The garden is a testament to his pursuit to learn more about his collection, as he designs planting beds for both pleasure and research.
Within his garden, Avent has built an organic series of trails inviting one to wander, immerse and delight in the unique collection. Containing whimsical garden elements and a smart irrigation and filtration system, the collection and juxtaposition ofplantings is astounding. Avent explains, “you don’t learn something new by duplicating what you already know,” and then goes on to highlight an experience of plant discovery that challenges known research and historical data.
To date, his collection has massed to 19,836 accessions that have been assembled through plant exploration in the U.S. and abroad. Avent and his associates have been on more than 70 collection trips during which they gathered over 1000 different ferns, the largest Aspidistra collection worldwide, an Amorphophallus collection that is the third largest in the country, rain lilies, agave, trillium, and the list goes on.
To further plant propagation and research efforts, Avent has recently acquired neighboring land to expand operations; he anticipates opening to the public 7 days a week in the next few years. Until then, Juniper Level Botanic Gardens is open eight weekends a year.
All in all, Avent may just be the most unique part of his eclectic garden. To those who know him and his passion for plants, it should come to no surprise that he seems to find extreme enjoyment in sharing his garden with others. The knowledge and insight he shared about his collection was a special treat and we all walked away wanting more than one of his plants.