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Man on a Mission

Don Shadow is a fourth-generation nurseryman who grows unique plants and animals on his farm.

Don Shadow, with some of his animals

In the wide, fertile valley that lies northwest of the ridge along the Tennessee-Alabama line, Don Shadow is preserving the past as well as conserving and propagating for the future. A fourth-generation nurseryman who cultivates the same land as his forebears, Don is growing wonderful new, useful plants and improved varieties for American gardeners.

In addition to the plants he grows at his Tennessee farm, Don is working to preserve several endangered animals. Every day, rare antelopes and almost-extinct donkeys, as well as bearded hogs, tapirs, camels and zebras, graze in his open fields. His long-range goal is to open up his farm to the public so people can enjoy these unique animals and plants.

There is no garden per se here, but there are areas devoted to a variety of interesting plants that Don ships to arboreta, botanical gardens, nurseries and specialty landscapers. His bustling operation brims with energy and excitement. Trucks are constantly being loaded with trees and shrubs that will end up in gardens all over America. He ships all over the U.S. as well as Japan and Europe.

Don has traveled often to trade plants with nurserymen in Japan and Europe. He has also taken many of his father's selections and distributed them around the world.

"I don't believe in hoarding a plant," says Don. One of his interests over the years has been the propagation of dogwoods. He has also been responsible for seeing that an extremely rare form of sweet gum tree survives; the only one in the wild has been cut down.

Some plants from Don Shadow's farm:

Dove tree

Dove tree, handkerchief tree (Davidia involucrata)

The plant: In spring, this deciduous understory tree produces pendulous white bracts that resemble handkerchiefs hanging from its branches. Named for Father Armand David (1826-1900), a French Franciscan missionary and naturalist who lived in China, the tree was introduced to Europe and North America in 1904. Dove tree takes 10 years to bloom from a seedling. Ultimate height is 20 to 25 feet. This is the only member of the genus Davidia.
How to use it: Plant this tree where you can have a good view of the large white bracts. However, be aware that the bracts emit an odor reminiscent of cat urine. It makes an excellent specimen tree.
Cultivation: Plant in semi-woodland conditions with good light for more blooms. Hardy in USDA Zones 6 to 8.
Source: Digging Dog Nursery

Raulston allspice

Raulston allspice (x Sinocalycanthus raulstonii 'Hartlage Wine')

The plant: This fast-growing, deciduous shrub was developed by Richard Hartlage in the early 1990s, when he was a student at North Carolina State University. In spring, this cross between the U.S. native Calycanthus floridus and the Chinese allspice (Sinocalycanthus chinensis) produces showy, claret-red, magnolia-like flowers with creamy white tipped stamens. The flowers measure three inches across. It grows into a six-by-six foot shrub in 10 years.
How to use it: This is an excellent choice for the edge of the woodland garden or for a shrub collection.
Cultivation: Plant in moist, well-drained soil in filtered sun. Blooms tend to fade faster in bright sun.
Source: Rare Find Nursery

Fern-leaf copper beech

Fern-leaf copper beech (Fagus x 'Rohanii')

The plant: A cross between the European beech (Fagus sylvatica) and Fagus sylvatica 'Quercifolia', this 35- to 50-foot tree with a 20-foot spread originated in Bohemia in 1894. The dark red leaves are deeply incised around the margins. The foliage of this deciduous tree turns coppery in autumn. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 7.
How to use it: A beautiful specimen tree for the lawn.
Cultivation: Plant in an acidic soil with humus and keep evenly moist.
Source: Forestfarm

Fastigiate sweet gum

Fastigiate sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua 'Slender Silhouette')

The plant: This rare and beautiful selection of the native American tree has a narrow, upright form that will grow to 60 feet high and only six feet wide from top to bottom. With light green foliage in summer, this fast-growing tree turns brilliant red, purple and orange before the leaves drop in winter. Fast growing and very heat- and humidity-tolerant. To his dismay, Don Shadow found that the original plant that grew along a lake in Tennessee had been cut down.
How to use it: Use it to flank the entrance of a tall building or as a specimen tree.
Cultivation: Grow in sun or part shade.
Source: Not available via mail order.

Red buckeye

Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

The plant: This native understory tree has palmate, compound leaves that have an almost tropical appearance. In spring the flowers are red and showy and attractive to hummingbirds. The shiny, dark brown fruit appears in early fall in tan capsules. Native to the rich, moist soils of U.S. southern forests, this deciduous small tree/large shrub grows from 10 to 20 feet tall with a similar spread. Blooms when only three feet tall.
How to use it: This is a wonderful native plant to grow at the edge of a forest or in a shrub border beneath tall trees.
Cultivation: Plant in full sun to shade in moist, well-drained rich soil.
Source: Nature Hills Nursery

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