New and useful plants from unique nurseryman, Don Shadow

There are some plants that just demand the description "unique." They are remarkable, unlike anything you've seen before; as fascinating as they are unusual.
As rare as that description is for plants, it is even more uncommon to find a truly unique person. Fourth-generation nurseryman Don Shadow would strike most people as unique, but he doesn't feel that description fits him or the many plant varietals that he has developed over the years.
Don describes these varietals not as unique but as "new and useful." Several of Don's plants are featured in the March 2006 edition of "Garden Design" magazine.
He has operated his own nursery in Winchester, Tennessee, since 1973, and it is there that many of these "new and useful" plants have first seen the light of day. In a moment I'll describe a couple of my personal favorites from the Don Shadow repertoire that were spotlighted in "Garden Design," but first more about this fascinating man...
Don's interest and expertise extends beyond plants to the animal kingdom. There are more than 600 animals in 60 different species living and breeding under Don's watchful eye.
He has 14 different species of deer and 46 camels, as well as antelope, zebras, tapirs, lemurs and many more.
Currently, Don is raising Chinese Red Panda babies, the first ever to be successfully bred by a private individual in the United States. Don works closely with zoos that regularly send him animals for breeding, based on his remarkable success record.
But whether it's growing tender bamboo for his pandas or developing new varietals of fruit trees, Don's first love remains in the realm of plants.
He dislikes calling his plants "unique" or "rare" as he believes words like that can be misleading and even create anxiety among amateur gardeners who might think that they wouldn't have the necessary skill to grow such plants successfully.
"I focus on varietals that I describe as new and useful," Don told me recently. "These could be plants that are ideally suited to a particular location due to their color, form or habit."
Don travels extensively and has noticed that Americans are beginning to move towards planting styles already popular in countries such as Japan and England. "Smaller spaces need trees and shrubs that match the scale of those spaces," he points out. "Large, majestic trees just don't work in the smaller landscapes we're seeing now around newly-constructed homes."
Here are two of Don Shadow's plants that were featured in "Garden Design" magazine:
Red Bud "Little Woody" The Little Woody is a very compact small grower with remarkably dark, gnarled and almost rubbery rugose green leaves. It can grow in full sun, partial sun or shade and will top out between 6 and 10 feet at maturity.
Red Bud "Ace of Hearts" Both the Ace of Hearts and the Little Woody bear the Latin name Cercis canadensis, and the Ace is reputed to be the first ever compact canadensis varietal. The name comes from the plant's delightful heart-shaped leaves that are only half the size of "regular" Red Bud leaves, giving it a delightfully delicate appearance.
If you're looking for something with spectacular color, try another Don Shadow Signature plant, the Red Bud Tennessee Pink. The name aptly describes the hot pink blooms that make a dramatic show in early spring. The pink looks particularly brilliant alongside another Shadow Red Bud, the Chinensis Alba. I would recommend all of these to gardeners who are "acreage-challenged" but still want unusual and delightful plants.
Be warned, they're hard to find but well worth it and will have your neighbors asking, "Where did you find THAT?" Best bet: Go to and type in Don Shadow Red Bud, or simply drop me an e-mail at
I call them unique, even if Don insists they're "new and useful."
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