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Philip Dark’s Passion for Gardenias

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Philip Dark of Oakmont Nursery, Siler City, sold his business in March in order to enjoy retirement with his wife, Jane, and focus on his passion: breeding gardenias. Established in 1987, the nursery provided trees and shrubs to retailers and wholesalers, as well as new cultivars to the national and global marketplace.

Dark will work with the new owners (who are under wraps for now) until they are acclimated, but he is eager to create bigger, better gardenias through projects with North Carolina State University and the JC Raulston Arboretum.

Dark’s passion for gardenias was sparked by JC Raulston, the arboretum’s namesake, shortly before his death in 1996.

“While at a field day at the arboretum, he talked about a climate-hardy gardenia that was going to change the gardenia trade in North Carolina,” said Dark.

“When he explained the potential for breeding gardenias, I became enamored with it.”

He later attended a propagation seminar held in Raulston’s memory, which inspired him to go home and cross two plants that eventually became the ‘Crown Jewel’ gardenia, the first plant he patented in 2009. The compact hybrid is cold hardy with a double bloom.

In 2018, Dark was granted a patent on the ‘Prince Charles’ gardenia, a heat-tolerant, cold-hardy plant with continuous blooming. Proven Winners will bring the plant to market next year under the name Steady as She Goes™.

Dark and his wife established an endowment with JC Raulston Arboretum that will sustain all areas of ornamental plant breeding, including supporting graduate students and research technicians, as well as helping to provide the equipment and supplies needed to keep the NC State horticulture department at the forefront of plant breeding.

Throughout this career, Dark served on local and statewide agriculture advisory boards, including those of the JC Raulston Arboretum and the North Carolina Agricultural Foundation. In 2017, he was named Grower of the Year by North Carolina Nursery & Landscape Association.

Appears in Spring 2021 issue of Nursery & Landscape Notes.