Thursday, December 27, 2007

More "Evergreens" to see at Powell Gardens

Lacebark Pine (Pinus bungeana)
Lacebark Pine is a very hardy pine from Northern China. It is a "bushier" pine with healthy green needles at all seasons but develops some of the most beautiful bark of any plant with age. Our plants are 10 years old and over 15 feet tall. They are just starting to get exfoliating bark if your peer in between their lower branches. This is definately a pine you want to have as many branches low to the ground as possible because one day those will form the multi-branched show of beautiful bark. (Note we have NOT pruned ours up) Someday these plants will be spectacular trees at the northeast corner of the Visitor Center. I cannot say it enough how important it is to plant trees that future generations will enjoy!

'Santa Rosa' Sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana var. australis)
Powell Gardens has one of the finest collections of magnolias outside the coasts! We have most of the cultivars of sweetbay and this one ('Santa Rosa') is our most evergreen. Santa Rosa is listed as hardy in zone 7 or zone 5 depending on your resource. The cultivar was selected from northern Florida but many plants from there have proven hardy while others not so. So far our plant has weathered -9F so is at least zone 6 hardy. Sweetbays are vulnerable to cold if they are dry and are much hardier if grown where they have wet feet. They make a great rain garden plant. Walk around the Visitor Center and you will see other cultivars -- our Santa Rosa sweetbay can be seen on the north side of the Visitor Center. Come back in late spring (usually late May) to smell its namesake flowers!

'Vintage Gold' Chamaecyparis or Sawara False Cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera)
Vintage Gold Chamaecyparis has some of the most beautiful golden sprays of foliage you can grow here. It is a difficult to find conifer but we will sell small starts of it at our annual spring plant sale the first weekend in May. This Chamaecyparis is reliably hardy into zone 4 (Minnesota) and is heat tolerant too. Look for our plants on the east, overlook side of the Fountain Garden where they are used in a tapestry planting with other shrubs and perennials. They would become a small tree if unpruned but we will shear ours so that they remain shrubs. Deer love this plant and they end up shearing it for us in winter.

'Hazel Smith' Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum)
Marvin Snyder, past president of the American Conifer Society, gave us a small start of this -- the supposed hardiest cultivar of the giant sequoia. I didn't think it would survive but planted it in the sheltered space east of the Visitor Center. It has thrived and grown 2-3 feet per year! It has beautiful blue-green needles and a strongly pyramidal form. The base of the trunk is already gaining considerable caliper. Come back in 3,000 years and see if it rivals its brethren in the California Sierras. It is considered the largest species of tree on earth.

'Cannaertii' Juniper or Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana)
The Cannaertii Juniper is a selection of our native Eastern Redcedar from Kansas. It is grown for its striking form and the fact that its needles remain dark green in winter instead of turning reddish like most of its wild siblings. It is a female cultivar and is heavily studded with blue, berry-like cones in fall and winter. It is a premier bird attracting tree as its "berries" are eaten by many species of birds including: Cedar Waxwing (see Linda Williams' photo from these very trees in this blog), Northern Mockingbird, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. Our trees are located between the parking lot and the Visitor Center.

'Foxtail' Blue Spruce (Picea pungens)
Foxtail Blue Spruce is one of the bluest of blue spruces and has begun to grow very fast for us. This tree is south of the Rock & Waterfall trolley stop. Blue Spruce does very well for us and is the state tree of Utah and Colorado. In our humid climate it likes to grow in the open where there is good air circulation: it doesn't like other plants or trees touching it! It can succumb to needle blights and cankers under such situations. We have provided plenty of space for ours to become a large evergreen tree.

'Golden Ghost' Japanese Red Pine (Pinus densiflora)
Golden Ghost has proven itself as the best variegated pine! Others we have tried look fine in the summer but sickly in the winter while 'Golden Ghost' retrains its crisp yellow striped needles through winter. Our small tree was donated to us by Marvin Snyder and can be found north of the Visitor Center in the new and expanding dwarf conifer garden.

'Compacta' Bosnian Pine (Pinus heldreichii)
Bosnian Pine is a rather rare pine that is becoming more available in nurseries because it has proven itself very hardy and disease resistant. While Austrian and Scotch Pines die in droves from disease this pine thrives. We planted our trees between Scotch Pines we knew would succomb to disease (almost all our Scotch pines have died and been removed). Our Bosnian Pines have thrived despite severe droughts and no care in a meadowy area at the end of the Nature Trail (opposite the Rock & Waterfall trolley stop). Our trees are the slower growing, more compact cultivar aptly named 'Compacta.'

'Greenleaf' Holly (Ilex x attenuata)
Greenleaf Holly is commonly sold in local nurseries as Greenleaf American Holly. It is actually a hybrid and not nearly as hardy as a true American Holly (Ilex opaca). (It is a hybrid between American Holly and the Gulf Coastal Dahoon Holly (Ilex cassine). I depicted it to show that it often suffers winter burn and discoloration out here at Powell and has suffured severe dieback in past severe cold while nearby Southern Magnolias and American Hollies are unscathed. It has hybrid vigor and grows very fast, so unlike American holly which takes years to become a nice specimen, this tree can be quickly produced for our instant gratification. It is fully hardy in sheltered, more urban parts of our region and a fine ornamental under such circumstances. It is a female holly and is covered by red berries wherever a male pollinator is growing nearby. Look for our plant on the south side of the Visitor Center.

Cholla (Opuntia imbricata) and Arkansas Yucca (Yucca arkansana - formerly Yucca glauca var. mollis)
Here are some evergreen for hot, dry spots! The cholla is native from Southwestern Kansas to throughout the American Southwest and is very hardy. It provides striking winter interest but is at its best with its magenta flowers in early summer. The Arkansas Yucca is a unique, fine textured yucca from the Ozarks and Ouchita Mountains and is also very hardy. It has tall spires of beautiful greenish-white flowers in early summer. Look for these plants in the Powell Gardens parking lot where our arboretum of all the native woody plants of Kansas and Missouri are planted.

All photos taken by Alan Branhagen at Powell Gardens on December 20, 2007.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"Evergreens" of Powell Gardens

Powell Gardens is a great place to get ideas for your home landscaping! Evergreen plants offer exceptional winter interest and we have many, many planted throughout the grounds. The above image depicts two of our fine collection of the hardiest cultivars of Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora). The tree on the left is the cultivar 'Edith Bogue', considered the hardiest and the tree on the right is a selection we made from a tree in Independence we have named 'Margarite' after its owner who was so gracious to let us have cuttings. It has a strong pyramidal form and is an abundant bloomer! Southern Magnolias make a fine broadleaf evergreen tree but we are at their northern limit of hardiness so always plant them in a sheltered location and select a proven hardy cultivar. You can see our entire collection of Southern Magnolias by taking a short winter walk around the Visitor Center.

The image above is from our Fountain Garden and depicts the 'Wintergreen' cultivar of Chinese Juniper (Juniperus chinensis). This spire-like evergreen has a nice sea green color and is extremely heat and drought tolerant. Our plants have only been in the garden for two seasons but their performance has been stellar. They are growing with Limelight hydrangeas for an exquisite companion at all seasons.

The bluest of evergreens is depicted here! It is the 'Blue Ice' cultivar of the Smooth Cypress (Cupressus glabra). This evergreen is listed as hardy in zone 7 by some sources, zone 5 by others -- we decided to try it when this plant was offered us by Lanny Rawdon. Our tree has grown fast and has weathered -9F without a scratch. Look for it on the way to the chapel, just past the turnoff to the Rock & Waterfall trolley stop. This tree is native to cold, dry mountaintops in the American Southwest.

No, there is nothing wrong with this "evergreen." If you want a most unusual conifer try this: 'Chief Joseph' Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta). This very rare selection was donated to us by Marvin Snyder, past president of the American Conifer Society. Its needles turn yellow in the winter! When mild spring weather returns, it turns green just like a normal pine. It is a glowing beacon at the north exit of the Visitor Center in the new dwarf conifer garden. A must see for your winter visit to Powel Gardens.

Photos by Alan Branhagen/Thursday, December 20, 2008.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Winter Birds

Powell Gardens is a fine place to watch winter birds. Feeders have been placed outside the cafe for your entertainment and enjoyment to watch while you have lunch. The feeders have been a flurry of activity during the recent snow and ice as birds have had a tough time finding food with everything encased in ice.

At the cafe feeders watch for many Northern Cardinals (the official name of our cardinal or red bird), Blue Jays, American Goldfinches (in their drab winter garb), Purple Finches (males in raspberry stained attire -- females streaked brown with a white eye-brow), Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and a plethora of unique winter sparrows including: the Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco (often called "snowbirds"), American Tree Sparrow (with a rusty cap and black spot on their tummy), Song Sparrow (streaked with a tummy spot), White-crowned Sparrow (adult birds have a white racing stripe on their head) and the local endemic and largest of all American sparrows: the Harris's Sparrow (with a black bib) which is almost as big as a cardinal. Harris's Sparrows nest near Hudson Bay and winter in the lower Great Plains and are much sought after birds by East and West Coast birders.

Virtually every species of wintering sparrow has shown up feeding on cracked corn sprinkled on the walls outside the cafe (Harris's, White-crowned, White-throated, American Tree, junco, Song, and Swamp Sparrow are regular; while Lincoln's, Vesper, Savannah, and Field Sparrows are rare here in winter). The Missouri Department of Conservation puts out a nice pamphlet on the identification of winter sparrows in Missouri -- they are not all just "little brown birds!" Come out and take a look at their subtle and beautiful plumages.

We have aerators in the lake which keep it unfrozen so Powell Gardens is also a good place to see waterfowl. Take a moment to look at the ubiqutous geese! This time of year our local big races of Canada Geese are joined by northern (truly Canadian) "Lesser" Canada Geese which are much smaller. There are always a few of the smallest geese, now officially considered a separate species named Cackling Goose -- these birds have a squeaky voice and are the same size as a Mallard duck. They simply look like miniature, short-necked, little billed Canada Geese. Occasionally our flock of mixed geese contains a Greater White-fronted Goose, white Snow Goose and its dark form "Blue Goose" and the small Ross's Goose here on occasion (it looks like a miniature Snow Goose).

There are some local free-flying (feral) Greylag Geese (the European goose that is at the opening of the movie "Winged Migration") around too and they have hybridized with the local Canada Geese so you may see some weird unidentifyable hybrid geese here too. I put them on our bird checklist because so many visitors ask what they are: "What's the loud goose with the orange bill and the big white butt?" All our geese are a lot to learn if you are a beginner but join us on February 17 and we will take the time to show you all these nuances (regardless of your level of skill) during our bird hikes for the Great Backyard Bird Count sponsored by the Cornell Labratory of Ornithology.

Employees have reported many other birds on the immediate grounds so keep a keen eye and ear while visiting. A Great Blue Heron likes to hang out on the ice free shore below the west bridge to the island garden and was joined by a Wilson's Snipe last Friday. Mallards, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler and Common Goldeneye are species of ducks that can be seen with our geese lately. The large, crow-sized Pileated Woodpecker has been making appearances and a wintering flock of beautiful Red-headed Woodpeckers can be seen in the woods off the walk to the chapel. Cedar Waxwings continue to be seen along with a few Eastern Bluebirds feeding on what little fruit remains. I shall hike the long Byron Shutz Nature Trail for a future report! Birds add considerable life, sound and color to the winter garden so come out and take a look.
Good birding,
Alan Branhagen

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gardens by Candlelight, Take 2

After last weekend's iciness, we will try our Gardens by Candlelight: A Luminary Walk event again this weekend. Yes, there's a call for snow, but that will only make it prettier! Plans include lighting the pathway from the Visitor Education Center to the Marjorie Powell Allen Chapel with more than a thousand luminaria.

Inside the Grand Hall, the Dickens Carolers will entertain and you can warm up with free hot chocolate and homemade cookies. A soup and bread bar also is available for $5 per person.

We'd love to see you Saturday or Sunday! If you're coming out, please call us at 816-697-2600 x225 to help us plan. We will post updates at if the weather forces any change of plans.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Hungry birds

The wild food crop is the worst I have ever seen in 11 years! The Easter freeze killed the buds and flowers of so many plants that there is a substantial reduction in fruit for migrant and wintering birds. Linda Williams took these shots of Cedar Waxwings feeding in the Powell Gardens parking lot on Nov. 30. Our only locally native evergreen tree, the redcedar (and cedar waxwing namesake) was one plant that still produced “fruit.”
To be botanically correct, we are actually talking about cones that have fused together in berry-like form so birds and wildlife will eat them and pass the seeds along. (Only flowering plants have fruit, all conifers like the redcedar produce cones.) The redcedars will be especially important winter food this year. Linda also captured the waxwings feeding on native Smooth Sumac which we planted around the parking lot. Because sumac blooms in midsummer on new wood its flowering and fruiting was normal this year. Sumac fruit are almost always emergency food for wildlife and little used until late winter or early spring – a point well taken for this year.
--posted by Alan Branhagen, Director of Horticulture

Saturday, December 1, 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

We're celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas with this year's Conservatory exhibit. Enjoy!

Bird sightings

A rare young female Surf Scoter visited Powell Gardens yesterday! The Surf Scoter is a diving duck that nests in the boreal forest of the North America, Europe and Asia. It is a rare migrant in the Midwest (outside the Great Lakes) and to see a lone first year female like this one is an identification challenge as she is rarely depicted in field guides.

Linda Williams of Liberty, Mo., came out and took this good photograph of our bird. Surf Scoters are in severe decline, probably from acid rain and global warming as they nest under spruce trees near remote, far northern lakeshores. They can be regularly seen in rafts off the East or West Coast in winter where they dive for shellfish. They have been reported to eat good quantities of invasive, exotic zebra mussels in the Great Lakes. Powell Gardens’ bird went on long dives – we have lots of clams in the bottom of our lake. Unfortunately our bird stayed only from dawn to dusk on Friday, November 30, but she will be added to the Powell Gardens bird checklist as a rare migrant.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The importance of plants in our lives

I couldn’t be happier about the new mission recently adopted by the Powell Gardens board:

“Powell Gardens is an experience that embraces the Midwest’s spirit of place and inspires an appreciation for the importance of plants in our lives.”

The Heartland Harvest Garden, currently under construction, helped inspire the revision. We want it to be America’s premier edible landscape and know it must be beautiful but it also must be educational, fun and provide the 5th element of our senses (often lacking in public gardens): taste.

It will have an open, spacious skies design like the fruited plain that is the Midwest. But it goes well beyond that and I have an extraordinary, long-time Powell Gardens friend, supporter and volunteer to thank for that – it’s Dr. Norlan Henderson. Doc, age 90-something, still drops by nearly every day after driving out from Kansas City. He always stops in my office and asks: what is the most important chemical process on earth? If you answered photosynthesis you would be correct.

Doc, a long-time teacher and professor emeritus in botany at the University of Missouri Kansas City states that he has failed to teach people that we owe our utter existence to green plants. All the food we eat and the air we breathe would not be possible without them. He reminds me that photosynthesis cannot be done in a lab but requires the green plants living cell. He is so excited about our Heartland Harvest Garden because it will literally show the plants that sustain us and help us all maybe “to get” the big picture. (More on Doc and his Iris at another time.)

We know from many studies that plants do many other things beyond our physical sustenance. Hospitals with views of living landscapes have patients that recover more quickly. Schools and housing surrounded by grass and trees have residents less violent and with greater self esteem. Plant filled “greenspace” is cooler than the built “hardscape”. Trees and plants hold the soil, filter pollutants, and absorb water runoff. We know that a long time ago the southern side of the Mediterranean was once the world’s breadbasket but is now claimed by the Sahara and that replanting appropriate trees, shrubs and grasses there is slowing and reclaiming desertification! All big stuff to ponder but I know you all have a story about how plants are important in your lives. We would love to hear it.
Posted by Alan Branhagen, Director of Horticulture

Friday, November 16, 2007

Heirloom peaches

Last week we planted the very first peach trees in the Heartland Harvest Garden. Garden volunteer Wilbur Kephart helped plant an heirloom peach tree from his family farm in Holden, Mo. Another heirloom tree dubbed "Grandpa Gourley's Peach" came from the Gourley family. You can find both at the entrance of the Heartland Harvest Garden, now under construction on the north side of the Gardens.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Butterflies: A reason to enjoy each day

It has been a long, warm fall, but butterfly numbers were not as astounding as 2006. My favorite butterfly, the large yellow Cloudless Sulphur, was still flying in the gardens this week. This tropical butterfly (native from Argentina to the lower Midwest) emigrates here in summer. It breeds and finds a host on wild partridge peas and sennas. By late summer and fall we can have good numbers of them in the gardens.

They remind me of flying sunshine and it’s always hard to understand that they will completely die off with the hard freeze--their eggs, caterpillars and chrysalises are all freeze tender. Unlike familiar Monarchs that migrate or swallowtails that overwinter as chrysalises, Cloudless Sulphurs are one of our many colonist butterflies that are killed by our winters but return each year from populations that survive in mild climates to our south.

There is evidence that some Cloudless Sulphurs migrate back southward in fall but also some stray northward as far as Canada! Most of the garden butterflies stay put, you can find them hunkered down in sheltering vegetation on cold fall days or find their frozen remains in winter garden clean up. I have had them alive in my garage as late as December. I feel they are a good reason to enjoy every day you are given.

Posted by Alan Branhagen, Director of Horticulture

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fall color

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A beautiful start to November

The Woodsmen of Liggett Trail is one of 20 scarecrows we've been enjoying throughout October.

Getting started

Welcome to the Powell Gardens blog. Visit often to see and hear more about what's happening around the Gardens.