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.