Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Powell Gardens, melding native and exotic plants

Powell Gardens is a unique marriage of native and exotic plants. I took this picture yesterday because it is such an interesting composition. The drifts of planted, non-native daffodils (Narcissus spp.) are showy and beautiful but they are woven into the native grasses and other native plants. No native plant dares have such large flowers this early. The small tree center left is a native redbud (Cercis canadensis) and usually one of our first showy flowering native plants. It's not yet in flower though it was flowering by now for the prior 11 springs. The evergreen is a wild seedling of Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) and the tree overhead is a Post Oak (Quercus stellata) with a few marcesant leaves still clinging to its lower branches.
We weave in non-invasive exotic plants to enhance the aesthetic experience of Powell Gardens but keep the natives as the warp and weft to celebrate our spirit of place. Without the native plant "bones" to the garden, we would look like anywhere in the world. In late summer (with the daffodils dormant) this image will show no exotics with billowing native grasses, wild sunflowers, goldenrods and asters.

The cool spring of 2008 has made many of the bulbs look like the images in the catalogs for a change (Most bulbs are Dutch grown where the maritime springs are much cooler). Ice Follies Daffodil (shown) has a creamy to yellow center, but in our more typical warmer springs the flower are never as yellow and just look creamy white. Daffodils are a reliable, deer resistant showy flower for spring. Their clumps persist and can naturally multiply into extensive drifts. They do not self-sow or become invasive. They are true spring ephemerals and go completely dormant by midsummer.

Blues are one of my favorite flowers and the native blue-flowering plants are not yet in flower. Here deep blue 'Delft Blue' Hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) and Grape Hyacinths (Muscari armeniaca) put on a show in the west seating area of the Island Garden. The color theme for this space is quiet contrasts between blue and scarlet. If you visit you will see the scarlet Tulip praestans 'Fusilier' which provides the contrast. Shortly, native Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata) and Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) will be the natives providing the blue color to this planting.

Forsythias are as flamboyant as ever this spring. New hybrids of these often ubiquitous shrubs have really made them more interesting landscape plants. This is the newer cultivar 'Gold Tide' which is a low grower and Plant of Merit (green sign depicted). Look for our planting near the Visitor Center trolley stop. Forsythia's flower power in early spring make them dear to many with spring fever. They are mostly sterile hybrids and pose no threat of escaping to natural areas.

Our native Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica) is also in bloom now with yellow flowers but the flowers are tiny and not so showy. Fragrant sumac's flowers are nectar rich however and are important early nectar source for many insects. Fragrant sumac is a better plant than forsythia through the seasons with striking red, fuzzy berries against its lush green foliage in summer, and vibrant orange to scarlet fall color. Fragrant sumac will never outsell Forsythia because gardeners are apt to buy their plants in spring, not thinking through the whole seasons and what a plant has to offer the landscape. Fragrant Sumac can be seen in the parking lot (where we only display plants native to Kansas and Missouri), Island Garden and Perennial Garden. Drifts of wild fragrant sumac can be seen on the Nature Trail.

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