Thursday, May 29, 2008

New Powell Gardens Butterfly Garden Opens Saturday

The new Powell Gardens Butterfly Garden officially opens to the public on Saturday, May 31, 10a.m. - 3p.m. We will have some of the best butterfly gardeners and enthusiasts on hand to help interpret the garden, give you tips on what to plant to attract butterflies and have some interesting butterflies and moths to see up close.

Matt Bunch, Horticulturist-Heartland Harvest Garden, puts some finishing touches to the garden. Matt is in charge of the new garden as it is an "Insectaries Garden" that will not only attract butterflies, but other important pollinators and beneficial insects as well. We all should never take for granted those fruits and vegetables we eat and that some necessary little critter pollinated those flowers for us so that we could partake of the luscious fruit. Also most insects are beneficials: the good bugs eat the bad bugs and only a small percentage are pests! You will see the beginnings to the Heartland Harvest Garden (our premier edible landscape and newest garden scheduled to open next year) to the west of the arbor above the butterfly garden beds.

Here is an overview of the garden looking south across its tiered beds toward the Visitor Center. There are four beds on the north and four beds on the south side of the Fountain Garden. The stonework ties it in beautifully with the Visitor Center -- come see, no photo can do the beautiful landscape justice.

A rainbow of flowers are in bloom in the new garden starting with red 'Tex Tuff Red' Verbena which is a tender perennial that will bloom all summer.

The garden has a strong theme of native plants including pink Pale Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea pallida).
Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia) are an awesome annual to attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
The Ozark native Yellow Wild Indigo (Baptisia sphaerocarpa) becomes a premier garden perennial but is a good host (a plant which the caterpillars can eat) for the little Wild Indigo Duskywing butterfly.
Former Perennial Plant of the Year 'Walker's Low' Catmint is a stunning perennial in blue with nectar rich flowers produced nearly all season if it is sheared back in midsummer.
Pansies (Viola x witrockiana) are used in the garden as early season nectar plants but they are also good host plants for the Variegated Fritillary butterfly.
Single flowering zinnias like these 'Starbrite' Zinnias (Zinnia angustifolia) make great nectar plants. Remember many double flowers have no nectar in them.
So for all colors of the rainbow, there is a great butterfly and insect plant for your garden. Come see the new garden and get some ideas how to make your garden more GREEN by attracting forgotten pollinators and creating a balance of nature that will keep your use of pesticides to a minimum.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mockoranges, Out of Fashion but not out of Style.

The pristine white flowers with a special, orange-blossom-like scent make the mockorange a staple of late spring flowers and fragrance in a garden. Mockoranges are currently out of fashion and much maligned by garden gurus but a season without them would be a miss!
Depicted are the flowers of the magnificent 'Snow Velvet' cultivar of the Western U.S. native mockorange (Philadelphus lewisii) "discovered" by Lewis & Clark.

Powell Gardens' Snow Velvet Mockorange can be seen below the wall south of the Cafe. It has the most showy blossoms of any of our mockoranges with a good scent too. It often has some repeat bloom through the summer.

We are lucky to display an heirloom Sweet Mockorange (Philadelphus coronarius) I obtained as a division from a shrub that is well more than 100 years old from a friend's farm near Decorah, Iowa. Sweet Mockorange was grown on many family farms across the Midwest and often persist near abandoned buildings to this day. They have the sweetest scent and bring back many fond memories. They also are a good nectar source for butterflies and insects.

The heirloom sweet mockorange is often blasted as a poor plant but this heirloom has full flowers of freshest fragrance. It makes a huge vase or fountain shaped shrub. Look for this plant south of the Visitor Center, another one is on the Island Garden.

We have other mockoranges on the grounds but none are as magnificent as these two. The cultivar 'Innocence' in the Perennial Garden's "white garden" may have the sweetest scent but is a weaker grower with marbled variegation to the leaves. The cultivar 'Belle Etoile' (on the upper edge of the Perennial Garden) is currently just budded and has purplish centers to richly fragrant blooms. There is one Missouri native species; just entering the state in its southwesternmost corner: the Downy Mockorange (Philadelphus pubescens). The Mockoranges are a taxonomist's nightmare and often defy identification to species with lots of regional variability. Who cares what they are called, enjoy their special fragrance and exquisite white flowers.

Roses, Our National Flower, Shine at Powell Gardens in 2008

The wonderfully moist and cooler-than-normal spring have allowed our roses to be more floriferous than ever! Powell Gardens may not have a rose garden but roses are used in the landscape throughout the grounds. We grow only disease-resistant, low maintenance varieties appropriate for each landscape setting. Enjoy the following sampling of Powell Gardens' roses:

The rugosa rose 'Frau Dagmar Hartopp' is a compact shrub rose with masses of single pink flowers. It is very disease resistant. Look for these masses on the meadow side of the east bridge of the Island Garden.

A closeup of 'Frau Dagmar Hartopp' rose reveals flowers reminiscent of pink dogwoods. They have a delightful rugosa rose scent and will continue to bloom (though more sparingly) until fall. The later season flowers produce fine red hips that are winter ornament or can be used for jelly and teas rich in vitamin C.

Our favorite red landscape rose is 'Champlain' a hybrid rose from the Morden Experiment Station in Manitoba. It is very disease resistant, a great red, and both heat and cold tolerant. This shot was taken in the courtyard on the north side of the Visitor Center. We also have Champlain rose near the Visitor Center trolley stop and on the Island Garden.

Another wonderful Morden rose is 'Morden Centennial' with excellent double pink blooms. Others in the series include 'Morden Blush' (blush pink), 'Morden Fireglow' (orange-red) and 'Winnipeg Parks' (bright pink) all of which are excellent in the Kansas City climate.

The late Dr. Buck from Iowa State University also has a series of hybrid roses that do wonderfully here. Our favorite is 'Distant Drums' with the unique lavender-mauve-honey blend of colors. We have used this rose extensively in the Fountain Garden where it currently is in full bloom (depicted).

A closeup of 'Distant Drums' roses.

The rose 'Carefree Sunshine' is a wonderful yellow and is really quite sincerely carefree! We used it near the Fountain Garden's centerpiece where we knew spray and mist would not mire its completely disease resistant foliage. It is a tall growing rose however and can be used as a climber.

The old fashioned climbing rose 'Zephirine Drouhin' is also in bloom and has thornless canes! Look for a pair of these climbers on the walls on either side of the entrance to the courtyard at the north end of the Visitor Center.

Powell Gardens has many landscape roses currently in bud and bloom and they all enrich the visitor experience. Thirty-five varieties will be planted in the Heartland Harvest Garden because roses are edible flowers and provide vitamin C rich fruit. They are good companions to grapes and always used in vineyards as the "canaries in the mineshaft" to make sure conditions are good for the grapes.
New hybrid roses continue to arrive on the market and many of the newbies are shockingly beautiful and amazingly disease resistant. The hybridizers are finally breeding some fragrance back into the flowers too!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Flowering Trees of Late Spring

Some of our most stunning small flowering trees bloom in late spring and are currently in bloom at Powell Gardens.

Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia) is always a stunner in bloom! Its red flowers attract hummingbirds to pollinate it. This group is in the parking lot's arboretum of all the woody plants native to Kansas and Missouri. Red Buckeye is native to southeastern Missouri and part of Missouri's "Grow Native!" program.

Red Buckeye grows slow and steady from a large shrub into a small tree. It matures at about 15 to 18 feet in our area with a wider spread. It leafs out early but also loses its leaves early in late summer. It produces the familiar "good luck" buckeyes in the fall. It grows in full sun or light shade and is native in the understory of woodlands, including the Mingo National Wildlife Refuge where there are stunning stands of this beautiful little tree. It flowers for several weeks with the first bloom opening for the return of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) is another neat native tree that can be seen in Powell Gardens' parking lot, though Powell Gardens' biggest trees are in the Rock & Waterfall Garden. This relative of the lilac and ash tree also grows slow and steady from a large shrub into a squat, wide-spreading little tree. The shaggy clusters of fragrant lime, then white flowers are absolutely breathtaking. They are often called "Grancy Gray Beard" in the South. This little tree is also native to the understory of woodlands in Southern and Southeastern Missouri. It is also part of Missouri's Grow Native! program.

Fringetree is dioecious: meaning trees usually are either male or female. This is a female bloom and if pollinated will produce olive-like, dark blue fruit by fall that will be relished by birds.

The male tree's flowers are quite similar and are needed to pollinate the female trees. Sometimes a tree will have perfect (male and female parts on the same flower) flowers.

The huge 8-inch blooms of Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala), another Missouri native tree, can also be seen now at Powell Gardens. Our best tree grows just at the base of the ramp from the Visitor Center to the Dogwood Walk. This tree's flowers are unusually scented: foul to some but like "dark chicken in lemon sauce" to others! The huge leaves form whorls like an umbrella. This woodland understory tree graces woodlands in sheltered ravines near the Arkansas border and south and eastward to Ohio and Pennsylvania. It is the hardiest of the American magnolias and will do well in Minneapolis.

Here's a view of our Umbrella Magnolia below the Visitor Center in bloom.

The luscious scented Sweetbay Magnolias (Magnolia virginiana) are also in bloom at Powell Gardens. This tree is native from coastal Massachusetts along the coast to Florida and west to East Texas. It ranges inland to Tennessee and Arkansas so is not native to Missouri or Kansas. It is one of our best magnolias for landscaping in this region and always a pleasure as its 2-inch blooms may perfume a large area. Consider planting it near an outdoor seating area. Sweetbay Magnolia is also a small tree, usually 15- to 20-feet tall but must be planted in rich soil that never completely dries out. This would be a great small tree for a wet area or rain garden. You can see many of these trees in front of and around the Visitor Center, on the Island Garden, Rock & Waterfall Garden and in the Perennial Garden.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Doc Henderson and his Iris In Full Bloom

Doctor Norlan Henderson stands near a clump of Queen's Circle tall bearded iris. You will find Doc on Iris Hill now through their last bloom at Powell Gardens. Doc has donated all the American Iris Society's (AIS) Merit Award Iris to Powell Gardens as well as many of the historical and species iris. He has been a hybridizer of iris for more than 50 years and wrote the iris chapter in the Flora of North America.

A closeup of Queen's Circle tall bearded iris! Doc is particularly fond of this iris, not only because it's the 2007 Dykes Medal winner (the top award given to an iris by the American Iris Society), but also because it is a hybridization improvement of an iris first bred by an old dear friend of his back in northern Indiana.

Doc knows more about the colors and patterns of iris than anyone in this region. This is tall bearded iris 'Frank Adams' and is one in our collection because it has malvidin (the red pigment) in it. There is still no red, red iris. Powell Gardens' iris collection contains many of the breakthrough old hybrids that demonstrate the colors and patterns possible in iris.

The core of the iris display are the AIS Award of Merit iris from 1988-2007. This Merit winner is 'Let's Boogie' iris with a glowing halo of yellow surrounding peach standards. Half the fun is the names!
Doc and I agree this one is ugly but shows incredible patterns and "horned" beards that protrude: it's the "Space Age" Merit iris 'Thornbird.'
Patterns are important in iris and this Merit winner has stunning patterns: 'Circus Circus.'
Merit winner 'Momentum' has beautiful standards etched in light blue (delphinidin) and falls etched in dark violet (violanin) in a pattern known as a plicata. Doc will tell you to hold any of the "blue" iris up to the sky and demonstrate none are actually true blue.
Merit winner 'Secret Service' does have a secret inside:
From the top you can see violet styles to the flowers. What a remarkable contrast of nearly beige standards, nearly black falls and orange beards!
Merit winner 'Fiery Temper' refers to the shocking orange beards over very dark falls and violet standards.
Iris come in orange too! Here is Merit winner 'Celtic Glory.' I took a photo of the best yellow but it didn't turn out in today's bright light.
Orange takes the next step in Merit winner 'Tanzanian Tangerine' -- a series with some of the most fun names and patterns. Look for Gnus Flash in the garden!
Gorgeous white iris have come a long way too with Merit winner 'Nordica' with orange beards against white petals and falls of heavy substance and crinkled edges.
It's hard to describe Merit winner 'Afternoon Delight' other than to tell you to come see the collection of Iris at Powell Gardens. An afternoon delight indeed.
Doc will be present most mornings during the week and all day next weekend. Your visit to iris hill is greatly improved with his interpretation of the remarkable colors and patterns found in today's hybrid iris (and yesterdays too!).

Iris, Kansas City's official flower, in colors of the rainbow

Iris is the official flower of Kansas City and the premier planting of iris at Powell Gardens is currently in bloom with peak bloom expected this week. Powell Gardens' iris collection represents one of the finest public displays of iris on the continent. All Award of Merit iris (by the American Iris Society) from 1988-2007 are in view. We can thank the generosity of Dr. Norlan Henderson for this special planting. He contributes not only the Merit-winning cultivars for display each season but also time and energy to see to their care each season. Please note all photographs were taken at mid-day on Sunday (bright light!)

This IS the official iris that appeared on the city sticker: 'Kansas City' tall bearded iris. It was one of the first dark iris hybrids and was bred by our local iris expert and donor Dr. Norlan Henderson.

One of the best "blues" currently in bloom is the Merit winner 'Pacific Destiny.'

Colors and patterns in iris flowers have come a long way in the past several years. Doc doesn't think there is any limit to the combinations of patterns and colors. This is the tall bearded iris 'Naples.'

The olive yellow standard (top petals) with indigo falls create quite a sensation in tall bearded iris 'Jurassic Park'

'Change of Pace' tall bearded iris has yellow style arms which cause the flower to have an inner glow of yellow. The falls have a classic plicata pattern edged in purple.

In 2009 the Iris Society of Greater Kansas City will host the National Convention of the American Iris Society. Many of the flowers on display are "guest iris" for show at the convention next spring. This is the guest iris 'Dragonmaster' which is devilishly dark with striking orange beards.

This Aril Bred Iris is one you normally won't see in this region and is also a guest iris: 'Sea of Babylon.' It is a hybrid between a regular tall bearded iris and the Biblical "lilies of the fields," an iris from Israel and the Middle East that normally won't tolerate our "wet" climate.

There will be more to share shortly as more and more iris open each day! Please come out and see the iris, visit with Doc (age ninety-something) and his extraordinary knowledge and give him a special thanks for our fine display.