Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Late Summer Color in the Perennial Garden

The last of summer's flowers fill the spectrum of color from red to violet. The late summer flowers are often large and exuberant. A quick sampling of some of the best is as follows:
For red their are some great Hibiscus ('Fireball' & 'Lord Baltimore') but 'Dynamite' crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia hybrid) continues to shine with red flower power. We normally treat this crape myrtle as a perennial but it is becoming shrubby due to recent mild winters.

'Sahin's Early Flowerer' Sneezeweed (Helenium hybrid) may be the best of orange for flower power. This perennial has been blooming for more than 2 months! Again, it doesn't make you sneeze; unless you are planning to use it as a snuff to rid your body of evil spirits like the Native Americans used it. Helen's flower is another literal name for this hybrid selection of a native wildflower.

The crossing of the Yellow or Ozark Purple Coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa) with regular Purple Coneflower (E. purpurea) has lead to some really interesting new coneflower hybrids. The first time I saw this one, aptly named 'Tiki Torch', I was absolutely shocked. This is a tiny tissue culture plug donated to us for trial, now blooming. Next year it will be glowing orange flower atop sturdy 3 foot stems!

The cheery yellow flowers of the native Sweet Coneflower (Rudbeckia subtomentosa) are now dazzling in the Perennial Garden. This native is a real show stopper for late season color and is an easy plant to grow. It's companion in this shot is Joe Pye-weed.

If you have never seen this "Naked Lady" in person you are in for a bit of a shock from its electric blue petal "lips"! This "Hardy Amarylis" (Lycoris sprengeri) from China is quite the beauty and very different from the typical heirloom hardy amaryllis (Lycoris squamigera). It is difficult to find in nurseries but try Fairweather Gardens as a mailorder source. It will send up foliage after the flowers fade.

Another unique species "Hardy Amaryllis" is the exquisite white flowers of Lycoris longituba. Again, it is leafless now (why they are called naked ladies!) but will send up foliage in fall. In contrast, the heirloom species sends up its foliage in early spring but all our Lycoris have foliage that has disappeared by summer. Another name "Surprise Lily" is due to the fact that the flower spikes seem to emerge from the ground over night and are a delightful surprise of flowers for the late summer garden.

The big button flowers of the Missouri native Savanna Blazingstar (Liatris scariosa) are just starting to open (but the buds are so beautiful too!). Blazingstars are one of our few flowers who bloom from the top down. Savanna blazingstar is a favorite nectar plant for migrating Monarchs (butteflies). Over the next two weeks as these blazingstars come into full bloom, you will see clouds of migrating Monarchs stopping in to nectar. Powell Gardens is a registered Monarch Waystation to provide host and nectar plants for Monarchs. Go to http://www.monarchwatch.org/ to learn how you can be a part of this magnificent insect's conservation.

Don't forget to visit the garden in late summer for ideas how you can encourage your garden to have a sequence of blooms through the entire season. Late summer is often overlooked but there are a lot of great plants at peak bloom right now.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Flying Flowers grace the Conservatory

We have imported nearly 2,000 butterflies from Florida, Texas and Costa Rica for our annual Festival of Butterflies. The conservatory is filled with their favorite nectar plants and set with high humidity to mimic the climate of subtropical Florida & Texas as well as the tropical rain forest of Costa Rica. Five hundred butterflies are in flight at any given time from now through Sunday, August 17. A wonderful array of interpretive and fun activities greatly enhance the experience of a visit during the Festival of Butterflies this Friday (Aug. 15) - Sunday (Aug. 17). The butterflies will remain on public display in the conservatory after the Festival of Butterflies for limited hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) from Monday August 18, through Sunday, August 24.

The Erato Heliconian imported from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas is even a rare sight in the wild there. It is a perennial favorite butterfly in the conservatory and often nectars on the bright orange blooms of Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) depicted.

An Erato Heliconian with its wings closed, just finished sipping nectar from the Mexican Sunflower.

Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides) is the star attraction in the conservatory. This is a female sunning herself on the floor. Morphos usually land with their wings closed. Their bright iridescent blue wings, buoyant flight and friendly behavior (often landing on visitors' shirts or hats) make them the favorite butterfly in the conservatory.

The male Blue Morpho has more evenly blue wings. All our morphos were imported as chrysalises from Costa Rica, under permits obtained through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They are farm raised and purchased from two cooperatives that help locals earn income and thus protect their rain forest.
A Blue Morpho with its wings closed looks like an entirely different butterfly! We think the unique eye spotting and patterns are still beautiful. Morphos do not nectar on flowers so we provide them with a wonderful concoction "sugar bait." The recipe can be found in the Butterflies and Moths of Missouri book by J. Richard and Joan E. Heitzman and consists of dark brown sugar, molasses and over-ripe bananas.
Be sure and check out the brand new butterfly book (hot off the press): A Photographic Field Guide to the Butterflies of the Kansas City Region by Betsy Betros. The book is available in our Gift Shop and Betsy will be on hand Saturday and Sunday during the festival to sign the book!
There are about 25 species of butterflies on display in the conservatory so come out and see them for a guaranteed close encounter.