Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Powell Gardens' Skyline?

Volunteer Mary Biber waters plantings in the future Potager or Menu Garden at the Heartland Harvest Garden's entrance while a crane assembles the top portion of the garden's silo in the background (nearly a quarter mile away!). The crane can be seen from US HWY 50 and from anywhere in the gardens. No we are not building a skyscraper! The silo, which is attached to the new Heartland Harvest Garden's barn visitor center, will act as an observation tower. From atop the silo you will see the quilt inspired patterns of the new garden. You will also get a bird's eye view out over the treetops.

The seat wall in the foreground is for the future Author's Garden. An information shelter is yet to be installed here where you can learn about the author's designs in the garden. The green "grass" in the mid ground is a cover crop of annual rye and hairy vetch for this garden to be installed next spring. The rye and vetch will be turned into the soil as a "green manure" to improve its fertility. The barn visitor center and silo loom in the background.

A closer look at the silo construction shows the rectangular top of the elevator shaft behind the cylindrical silo: the square open to blue sky beyond is where the door from the elevator to the observation deck will be. There are still several rings of concrete to be added to reach that height. An open, structural dome will complete the silo.

Looking back toward the gardens you can see the vineyard and its arbor taking shape.
The columns for the vineyard's arbor (white) line up and march behind the massive cordon posts at the end of each row of grape vines (the rows of grapes go off right and left). A custom designed wine cask fountain will be at the end of the arbor.
The Heartland Harvest Garden's garden team continues to plant. Here Horticulturist and garden team leader Matt Bunch does a last bit of pruning before this Butternut (Juglans cinerea) goes in its final location in the walnut orchard.
Matt Bunch (left), Gardener Barbara Fetchenheir, and Volunteer RD finish planting a butternut that has already gone dormant (leafless). The gardening team with help from other gardeners planted more than 2,500 perennials last week. They continue to plant trees and shrubs from the nursery and greenhouse complex on a daily basis. I wish I could share Gardener Caitlin Bailey's apple-quince pie and persimmon cookies she made from the nursery's fruit trees. Next year all visitors will be able to indulge!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Losing an Oak Tree Friend

I was saddened to see the old Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) tree at the end of the walk to the Chapel has passed. We were hoping the tree would resprout from its hollow shell but it continued its slow decline. Oaks like this can grow for 100 years, live for 100 years, decline for 100 years and die over another 100 years.

Looking out the front doors of the chapel, past the Fay Jones fountain, this classic oak with its unique cavities of age was always a thing of beauty--the type that comes from experience, age and imperfections.

Senior Gardener Janet Heter (depicted) said: "It's like losing an old friend." I recall the writings of America's great conservationist, Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac; especially his phrase another "funeral of our flora" as original native plants are lost. Did this tree experience the buggling of Elk? A stampede of Bison? The rush of wind beneath a massive flock of Passenger Pigeons? (all creatures long gone)

I also recalled Robert Hillier's poem A Pastoral with the orchard man declaring "this empty shell must go;" but we've always defied this showy "veteran's" removal. We will have to remove most of the tree's trunk for visitor safety reasons but we will save as much of the trunk as possible. Look for a new Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) planted in the tree's cavity and a young Swamp White Oak planted nearby to continue its kind.

We have 6-foot seedling Swamp White Oaks in our nursery grown from acorns of our wild trees. One or more of these will be transplanted beneath the old oak's trunk.

Swamp White Oaks are the dominant native tree at Powell Gardens; a few trees are older than settlement (at least 150 years old). This image of its leaf shows the unique lighter underside. The botanical name is "bicolor" because the leaves are dark green above and whitish beneath, creating "two colors." The fact that Swamp White Oaks are the king of trees here at Powell Gardens is very unique: it describes our very poorly drained clay soils. In most areas of the Midwest where this tree grows, it is found in floodplains and swamps (here it grows on the hills!). It is also interesting we are less than 10 miles from the western edge of its native range, the tree is absent in the wild west of Lone Jack.

Oaks are the most important wildlife tree throughout their range. Their nutritious acorns are a staple of many birds, deer, bear, etc. Even our young oaks in the nursery are already producing acorns. Swamp White Oak acorns are always on a characteristic stem. They share this trait with their first cousin on the other side of the Earth: the English Oak (Quercus robur). Oaks are considered the tree that enabled us to create our civilized society: to learn more read Oak, The Frame of Civilization. They are the official tree of the United States of America.

Remember to plant and replant oaks wherever you can. From tiny acorns, mighty oaks grow!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Is Your Thistle a Wildflower or Weed?

We have had numerous comments from concerned visitors that we have invasive thistles at Powell Gardens. The concerns are over three invasive species of thistles that are on the noxious weed list: Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare), Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense) and Musk Thistle (Carduus nutans): all not native to the United States (or Canada!). I did carefully check out the visitor comments just in case, but I can't find any invasive thistles on the grounds. I did photograph the two native species, which we actually have planted in the butterfly garden as well as growing wild.

This is the native Field Thistle (Cirsium discolor) and should actually be called "Prairie Thistle." This thistle is native to our region and throughout the Midwest. It is a premier plant for insects and wildlife and IS NOT INVASIVE nor on the noxious weed list. It supports such a menagerie of native bugs and birds that most of its seeds are consumed. Goldfinches love the seeds and use the fluffy seed down to line their late summer nests. Many bees and butterflies use the flowers for nectar and the Painted Lady butterfly's caterpillar eat the leaves!
This is a Prairie Thistle we planted in the butterfly garden with a late Great Spangled Fritillary imbibing nectar from the blossom.
Here a female Cloudless Sulphur is back lit while nectaring on the other native species of thistle on the grounds: the Tall Thistle (Cirsium altissimum), which is also NOT INVASIVE nor on the noxious weed list.
Most of the native thistles have dense hairs on the undersides of their leaves, giving them a woolly white appearance. All the noxious species do not have this trait and are also much spinier. You wouldn't see my hand without a glove holding them!
The flowers of the two native thistles are nearly identical but they have very different leaves: the Prairie Thistle has distinct lobes like a red oak leaf.
The Tall Thistle has leaves without lobes or minor lobes. Both native species are biennial (living only two growing seasons). Thistles in flower now will die as they produce their seeds. Those seeds will produce a rosette of leaves in the summer of 2009 and will bloom in late summer of 2010!
Ironweeds (Vernonia spp.) have been mistaken for thistles by our visitors. This is the Curly-top or Arkansas Ironweed (Vernonia arkansana) in the Butterfly Garden. It is also native on the grounds.
I also spotted a Missouri Ironweed (Vernonia missurica) still in bloom. Yes, it looks similar to a Canada thistle but is not spiny and does not spread by underground rhizomes but stays in a distinct clump.
The gardeners at Powell Gardens know the difference between native and exotic thistles and we do our best to remove noxious weed from the grounds. We do promote our native wildflowers whereever we can!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Unique Fruits and Nuts Destined for the Heartland Harvest Garden

Matt Bunch, Barbara Fetchenhier and Caitlin Bailey have been busy continually transplanting trees and shrubs from our nurseries into the Heartland Harvest Garden. Of the nearly 1,000 more plants to be moved, Walnuts (Juglans spp.) are the most recent trees to be dug. You can clearly see the grow bags we grew the plants in: this has been a very worthwhile manner to move the trees all through the summer.

Some of our small 6-foot walnut trees already have nuts. This is a 'Thomas' Black Walnut (Juglans nigra).

The reason we have such early production is that we have many grafted varieties of nut trees. You can see clearly the graft union on this small walnut trunk. The seed grown understock (lower) has clearly more rough bark. Grafting ensures the exact clone of the variety you want and such trees usually bear fruit right away. Walnuts from around the world will be in the Heartland Harvest Garden's walnut orchard on the south edge of the new Garden. Walnuts exude juglone, which can inhibit the growth of many plants so all of them are planted off to the side of the gardens in a pastoral setting.

The nut of 'Kwik Crop' Black Walnut has a very unique oblong, shape. Walnuts are very nutritious as a great source for Omega 3 fatty acids. The nuts are 15% protein and 65% oils with no cholesterol or trans fat! Their lumber is also extremely valuable.

The dug walnuts got me into the nursery again to see others destined to be moved this fall. Here is the fruit of Colossal Chestnut (Castanea hybrid). I was surprised to see nuts on this seedling plant! We have both seedling and grafted Colossal Chestnuts. This chestnut is a hybrid between the disease resistant Chinese Chestnut (Castanea mollissima) and the European Spanish Chestnut (Castanea sativa). The Harvest Garden's Chestnut orchard will be off to the north of the Fountain Garden. The spiny husks of the nuts are difficult to work into a detailed landscape. Someday we will have chestnuts roasting on an open fire! All six of the world's species of chestnuts will have hybrids in the garden, including the famous American Chestnut and extremely rare Ozark Chinkapin.

Figs (Ficus carica) are ripening and we have many of the hardiest varieties in the nursery. The top of this stem was cut because we are rooting many for our Spring Plant Sale next May. Select varieties of figs are root hardy here and produce a fall crop of fruit.

Our hybrid Persimmons are starting to color and I am in total agreement that this fruit tree has very ornamental appeal. It is Nikita's Gift Persimmon: a hybrid between the native Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) and the Oriental Persimmon (Diospyros kaki). It has the hardiness and great flavor of the native persimmon married with the size and color of the Oriental persimmon. We cannot wait until they are ripe again! The trees have such beautifully glossy leaves through the season too.

This weird pear-shaped fruit is a new selection of Jujube (Zizyphus jujuba) from Northern China. It will have a brownish blush when ripe and tastes like a honey crisp pear. You never see them in local stores because they do not ship or keep at all. They are extremely popular in China and we have many cultivars for display in the Harvest Garden.

This odd fruit is that of the Medlar (Mespilus germanica) a relative of Missouri's state flower: the hawthorn. Medlars are odd in that you must blet them to be edible--that means let them "rot" and soften up. We have yet to try them but they allegedly taste like applesauce when fully "ripe." This one has a bud for a fall flower beneath it. Medlars often bloom again in the fall in our wild climate, but its fruit will not mature.

This is not an apple but a wonderfully fuzzy Quince (Cydonia oblonga). One best not bite into this like an apple but the hard, aromatic fruit allegedly make a wonderful preserves, jellies and sauces with a rich, spicy flavor. We have more than a dozen varieties!

Here are fruits of a Tanechka Flowering-Quince (Chaenomeles japonica) bred for fruit production. It has wonderfully aromatic fruit that are also good for preserves (our former gardener, Chris Conatser made some for us to try once). Yes this is a selection of the common flowering-quinces grown in landscapes throughout Kansas City. Consider using their fruit this season! If you are not a cook, they make great natural air fresheners.

The black berries of Aronia "Chokeberry" (Aronia melanocarpa) are not great to eat fresh but make an astoundingly good preserve. Barbara made some last year and it was absolutely delicious with a cherry-like flavor.

The brilliant red fruit of the Cherry-olive (Elaeagnus multiflora) are very fun to eat and very good for you as they are rich in Lycopene. This plant is so very similar to the invasive Autumn-olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) that we are carefully watching it to make sure it does not escape.

We can't wait to share all this produce with visitors next fall so be sure and visit next year when our Heartland Harvest Garden makes its debut. Tasting Stations will allow you to sample the fruits of this garden: sorry we will not be able to let visitors pick produce on their own. Trained staff and volunteers will pick produce at the appropriate time so there will always be something to taste on your visit.

Flowers & Berries of the Late Summer Season

Fall is in the air but sunshine has returned after our two bouts with remnants of hurricanes. We have had no less than 7-1/2" of rain at Powell Gardens in the past two weeks so the gardens are as lush as ever. Many of our most beautiful fruiting shrubs and small trees are becoming quite showy now and there are some really special flowers of the season as well.

Many Asian hybrid crabapples have beautiful displays of fruit from now until severe cold. This is the cultivar 'Centurion' south of the Perennial Garden arbor. Powell Gardens' crabapples have great displays of fruit but not foliage: it has been a year of severe pests on crabapples from webworms to leaf-eating beetles. Disease resistant varieties fared no better than any. We will still enjoy their beautiful fruit displays for months!

The Chinese Seven Sons (Heptacodium miconioides) is adorned with myriads of white flowers (in small clusters of 7). The fragrant white flowers would not be that showy for spring but are a welcome sight in this season. Seven Sons becomes a small tree 15 to maybe 20 feet in height. It has beautiful sandy bark that exfoliates through the season to show an alabaster base. Seven Sons has proven to be a great plant for our region and has earned a Plant of Merit status.

The flowers of Seven Sons attract every butterfly nearby! The tree may be cloaked in a dozen species of butterflies: here a Red-spotted Purple (top) with its sister species the Viceroy (bottom). Both these butterflies in the "Admiral" group are mimics of other distasteful butterflies--the Red-spotted Purple mimics the Pipevine Swallowtail and the Viceroy mimics the Monarch. The Seven Sons attracts every migrating Monarch too: be sure and see this small tree in the Fragrant section of the Perennial Garden.

First cousin to the Seven Sons is the shrub Chinese Abelia (Abelia chinensis). Our shrubs are growing along the Dogwood Walk below the Visitor Center in mostly shade -- I suspect if they were in full sun they would attract lots of butterflies too. They flower for a long season in late summer into fall. If you don't have space for Seven Sons, you can plant this shrub instead (although it is very hard to find anymore).
The berries of the White Beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma 'Albofructis') are already ripening in the Perennial Garden. This is an neat shrub for a white garden or evening garden with fall interest. The berries will last for a couple months until severe cold change them to ivory-yellow.
Vibrant red berries can be seen on the Asian Linden Viburnum (Viburnum dilatatum). This is the wonderful cultivar 'Catskill,' which is nicely compact and fruiting well early. Linden Viburnum is a weed on the East Coast but we have never seen a seedling. It takes two varieties to set fruit: 'Asian Beauty' is another good one that holds its red berries well into winter. 'Cardinal Candy' and yellow-fruited 'Michael Dodge' are other cultivars to use as pollinators for best fruit set.
The Witherod Viburnum's (Viburnum nudum) fruit have reached the pink stage and are beginning the change over to blue. This is one bought as a pollinator for the 'Winterthur' cultivar in the Fountain Garden. The "pollinator" has a far better fruit display than 'Winterthur' (the cultivar that everyone sells around here). We bought our pollinator mail order from Fairweather Gardens because like most Viburnums, you get the best fruit set with multiple varieties around. Witherod Viburnum is native just south of Missouri and is a great shrub for wildlife and problematic wet sites: a good rain garden shrub!
The new cultivar 'Brandywine' (trademarked) has the most spectacular of any Witherod Viburnum for fruit with large clusters of fruit reminiscent of hydrangea flowers. Brandywine is also in the pink stage with more berries turning blue each day. Birds usually do not eat the berries until after they are all blue and shriveled by several freeze-thaw cycles. Look for Brandywine Viburnum near the trolley stop at the Perennial Garden.
Don't forget to pick shrubs and small trees not just for spring bloom but for fall flowers and fruits! These plants really enliven the landscape when it can look a bit tired. Powell Gardens' extensive collections of shrubs and trees are a must to peruse before you visit your favorite local nursery.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Hot Plants for an Exuberant Garden

The last of summer (we are still officially in summer!) is the time to see the full size of many tropicals and summer annuals. These HOT seasonal plants around the Powell Gardens Visitor Center are exuberant this year! Come quick to see them because they will gradually be replaced in the next month or so with cool season fall plantings. We try to keep some of them out until Jack Frost pays his autumnal visit (usually in mid-late October).

The bananas are blooming! The banana flower is magnificent with the young banana fruit forming above as the flower opens from top to bottom.

The bananas are along the south side of Cafe Thyme. Bananas are NOT trees but huge tender perennials (there is no wood in their "trunks"). If you save the pseudostem "trunk" through the winter it will bloom next year. We cut off all the leaves before frost and save the trunks indoors, dormant in the greenhouse complex. We pot them up in spring and plant them outdoors after danger of frost has passed (usually by May 1). We do not have a long enough season to ripen bananas outdoors here.

The castor beans have reached tree-like proportions too! Hard to believe most of our plants are self-sown seedlings from this spring! This is the beautiful 'Sanguineus' or purple-leaved cultivar. It dwarfs the large Mexican sunflowers blooming in front of it.

On the north side of the Visitor Center you can see this "bed of fire." It is a fiery display of warm colors with ornamental peppers in the foreground, Profusion Orange zinnias in the middle and Cannas as a backdrop. This is not a composition for a place where you want to relax but it is invigorating.

The giant purple leaf Crinum has a nice color echo with flower of the Flowering Maple (Abutilon). Diamond Frost Euphorbia provides a sparkle of dainty white flowers.

This morning glory seedling has added some summer color to the Lacebark Pine on the north side of the Visitor Center. This little bit of vine does not harm the pine but if this plant filled in thickly we would have to remove it.

Lime Zinger elephant ears is in full size and here with a crown of 'Northwind' switchgrass is a great combination of a tropical and a native plant.

A mix of hot annual 'Buddy' globe amaranth (Gomphrena) with Missouri native Savanna Blazingstar (Liatris scariosa) sets off the beauty of both. Look for this combination in the Butterfly Garden, which envelops the Fountain Garden north of the Visitor Center.

Make your notes now for ideas of how to use tropicals and warm season annuals for next year. The catalogs for Spring 2009 will be arriving in the mail before you know it!