Friday, November 21, 2008

Rock'n Retro Christmas Trees

Anne Wildeboor, Horticulturist Seasonal Displays and Events, pauses with a smile while placing the finishing touches on the new Conservatory Display that opens tomorrow. The theme of the display is whimsical or "Seussical" with a never before seen collection of two dozen aluminum Christmas trees. In case you can't tell, the tree on the right is aluminum while Anne is framed by real purple leaf crinum lilies and a backdrop of bluish Bismarkia palms.

Garden Trains also circuit the display and add a most popular toy from the bygone era of aluminum Christmas trees. Did you know that Charlie Brown's Christmas cartoon was the moment when aluminum Christmas trees lost their popularity? Real plants in this scene include 2 varieties of poinsettias, variegated plectranthus, Diamond Frost euphorbia and a tall purple cordyline "cabbage palm".

The display is pure delight and makes me smile and laugh every time I see it. The vibrant colors are enhanced by their aluminum making along with rotating bases and four-color spot lights. It's a scene that is a blast from the past (lights not on in this picture). We haven't forgotten the real plants that compliment the collection. Anne and Jennifer Courtney (gardener) have done a masterful play of colors with real live plants! Sixteen varieties of poinsettias will be featured along with whimsical plants from our greenhouse collections like the spiky variegated dracaena seen here.

The spotlight is on in this aluminum tree and rotates between four colors (red, orange, green and blue) reflecting here in orange off the silver aluminum needles! I can't wait to see the effects in evening time or dark. This tree is also rotating.

This is the "Cadillac" of aluminum trees but reminds me of shag carpeting. I will post its exact stats as I get them. I think it is beautifully paired with a Purple Euphorbia (Euphorbia splendens) in the background.

Pink aluminum trees are rare, especially when paired with real dark leaved Pseuderanthemum and variegated crinum!

Royal Blue aluminum trees are occasionally put up for Hanukkah.

How about turquoise! Lovely when paired with real white poinsettias and back dropped by silver dollar eucalyptus.

Simply stunning in rose with variegated dracaenas and pink poinsettias!

The centerpiece is in silver and hanging to accentuate baskets of poinsettias. If this doesn't inspire a visit, I don't know what will. With the Poinsettia Display in Swope Park cancelled, be sure and add us to your list for a holiday visit.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Late Fall Greens offer Tantalizing Taste

Taste refers to both culinary and visual! Many of our most beautiful cool season foliage plants are also edible and create tasteful beauty to the gardens of spring and fall. Observe a taste of fall foliage from Powell Gardens:

Here, at the preview entrance of the Heartland Harvest Garden a pattern of foliage (all edible!) creates a beautiful bed. The center is Ruby Perfection cabbage, the bronze foliage is Cimmaron lettuce and the chartreuse is Simpson Elite lettuce. The bed is one of the four squares of next year's Potager Garden--it is bordered by ipe (pronounced Eee-pay) wood, a very hard, rot-resistant and sustainable wood.

Even after frost some tender plants still remain beautiful and are left for interest: the tall dried plants are lime basil and the front border are frozen ornamental peppers!

Yes even in mid-November foliage is king of beauty: Here silvery green cardoon (back) and rosemary (forward) contrast with coarse and fine textures while Redboor kale is a stunning color contrast in its purple foliage attire.

Winterboor kale is the epitome of foliage texture!

Cardoons reign supreme for spectacular fall foliage--they are almost hardy here and I have had them survive for several years in a protected site in my home gardens. They have spectacular purple, artichoke-like bloom on their second season. The blue bottles were added for decor.
This is artichoke, close relative of cardoon but with a more finely textured leaf.
The whirling foliage sprays of Joi Choi Chinese cabbage carry nicely defined veins for extraordinary foliage.
Hon Tsai Tai Mustard is a delicious green and its fall flowers add a sparkle of yellow contrasting with its purple stems and petioles.
A splash of Utah celery above the light limestone wall provide more lush greenery in this cool season.
The color and texture of chard leaves add wonderful rainbow-like colors: this one is Canary Yellow chard.
How about some Oriole Orange chard?
Vulcan Red chard looks hot and on fire.
The weird swollen stems of kohlrabi's seem from outer space. This is Edar White Kohlrabi.
Purple Kohlrabi is a real beauty and treat.
The epitome of beauty in fall foliage is Nagoya Emperor White cabbage. It is edible but here it is used in the Visitor Center's terrace beds.
When used in massing it can be quite a sensational landscape plant. It is hardy to 10F too!
Cabbages contrasting with blooms of Sonnet Orange Snapdragons are accentuated by a backdrop of a Poconos Southern Magnolia with its lustrous evergreen leaves behind the wall.
This container of the season has Fast Vantage cabbage shown off at its best by violet pansies and Liberty yellow Snapdragons.
All photos were taken on Friday, November 14, 2008. Though it was the first real freeze on Sunday morning in many areas, these plants weathered the cold well and we expect them to flourish past Thanksgiving. Come have a look at their beauty in person--are you hungry yet?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

November Landscape

November-r-r-r is the last month of fall and the transition into winter. It has a palette of colors all its own. Many of our trees are now leafless with the baldcypress holding orange-brown (far right and left of the above photo). The prairie grasses have bleached to blond and the skies are more often gray.

Many of our native oaks cling to their dead leaves; refusing to lose them until new buds force them off next spring. Here White Oak (left) and three Pin Oaks in the Visitor Education Center's parking lot show their winter colors. Dead leaves that cling to a deciduous tree are called marcescent. On rare occasion we can have a "marcescent fall"--if a severe cold snap kills the leaves before they color and drop. That has happened once in the past 12 years that I have worked at Powell Gardens.

A beam of sunlight illuminated one of the sweetgums in the parking lot. Glorious full fall attire! A few trees still retain good fall color.

Cool season annuals have thrived as long as they were covered during our one night of hard freeze (25F). These snapdragons and mums in front of the entrance sign have maintained their beauty in our recent cool weather.

Mums, pansies and violas in the window box of the Gatehouse have also thrived and are great choices for cool season color. These pansies and violas may bloom through the whole winter if it is mild; otherwise they should make a return to glory next March.

This is literally looking out the window behind my computer. The bright berries of the possumhaws (Ilex decidua) make these large shrubs come alive on cloudy days. They remind me of red-flowering trees only their color last for longer than any flower. The possumhaws also attract many birds in winter: often guarded by a mockingbird, Eastern bluebirds sneak fruit as they can and a flock of Cedar Waxwings can overwhelm the berries' guardian. Usually all the fruit are gone by mid-winter as they have sustained many feathered friends. What better way to enliven the winter landscape?

Here is an image without screens to the bountiful berries of the possumhaw. Unfortunately this large shrub/small tree has fallen out of landscape favor but remains a plant promoted under Missouri's Grow Native! program. It will never be popular in garden centers because it doesn't beg one to buy it in spring. Of course the depicted plants are female plants, a male plant is needed nearby as a pollinator. The four seedlings planted outside my office window luckily turned out to be three females and one male. We planted a lone female in the Perennial Garden way back and it set fruit; we soon discovered a native male tree in the woodland off to the side! Possumhaw can be found occasionally wild on the grounds of Powell Gardens.

This possumhaw near the Gatehouse has berries that are tinted orange and actually become more orange as the berries age. Usually possumhaws are bright red but there are known yellow-berried cultivars.

The late foliage, fruits and berries under often ruddy skies of this month are really a uniquely beautiful part of our yearly garden experience. Be sure and take the time to observe the season's innate beauty. The outdoor experience and fresh air will do you good!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Fall's Flowers, Foliage and Fruit

The "core" of Powell Gardens was decked out in peak fall attire on November 2, 2008, when I took this picture. The overall fall colors of our local oak-hickory woodlands are in these burnt reds, oranges and brown. Like our Mission statement: we embrace our spirit of place. We may not have the fiery colors of the mountains of New England or the golds of Colorado aspens but we have a beautiful blend of colors all our own.

The Missouri native Common Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is one of our few woody plants that bloom in the fall. The lightly scented, spidery flowers are always a last floral hurrah in the woodland understory. This small "understory" tree is native only under the shade of others and a great addition to any shade or woodland garden.

The last butterflies enjoyed the mild spell that has just ended. Here a Painted Lady nectars on Missouri native Tall Delphinium (Delphinium exaltatum). Painted Lady butterflies are not cold hardy--new butterflies return here from Mexico each season: some years just a few and other years massive movements blow northward on spring winds.

The Missouri native Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) is one of our few deciduous conifers. Its needles turn this beautiful rusty orange in fall before dropping. We often get calls in the fall by new homeowners wondering if their "pine" is dying. After a few questions it is often that they have a baldcypress and they don't realize this tree is supposed to go dormant for winter. The Chapungu sculpture (foreground) has been taken down now and will surely be missed.

No, this pine is not sick. It is the 'Chief Joseph' cultivar of Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta) whose needles turn yellow in the fall and remain so through the winter. In spring the needles turn green again for the summer! Thank you to Marvin Snyder for donating this rare conifer to us. Not all evergreens are ever green! Look for this pine in the conifer garden north of the Visitor Center.

This Shumard Oak (Quercus shumardii) turned a really beautiful shade of burnt red. We grew this tree from an acorn off a local tree. Shumard Oaks are very tough shade trees and if you want one with good fall color, pick it out from the nursery while it is in fall color! (Photo taken on Sunday.)
Missouri native Tulip Trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) are one of our best shade trees for consistent yellow fall color. This one was photographed on Saturday. They should be grown in rich, moist soil in our region and can suffer in dry sites or where they have confined roots.
Sunday, our Missouri native Sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua) were in peak fall attire. This tree is either loved or hated by gardeners--mainly because of its hard, spiny fruit (known as gumballs!). It's not a good choice where you want to walk barefoot but the gumballs make good mulch, especially around hostas, because they inhibit slugs. Most trees have a beautiful blend of red to purplish or red to yellowish fall color. However, if trees are imported from too far south, the trees retain their green leaves too long--making the tree susceptible to early ice storm damage. Powell Gardens' trees are from a good source and all color up well and lose their leaves along with the local wild trees.

The Eastern Wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus) is a native understory large shrub or small tree with unique fall fruit. This obvious relative of the bittersweet vine provides great fall color and beautiful fruit, which are soon consumed by our state bird the Eastern Bluebird. Wahoo is an informal, loose and lightly suckering plant so is best used in a natural shade garden or planted at the edge of a woods.
The deciduous Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) is native to a small area of eastern Missouri but a most beautiful shrub for garden color in fall and winter. Here the cultivar 'Winter Gold' and 'Winter Red' grow side-by-side near the Rock & Waterfall trolley stop. The leaves will soon drop, leaving the berries to really show off until severe cold or until birds consume them in late winter. Winterberry Hollies become very large shrubs over time. They can even be trimmed up into mini-trees like near the entrance to the Kauffman Memorial Garden.
The peak of fall color is past at Powell Gardens with last nights wind and over 2 inches of rain, but a few trees like dogwoods still shine. Fall berries are the major color in the landscape now--so come out to see their beauty. I plant to capture their beauty to share with you here next week.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Burning Bush Be Gone

Invasive species are always a controversial subject: One man's weed is another's treasure. We follow the noxious weed laws but go beyond and try to "deaccession" (a.k.a. remove and properly dispose of) any plant that is not native (exotic) and spreads beyond the gardens and threatens the natural landscape of Powell Gardens and the region.

Some very popular exotic plants are beginning to become threats to the native landscape of our region: Callery pears (Pyrus calleriana), including the cultivar 'Bradford' are one such plant we do not display at Powell Gardens for that reason. Another popular shrub, the burning bush (Euonymus alata), has just been completely removed from Powell Gardens because we see an alarming number of seedlings in the gardens but also beyond on the grounds' woodlands.

A smiling Mark Gawron (Senior Gardener - Island Garden) stands in front of the last of Powell Gardens' burning bushes. We have gradually removed all of this non-native shrub. It is very popular for its watermelon pink/red fall color as well as its corky twigs, which are quite ornamental in winter.

Burning bush is a relative of the bittersweet vine and you can readily see this by its fruit. Unfortunately, birds eat the fruit and disperse its seeds far and wide.

In shrub beds at Powell Gardens, burning bush can literally come up as a carpet of seedlings! This is what the ground looked like beneath the removed burning bushes last week.

Here, Mark and Gardener Cheyenne Schalue clean up the site on the Island Garden where the last burning bushes were removed. The plants will be replaced with another shrub; probably with Missouri's native burning bush called Strawberry Bush or "Hearts-A-Burstin" (Euonymus americana). The native version is slower to establish but forms an upright shrub over time. Its fruit are much showier than the exotic burning bush but its fall color is not as intense (but can be a good pinkish-carmine red).

I took this image of a Burning Bush escaped in the woods at Big Buffalo Creek Conservation Area in Benton County. Now is the time to check your woods for this shrub and remove it if you see it. It has the potential to exponentially expand and begin to take over the native understory of our woodlands. If we remove it now, it won't be as big of task as Amur Honeysuckle, Autumn-Olive and Multiflora Rose, which have overtaken so much of our wild lands.