Monday, October 27, 2008

Fall Foliage at Powell Gardens

Once again, as the days get shorter and cooler, the signal for the deciduous plants to shut down and lose their leaves is upon us. This process creates the most colorful display of most plants' year as the leaves turn shades of yellows to oranges (carotenoid pigments) or reds to purple (anthrocyanin pigments). Sunny, dry Autumn days with cool nights bring about the best fall colors so with our over 5-1/2" of rain this month we are not having a spectacular display this year. Some plants have the genetics to display beautiful fall attire here each year, however!

Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea) is one of the most consistent fall colors at Powell Gardens but a challenge to transplant. Look for our three trees in the parking lot of the Chapel. Scarlet oaks must have good drainage and lower pH soils.

A closeup of the Scarlet Oaks leaves shows their intense reds, which are anthrocyanin pigments.

Northern Red Oaks (Quercus rubra) grow wild at Powell Gardens and have variable colors in fall, from golden-olive to burnt reds as shown on this branch. This tree is wild adjacent to the Chapel's parking lot.

Shingle Oaks (Quercus imbricaria) have fall colors that can be very complex on close inspection but are overall brownish from a distance.

Swamp White Oaks (Quercus bicolor) will never win a fall color pageant and are golden-olive-tan at best.

Flowering Dogwoods (Cornus florida) are our most reliable small or understory tree for fall color. I would plant them even if they never bloomed! The fall color lasts at least a month and changes from chocolaty purple to red as the green chlorophyll breaks down in the leaf. This slow process allows the anthrocyanins to glow red once the green chlorophyll is gone.

The 'Ozark Spring' Flowering Dogwood has one of the best reds and is right on schedule. This cultivar is nearly impossible to find because it is hard to propagate. It was discovered by the late, great Kansas plantsman John Pair and has proven hardiness in Eastern Kansas. Flowering Dogwoods that originate in the western Ozarks (just two counties east) have the genetic makeup to grow well in our Greater Kansas City climate.

This Flowering Dogwood is still in its purply stage and is heavily studded with red fruit. The fruit of dogwoods is on the ends of the branches in bird beak-sized form as a quick snack to fuel fall migration. It is so rich in fats for the birds that it will fall and rot if uneaten. Of course the birds help disperse the seeds of the dogwood and Flowering Dogwoods have begun to naturalize in woodlands around Kansas City.

Here is a closeup of a Flowering Dogwood with ripe fruit adjacent to its round, chalky gray flower bud for next spring.

The variegated leaved Flowering Dogwoods can have complex colors in fall as the white or yellow summer variegation usually reveals pinkish fall color! This is the cultivar 'Cherokee Sunset' which has yellow and green variegated leaves and red-pink flowers.

Here Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) (left small tree in yellow) and a Flowering Dogwood (right small tree) are back lit against a mass of Variegated Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegata')

Ginkgos are one of our most reliable fall colors in yellow! The pigment is carotenoid (carot- as in carrots) so reveals yellow after the green chlorophyll is gone. This young ginkgo is growing next to variegated maiden grass.

Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) is another one of our consistent fall colors and is native throughout Greater Kansas City. Smooth Sumac is a rhizomatous shrub to small tree -- the rhizomatous part is why you don't see it more in landscapes. This ability to mass produce by underground runners can make it a rogue in the garden. It is perfectly at home in roadside, edge of woods or hedgerow where it can be allowed to do its thing. We planted them to make a big mass at either side of our entrance landscape (where this picture was taken).

Smooth Sumac is a dioecious shrub: in other words it is male or female. Male plants look like this in fall (without the cluster of fruit at the end of the branches).

Female sumacs are studded with cone-like clusters of fuzzy red fruit. The fruit are actually high in vitamin C and can make a good tea. On tours of our nature trail I have guests taste them (just suck on the dry fruit and spit out the seed). It can have a refreshing tangy flavor. The fruit are little used by birds until the end of winter and early spring when they become an important emergency food source during a late cold snap or snowfall.

This is the hybrid 'Autumn Blaze' Maple (Acer x fremontii), a hybrid between the Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) and Red Maple (Acer rubrum). It is cheap to grow and being widely grown and sold. It is spectacular this year but that is often not the case and we do not recommend the tree. Red Maples (Acer rubrum) are the most commonly grown tree for planting because of their fall color. They are however difficult trees to garden with as they have voracious surface roots. They also are very subject to frost cracking (the southwest side of the trunk dies, leaving a big scar). We have a nice 'Red Sunset' Red Maple in front of the Visitor Center but this year it has just turned brown.

This is the week of peak fall color at Powell Gardens! Come see the colors of the chemistry of life (without photosynthesis there would be no life). With our 14,000 varieties of plants on display you will surely see some in great fall attire. Remember, last days and weekend to see Chapungu too!

All photos taken Monday, October 27, 2008 by Alan Branhagen

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Third Garden: Cool Season "Annuals" for Fall

The Visitor Center is decked out in its fall attire with a new suite of plants that like cool weather and can tolerate frosts and mild freezes. In fact, some of these plants can survive the winter and rebloom next spring. Yes, Greater Kansas City's climate allows for a third garden that can often look very colorful through Thanksgiving and even into December. On mild winters we have flowers on occasion throughout winter.

This image is of a container underplanted with cool-loving annuals including cultivars of stocks, pansies and lettuce. This is planted beneath a hardy Queen Palm (Syagurus romanzoffianum)-- not hardy for the entire winter but tolerant of cold. Not all palms (and annuals) are tropical and tender to a freeze.

The prime characters of the above image include 'Mariposa Peach' Pansy. New cultivars of pansies are increasingly hardy and usually overwinter well if planted in the ground. Those in containers are less hardy. Be sure and notice the lightly sweet aroma of pansies!

Vintage Copper Stocks are another hardy annual for fall. I enhanced the experience of several visitors yesterday by making them smell this gem: the flowers emit a rich, spicy scent!

At the entrance to the Heartland Harvest Garden is a patchwork of lettuces, cabbage and pansies. Yes, all are edible too! The bronze foliage is 'Deer Tongue' Lettuce; the lime green foliage is 'Black-seeded Simpson' Lettuce and the cabbage in the middle is 'Ruby Perfection,' a new Plant of Merit and outstanding edible and ornamental.
In the beds in front of the Visitor Center you will also see the marvelous 'Ruby Perfection' cabbage, along with companions of lettuce and diascias

The pink flower is the Diascia or Twinspur, a relatively new cool season annual from South Africa (Many of our best new cool season annuals are cultivars of native South African wildflowers). We have had it take 17F without hurting it a bit! The coppery foliage is 'Tomahawk' Lettuce.

Nagoya White Cabbage is a most ornamental of cabbages and beautiful in the garden. Most cabbages are fully hardy to 10F!
Here is another cultivar of Diascia: 'Red Ace' (it's pink!) perfectly paired with our favorite lettuce 'Merlot' (also the lettuce in the first image). Look for this stunning combination along the ramps from the Visitor Center Terraces to the Dogwood Walk.
This colorful cool season foliage is of 'Five Colored Silver' Beet (Chard). When backlit like this shot, it glows with colors from yellow and green to bronze, red and purple! It is delicious too.
Pansies are the staple of the cool season garden and come in a beautiful array of colors and patterns. This true yellow is 'XXL Golden' Pansy.
This pansy with a "face" is 'XXL Red & Yellow' Pansy, which reminds me of the old fashioned varieties my grandmother adored.
Violas are close relatives of the pansies and I'm sure you can recognize that pansies and violas are all in the same Genus with perennial Violets. This is the 'Antique Gem Purple' Viola. Violas often overwinter and bloom exceedingly well next spring.
Snapdragons are another great cool season flower and also can overwinter in sheltered places or after mild winters. This is 'Montego Purple' Snapdragon but it looks more pink than purple to me.
This is a cultivar of one of South Africa's most beautiful wildflowers Osteospermum; called "Osteos" for short. This stunning cultivar is 'Soprano Vanilla Spoon.' Osteos take cold well but should be protected from hard frost.
New hybrids of the annual Phlox (Phlox drummondii) from the Southern Great Plains have resulted in some really cold hardy new cultivars. This is 'Intensia White' Phlox sparkling against a yellow mum. All the "Intensia" phlox are very hardy -- blooming well into December.
Come out to Powell Gardens and explore the flowers of the cool season and get ideas for what you can add to your garden or containers for fall. It is not too late to still enjoy 6 to 8 weeks of color! You've just two more weekends left to enjoy the fabulous Chapungu sculpture display as well.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fall Flowers' Last Hurrah

The last of the showy flowers still shine at Powell Gardens. Get out for a visit this weekend as it is for many, the last chance to see. Jack Frost did not pay a garden-wide visit so there is still much to see.

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) is in full flower now. Its scented foliage and true red, tubular flowers are always a hit. It is not fully hardy unless planted against a warm foundation, and occasionally Jack Frost removes it before full flower. The picture is from the fragrant border of the Perennial Garden -- the sage grows at the base of a Seven Sons tree.

Seven Sons tree (Heptacodium miconioides) fragrant fall flowers are now its unique pink fruit! As I said in an earlier blog; this plant looks like it blooms white, then pink but is actually the flowers becoming fruit.

The last of the fall anemones is in bloom and a startling white at that: Japanese Anemone 'Andrea Atkinson.' Look for this beautiful perennial against the woodland section at the north end of the Perennial Garden.

The winter foliage of Hardy Cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) has emerged as the last of its flowers fade and turn into seed pods on spiral stems. The leaves will last through the winter making it one of the best perennials for winter interest in a shade garden. Look for these near the bronze plaque of the Rock & Waterfall Garden.

A mass of Hillside Sheffield Pink Chrysanthemums greets visitors to the Island Garden.

A closeup of Hillside Sheffield Pink mum shows why it is a perennial favorite: covered in single, apricot pink blooms at the end of the season. Every beneficial bug within miles comes to dine on its nectar so it is a very good insectaries and butterfly garden plant.

This is a hardy mum in the Perennial Garden we received from Friends member Jackie Goetz. She has had mums self-sow in her garden for more than 20 years and they are great magnets for late season butterflies. We call one of them 'Jackie's Butterfly Magnet' for that reason.

When Jackie's Mums were planted near Hillside Sheffield Pink mums there was a little "hanky panky" going on courtesy of the insects. Our former Gardener Chris Conatser planted this blend of seedlings in a grouping and called it "Powell Pastel" mums. Chris has now crashed the culinary scene in Greater Kansas City and works at Justus Drugstore in Smithville.

Mark Gawron, Senior Gardener on the Island Garden, has allowed the best tropical waterlilies to continue to shine in the Island Garden's pools (well Mother Nature insisted because of the mild weather). The very fragrant 'Albert Greenburg' Waterlily was photographed today and my how it still shines. This weekend is your last chance to see waterlilies.

The Victoria Waterlilies are also hanging on with a very late bloom. Again, last chance to see until 2009!

The Island Garden's living wall still has many flowering beauties, the best of which are Autumn Sages (Salvia greggii) and their hybrids. This is the new 'Ultra Violet' Sage a cross between Salvia greggii and Salvia lycioides from Ft. Collins, CO, and selected by premier plantsman Lauren Springer and husband Scott Ogden.

All the cool season flowers are in the beds around the Visitor Center; a place full of ideas for what you should plant in containers and outdoors now. This bed is outside Cafe Thyme and contains frost tolerant Ruby Perfection Cabbage, Pansies, Snapdragons and Dianthus. Many of these cold hardy annuals will survive until spring. Come out to Powell Gardens now for the last hurrah of our floral season!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Figs for Greater Kansas City?

Yes, you can grow figs outdoors in Greater Kansas City. Figs (Ficus carica) may have been mankind's first domesticated plant. They predate cereal grains by nearly 1,000 years and were grown well before olives, dates and grapes. Figs are large shrubs or small trees in zones 8 and warmer but make good "dieback" plants in places like Kansas City, or other colder zones with long, hot summers. Figs actually can produce two crops a season (one from the old wood of last season's growth and one from the new season's wood) but because of the dieback you lose the first "breba" crop in our zone.

Matt Bunch (Horticulturist, Heartland Harvest Garden) inspects the fruit of a fig growing in our nursery (you can see our official weather station behind). Next spring our collection of figs will be moved to the Heartland Harvest Garden for all to see and taste!
Matt and Caitlin Bailey (Gardener, Heartland Harvest Garden) picked some ripe figs today for display in this blog:

Just like apples and peaches, there are many varieties of figs! There may be as many as 800 varieties but some are obviously two names for the same plant. We selected varieties with good winter hardiness combined with fruit ripening in a shorter growing season. The 'Atreano' fig depicted is recommended for cool regions. It has light green skin and strawberry colored flesh. You can see the small bruise on the lower right side of this fig and that is why you rarely see fresh figs in supermarkets: they don't ship and they don't keep unless they are dried--losing their best flavor!

One of the best figs for cooler climates is 'Chicago' and Matt says it ripens quickly and consistently in our nursery. It was selected in Chicago so you know it is hardy!

This is the 'Lattarulla' or "Italian Honey" fig also well known for hardiness and adaptability to cooler summers.

The favorite fig of both Caitlin and Gardener Barbara Fetchenhier is 'Peter's Honey' depicted here. The fruit on the left is cut open so you can see that a fig is actually an inside-out flower inflorescence called a "syconium:" the center is made up of individual flowers only accessible to a specific wasp pollinator through a tiny hole at the base. All the figs we have are parthenocarpic figs, which set fruit without pollination so are sterile. Peter's Honey fig was brought by the late Peter Danna from Sicily to Portland, Oregon, where it has performed well.

Stella or 'Cordi' fig is also a favorite of Caitlin and Barbara (and myself!). It was brought to Portland, Oregon, by an Italian sailor and named for his wife. The large, sweet fruit is purplish red inside and ripens well in cooler climates. With two plants in a row from Portland you probably wonder where to get such plants: mailorder from One Green World

I have never been a fan of the flavor of Brown Turkey figs, even though it is the most widely grown fig in the UK or Greater Kansas City. To quote a recent article by Stephen Read in RHS's The Garden: "there are better-flavoured choices." 'Vern's Brown Turkey' is depicted here. One Green World's catalog states "to distinguish this variety from less reliable varieties" they named it after their garden writer friend Vern Nelson. It has done well in our nursery.

We are always glad to find local specialty plants and are amassing a very nice collection. This fig is in the "brown turkey" family but is Matt's favorite and close second with Caitlin and Barbara. It was given to us by Volunteer RD Wood. RD says he got it from "an old Italian guy in Independence" and that is all he will say. Barbara has named this fig "Really Delightful" in honor of RD and its great performance and flavor. Matt says the flavor is more tart with sweet (Matt favors flavors with more than sweet). I find it a delicious fig!

We have even more figs on trial and I could write a major article about them. I grew up in Iowa where the only fig I knew was in the cookie! When I moved to Baton Rouge to attend Graduate School at LSU I was introduced to figs. I had to ask how do you eat one! I have been a fig lover and grower ever since: growing them in containers after moving back to the Midwest as to not be without fresh figs in season.

Figs are also very nutritious: high in B vitamins. They have the highest overall mineral content of all common fruits including: iron, calcium, phosphates, magnesium and manganese. They are higher in dietary fiber than any other common fruit: most of it peptic fiber that helps remove toxins from your system. It's always good to have something that tastes great and is good for you. Make sure to add figs to your list of edible landscaping subjects for 2009 or at least come for a taste next season at the Heartland Harvest Garden.