Wednesday, April 29, 2009

An Extraordinary Dogwood Season

Missouri's state tree (the hawthorn is the state flower) is currently in bloom! Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) is probably the most beloved of flowering trees and rightfully so as its flowers are surrounded by showy bracts that outlast petals of other spring flowering trees. We expect peak bloom to last for another week here at Powell Gardens. This classic white dogwood is a tree we grew from seed and can be found behind the Chapel Trolley Stop.

Our butterfly bench is surrounded by the pink-bracted forms of Flowering Dogwoods a.k.a. "Pink Dogwood." We planted Pink Dogwoods around the Visitor Center because their spring color contrasts with our limestone walls better than regular white Flowering Dogwood.

Pink Dogwood's botanical name (Cornus florida 'Rubra') is really a catch all phrase for dogwoods with pink bracts. Typically it is a soft pink when in bloom as depicted. This is the second dogwood tree along the dogwood walk from the Visitor Center and is our best Pink Dogwood. The bract color on pink dogwoods can vary from almost red to light pink.

There are select cultivars of "pink" dogwood that are clones. This is the cultivar 'Cherokee Brave,' which has exceptional disease resistance and vigor. The bracts emerge almost red and fade to a rich pink -- this one also has a soft heliotrope fragrance that is very noticeable on warm, sunny evenings. Look for it as the third dogwood tree along the dogwood walk from the Visitor Center. It is becoming readily available at local nurseries too.

The "Red" Dogwood is usually the cultivar 'Cherokee Chief' depicted here. The bracts emerge almost ruby red but fade to deep pink as they age. Most visitors barely notice the subtle variations in bract colors but as a designer it is fun to play with the color variations.

Our "reddest" Flowering Dogwood at Powell Gardens was purchased as a Pink Dogwood! It has smokey rose mature bracts that are even deeper colored than 'Cherokee Chief.' Look for this dogwood right outside the Cafe. If you are in the market for a dogwood, go to your local nursery now and buy them in bloom! You are sure to get the flower color you want that way.

We have a very diverse collection of Flowering Dogwood cultivars along the Dogwood Walk outside the Visitor Center. The uniquely double bracted cultivar depicted is 'Springtime Double.'

Springtime Double Dogwood looks almost like a gardenia but without the scent. I think the double dogwoods are very beautiful but they do not set fruit for birds and wildlife.

Our seedling dogwood depicted in the previous blog with peachy young bracts has now aged to a beautiful pink blushed white. I am very fond of this plant behind the Chapel Trolley Stop. You can't find a dogwood like this at local nurseries!

This is a bird planted seedling dogwood growing near the dogwood walk. I had the gardeners save it because its spring foliage is almost purple. I knew it would have dark colored bracts and here it is for its first bloom! The flowers are almost red with a white center. Our gardener Barbara Fetchenhier has labeled it 'Rich's Red Hot' after Horticulturist Richard Heter who is in charge of maintaining the dogwood walk. We have two golden leaved dogwood seedlings also growing near the dogwood walk.

We are always on the lookout for unusual garden seedlings--that is how new cultivars of plants are discovered and introduced into the nursery trade. Dogwoods are not the easiest of flowering trees to transplant but are definitely worth the challenge. Balled and burlapped trees are easier to establish so I recommend purchasing them.

Established dogwoods are relatively carefree and are exceptional four season plants. They have beautiful sympodial branching, alligator hide-like bark; red fruit in the fall that is an important fuel for migrating songbirds, and the best reliable and long lasting fall color of any tree here. Come out and enjoy young dogwoods planted throughout Powell Gardens -- they are putting on quite a show this year!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Glorious Redbuds

The extra 10 day wait of this slow spring has been worth it: the redbuds are in full bloom! Most American native, spring flowering trees are white but the Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) defies this color constraint with a shocking raspberry sherbet haze across local landscapes and woodlands. The nectar rich blooms are edible to us and attract a wide array of pollinators and beneficial insects.

Redbuds are a personal favorite not only for the color of their bloom, but also for their strikingly artistic trunks, often cloaked in blue-gray and golden-green lichens and flowers too! If you like sculpture, their is no finer organic artisan than an aged redbud.
Senior Gardener, Janet Heter, maintains the redbud collection at Powell Gardens, which is found on the walk to and surrounding the Faye Jones designed, Marjory Powell Allen Chapel.

Wild and planted Redbuds refresh the scene and paint the woods edge near the Chapel Trolley stop.
A real pink flowering redbud? Yes, this is the pink-pink flowering cultivar 'Tennessee Pink' Redbud which is in full bloom at the entrance to the woodland walk to the chapel. Look for other varieties of redbud in this area!
Gazing down the woodland walk to the chapel it opens up to reveal the chaple landscape surrounded in blooming White Redbuds (Cercis canadensis 'Alba'). Wild native redbuds splash their color as a backdrop that highlight the white-flowering beauties.
A White Redbud blooms beyond the Faye Jones designed fountain in front of the chapel.
A view to the west sparkles with White Redbuds in bloom along the woodland's edge. White flowering trees and white flowers have symbolized purity across many religions so their use in the chapel landscape is most appropriate.
Flowering Dogwood is the classic companion to redbuds. We planted Flowering Dogwoods (Cornus florida) that we grew from seed near the Chapel Trolley stop and they are beginning to bloom well. It takes 6 years for a seedling to flower. I actually like the rich colors of their bloom in its emerging stage (you can see them at this stage throughout the gardens).
This seedling dogwood we grew has interesting peach pink bracts that open to apple blossom pink, blushed white flowers. This demonstrates the value of growing some of our plants from seed! (See the prior "Birth of Trees" blog). We have a unique dogwood you can see nowhere else -- it is just behind the Chapel Trolley stop and is still a young tree.
Be sure to look down and see the native Toadshade Trilliums (Trillium sessile) blooming along the walk to the chapel. Look for these wildflowers as well: from Cream Violets and Virginia Bluebells to Woodland Phlox and Merrybells.
We have some unusual colored Toadshade Trilliums too. This one has atypical lighter colored blooms.
And as a footnote to your visit to Powell Gardens in redbud season, the Baltimore Orioles made their epic journey last night and returned along with fallout of countless Neotropical Songbirds. The gardens are alive with their calls and donated oranges have been placed outside the Cafe so we can lure them in for you to get a closer look. (The picture is from Betsy Betros of a Baltimore Oriole on a peanut feeder last year).

Come celebrate the rebirth of the growing season with spectacular birds and bloom at Powell Gardens. The colors and song of spring should last into mid-May. Peak redbud bloom will be this weekend, peak dogwood and azalea bloom in an additional week.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Birth of Trees

The old saying from tiny acorns, mighty oak trees grow is a good one. Trees, some of our largest living organisms, begin life from seeds. Powell Gardens does propagate some of its trees from seed. If we want to protect and display a particular population of plants, this is often the only way to do so. Why protect a particular population? We know that the wild trees from a specific area often have traits that make them more adapted to a particular region. It is well documented that many trees with widespread ranges (say Eastern North America), those from the more southern part of the range may not be winter hardy in the northern part of their range and those from northern parts languish in the heat when planted in the southern part of their range. Trees from drier regions of their range are often more drought tolerant is another example. Sometimes certain populations have more disease resistance too.

Here is a tray of young Butternut (Juglans cinerea) trees that have germinated from butternuts collected from underneath a wild tree not far from here. Butternut is a tree in trouble -- an imported canker disease has wiped it out from much of its range. Where I grew up I have watched all the mature trees die, a few saplings still grow but all are infested with the canker. Before long, they will be gone as remaining trees never live long enough to produce nuts (their seed). Powell Gardens is just past the butternut's native range, so trees planted here do not yet get canker disease.

Here is a closer look of young butternut trees. Seeing the luxuriant growth of these young seedlings inspired me to write this blog. I hope one day they will grow and produce the tasty, football shaped nuts beneath their uniquely flat-topped crowns. Their beautiful silvery plated, charcoal striped trunks protect a most beautiful light colored wood -- too rare to be of commercial importance.

Marie Frye (Senior Gardener -- Plant Records & Collections) is in charge of growing all our unique trees. Here she takes a closer look at her baby butternuts as today they will be transplanted into individual deep, open bottom pots so that they can grow strong roots that will be naturally "air pruned" as their roots reach the bottom of their new container. This is a good way to grow plants that have deep tap roots as seedlings.

Marie planted many Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) nuts too. See my Old Hickory blog for part of their story. These are grown in competition for a national program sponsored by a local garden club. Shagbark Hickories grow roots and not crowns for the beginning of their life so are not available at local nurseries (they are not cheap to produce and take time). They are very ornamental and important trees and these will be planted at various locations around the metro so their kind will not be lost.

Here are seedlings of Cucumber Magnolia (Magnolia acuminata). Cucumber Magnolia is a large shade tree native on the west side of the Appalachians from Ontario to Alabama and makes a fine shade tree here but is rarely if ever available at nurseries. These are grown from seed of the magnificent tree near the Southwest corner of Loose Park.

Sometimes we do propagate trees from cuttings to ensure an exact clone of a plant. This is a cutting grown young Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora). Because we are at the northernmost place where they will successfully grow outdoors, we have propagated some of the region's best examples to find a more hardy one for local gardens.

It hard to believe that this tiny seedling is from the largest tree in our region! This is a seedling of a Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) grown from a massive, 8 foot diameter trunked tree near Mayview. Eric Tschanz (Powell Gardens Director) and I stopped in to visit its owner and collect seed on the way back from a meeting in Columbia. Obviously this tree has the genes to be a survivor in our region. Someday I would like to propagate all of Greater Kansas City's champion trees for planting at Powell Gardens.

These are seedlings of wild Flowering Dogwoods (Cornus florida) grown from trees on the western edge of their range not far from here. We hope they are better able to survive the vagaries of our weather as Flowering Dogwood can be fickle here -- if planted from too far south it is not hardy or if from too far east it doesn't like our lower humidity and rainfall.

This is a Dwarf Hackberry (Celtis tenuifolia) seedling from a local wild tree. Dwarf Hackberry is not the most ornamental of trees but is very heat and drought tolerant, hosts 5 species of butterflies' caterpillars, produces sweet berries for us and birds, and grows only 15 to 18 ft. tall at maturity.

Speaking of edible plants, these are seedlings of some of our select Pawpaws (Asimina triloba) now growing in the yet to open Heartland Harvest Garden. Maybe one day they will produce the best tasting pawpaws ever! A good way to find new varieties is to plant out seedlings and test them over time.

This seedling has traveled around the world. It is a Pistachio (Pistachia vera) grown from the hardiest known Pistachios in Uzbekistan. We purchased it from One Green World which is a great nursery that introduces hardy edible plants from around the world. This is one of 3 seedlings -- Pistachios are male and female plants and you can't tell the boys from the girls until they start to bloom. These seedlings will be planted in the Fun Food Garden section of the Heartland Harvest Garden.

The tall spindly tree in this picture is of a very special plant started from a special population of trees. It is an Oklahoma Live Oak (Quercus fusiformis) donated by Steve Bierberich,owner of Sunshine Nursery in Clinton, OK. It is grown from a relic, disjunct Oklahoma population of the Escarpment Live Oak (the same live oaks you see in Austin, Texas). It has proven to have good hardiness into the lower Midwest! Our two trees will be planted in the Vineyard portion of the Heartland Harvest Garden where they will add to the Mediterranean theme of that garden. The acorns of this species are very low tanin and were once an important human food source.

May this blog inspire you to plant trees, from seed or from your favorite nursery: just get out and plant them! As 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai, who started The Green Belt Movement to plant trees and restore the environment and democracy in Kenya, said in her acceptance speech "to give back to the children a world of wonder and beauty." Wangari Maathai also has a Greater Kansas City connection as she received her bachelor's degree in biology from what is now Benedictine College in Atchison, KS.
All photographs were taken in Powell Gardens' greenhouses on April 15, 2009.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Spring Plant Sale Preview

Mark your calendar for May 2nd & 3rd (May 1st if you are a Powell Gardens Friends Member!) for Powell Gardens' annual Spring Plant Sale. We have over 2 greenhouses of stock preparing for the sale including premier perennials, shrubs, annuals, herbs and vegetables. This year the plants are organized into groups of a dozen garden use related plants. The list of plants and their categories can be downloaded from our website
Eric Perrette (Senior Gardener - Grower) trains some clematis--he has been in charge of the plant sale production. With around 500 varieties planned for the sale, several staff from Horticulturist Donna Covell and Senior Gardener Marie Frye to many volunteers have aided in the plant sale production process.

Here is a preview look at some of the sale plants in the greenhouse. I am very pleased with the high quality of plants grown this year. Conscientious and talented staff got help with an inordinate amount of sunny days so far this year.

Freda Clematis will be one of our specialty clematis for the sale. It has spring bronze leaves and pink dogwood-like flowers. It blooms only once per season but is so memorable it is better than many "everblooming" varieties. Its flowers are much softer in our climate when compared to the deep cherry pink flowers it has in the low light of England where it originated. (Remember Kansas City is at the same latitude as Lisbon, Portugal!)

Francis Rivis Clematis has one of the truest blue flowers we grow. This low climber blooms mainly in spring but does have an occasional rebloom in late summer.

Emerald Mist Brunnera (Brunnera macrophylla) is a new cultivar of this tried and true, shade loving perennial. Its foliage is the best I've seen! Brunnera have blue, forget-me-not-like flowers in spring but are now grown for their beautiful foliage as well! We will have several other Brunnera varieties at the sale.

Orion Geranium is one we grow most years because it is such a great performer (my personal favorite cultivated hardy Geranium) and it is difficult to find. Not new but tried and true with great garden performance here. The flowers are large, and produced in a great mass over the foliage, in mid summer it can be cut back to produce a real nice tuft of foliage that turns nice shades of red in fall.

Sun Parsol Giant Crimson Mandevilla is brand new for us and has created lots of oohs and aahs in the greenhouses. This tropical vine will bloom for you all summer until frost. It can easily be overwintered dormant in a frost free location. This is quite a breakthrough in hybridizing to get such velvety brilliant red flowers of large size on a Mandevilla.

Indian Dunes Brocade-leaf Geranium is another shockingly colorful unhardy plant that does great for us. Unbeknownst to many is how easy these are to overwinter dormant in a basement. Just hang them upside down through the winter in a dark, dry place. Of course they also do well in a sunny window through the winter.

Marie Bleu Ceanothus (Ceanothus x pallidus 'Minmari') is another breakthrough in hybridization. If you have ever seen the blue-flowering "California Lilacs" Ceanothus out West you know they are not Midwestern hardy. We do have two native Midwestern Ceanothus including the New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus). Cross the two and finally they have one as hardy as New Jersey Tea but with the blue flowers of the western species! I was shocked when our small starts began to bud -- see above! Marie Bleu will be a small shrub only 2-3 feet tall like our New Jersey Tea.

Yes we have well growing plants of the new Incrediball Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens 'Abetwo'). This new cultivar of the Missouri native Hydrangea will have massive blooms atop "beefy" stems. It is supposed to have four times as many blooms as the next largest and well known cultivar 'Annabelle.' It looks just like Annabelle (which will also be in the sale) but has a much more interesting whitish, leaf underside. You can see the flower buds are already forming!

The huge white and fragrant flowers of the Snow Velvet Mockorange make this my favorite of the mockoranges. These are cuttings from our own shrub on the south side of the Visitor Center. Mockoranges are out of fashion but so wonderful for attracting butterflies and for blooming in the green "blah" period between spring and summer.

Figs (Ficus carica) in several of our select varieties will also be available. With the opening of our new Heartland Harvest Garden on June 14, interest in food plants is gaining momentum (more like a tidal wave?). We will have 4 dozen varieties of unique vegetables and over 100 varieties of culinary herbs at the sale. All the figs are cuttings from our specialty varieties proven outside in the nursery for our Heartland Harvest Garden. They are all named varieties from 'Mission' to 'Vern's Brown Turkey.'

Please join the Friends of Powell Gardens (you can do so on our website and you can partake in the Friends preview sale from 5-7p.m on Friday, May 1, 2009. Attending the preview sale insures the best selection (quantities are limited), your membership helps support Powell Gardens and its world class gardens and architecture!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Dodging Jack Frost & Mr. Freeze

Last night's freeze was of great concern to gardeners and orchardists throughout the Greater Kansas City region. Heartland Harvest Gardener Barbara Fetchenhier (in charge of fruit and nuts) along with her seasonal Gardener Ginger Johnson spent the night in the new Heartland Harvest Garden. They monitored weathered conditions and did some trial freeze protection on four peach trees. They were thrilled to learn many things about the new Heartland Harvest Garden site. Most importantly it is actually 2 degrees F warmer than our official weather station and has less wind. This makes a difference when temperatures are flirting with the break point between a killing hard freeze and one which plants survive. Barbara enthusiastically announced this morning that we had dodged the disaster: the temperature only dropped to 27F and most of the fruit tree buds will survive and produce fruit for the opening season of our new garden. All I can say is Whew!

Here are what most peach flower buds look like as of early afternoon. The petals may have some, minor burn but it is not total bud and bloom kill. Some varieties of our peaches like the classic 'Red Haven' were not even in flower yet which is another saving grace.
Pears were also in bud with few in bloom and appear to have little to no damage. This is a European Pear cultivar but the Asian cultivars look fine too.
Sweet Cherries were just beginning to bloom and you can see the white flowers look none worse for the wear.
I was surprised that many of the plums have been slow to bloom which also has been beneficial. The European plums are in good bud (shown). A few varieties of plums had already bloomed before last night's major freeze.
The wise old apple's flowers are in very tight bud, barely showing inside the set of new leaves.
Native and ornamental flowers also look just fine. The buds of Redbud in are that "purplebud" stage when the plant looks like a haze of purple. We expect full bloom of the redbuds just past the usual peak date of April 10.
Here is a closeup of the "flower buds" (actually an inflorescence if you know your botany) of Flowering Dogwood. The four emerging flower bracts show the actual flower buds set inside (the real flower buds look like eggs inside). Flowering Dogwood suffered no damage from the freeze and we expect peak bloom at the end of April.
This peach blossom shines with optimism! I hope to taste a juicy peach this summer as a fruit of its and our gardener's labor.
All photographs taken by Alan Branhagen at Powell Gardens on April 7, 2009.