Friday, June 26, 2009

Painting with Perennials

Powell Gardens' Perennial Garden is ablaze with summer blooming perennials. The 3-1/2 acre garden has nearly 1,500 varieties of perennials. Walk along its brick paths and you will see many ideas on how to combine perennials into colorful compositions. Here are a few that captured my attention this morning:

This composition of hot colors is centered with a clump of Firehouse Asiatic Lily and surrounded by red-flowering daylilies (cultivar 'Al Baker' left, 'Indian Love Call' background and 'Scarlet Orbit' right). A red-flowering Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) in the lower right ties right in. This composition really gets the heart pumping and is not a good choice for a relaxing outdoor space.

Cool blue flowers like this Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) contrast with warm red-flowering daylilies and enhance the beauty of each. Look for this composition and Russian Sage used as a backdrop to daylilies along the walk from the Trolley Stop into the garden.

Warm yellow flowers like this Savannah Asiatic Lily also contrast nicely with cool Russian Sage blossoms. These colors are actually complimentary on the color wheel--the lily is yellow and orange and the Russian sage is actually violet-blue.

The strong light of these near solstice days make yellow and white glow. The shady woodland backdrop reads black and really sets off the form of the plants as well. This spectacular stand of Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) is in the prairie border of the perennial garden. The white flowers are the native weed Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron annuus) -- we always leave a few for color but it does reseed too much and requires thinning and removal.

This stand of a similar and related huge perennial, Texas Coneflower (Ratibida maxima) would be more dramatic with a dark background. Even though yellow-flowering, this perennial is used in our "blue" border because of its green-blue leaves (and not its bold form). The coarse texture of the leaves also contrasts wonderfully with adjacent, finer textured (smaller leaved) perennials.

Even though solely in shades of green, the form of this native grass -- Bottlebrush Grass (Elymus hystrix) make it beautiful all by itself with a turf and woodland backdrop that don't compete with its delicate beauty. Bottlebrush grass is locally native in open woods and savannas and prefers some shade.

The smoky rose plumes of the Karley Rose Pennisetum grass echo the the smokey pink flowers of Sweet Sixteen Mallow (Malva). Both these perennials have performed extremely well for us and are showy for a very long time in the summer perennial border. You rarely see them in other local landscapes or gardens.

Back lighting really sets off some perennials. Light catching Sweet Sixteen Mallow and spiky steel blue Sea-holly (Eryngium) look even better with warm colored daylilies blooming in the background.

Pastel compositions are a favorite of many gardeners as the colors are soft and soothing. This composition is quite sophisticated with spectacular Highland White Dream Daisies (Leucanthemum x maximum), Lady Emily Daylily (lower right), a pastel pink Asiatic Lily and interwoven Summer Pastels Yarrow (Achillea).

Cool colors take the heat away from this hot day. The composition includes Blue John Veronica with the spiky flowers, a touch of Franz Schubert Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata) and the leaves of Texas Coneflower for contrast.

Huge Variegated Giant Reed (Arundo donax 'Variegata') looks even better with a mix of Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea cultivars) at its base.
White flowers are very nice in hot weather and perfect for an outdoor "after work" relaxation space. These flowers will glow into dusk and shine in moonlight. Royal Respect L.A. Lily in the foreground and Flower Power Phlox (Phlox maculata) in the background really work well together.
Some flowers are so dramatic they are at there best all alone. This is the weak vining Clematis 'Florida Sieboldii' which always catches attention with its striking flowers.
The Perennial Garden offers many ideas of how to combine perennials in the home landscape. It provides garden interest at all seasons but from now through September it is at it peak of summer colors. All color ranges are utilized with areas themed for white, pastels, reds, blues; sun or shade, native plants, etc. There is surely a composition inspiring for you so bring your camera and pencil and paper to capture ideas to recreate at home.
All images taken by Alan Branhagen at Powell Gardens' Perennial Garden on June 26, 2009.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Heartland Harvest Garden Briefing

The new 12 acre Heartland Harvest Garden opened to Powell Gardens' visitors on Sunday, June 14th and I would like to offer a brief overview of this garden. The garden showcases all the plants that provide our food, with over 2,000 varieties on display. Remember, this is a LARGE garden and the walk from the entrance to the Missouri Barn is nearly one quarter mile. The Gift Shop in the barn is air conditioned and a nice respite. I can recommend the Nutty Blue Goose (walnut-blueberry-gooseberry) jelly, Tula hats (for sun protection) and Rogue hoes (the worlds best weeding tool made in Kansas). The spacious garden disperses a crowd of over 500 to the point where it is very comfortable for all to enjoy the garden's many intimate to grand spaces. Everything in this garden has some connection from seed to plate, but please do not pick the fruit or vegetables, however tempting they may be. You may sample the garden's produce at two tasting stations on weekends (one tasting station on weekdays) so you will be able to sample something fresh from the garden during any visit. The Hinnomaki Red Gooseberries & Cherry-olives were quite a hit this past week.

You must enter the Heartland Harvest Garden from the Powell Gardens' Visitor Center. The entrance garden's Millstone fountain and information panels are short walk out the north end of the building. The chalkboard tells you where and what you can expect at the garden's tasting stations.

The Menu Garden is the first subgarden you enter and is a Potager or "kitchen" garden. It contains four seasonal produce beds and is surrounded by permanent plantings of thyme, blueberries, hazelnuts, Oregon-grapes and lilacs -- all enclosed by a beautiful 6 foot wattle fence.

The main walk passes through the Seed to Plate Greenhouse and you are welcome to slide the doors open and enter either side. The north or right side has seedling plants; the southern half has the non-hardy plants you see on your menu nearly every day. The picture is a planter box with 3 tea plants (Camellia sinensis)and a border of boxwood basil. Tea plants are evergreen shrubs and yes, the leaves are harvested for tea. There are five varieties of tea on display including the Sochi tea which is considered the hardiest and possibly hardy outdoors in a sheltered courtyard in Kansas City. Look for bananas, oranges, pepper and cacao (chocolate) and others too!

You will see the Apple Sculpture through the greenhouse and it is the centerpiece for the Apple Celebration Court. Fifty varieties of apples grow here, in a spiral planting that follows a brick path similar to the yellow brick road in the Wizard of Oz. Narrow pole type apples are in the narrow beds of its center and the apple varieties get larger and larger until standard sized apple trees comprise the outermost bed. Apple varieties will begin ripening in a few short weeks (Lodi) and various varieties will be ripening weekly until Granny Smith (the last to ripen) in early November!

The Vineyard is quite colorful now as the rows of grapes are planted with blooming Hyssop (Hyssopus officianalis). Each row of grapes has a different theme: the first row are seeded grapes for juice and preserves like the classic 'Concord' while the last row nearest the arbor is white wine grapes including 'Chardonnel.' This is a vineyard to showcase over 50 varieties of grapes for our area, not a production vineyard.

Here is a view down the main walk of the Vineyard to the Wine Cask fountain at its end. Look for containers of pomegranate, olives, and jasmine-orange (flavors jasmine tea) under the arbor which enhance a Mediterranean feel to the garden.

The Authors' Gardens are both planted and showcase our bi-coastal authors. Author Barbara Damrosch's (from Maine) and Rosalind Creasy's (from California) gardens are on either side of the main path and contrast wonderfully in style. Be sure and pick up their books in the Good Earth Gifts: Recipes from the Garden by Ros and The Garden Primer by Barbara. My macro lens does not do these gardens justice so I attached only the image looking at the Cherry Tomato tunnel in Rosalind's Garden. The mushroom like structure is the "blackberry fountain" that in a season or two will be dripping with long-caned Apache blackberries.

Missouri's Governor and First Lady, Jay & Georganne Nixon, took a relaxing private tour of the Heartland Harvest garden and posed for this picture. They are quite aware of the local and national significance of the Heartland Harvest Garden and visited Powell Gardens for their 22nd anniversary on Saturday morning.

Peach Plaza is the end of the brick spiral road that begins at the apple sculpture. It is designed with genetic dwarf peach trees in the small beds at the center, semi-dwarfs in the middle and standard sized peach trees on the outer beds. There are 27 varieties on display; some varieties are duplicated on semi-dwarf and standard rootstocks (the rootstock a peach is grafted on determines its eventual mature size). There are not as many hardy peach varieties as there are apples. Peaches are given a hardiness rating and we showcase only those with the two hardiest ratings for our zone. Nectarines are also part of this garden as they are basically a fuzzless variety of peach.

Soybeans in the Missouri Star Orchard are germinating well. The Missouri Star Orchard is close to fully planted with rice and cotton in its small center beds, soybeans in the inner beds, corn, sorghum and milo in outer beds and unique crops like safflower and sesame in its four outer corner beds. We want this garden to be a place for visitors to see crops they routinely whiz by on the highway.

Volunteer RD Wood plants the last of the grasses in the Kansas Star Quilt: a garden that showcases the regions forage plants. Here you will see clovers, alfalfa, pasture and range grasses that ultimately provide us with our dairy and beef.

The Missouri Star Quilt has four arbors that are a good respite from the sun. This quilt garden displays plants that are appropriate for backyard fruit production. Groundcovers of strawberries, rows of raspberries and blackberries, vines of hops and hardy kiwis and many unique fruit trees (to name only a few) give the homeowner ideas for their own backyard.

A view into the fourth quilt garden; Villandry Quilt Garden shows unique beds of vegetables in four themes. At the base of the steps from where the four quilt gardens come together, one enters the plant families theme. At to the right it the heirloom theme, to the left a plant companions theme and at the far corner is the tomato and basil theme. In the background you can see the windmill and mule sculptures in the Fun Food Farm. Fun Food Farm is also open and a good place for children -- the mules may be climbed on and have a special soft "flooring" for playground safety.

Potatoes are in bloom and as beautiful as any perennial grown for its bloom.

Apple trees donated by Stephenson's Apple Orchard adorn the front "lawn" of the Missouri barn. These trees were transplanted from their orchard to Powell Gardens by Colonial Nursery's large tree spade.

You will see most of the fruit trees with ripening fruit (cherries are past!): here are the "pearlets" of the Seckel pear. Most permanent plantings have a label, see below for an example:
The labels have the English Common Name on top with the botanical name (always in italix) and cultivar name below. There is a sentence about the edible nature of the plant in the middle of each label. The lower left corner contains the Plant family and the lower right corner states the native range of the plant.
The Heartland Harvest Garden takes an easy two hours to explore, longer if you really read all the signage and labels. We are still adding plants daily: the barn's Kitchen Garden is next to be installed and will showcase culinary herbs in four beautiful borders. Rosalind Creasy has dubbed the garden the largest edible landscape in the country -- no other public botanical garden has quite this scope of the displaying the plants that sustain our lives in a beautiful manner. Make a date to come visit!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Vivacious Flowers of the Summer Solstice

Sunday is not only Father's Day but the Summer Solstice -- the longest, most direct sunlight day of the year. Bright summer flowers seem to exceptionally vivacious in this light and the Island Garden has quite a parade of color now.

Red Hot Poker (Knifophia 'Alcazar') fits its name and the season well. It is one of our few hardy African perennials. I have had friends bring back pictures of it from the high elevations of Kilimanjaro but most garden ones come from the high elevations of South Africa. It is pollinated by sunbirds in its native Africa but American hummingbirds and orioles visit the nectar-rich flowers here.

Locally native Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is one of our most brilliant wildflowers. Here it is on the Island Garden prairie but we have wild populations of this plant on our native prairies on the Byron Shutz Nature Trail. It signals to me that I had better take some time to hike the nature trail as several species of butterflies are in flight when it blooms and at no other time during the year. Look for Coral, Banded, Hickory and even Striped Hairstreaks nectaring on this plant. It is a milkweed and a host plant for Monarch butterflies as well.

The Asiatic hybrid lilies are in full bloom in the gardens are one of the best eye candy plants we have. They come in reds, oranges, yellows, pinks, white and almost purple. I could not find the label to identify the cultivar of this Asiatic lily on the Island Garden: there are too many cultivars to remember!

The Green Santolinas (Santolina virens) are also in full bloom on the Island Garden's living wall. Santolina is actually a tender evergreen shrub but survives most winters and blooms in midsummer. The yellow flowers are quite a sight atop the ferny green mounds of foliage.

Beds alongside the pools of the Island Garden are full of bright flowers: Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria), Brookside Geranium (Geranium 'Brookside') and Veronica (Veronica spicata) make a cool meadow-esque composition.

Native Purple Poppy-Mallows (Callirhoe involucrata) spill over the living wall with exceptionally vivid pink-purple flowers. They are sometimes appropriately called winecups.

One of our few, late blooming azaleas is in full bloom: the Texas Azalea (Rhododendron oblongifolium). We got our plant from an Arkansas nursery as this azalea is native almost into Missouri but mainly from East Texas to Northern Arkansas. It is a great native shrub with flowers perfect for a shady evening garden. Taxonimists have lumped it with the eastern Swamp Azalea because you can't tell them apart when flattened on an herbarium specimen. They are very different in the garden!

Put on your sunglasses and sunscreen and make a trip out to see Powell Gardens' vibrant flowers of the solstice. Be sure and stop in the new Heartland Harvest Garden as it is now open daily and the veggies are growing as fast as weeds.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Powell Gardens Buds in a New Direction

The exquisite Southern Magnolias are in bud and bloom around the Powell Gardens Visitor Center and I find them a symbol of Powell Gardens' "new" direction. The Heartland Harvest Garden opens with a formal ribbon cutting at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning, June 14, 2009. All the plants in the new Heartland Harvest Garden have some tie back to the food that nourishes our bodies: from groundcovers of strawberries to shade trees like pecans, and from colorful containers of pomegranates in the vineyard to seedling tomatoes in the greenhouse; from seed to plate the garden is all about edibles.

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.." John Muir

John Muir's quote was to promote preservation of the California Sierras but it applies anywhere. Powell Gardens embodies this quote: existing beautiful gardens, Faye Jones designed Marjory Powell Allen Chapel, 3+ mile nature trail through meadows, woodlands and native prairie remnants; and now Heartland Harvest Garden where all our food plants decorate the garden and are available for tasting in season.

Southern Magnolia's (Magnolia grandiflora) beauty reflects how horticulture evolved from growing food to growing beauty. Magnolias were one of the first plants cultivated by humans for beauty and not food.

All the very fragrant American magnolias like these Sweetbay Magnolias (Magnolia virginiana) are in bloom around the Visitor Center. Be sure and give their blossoms a whiff as they are intensely fragrant.

Porcelain Dove Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana x Magnolia globosa) and its accompanying peppery fragrance can be seen and smelled outside the Visitor Center's Cafe Thyme.

Louisiana Sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana var. louisianica) can be seen on the ramp leading north out of Visitor Center.

The Visitor Center's beds of summer seasonal plants are all planted and awaiting the summer heat and sunshine. Our collection of cacti and succulents spend the summer outdoors and are always a favorite display of visitors. The Visitor Center beds display plants the way an artist uses paint.

The Dwarf Conifer Garden is a wonderful blend of subtle colors and textures at the north end of the Visitor Center. It is the transition and precursor to the Heartland Harvest Garden.

North of the Visitor Center you will reach the Millstone Fountain, Entrance Plaza to the New Heartland Harvest Garden. Beyond it's entry arbor is a garden that is a return to where horticulture began -- really not a new direction but a return to horticulture's roots!

Once inside the new Heartland Harvest Garden, be prepared to see the plants that provides almost every food item in the grocery store! The earliest ripening apple 'Lodi' is already looking luscious in the Apple Celebration Court.

Be sure and follow the rules and don't pick the produce you see: we want to share the experience with you and those after you. Many plants have a definite ripening stage so only staff and volunteers will be allowed to pick the bounty of the garden.

We DO want you to experience a taste of the garden so look for where the garden's tasting stations will be. The daily items to taste, and where to find these "tasting stations" will be written on the chalk board at the entrance arbor.

On opening day plan on these plants for tastings (as quantities allow): berries & edible flowers.

Over 20 varieties of strawberries are grown in the garden, if you've not had a plant ripened, sun warmed berry, you are missing out!

The Finnish (as in Finland!) Gooseberry 'Hinnomaki Red' is also ripe now. I first tasted this gooseberry in the Napa Valley and found it to have the best flavor of any. It will be at tasting stations as quantities allow. Remember that our garden is new and the edible producing shrubs and trees will need time to mature and be at full production.

Beautiful strings of bright red berries make the Red Currants (Ribes sativum) look delicious. The berries are beautiful and delightfully tart, best used in preserves.

Edible Flowers will include:

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) has licorice tasting lavender-blue florets. It is also a stellar "insectaries" plant that attracts beneficial pollinators and good bugs to the garden.

Borage (Borago officinalis) also has edible flowers -- they taste refreshing like cucumbers.

Nasturtiums also have edible flowers but are more strongly tasting. We will have a few more unique edible flowers on hand for those more daring. Again, only eat the flowers at the tasting stations!

Squash also have edible flowers and I observed the new Cafe Fresh's chef pick some. Cafe Fresh will serve fresh food in the new Missouri Barn in the Heartland Harvest Garden.

We hope you come experience the newly expanded Powell Gardens; from beauty to bread, it really is an all-day road trip for the soul.

All pictures taken by Alan Branhagen at Powell Gardens on June 12, 2009.