Thursday, July 23, 2009

Powell Gardens' Plants for a Midsummer's Evening Garden

Midsummer evenings are a time when many of us sit outdoors and enjoy our gardens. Plants with white flowers or otherwise reflective (often bluish or golden) and variegated foliage really stands out as the light fades. Gardens themed around such plants are often called Evening Gardens. If you have participated in any of our Fridays at the Fountains (or Full Moon Fridays in 2008) you had the chance to see Powell Gardens in the evening on a guided tour.
Becky Shasta Daisies (Leucanthemum x maximum 'Becky') are a classic midsummer white flower. Ask anyone to name 5 flowers and "daisy" is likely to be one of the five! Becky Daisy is our best choice for a daisy in our climate as it is stout (doesn't flop) and is heat tolerant (a trait not needed so far this year but needed here MOST years).
The tall and little known Hungarian Daisy (Chrysanthemum serotinum) also does well in our climate and a good choice for the back of a border. Look for this perennial in the Perennial Garden and now in the Heartland Harvest Garden vineyard.

White Swan Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea 'White Swan') (or other white-flowering cultivars) also are stellar performing garden perennials for us. The flower's cones give a nice contrast of color so that a white garden doesn't look flat. Even a stray seedling in typical purple coneflower adds a nice depth to a planting (as in the image). Look for these in the Perennial Garden and below the north wall of the Visitor Center.
David Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata 'David') is a stellar cultivar of phlox that is mildew resistant and a long bloomer (a past perennial plant of the year). The softly fragrant white flowers simply glow in the evening. White-flowering Gentle Shepherd daylilies add to the composition in the image and are another good midsummer evening perennial. Look for David Phlox in the Perennial Garden.
The unique globe-like flower heads atop open stems of the locally native wildflower Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium) are a very underutilized white-flowering perennial. Rattlesnake Master is now a Plant of Merit ( so is a star performer across Missouri. You can see Rattlesnake Mater growing wild along our entrance drive and along our Nature Trail; and planted in the parking lot, Fountain and Perennial Gardens.
This perennial needs a person standing next to it to show how big it is! This is a mature clump of Bartered Bride Joe Pye-weed (Eupatorium maculatum). It is in the Perennial Garden at the back of the white border and is 6 feet tall. This white-flowering cultivar of Joe Pye is a great performer and also attracts many interesting beneficial insects.
Another large, bold perennial is Kopper King Hibiscus or Rose Mallow (a hardy native Hibiscus hybrid). The bronzed foliage and pink "eye" of the flowers really can add contrast and depth to a planting of white flowering plants. Look for this plant in the white border of the Perennial Garden and at the entrance to the Island Garden.
Casa Blanca Lily (Oriental Lilium hybrid) is a classic evening plant because this flower also is incredibly fragrant, especially in the evening. There are two large clumps of this lily in bloom at the beginning of the dogwood walk outside the Visitor Center.
This Garden Party Oriental Lily is a good evening garden choice with yellow-banded, freckled white flowers of intense fragrance. Look for it in the Perennial Garden.
Some of our containter greenhouse plants get set out for the summer to really show their ornamental attributes. These large (4" across) white flowers are on our Night-blooming Cereus cactus and can be seen in the cactus bed out the north ramp of the Visitor Center. If you visit in the morning the flowers will still be open.
Many plants have ideal foliage now with waxy surfaces that make them look bluish. White Wild Indigo (Baptisia alba) is a native prairie plant that, though it has tall spikes of white flowers in early summer, still has appropriate foliage for an evening garden now. The light green seed pods are also quite beautiful and they will turn black by fall and be good for interest in the winter season. This White Wild Indigo is next to the blue border in the Perennial Garden but can also be seen in the Perennial Garden's prairie border, in our main meadow and growing wild along the Nature Trail.
Variegated Ornamental Grasses are always stunning in evening light. Here Variegated Giant Reed (Arundo donax 'Variegata') and Variegated Miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis cultivar) rise above and beyond white-flowering purple coneflowers and white-flowering daylilies in the Perennial Garden. Both Giant reed and miscanthus are considered invasive weeds in the southwestern and southern parts of the United States but these never self sow here.
There are many great flowering shrubs that make excellent backdrops and screens around evening gardens: Here is Limelight Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight') with its classic lime colored flower buds that do open to pure white and then fade to pinks as they age. Look for Limelight Hydrangea is several locations at Powell Gardens: around the Fountain Garden, in the Perennial Garden and in a large shrub border near the Rock & Waterfall trolley stop.
Pink Diamond Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata 'Pink Diamond') is another great beauty in full bloom in the Perennial and Island Gardens. Its flower heads gradually age to pink and you can already see a hint of pink in the flowers.
The Swan Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) is another good cultivar with huge white sterile florets (2" across -- huge for a hydrangea!). This flower is about a foot long. All Hydrangea paniculata cultivars do well here in full sun and can be allowed to become large shrubs if you want. They all bloom on new wood so you can also cut them back or even to the ground if need be and they bloom on new growth the first season! Look for this shrub in the white border of the Perennial Garden.
Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) with its whitish-blue leaf undersides also looks good in an evening garden now. There are occasionally a few of its flowers still open although its peak bloom is in early summer. Small trees help make intimate spaces in a evening garden setting and sweetbay is one of the best choices. Sweetbays are planted throughout Powell Gardens: from around the Visitor Center to Island, Rock & Waterfall and Perennial Gardens.
Several evergreens are also a good choice in evening gardens and the tapestry hedge in the Perennial Garden shows 3 of the best! Here the lime-gold foliage of Berkmann's Golden Oriental Arborvitae (Platycladus orientalis), green with nicely contrasting light blue "berries" on the middle Emerald Sentinel Juniper (Juniperus virginiana) and the Blue Juniper (Juniperus virginiana 'Glauca') create a rich composition at all seasons. Yep the two cultivars of juniper in this hedge are just selections of our native Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) -- one of the toughest evergreens for our climate.
No matter what your interest in gardening and plants may be, Powell Gardens displays some plants that interest you! We exceeded 15,000 accessions (cataloged plant acquisitions) this spring and we never accession annuals so nearly 8,000 varieties of plants are now on display at the Gardens. From food plants in the Heartland Harvest Garden, to annuals and tropicals around the Visitor Center, water and rock plants on the Island Garden, shade-loving plants in the Rock & Waterfall Garden and all sorts of perennials in the Perennial Garden, there are surely some ideas in store for your gardening endeavors.

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