Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Garden Stars of the Autumnal Equinox

Flowers of the Autumnal Equinox always have a rich color saturation that makes a visit to the garden at the beginning of fall an extraordinary experience. This blog was put together on September 23, 2009, but technical difficulties didn't let it appear until October 9.

The gorgeous red buds of the Scarlet Rose Mallow (Hibiscus coccineus) beckon Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to come for a sweet taste of their nectar. This Texas native is where all the red flowers and divided leaves of hybrid Rose Mallows originate. Scarlet Rose Mallow has proven fully hardy at Powell Gardens and can be seen permanently in the Hummingbird Garden outside Cafe Thyme. We also have this plant on display on the Island Garden as it flourishes with wet feet.

The spectacular Lord Baltimore Rose Mallow (Hibiscus hybrid) still outshines all others after 19 years in Powell Garden's Perennial Garden. The huge red flowers are borne from mid summer until fall on a huge perennial 6 feet tall and wide. Scarlet Rose Mallow is an obvious parent of this hybrid.

Lady in Red Salvia (Salvia coccinea) another Texas native that blooms profusely in fall and in waves through the entire season. It is a favorite nectar flower of hummingbirds and thus a major plant in the Hummingbird Garden. It is a self-sowing annual in our climate.

The velvety orange flowers of Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) entice hummingbirds and butterflies to imbibe their sweet nectar and pollinate them so the goldfinches have some seeds to feast on.

Native Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) can be seen blooming along the dry stream garden and along the lakeshore. This fall-blooming annual related to the impatiens in your garden is always visited by migrating hummingbirds. It is a fun plant to introduce to children as another name for the plant is "touch-me-not" -- that refers to the ripe seed pods which explode when touched. The seeds inside are also extraordinary as they have oil of wintergreen in them and if you scrape the seed coat you will smell this just like candy wintergreen lifesavers and reveal a robin's egg blue seed underneath!

The orange-themed bed on the northeast terraces of the Visitor Center was a visitor favorite. The tall Orange Crush canna was a top performing summer plant in 2009.

Native Perennial Sunflowers are at peak bloom around the solstice and certainly are flowers of the sun. Maximilian's Sunflower (Helianthus maximilianii) grace the north "prairie" side of the Island Garden. Be sure and smell the flowers of the native sunflowers growing around the gardens, many of them have a distinct cocoa scent.

Golden-Asters (Chrysolepis sp.) and Verbena bonariensis provide a stunning contrast of flowers colors on the Island Garden.

The magnificent Heavenly Blue Morning Glories (Ipomoea purpurea) in the terrace gardens of the Visitor Center were a royal treat to any visitor in the morning or cloudy day.

Heavenly Blue Morning Glory is without doubt, aptly named.

The perennial groundcover and Plant of Merit Hardy Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) is still in full flower and will remain so well into fall even after its leaves turn reds and burgundy. This is certainly one of the finest groundcovers for our area. Look for fine examples of this plant on the Island Garden.

The locally native New England Asters (Aster novae-angliae) are in full bloom, depicted is the cultivar 'Hella Lacy,' which has such rich colored blooms with a sunny center. Look for this plant in the Perennial Garden. It was trimmed in midsummer to give it more sturdy, bushy growth.

This pink-flowering New England Aster was discovered in the wilds nearby and has proven to be one of the finest pink-flowering New England Asters I have ever seen. Maybe one day we will give it a cultivar name and make it available to perennial lovers everywhere. Look for this plant in the Perennial Garden as well.

The cute native annual Palafoxia (Palafoxia callosus) remains one of the most underutilized of our native flora. It self sows along the bottom of the Island Garden's living wall as it is native to rocky glades. If you have a well-drained rocky spot or you want a baby's breath-like plant that thrives in our summer heat -- this is your plant!

Come celebrate the season with the plants of the Autumnal Equinox. The gardens are at their most exuberant now as most plants have grown to their maximum size.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Berry in Every Hue

Powell Gardens is filled with a bounty of berries in every hue! A second summer of moderate temperatures and regular rainfall has allowed the gardens' trees and shrubs to be ablaze with abundant autumn fruit. The vibrant colored berries are beautiful and add ornament to the garden but are really an advertisement for birds to eat them and thus disperse their seeds.

Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata 'Winter Red') leads the pack with screaming red berries in perfect contrast to its lustrous green leaves. Look for various varieties of this medium to large shrub planted throughout Powell Gardens from in front of the Gatehouse to around the Visitor Center Trolley Stop to Island, Rock & Waterfall and Perennial Gardens. Winterberries are a deciduous holly and can be a bush that appears to be abloom with red after their leaves drop. This shrub is a Missouri native too! Remember that all hollies are either male and female so be sure to plant compatible male and female cultivars to ensure fruit set in your garden. Plant the cultivar 'Southern Gentleman' to pollinate 'Winter Red'.

American native magnolias also show off their brilliant red "berries" from popsicle-like "cones". Here Louisiana Sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana 'Louisianica') touts its tempting fruit to be eaten by mockingbirds. Look for many sweetbay magnolias in fruit around the Visitor Center.

The Linden Viburnum (Viburnum dilatatum 'Catskill') shows mounded bunches of red fruit. This Asian shrub self sows east of here but has so far not been invasive at the gardens. It is best to plant two or more cultivars of Linden Viburnum to ensure good fruit set. We have a group of several Linden Viburnums south of the Visitor Center where they screen (help hide) the deliveries and staff parking lot.

Tea Viburnum (Viburnum setigerum) has fruit that is in a very nice vermillion "red-orange" stage now, but they will mature bright red. This large shrub can be seen along the trolley road across from our old Visitor Center. It is one of a few Viburnums that is self fertile so only one plant will set good fruit.

Brandywine Viburnum (Viburnum nudum 'Bulk') has copious amounts of fruit currently in a neat "pink" stage. You can see that a few berries are turning blue and one-by-one they all will mature blue. Look for Brandywine Viburnum near the trolley stop at the Perennial Garden. This viburnum also sets better fruit when another variety is planted nearby -- we have the sister cultivar 'Winterthur' to help for pollination in this planting.

Winterberry Euonymus (Euonymus bungeana) has gorgeous pink fruit now. This small tree from China also has a unique pale yellow fall color to compliment this show. The fruit are soon to "pop" and show their orange-red berries. This plant is related to our native Bittersweet but unlike bittersweet which is either male or female, this plant is self-fruitful. This is not an invasive species of Euonymus like the evergreen varieties. Look for this tree between the road to the chapel and the Rock and Waterfall trolley stop.

Teton Pyracantha (Pyracantha hybrid) is a disease resistant pyracantha with real orange berries for the fall landscape. Pyracantha is self-fruitful and this variety is disease resistant and sets good fruit each year for us. Look for it on the north side of the Visitor Center. We also have a couple pyracanthas at our entrance on 50 highway and often get asked what the orange "blooming" shrubs are there in the fall! Pyracantha are a dense, twiggy shrub with spines so be careful where you plant them -- they do make an inpenetrable hedge!

Winter Gold Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) has fruit that are just starting to ripen their unique salmony orange. This cultivar can be seen near the trolley stop in the Rock & Waterfall Garden. Its pollinator is the cultivar 'Southern Gentleman' as it is just a branch sport of the Winter Red variety shown at the top of this blog.

I couldn't find many yellow berries just yet but the yellow-fruited Flowering-Quinces (Chaenomeles 'Jettrail' shown) are now ripe. The fruit of this shrub is underutilized as it has a great pleasant and spicy aroma and can be used as an air freshener. Those more handy in the kitchen can make a delicious preserve out of the fruit as we have done with all the Heartland Harvest Gardens' flowering-quince fruits. Plant several varieties to ensure good fruit set. Yellow 'Harvest Gold' Crabapples and 'Finch's Golden' Deciduous Holly/Possumhaw are two other good plants for yellow fall fruit at the gardens.

The fruit of the Rusty Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum rufidulum) are in a nice green stage right now but will begin to turn more pink then blue to black. This native large shrub/small tree can be seen along the walk from the Rock & Waterfall Garden to its trolley stop.

The darkening blue fruit of Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) are still hanging on this native shrub. You must plant at least two varieties of this Missouri native shrub to ensure fruit set. This berry is a popular food of songbirds migrating through the area now.

The dazzling purple fruit of Early Amethyst Beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) tempt the eye in the Rock & Waterfall Garden. This Plant of Merit is the only reliable species of beautyberry in our zone. After years of careful watching, this variety is also NOT invasive. I also really like the native beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) but it is found in the wild only as far north as a stone's throw into Missouri from Arkansas and did not even flower on this record cool summer at Powell Gardens or in my own yard.

Ok, I had to cheat to find a black berry now. The fruit inside the brown husks of the Golden Rain Trees (Koelreuteria paniculata) are like black beads. Golden Rain Tree can self sow into gardens and actually be a nuisance but it will only self-sow into rocky glades or road cuts in the wild. It would be invasive if you lived near a native glade where it would soon be a problematic, non-native species.

The clusters of brown "Chinese lantern-like fruit of the Golden Rain tree do create some ornamental interest--looking better in the mid summer when they are light green, aging to pink tones before drying brown in fall.

Local conifers have set unprecedented numbers of cones this year. The cute little cones of Serbian Spruce (Picea omorika) can be seen on near the Rock & Waterfall Trolley Stop.

And yes, there is a White-berried Beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma 'Albifructis') that is quite showy as a shrub in the Perennial Garden. The milky white berries are quite unique and will hold for quite awhile before aging ivory and yellowish in early winter.

The locally native and wild all around the edges of Powell Gardens, Roughleaf Dogwood (Cornus drummondii) is the premier bird migration fuel right now. This shrub is actually quite ornamental but does sucker into a tall thicket 15 feet tall and as wide as allowed to spread. Look for beautiful native masses of this shrub along our Byron Shutz Nature Trail. At my own house I let masses edge the wild woods and they are now alive with migrating birds scarfing up the fruit. The berries are high in fats for the birds so that they can make their migrations -- this also makes the berries drop and rot before winter if they are not eaten. If you want birds in your garden, you can't beat this plant!

The berries shown are mainly those that are colorful at Powell Gardens through autumn. This ornamental aspect of these plants greatly outlasts their brief bloom or fall color. Consider them to add autumn appeal in your own garden and attract a good array of birds as a bonus.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wheel of Fire in Peppers

Peppers (Capsicum species and cultivars) are the stars of Powell Gardens this weekend with the return of our Pepper Festival. See our website for complete details of the events activities. One thing we are bringing back is the "wheel of fire" which is meant to be a fun way to watch people and peppers interact. As vegetable gardeners well know, peppers range from sweet and tame to veritable fruits as hot as a flame. The wheel of fire is a free game where contestants can spin the wheel and try the pepper they land on. 9 different peppers from no heat to on-fire will be on hand to sample. Each pepper variety has a heat rating (Scoville units). Show us your machismo that you can take our hottest: the habanero.
Habanero Peppers will be our hottest on trial with a rating of 200,000 to 350,000 Scoville units. The colorful fruit are disguised under the leaves.
Next will be a hot ornamental pepper as our Cayenne peppers will not be ripe by the weekend; probably 'Black Pearl', though 'Sangria' is depicted here. Cayenne peppers have a heat rating between 30,000 and 50,000 Scoville units.
Pepper 'Serrano del Sol' has 8,000 to 23,000 scoville units.
Pepper 'Numex Hot Wax' is very beautiful with a heat rating of 5,000 to 10,000 Scoville units.
Jalapeno peppers (cultivar 'Early Jalapeno' depicted) are well known and have 3,500 to 8,000 scoville units of heat. I can enjoy these in limited quantity!
Pepper 'Numex Joe Parker' rates as 1,500 to 3,000 Scoville units.
Pepper 'Ancho', a poblano pepper with a mild 1,000 to 2,000 Scoville units of heat.
Pepper, 'Sheepnose Pimento' is very mild at a mere 100 to 500 Scoville units.
Pepper 'Islander' is a sweet bell pepper with 0 (zero) Scoville units.
Pepper 'Orange Bell' can really add beauty to a garden, as well as another zero Scoville units for those who can't take any heat.
Our 'Lemon Drop' Peppers are very beautiful as they mature from purple to yellow on the opposite end of the color wheel. We can't find the exact heat index for this pepper: are you willing to give it a try? Hope to see you this weekend at the festival to enjoy the pepper plants culinary and ornamental contributions in the Heartland Harvest Garden. I can't wait to try all the salsas!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

September's Sumptuous Blooms

September in the Perennial Garden means some chores: here Volunteers Amanda Stoltenburg and Linda Brewer cut spent flower stems of Goldsturm Rudbeckia before they can self-sow into adjacent beds. Mostly September in the Perennial is a blaze of late summer flowers!

The Seven Sons Tree (Heptacodium miconioides) is in full bloom with fragrant white clusters of flowers (you guessed it, in clusters of seven at each twig tip). Seven Sons is a Plant of Merit and a great large shrub or small tree with much ornamental appeal.

Rose-of-Sharons (Hibiscus syriacus) are also in bloom now and this is the glowing 'Diana' cultivar which is perfect for a white or moon garden because its reflective flowers stay open at night. A well named cultivar as Diana is the goddess of the moon. Powell Gardens has quite a collection of Rose-of-Sharons from blue-flowering 'Bluebird', 'Blue Satin', 'Blue Marlin' and 'Coelestris' to Pink-flowering 'Aphrodite', 'Pink Satin', Blush Satin' and more.

The Dynamite Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia hybrid) is in dazzling red bloom, nicely underplanted with silver Artemisia and white Snow-on-the-Mountain. See the prior blog on zone denial for more about crape myrtles.

Sneezeweed or Helen's Flower (Heleniuim autumnale) is a glowing yellow flower of the season along with many in the large Sunflower family (Asteraceae) which includes sunflowers, black-eyed-susans/Rudbeckia, and asters. Sneezeweed is NOT an allergen plant: it was made into a snuff by Native Americans to make them sneeze and rid their bodies of evil spirits. You won't sneeze from it unless....

Sneezeweed, a locally native flower has, like many native plants, been sent to finishing school in Europe. European gardeners have long admired our natives and selected garden forms & hybrids of them. Sahin's Early Flowerer Sneezeweed is such a cultivar that blooms from midsummer until fall! It is a star performer in our trials in the Perennial Garden.

Some select cultivars of our native flowers have not performed so well in the Perennial Garden. This is the highly promoted 'Henry Eilers' selection of the locally native Sweet Coneflower (Rudbeckia subtomentosa). Its fluted "petals" are not that striking but maybe it just needs a different site.

Here is a wild strain of the Sweet Coneflower growing right nearby -- its flowers are dazzling in this season.

Hybridizers are going wild with many of our aster family plants at this time. From purple coneflowers (Echinacea) to Coreopsis (shown) there are many awesome new sports and hybrids. This is the new cultivar Coreopsis 'Sienna Sunset' which has been blooming all season. Its flowers open burnt sienna and age to peach. The next test will be to see how well it survives our winters.

Lemon Queen Sunflower is another American native that went to finishing school in England. Its soft lemon yellow flowers show off well with the tapestry hedge as a backdrop in the Perennial Garden. Many of our native perennial sunflowers are garden thugs but this one is quite behaved. Keep wild sunflowers wild at the edge of a woods or competing with other plants in a prairie.

Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata) has been absolutely stunning this summer. Garden Phlox is actually native to Missouri and wild forms of it can be bought from Missouri Wildflowers Nursery. There are many cultivars selected from this native and depicted is the long-blooming cultivar 'Eva Cullum' with pinker flowers than the wild strain.

This picture shows Rose Turtleheads (Chelone lyonii) a native east of Missouri. The top plant in the photo is the wild form while the lower plant is the cultivar 'Hot Lips' which has darker, glossier foliage and more compact form.

The dazzling Missouri native Savanna Blazing Star (Liatris scariosa) always draws attention when in bloom in the gardens. It will soon be covered by migrating Monarch butterflies as it one of their favorite nectar sources.

Snow-on-the-Mountain (Euphorbia marginata) is a very poorly named plant as it is native to the Great Plains and found wild in Kansas and Missouri's loess hills. Snow-on-the-prairie! This plant is an annual but self sows just right to act like a perennial. We let it add a little sparkle all around the Perennial Garden. It is related to the poinsettia in that its upper leaves are colorfully edged in white surrounding the tiny flowers.
Hungarian or High Daisy (Chrysanthemum serotinum) is at peak bloom now. It is always a joy to have a daisy blooming now, this species is tall but can be cut back earlier in the season to keep its height lower.
Geranium 'Rainbow' never fails to take a good picture and is my and Perennial Garden Senior Gardener Jennifer Bolyard's favorite perennial geranium. It has very nice rebloom as you can see (most geraniums bloom solely in early summer).

The large flowers of Colchicums (a bulb) appear from nowhere now. This great crocus-on-steroids-like plant is immune to deer and squirrels. Just remember it has big leaves in the spring so makes a nice addition with other perennials that are slow to emerge in spring.

If you think the season of flowers for 2009 is over THINK AGAIN. There are 100's of species still in bloom at Powell Gardens, many of them at their best now. What better way to soothe away the stresses of this challenging year than to come immerse yourself in our flowers. I just read on George Ball's web log for Heronswood Nursery that a recent Rutgers University study showed that flowers register an instant impact on happiness, with lasting effects of boosting mood, enjoyment and life satisfaction.