Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Peak Fall Color 2009!

Fall colors have been "the best ever" as described by gardeners and locals alike. We attribute this to a wonderful growing season with only a small dry spell in September followed by unprecedented cool weather and over 6 inches of rain already in October at the Powell Gardens' weather station.

Here's an overview of the fall attire of the Powell Landscape. Prairie grasses tawny and oak-hickory woods in russets and browns while the baldcypress (right side of image) is already its classic rust -- not coloring up before November here in more than 10 years.

Powell Gardens does not have many maples but this 'Red Sunset' Red Maple (Acer rubrum) east of the Visitor Center was blazing red. This tree is over planted in Kansas City but its fall color explains why. All maples have dense surface roots making them difficult to garden (or grow lawn) under.

Osage-Oranges (Maclura pomifera) show good yellow fall color this year and this female tree east of the Visitor Center has dropped a nice collection of her chartreuse green "hedge ball" fruit. The tree is simply called "Hedge" by the locals. If you hike the Powell Gardens nature trail you will experience wonderful old hedgerows of this tree. If your tree has never born fruit, it is most likely a MALE tree.

Dogwoods are Powell Gardens' finest trees for fall color and the colorful tree in this picture is the hybrid cultivar 'Ruth Ellen' (Cornus x rutgersensis) Look for all types of dogwoods along the "Dogwood Walk" between the Visitor Center and the Island Garden.

Flowering Dogwoods (Cornus florida) are studded with bright red berries though robins have been busy gobbling them up to fuel their southward migration.

Oriental Kousa Dogwoods (Cornus kousa) grace the lower part of the dogwood walk and display some of the finest blends of warm colors now.

Hillside Sheffield Pink Mum (Chrysanthemum coreanum hybrid 'Single Apricot') foreground sets the stage for the bridge to the Island Garden with a rusty fall Baldcypress in the background.

There are still lots of flowers in the gardens because there has been no severe freeze yet. Champlain Rose, one of our favorite red landscape roses is a hybrid from the Morden Experiment Station in Manitoba, Canada. All of the "Morden" roses are some of the best performing roses at Powell Gardens.

The Conifer Garden at the north end of the Visitor Center looks at its best now while the tapestry of groundcover sedums are in fall color. The glowing yellow-needled Chief Joseph Pine (Pinus contorta) is a beacon of yellow in the fall and winter landscape -- it turns green in the summer.

A closeup of the Conifer Gardens' tapestry of sedums show coral fall colored 'Weinstephaner Gold', red 'Voodoo' and yellow-green 'Angelina' Sedums.

Barbara Fetchenhier, Gardener in the Heartland Harvest Garden stands next to our Flying Dragon Hardy Orange (Poncirus trifoliata). You can see a few small "oranges" on the tree (mainly lower left). This hardy citrus has musky-lemon scented fruit that can be made into a "Kansas City Orange Pie" according to our former Gardener Chris Conatser who now works at culinarily renowned Justus Drugstore in Smithville. More on this unique shrub / small tree in a future blog.

Asian Pears (Pyrus pyrifolia 'New Century') have turned some nice shades of yellow in the Heartland Harvest Garden. Who says edible plants aren't ornamental!

My favorite fall tree in the Heartland Harvest Garden remains the Nikita's Gift Persimmon from the Ukraine. A hybrid between our wild persimmon and the unhardy Oriental one in the grocery store, it combines the attributes of both and is simply gorgeous on the tree in late fall. It's delicious when tomato red ripe too!

While exploring the Heartland Harvest Garden seek out the Medlars (Mespilus germanica) in the Missouri Star Orchard. This weird fruit related to our hawthorns is only edible after it has fallen and rotted a bit -- then it has a apple sauce-like flavor.

Wow, another vivacious fall flower: Alpha Calendula (Calendula officinalis) can be seen in the Heartland Harvest Garden's Kitchen Garden south of the barn (it's an edible flower!). All of the fall seasonal flowers are planted out in the Heartland Harvest Garden and around the Visitor Center. YES there are many wonderful cool-loving, frost tolerant flowers for local gardens that easily last through Thanksgiving.

A fall-blooming species crocus got mixed in with a purchase of saffron crocus bulbs.

We planted 1,000 Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativus) in the Kitchen Garden's "tapestry of thyme" -- and a couple did bloom this fall but most should not bloom until the following fall. The beautiful red-orange stigmas in the center of the flower are what true saffron is made of: the most expensive spice in the world. Matt Bunch describes the flavor as "sweet buttery green tea." Spice up YOUR life with a visit to Powell Gardens in full fall attire!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Powell Gardens is Splashed with Autumn Color

Last week's unprecedented cool days and wonderfully mild cool nights have set the stage for a fine fall foliage event. In our Rock & Waterfall (shade) Garden the fall colors are as good as ever. I expect peak fall color out here at Powell Gardens this weekend, one week earlier than "average."

Weeping Threadleaf Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum dissectum group 'Viridis') has fall color that appears on fire in the shaded understory of the Rock & Waterfall Garden. The finely cut leaves add a very fine texture in contrast to larger coarser leaves of wild oaks.

The Redwing cultivar of American Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum 'Redwing') reveals a very complex range of colors that is quite wonderful. This shrub is native in the Great Lakes States and northeast and prefers a cool, afternoon shaded environment here. This plant is in full shade so did not flower or produce its classic red fruit for the winter landscape, but its foliage has been exceptional all season.

A different cultivar of Threadleaf Japanese Maple 'Emerald Green' shows orange fall color. Again, the delicately dissected leaves add a very fine texture, even finer than ferns in the foreground.

This small tree is a fun challenge on identification. The leaves look like an elm or hornbeam but they are opposite each other on the twig. This is actually a maple species from Japan! Hornbeam Maple (Acer carpinifolium) reliably turns nice yellow hues in fall in a shaded understory environment as seen here in the Rock & Waterfall Garden.

The Rock & Waterfall Garden is known for its azaleas and hybridizers have created a new series that rebloom well into fall! These azaleas are known as Encore (registered trademark) Azaleas and this is the cultivar 'Autumn Royalty.' These azaleas are listed as hardy only through zone 7 but they have done well in sheltered locations in the recent mild winters. This shrub was donated to us by Leah Berg -- she also hosted a recent program with Fox 4's meteorologist Don Harman. Don showed us that statistics document the average winter temperature for Greater Kansas City has increased by 6 degrees F over the past 30 years.

One of my favorite shrubs Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) reveals a very complex pattern of fall colors emerging on its leaves when grown in sun. There are two or more weeks of good fall color on this shrub as long as temperature don't plummet too low.

The Winterthur (pronounced winter-ter) cultivar of Witherod Viburnum (Viburnum nudum) has spectacular fall color -- starting out purple then turning this bronzy red as the green chlorophyll is withdrawn from the leaves. The leaves are also glossy which adds to this color display and here at the entrance to bridge to the Island Garden, it is masterfully combined with a bronzy-orange Andrea mum.

The Island Garden's Senior Gardener Mark Gawron planted this Mum (Chrysanthemum x morifolium 'Andrea' -- not accessioned because we didn't expect it to return) for seasonal color in the fall of 2006 and it has weathered 2 winters now and is a most masterful combination with the Winterthur Viburnum in a area whose color scheme is orange, burgundy and pink.

Female cultivars of American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) grace the railings of the bridge to the Island Garden and are in fall color and full fruit display. A male and female vine are needed together to set fruit. For those who want just ONE bittersweet I am happy to let you know a new cultivar that is self-fruitful in now available! Look for the Bittersweet 'First Editions (registered trademark) Autumn Revolution (trademarked)' at local nurseries that carry Bailey Nursery plants.

'Tis the season for one of my favorite perennials: Hillside Sheffield Pink Mum (Chrysanthemum coreanum hybrid 'Single Apricot') Each late fall I thrill at the magnificent floral display of this reliably hardy mum (now blooming for the 9th straight year at this location on the Island Garden). Anyone with a butterfly garden should include this plant as it is the favorite last nectar source of many butterflies and beneficial insects.

The Living Wall on the Island Garden still has stunning compositions of plants: here blue-flowering 'Walkers Low' Catmint (Nepeta x faassenii) is underplanted with stunning Furman's Red Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii). Both these are very reliable perennials (since the garden's opening in April 2001 -- and bloom from as early as April to as late as December!).

We have a very good collection of Lavenders and the cultivar in the center of this picture is the most silvery of them all: 'Silver Frost.' Silver Frost Lavender (Lavandula hybrid) outshines all others, contrasting nicely with Ballota (ba-LO-ta) on the Living Wall. Oakleaf Hydrangea in fall attire is the purple foliage above while Furman's Red Autumn Sage is the red flowers in the background.

For those who love lavenders, Buena Vista Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is the only cultivar we have that reliably reblooms. Senior Gardener Mark Gawron just deadheads it once and it completely reblooms like no other cultivar. We are propagating our plants for Powell Gardens Spring Plant Sale the first weekend in May 2010.

This delightfully blue, fall-blooming perennial is the Texas Grass Sage (Salvia reptans). Many of our wonderful Living Wall perennials originally came from High Country Gardens in Santa Fe, NM http://www.highcountrygardens.com/.

The diminutive but delightful fall blooming onion Allium thunbergii 'Ozawa' is in peak bloom with accompanying honey bees. This little perennial grows just above the living wall between golden Angelina Sedum and silvery Valerie Finnis sage -- the label in the background is 3" X 5" to give you a sense of scale.

Gorgeous Waterlily Colchicums are still exploding through Hardy Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) groundcover that has now turned into its fall color of burgundy. I always recommend planting small bulbs with this groundcover as it is slow to emerge in spring. Colchicums have luscious leaves in the spring that the plumbago overtakes as they go dormant in late spring, the naked blooms pierce through the plumbago in fall for a stunning combination.
All photographs were taken by Alan Branhagen on Tuesday, October 20, 2009 at Powell Gardens. Please come out and experience this glorious fall!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fall is in the Air

Fall is in the air with the first frost on the grounds on Wednesday morning, October 7, 2009. The frost was not universal so most tender plants were not nipped. Wednesday was a glorious day without a cloud in the sky until late afternoon.

The Chinese Pistache (Pistachia chinensis) in the nursery has turned a beautiful shade of red. This tree is on trial (two full years now) for the Heartland Harvest Garden as its new shoots are edible and used in China as a vegetable. This tree is well known for its outstanding fall color but is of marginal hardiness in Greater Kansas City. There are good trees from Wichita, Kansas southward. Trees as far south as Tulsa have been killed by past severe winters. Does anyone know of a large, established tree in the Kansas City region? Despite being sold at many stores and nurseries we know of no local, established trees.

Possumhaw a.k.a. Deciduous Holly (Ilex decidua) berries have now ripened and are a brilliant red. Possumhaw berries are showiest after its leaves drop and often hang on the small tree and remain colorful into mid-winter or beyond. I find it one of our most outstanding fall and winter ornamentals. Look for groves of this plant off to the right side of the gatehouse when you enter Powell Gardens. I wrote a plant profile article about this plant that should be in the November issue of The Kansas City Gardener.

Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum and hybrids) are turning wild shades of red. The cultivar 'Jersey' is depicted but look for 27 varieties on display in the Heartland Harvest Garden. Be sure and come visit while they are in bloom next spring and certainly don't miss tasting their abundant blue berries on a visit next summer.

This wonderful clump of flowers are seedlings of 'Jackie's' Mums (Chrysanthemum x morifolium) growing as a companion plant in the Vineyard. Jackie's mums are from our friend and volunteer Jackie Goetz -- a wonderful mix of seedlings from her yard that have thrived for more than 20 years. They are superb insectary plants attracting hoards of late season beneficial insects including butterflies. The flowers are also edible and have a good floral flavor. It is best to snip off the narrow part of the ray "petal" where it attaches to the flower head as that part is bitter. They make a colorful and flavorful addition to a seasonal salad.
The beautiful Mary Rose (Rosa David Austin hybrid) is also in bloom in the Vineyard. Roses are the canary in the mineshaft so to speak in a vineyard. All have edible flowers but I couldn't bring myself to tasting a petal off these beauties.
The flowers of Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) are also edible, the part nearest the stem contains a drop of sweet nectar too (that you can suck out the end). This is the cultivar 'Golden Delicious' with golden foliage all season. Pineapple Sage blooms right around frost time and is often winter hardy if planted in a sheltered site.
The flowers and fruit of Malabar Spinach make it quite a showy ornamental annual vine. Horticulturist Matt Bunch planted these beautiful vines on some of the vineyard hoops and the main arbors in at the center of the quilt gardens. The foliage is a good leafy green (tastes like spinach) for our summer season when lettuces and such languish in the heat. The flowers and fruit show this plant is related to our wild Pokeweed. Do not eat the berries -- they often drop and provide new seedlings for next season.
5 color Silverbeet Chard shows off its flaming stems in Rosalind Creasy's Author's Garden. Who said vegetables were not colorful!
With recent cool weather most of the Heartland Harvest Gardens veggie beds have been replanted with cool season, frost tolerant vegetables. Here's a sample from the Villandry Quilt Garden.
Many herbs are still very colorful in the fall season. Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) still is covered with its flat-topped, yellow flower clusters. Bronze Fennel is an exceptional perennial herb that attracts many beneficial insects and a good addition to any insectary garden. Here it is growing along the Pear Promenade as it is a companion plant to Pears.
Rue (Ruta graveolens) is also in bloom in the Silver and Gold Border of the Kitchen Garden on the south side of the barn.
Lime Peppermint (Mentha aquatica var. citrata 'Lime) is still flowering in the wonderful tapestry of mints layed out along the Pear Promenade. I think mints deserve use as groundcovers! You can use them as flavoring and they bloom over a long period time attracting all sorts of beneficial insects. They hold the ground well too! Much more environmentally friendly than Vinca, Pachysandra or English Ivy in our region. THEY DO RUN so make sure you give them their own space -- those along the Pear Promenade have a trench between each bed of a variety. DO NOT plant them in refined gardens where they will assault all adjacent plants -- plant them in containers under such circumstances.
Grapefruit Mint (Mentha aquatica var. citrata 'Grapefruit') has been exceptionally floriferous late this season.
Here's an example of our scarecrows currently on display. They often startle me a bit as I think they are actual visitors in the garden.
The silo is now open to visitors! Come experience its stunning view of the garden and surrounding countryside. All photographs taken Wednesday, October 7, 2009, by Alan Branhagen.