Autumn Royalty Encore Azalea (Rhododendron 'Conlec') was not only the Rhododendron Society's 2009 Azalea of the year but now has become a favorite container plant of mine. Our original plant was donated to us for trial by Leah Berg and everything I read about this plant states it is not hardy below zero F, so we planted it in a container. It has far out performed my wildest imagination for a flowering plant. It bloomed last spring, it bloomed last summer, it bloomed last fall, and now it is back in full bloom as a companion plant in our Conservatory's Spring Orchid Display. The new registered trademarked "Encore" azaleas do have real flower power and were sold at many retailers around KC last year -- even though only 'Autumn Amethyst' is suggested as hardy in our zone 6 climate. Since much of the city did not drop below zero last winter, the Encore azaleas probably weathered the weather! I still suggest one use them in containers in shade and overwinter them in a cool garage or basement.
The Spring Conservatory Orchid Display has an overall tropical theme and a wonderful respite in the current weather. The fragrance is absolutely wonderful!
Giant Bromeliad (Alcantarea imperialis) is a choice specimen in the Orchid Display -- this grand plant can reach 4 feet in height and makes a marvelous outdoor specimen in summer. When it blooms the flower spike can reach over 8 feet in height -- ours should bloom this summer! We bought this specimen from Vintage Hill Nursery (http://www.vintagehill.com/) north of Boonville, Missouri, which has one of the finest selections of tropical plants for the home gardener.
Variegated Fragrant Daphne (Daphne odora 'Variegata') is one of the most fragrant companion flowers in the Orchid Display. This shrub is marginally hardy here in a sheltered site but is worth growing for its creamy edged, evergreen foliage and its intensely fragrant, softest pink flowers. You may want to grow this just like the Encore Azaleas to be on the safe side: plant it in a container and bring it indoors for the coldest part of winter. It will bloom in winter in a bright, cool space indoors.
I just got back from a speaking and garden tour and have to share a few pics from my trip. The Pinecote Pavilion (shown) at Crosby Arboretum in Picayune, Mississippi (outside New Orleans) should have some familiarity to Powell Gardens visitors: it was designed by Fay Jones, architect of our Marjorie Powell Allen Chapel. I led a walk and tour there on Saturday, March 13th. This native plant garden is a real gem and remember you can visit it for free as a Friends of Powell Gardens member.
I had to stop in and visit the Live Oaks on central campus of Louisiana State University when I drove through Baton Rouge on the way back. I worked for Campus Planning for two years at LSU -- we never won the battle to have the sheared azaleas beneath the oaks pruned in a more naturalistic style! The azaleas would normally have been in bloom in mid-March in Louisiana but they have had a long, cold winter too, and plants are as far behind schedule there as they are here.
The Anthony Chapel at Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas, was the last garden stop on my trip where I met with colleagues and visited for half a day. Maurice Jennings, Fay Jones' architect partner, designed this chapel and you can readily see the similarities to Powell Gardens' chapel. Maurice and Fay really do capture the spirit of place wherever they design: this chapel set under tall pines really plays off their form. Powell's chapel is a perfect design for its woods meets prairie setting! The previously depicted Pinecote Pavilion celebrates the piney woods of Crosby Arboretum. Again, Powell Gardens Friends Members can visit Garvan Woodland Gardens "Arkansas' Botanical Garden" for free.