Friday, April 30, 2010

Spring Plant Sale 2010

Eric Perrette (Senior Gardener, Greenhouse Production) shows off his "graduating class" of perennials moments before they are moved from our greenhouses and transported to our plant sale tent in the Powell Gardens visitor center parking lot. This year's crop of plants looks as good as ever and kudos to Horticulturist Donna Covell in charge of the whole project, along with Kellyn Register and Penny Hudson of the Greenhouse staff. Over 500 varieties of plants from herbs to annuals, vegetables, shrubs and perennials are produced in our greenhouses for the sale.

Baptisia 'Solar Flare Prairiblues' is a new hybrid of two Missouri native wild indigos and makes a stunning exclamation point in the perennial border.

The State Flower of Colorado the Colorado Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea) is in full bloom and ready for sale.

New with huge, heat resistant flowers: Amelia Shasta Daisy is a child of the hugely popular and sturdy Becky Daisy. If you like daisies and live in our harsher climate, then this one is for you!
Big flower stalks are ready for full bloom on Hardy Bear's Breeches (Acanthus spinosus), one of the most dramatic perennials in our perennial garden for nearly 20 years.
Hope you enjoyed this brief preview and reminder of our Spring Plant Sale. Powell Gardens Friends Members can shop tonight as a preview from 5p.m. to 7p.m. The sale opens to the public at 9a.m. Saturday morning (until 5p.m.) and again on Sunday from 10a.m. to 5p.m. We sure hope to see you at this years sale. See our website for a complete listing of plants available at the sale.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lights, Camera, Azaleas!

The Lights Azalea Hybrids are currently in full bloom at Powell Gardens. The Lights azaleas were hybridized by the University of Minnesota and most involve Missouri's only native azalea the Roseshell Azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum). Unfortunately our native azalea defies captivity, in other words, it won't grow away from where it is native no matter how hard we try to cultivate it! I am glad the wonderful fragrance of American native azaleas is still present in most of these hybrids so be sure and take time to smell them. Look for all our Lights Azaleas in the Rock & Waterfall Garden, most along the walk along the north side of the garden (that takes you to the trolley stop).

Candy Lights Azalea is one of the newest and best of the Lights Azalea hybrids with fragrant pink flowers, clean foliage and a compact form.

Rosy Lights Azalea may have the best fragrance of the group and looks most like our native azalea. The flowers are much more rosy pink than the shell pink of wild azaleas. This shrub blooms without any leaves so looks like a full pink bush right now.

Tri-Lights Azalea has white, pink and yellow flowers and is one of the newer hybrids. It is a great performer and can be seen in the core of the Rock and Waterfall Garden between the two bridges.

White Lights Azalea opens softest pink from pink buds and ages to pure white. It is intensely fragrant and perfect for an evening or white garden.

Northern Hi-Lights Azalea has creamy young flowers with an egg yolk blotch on the upper flare -- as the flowers age they are clearly white with a yellow hi-light. The flowers just opened in this picture so are still in the creamy stage. I also really like this plant for an evening or white garden. It is also wonderfully fragrant.

Lemon Lights Azalea is a rich lemony yellow and fragrant too.

Golden Lights Azalea will stop you in your tracks as you walk by: it will first capture your attention with its wonderful aroma and then with its large, golden-orange flowers.

Spicy Lights Azalea is more of a bronzy, pinkish-orange and the first of this hybrid group to bloom. I was happy to see it is still blooming (you can see a floret dropping at the bottom of the image).

Mandarin Lights Azalea is the most vivacious of the group in glowing bright orange. It is a favorite nectar source for hummingbirds and several of our large swallowtail butterflies. I actually expect the first Giant Swallowtails to emerge when this flower blooms and can count on seeing our largest butterfly nectaring on this shrub. This cultivar is not fragrant.
Northern Lights Azaleas are available at many local garden centers. They are a bit tricky to get established in local gardens because of our heavy soils. Here are some tips to be successful with this group of deciduous azaleas at home:
1) Select a site that does not have hot afternoon sun, morning sun is best or light high shade. Lights azaleas grow and bloom nicely in the Rock & Waterfall Garden in full shade of deep rooted oaks and hickories but flower more heavily in more light. Do not expect them to survive in dense shade of maples and lindens which also have voracious surface roots.
2) Make sure your planting site is elevated for drainage and amend the soil with peat or other organic matter like Beats Peat blocks (available at local Westlake Hardwares). I mix in the organic matter with the topsoil in an extensive area.
3) Lights azaleas are often grown in containers in a very light, peaty soil. Be sure and break up the root ball before planting them. I like to split the root ball in 3 places around the sides and literally rip each section up from the bottom. It sound cruel but azalea roots are shallow in the garden and this forces new roots into your topsoil. Most failures occur when folks just plant the soil ball as is and the shrub does not root into the surrounding soil!
4) Mulch your azaleas with pine bark, pine needle or oak mulches if possible. Use your own oak leaves or pine needles whenever possible. Azaleas are shallow rooted and this helps keep them cooler and moist.
5) Water azaleas only when they dry out until they are established and during stressful dry spells. Fertilize with an acidifying fertilizer specially made for Rhododendrons, Azaleas or Camellias.

Two cultivars of Red Horsechestnut (Aesculus x carnea) trees are in full bloom near the Rock & Waterfall Trolley Stop. Red Horsechestnut is a hybrid between Missouri's native Red Buckeye (A. pavia) and the European Horsechestnut (A. hippocastanum).
This is the 'Fort McNair' Red Horsechestnut with carmine pink flowers.
The cultivar 'Briotii' has the most vivacious pinkish red flowers of any of the cultivars. Red Horsechestnuts are very popular in the gardens of Europe but do very well here too. Fort McNair is actually selected from Nebraska. Give them a try for a late spring blooming, moderate sized tree -- they are available at many local garden centers. They also make colorful companions to the Lights azaleas.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Enjoy expanded garden coverage at new blog

We hope you've enjoyed the many insights our primary blogger, Director of Horticulture Alan Branhagen, has delivered over the past couple years. Now we're adding other departments from the garden to the mix, so you can see all of the process and planning behind the scenes. On our newest blog,, we'll share updates about upcoming events, construction progress, success stories and features. Alan will continue to share what's happening amongst the plants at the gardens, recent nature sightings and more with his weekly posts.

To subscribe to the new blog, follow this link and click the Email Subscription button. Happy reading--we'd love to hear your thoughts!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Flowering Beauties that Bear Fruit

Powell Gardens' Heartland Harvest Garden was ablaze with flowering trees and shrubs just like the rest of the grounds but these flowers will reward us this summer with delectable fruit! Please consider these beauties as part of your edible landscaping plans!

Apple blossoms are a springtime favorite and are nicely fragrant. All of our nearly 90 varieties of apples on display in the Heartland Harvest Garden have pink budded flowers that open white. This is the blossom of the Spigold Apple (Malus pumila Northern Spy x Golden Delicious) in the Apple Celebration Court. Look for tasty golden apples on this tree in early fall.

The Zestar Apples trained as a Belgian Fence on the west side of the Missouri Star Orchard have full flowering this year. HHG Gardener Barbara Fetchenhier began training these plants four years ago in our nursery. Our other Belgian Fence on the east side of the MO Star Orchard is of Honeycrisp Apples and they have still not flowered for us and have been a disappointing apple for our climate. Honeycrisps are currently a most popular apple but appear to require a more northerly or cooler climate for production.

Peaches were in full flower into the beginning of the week, many with quite beautiful blooms. This is our heirloom Cherokee Indian Peach (Prunus persica) donated to us by local farmer and Friends member Wilbur Kephart. His family brought this plant from Tennessee where it was already growing wild at the time of settlement. Peaches are native to China but have spread around the world: first down the Silk Road to the west (the botanical name means from Persia), then via the Spanish to the New World and then by the Native Americans into places like what is now Tennessee.

This is the Old Rochester Peach from Rochester, New York and it had stunning flowers this spring. Various varieties of peaches have flowers from peach pink to light pink to even coral pink.

This Contender Peach is in full flower and one of the varieties with not so showy flowers BUT is valuable for its hardiness, frost resistance and delectable peaches! I feel like we are "writing the book" with ornamental observations of our food plants so we can translate that into edible landscaping that rivals ornamental landscaping.

The most beautiful of our flowering peaches is actually a "fuzzless" nectarine: Stark Hardired Giant Nectarine.

Pears were beautiful earlier this week too, but their pristine white petals are not something you want to put your nose up to: pear blossoms are malodorous at best! They are just attracting various beetles and flies as pollinators. Pears must be cross-pollinated by another variety. This is a closeup of the 'Large Korean' Asian Pear (Pyrus pyrifolia) which has nicely contrasting coppery leaves at bloom time. Asian pears have been stellar performers for us with those wonderful crisp, round pears in late summer into fall.
The Common or European Pears (Pyrus communis) also bloomed well earlier in the week -- this is the variety 'Stark Honeysweet.' Common Pears bear the classic pear shaped fruit and look for the classic varieties you see in the supermarket in the Heartland Harvest Garden: 'Bartlett,' 'Bosc,' and 'D'Anjou.'

Our Sweet Cherries (Prunus avium) also bloomed heavily and this is the stellar new variety out of Cornell called 'Black Gold' which bore dark red cherries for us last June. Look for a pair of this cultivar of Sweet Cherry near the entrance to the Missouri Star Orchard.

We grew wild American Plums (Prunus americana) from the grounds for planting around the Old Missouri and Kansas Star Quilt Gardens so that the borders of these gardens would have the feel of hedgerows in Missouri or Kansas fields. American plums bear very delicious plums in early fall but their springtime bloom of sparkling white, sweetly scented flowers make them a quintessential spring flowering tree throughout the Midwest.

Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) are currently in full bloom and have lovely white urn-shaped flowers. We have an inordinate variety on display and many varieties like this Northcountry Blueberry have so far been stellar performers but having been in the garden only two of our mild years we want to see how this Minnesota selection will take a normal HOT Missouri summer.

Missouri & Kansas Native Clove Currants (Ribes odoratum) have been in flower for some time in the HHG and probably pack the most sweetest, clove-like fragrance of any flower in the garden right now. These shrubs will produce delicious black currants in late summer.

The flowers of standard Consort Black Currants (Ribes nigrum hybrid) have much less showy bloom and no fragrance. We have a full array of various currants (black, red, pink & white!) growing in the garden, look for most of them in the Missouri Star Orchard. All currants are small to mediums sized shrubs.

Flowering-Quinces (Chaenomeles spp.) are in full flower and we have many varieties in both the Heartland Harvest Garden and other parts of the grounds. We forget this shrub has good value when two or more varieties are planted they produce aromatic fruit that are perfect for delicious preserves in fall. This is the newly imported 'Iwai Nishiki' Flowering-Quince part of a Japanese collection of cultivars with extraordinary flowers -- and fruit too! Our true Quinces (Cydonia oblonga) are really small trees and not yet in flower -- true quinces bear a more fleshy fruit that can be cooked to create a fantastic pink dessert.

Our Flying Dragon Hardy-Orange (Poncirus trifoliata) was in bloom on the south side of the Visitor Center. The flowers look just like typical orange blossoms but are NOT fragrant. The small oranges are very sour but can be used like key limes. We are giving away seedlings of this plant on April 24th for Earth Day visitors.
Make sure you stroll through the Heartland Harvest Garden on your next visit to Powell Gardens. The first produce is making its way to the cafes and a great suite of cool season vegetables are on display. The spring flowering fruit trees of this garden will soon rival that of the magnolias, redbuds and dogwoods of the rest of the garden. I challenge you to think outside the box and create a beautiful garden of edible plants for your own landscape.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Byron Shutz Nature Trail Hike

Sunday afternoon (April 11, 2010) was a glorious day for our scheduled monthly Byron Shutz Nature Trail guided nature hikes. It 's hard to believe that our March hike was cancelled due to 8" of snow! Participant Linda K. Williams took all the images for this blog.

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) and Toadshade Trilliums (Trillium sessile) were in full bloom in the oak-hickory woodland at the beginning of the trail.

The Byron Shutz Nature Trail at Powell Gardens traverses 3-1/4 miles through the back country of Powell Gardens. Here participants hike through the native prairie remnants we have been reclaiming from overgrowth by trees and brush with help from the Missouri Department of Conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Wild Plums (Prunus americana) were in bloom in sparkling white and accompanying sweet fragrance.

The wet season made frogs one of the highlights of the hike! Linda Williams had a good eye for locating Gray Treefrogs cryptically hiding in small trees. There are two species of Gray Treefrog at Powell Gardens but you can only tell them apart if they call or do a blood test!

This Blanchard's Cricket Frog is full grown and less than two inches long! Cricket frogs were everywhere along the trail and we even heard their call which sounds like you tapping two pebbles together.
Spring Peepers are seldom seen but readily heard in early spring -- we are at the very western edge of their natural range at Powell Gardens as they are not found in the immediate metro! We also saw Green and Bullfrogs on our hike -- a good reminder to wear waterproof footwear if you decide to hike the trail.
We saw this mystery caterpillar at several locations along the trail and Linda finally matched it in a reference guide: its a Haploa Moth caterpillar. Haploa Moths are quite common in about a month and have beautiful black and white wings.

The stunning Tiger Beetle is as beautiful as any in the rain forests! It is a beneficial predatory beetle we are glad to have around. A good reminder to come see Dave Roger's Big Bugs sculptures at Powell Gardens this summer.

This Harvester is our only carnivorous butterfly as its caterpillars feed on woolly aphids! Another great beneficial insect. Most of the spring butterflies are small and for some reason butterflies are slow to emerge this year and we saw only one Black Swallowtail. Swallowtails came out in full force on Tuesday (April 13) so we were just two days too early. Zebra Swallowtails are readily seen now in the Heartland Harvest Garden as we have their host plant pawpaw in bloom.

This weird growth on the redcedar trees is the Cedar-Apple rust. This rust's alternate host are apple trees but we don't let that bother us. We plant rust resistant apple and crabapple cultivars!
The Bisquitroot (Lomatium foeniculaceum) was in bloom along the highest, rocky ridge of the trail. This early blooming prairie wildflower hugs the ground for protection from our often variable spring weather. It is a rare wildflower in Missouri and called biscuitroot because Native Americans did make a sort of biscuit from its roots (which Lewis & Clark tasted and thought was dreadful).

The flowers of the Prairie-Plum (Astragalus crassicarpus) were also in bloom on the native prairie remnants. This wildflower is a very important early nectar source for bees on the prairie. It is NOT a plum but rather a species related to peas -- the inflated pods are edible and quite delicious! This wildflower has creamy flowers in most of Missouri but beautiful purple flowers in western-most Missouri. It was another wildflower first described to Europeans by Lewis & Clark (though of course, Native Americans knew the plant well).
Don't forget Powell Gardens has a wild side! Most of our 970 acres is wooded and brushy with ponds, a creek, old fields and native prairie remnants. This wild side provides habitat for a wonderful diversity of wildlife and flora that benefits the display gardens by providing a good balance of nature reservoir that helps pollinate and keep pests in check.
The trail is long and currently muddy so be prepared before you set out on it. It is a wonderful work out with fresh air and spacious skies. The trail begins north of the Visitor Center and ends opposite the Trolley Stop for the Rock & Waterfall Garden and takes approximately 1-1/2 hour to hike -- our nature hike lasted 3 hours but we stopped and looked at all the creatures and flora described above!
All photos by Linda K. Williams on the Powell Gardens' nature trail hike April 11, 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010

From 2 Weeks Behind to Back on Track!

The long relentless winter got spring off to a slow start at Powell Gardens and in the Kansas City region. We were running as much as three weeks behind on bloom time of some plants but with recent summer-like warmth we now have plants blooming right on their "average bloom date" schedule!

Royal Crown Magnolia (Magnolia hybrid 'Royal Crown') is a great example with exquisite blooms still going on now. Normally this magnolia responds too soon to winter warm-ups and can bloom as early as late February! This magnolia usually has its spring blooms ruined by frosts but this year was held back a full month so its large spring flowers enliven the Visitor Center Trolley Stop. This magnolia has even nicer re-bloom in June so we forgive it for its usual spring follies and enjoy it now on rare occasions like this year. Apricot trees in the Heartland Harvest Garden have behaved the same way and we may get an apricot crop this year as their bloom was held back past hard freeze dates.

Redbuds (Cercis canadensis) normally bloom at Powell Gardens on April 10th -- so they are right on schedule and by far my favorite spring flowering tree on the grounds.

Wild Plum (Prunus americana) is also in full bloom with its accompanying fragrance. Oh the childhood memories flood back from my grandparents family farm in Iowa when this scent reaches my nose. The bloom of redbud and wild plums coincide and tell me it is time to hike the 3-mile Powell Gardens, Byron Shutz Nature Trail as their bloom signals the spring butterfly season. There are still some openings for Sunday's in-depth, guided tour where you will see and learn about the unique butterflies of spring, learn about what "hilltopping" is and of course, see and smell these wonderful spring flowers.

The Flowering-Quinces (Chaenomeles spp.) are in bloom too: this particular beauty is a start from a seedling I planted as a young man back in Iowa. It has prolific vibrant vermilion flowers and is on public display on the Island Garden here! Look for several varieties of Flowering-Quinces in the Heartland Harvest Garden because if you have more than one variety they will cross pollinate and produce wonderful aromatic, yellowish fruit in the fall. Stop back in then and hopefully we will have some Flowering-Quince preserves for you to taste! We also have true Quinces (Cydonia oblonga) which are closely related but true quinces cook up into wonderful pink fruit for desserts as well as for preserves.

This shrub in the Heartland Harvest Garden might not look like much but when you walk by it will grab your attention with its marvelous, alluring clove scent! This is a Missouri native Clove Currant (Ribes odoratum) with small but intensely fragrant yellow flowers. The scent brings me back to my childhood walking home from school in spring as this shrub was once commonly planted in yards and is now back on the "hip" planting list for its fragrance and tasty black currants it produces in summer.

Flowering Dogwoods (Cornus florida) are beginning to expand their bracts and are still in small stage but should be in bloom in about a week -- lasting for at least 10 days beyond that. This dogwood depicted has salmony young bracts that mature to a sweet pink blushed white.

Peaches are also in bloom and that is later than usual which is a good thing because they can also get nipped by a freeze. This is a Saturn Peach (Prunus persica) in the Missouri Star Orchard. It is one of the showiest in bloom but so far we have not been impressed with its flat, doughnut-shaped peaches. Hopefully this year it will produce an impressive crop of tasty peaches. There was winter kill to the flower buds of some of our peach trees. Almost every variety will have some bloom and hopefully peaches -- there will be no need to thin the fruit this year. We are putting a list together of our hardiest peaches.

Blushing Belle Magnolia bloomed in our nursery and represents the next series of magnificent magnolias soon to be available at nurseries. It has very large flowers of heavy substance and a very compelling aroma. Try Klehm's Song Sparrow Mailorder Nursery if you are interested in growing some of these new hybrids.

A closeup of Blushing Belle Magnolia really shows its alluring blend of coral, pink and white.

Flower buds of Butterflies Magnolia remain one of the most popular magnolias in Powell's extensive magnolia collection. Look for this tree in full bloom at the Visitor Center trolley stop and in the Perennial Garden this weekend.

Here's a closer look at an open Butterflies Magnolia flower taken at the Trolley Stop.

You will be amazed by the huge creamy buds of Gold Cup Magnolia also growing beside the Visitor Center Trolley Stop. This plant has flowers of very heavy substance but I sure would never call their flower color gold

Marilyn Magnolia is blooming along the walk to the Visitor Center Trolley Stop. The large upfacing lily-like flowers of this hybrid are quite striking and I was surprised to hear this is a favorite of many magnolia hybridizers. I am more partial to early flowering magnolias with more goblet shaped flowers.

Midseason Daffodils are now in full bloom! This nice clump of Ceylon Daffodils is part of a bigger planting in the Perennial Garden. There are still 1,000's of mid and late season daffodils in bud and bloom. You will be wowed by their bright springtime colors throughout Powell Gardens.
The Guinea Hen Flower (Fritillaria meleagris) is a bulb that is difficult to establish in our zone but finds the perfect spot in wet, seepy clay around the Rock & Waterfall Garden. This clump between the garden's bridges stopped several photographers in the beautiful sunshine today.

Look for marvelous Greek Anemones or Windflowers (Anemone blanda) blooming in drifts on the Island and Perennial Gardens. This spring bulb is starting to self-sow in these gardens, creating some varied shades of blue, pink and white.

The Island Gardens Living Wall is also coming alive with rock garden plants like this clump of Rock Cress (Aubretia gracilis).

Large masses of Cleft Phlox (Phlox bifida) cascade from the wall in a froth of sky blue. This Missouri native wildflower is a great choice for rock gardens and has bloomed a bit every month of the year! It is actually a little mini-evergreen shrublet perennial.

Woodland Wildflowers like this Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) are blooming along the walk to the chapel and in woods in the Perennial and Rock & Waterfall Gardens. This poppy relative is as pure white as a flower can get!

Old Fashioned Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) are showing their pendant wands of pink hearts. This perennial is a Midwest gardeners classic plant and lives a very long time. Look for many clumps with other shade loving spring perennials in the Rock & Waterfall Garden.
Please put Powell Gardens on your weekend list of plans. You will be enriched by the flowers, colors and scents of springtime. Taste the various early greens harvested from the Heartland Harvest Garden outside Good Earth Gifts on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The recent warmth and rains have really greened up the landscape and it is laughing delightfully in flowers -- sure to put anyone in a good mood.