Friday, January 29, 2010

Plugging Away towards Spring!

It is always a thrill to peek into Powell Gardens' greenhouses at this time of year and see all the new life germinating for the new season. A look at all the seed plug trays, seed flats and pots is like a trip to your local hospital's maternity ward.

Here, baby 'Flying Dragon' Hardy Oranges (Poncirus trifoliata) germinate and already show their 3 (tri) parted foliage (foliata) of their botanical name. This is the hardiest of citrus often used as understock for other varieties and the ONLY citrus hardy here. It has wonderful white, nectar-rich and fragrant flowers in spring followed by little sour oranges in fall that decorate the spiny green twigs that are so ornamental in winter. This variety 'Flying Dragon' will also start to grow in a corkscrew fashion adding to its ornamental appeal. If you are interested in one of these plants grown from our little tree on the south side of the Visitor Center, then visit Powell Gardens during our Earth Day Celebration on April 24 as we are giving them out on a first come, first serve basis while supplies last.

This bold seedling is our first Dove Tree (Davidia involucrata) we've ever been able to germinate. If you've ever seen a Dove Tree in full bloom it is a sight to behold but we reside in a place where they are borderline adaptable. Many thanks to volunteer Mary Biber for bringing back some seeds from New York so we could try again. Our gardener Barbara Fetchenhier has a small tree in her garden that has finally established itself. I have heard it can take 7-8 years for this tree to establish in gardens and that is exactly how old Barbara's little tree (purchased from Fairweather Gardens is. Our only attempt at the tree put it in too hot of place: against a south wall of the Visitor Center where it went dormant in our summer heat then when fall came it leafed out as if it were spring -- a lethal move going into our winters. This seedling will be planted in a sheltered, cooler place.

The greenhouses are also full of plug trays of seedlings that are gradually being transplanted into larger containers to grow on into blooming size. About half of these pansy seedlings in a 288 plug tray (yes there are 288 little squares, each with a plant) have moved on to larger pots.

Since plants can't transplant themselves; volunteer Wilma Fletcher stands back for me to take a photograph while her husband Stan Fletcher uses a dibble to place the tiny plugs into larger flats. Volunteers are highly valued for this labor intensive transplanting.

Here seedling Dianthus are in their new larger flats called 606's (there are 6, 6-packs of plants per flat). They will be grown up into blooming size then transplanted out into the gardens in late March. Dianthus are one of our hardiest annuals, surviving frost and usually doing well in gardens the following season as well.

We do have a few flats of flowers (Viola 'Antique Gem Lavender' shown) in full bloom that would be ready for planting out but these are destined for the Home Show at Bartle Hall February 19-21. We have an activity (for a nominal fee) called Paint-A-Pot where you buy a pot, paint it to your own taste, and pick a viola or pansy to plant in it and take it home with you.

Since we are all "hungry" for flowers right now, I thought I'd share a few others with you. I only wish I could send their sweet fragrance along with the pictures. Pansies are my favorite scent in the greenhouses right now. Sorry I cannot give you the exact variety on the next couple pictures.

This pansy has a more classic "face" and reminds me of the more "old fashioned" varieties. These are some of my mother's favorites and my late grandmother's too.

Whiskers Light Blue Pansy can't help but put a smile on your face!

The cyclamen continue to flower brightly and provide some cheer; all destined for the conservatory display here and at the Kauffman Memorial Garden.

We'll keep plugging away in the greenhouses to provide you with some gorgeous flower displays. Come March, the outside gardens will be planted with these violas, pansies, Dianthus and other hardy flowers. A few flowers were already budded and blooming outdoors in the gardens last weekend and are ready to open as soon as milder weather returns. Look for witchhazels, snowdrops and the earliest daffodil 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' in the Rock and Waterfall Garden.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Where's the Sun?

I believe we are on day 10 without sunshine at Powell Gardens and no prospects for sun until next Tuesday for a full 2 weeks of gray skies.

It's hard to recall winter blue skies this season. During the last week of December 2009 the waxing moon resides over the Edith Bogue Southern Magnolia on the northeast side of the Visitor Center. Moonlight over magnolias is always a favorite design theme for me as their glistening year-round foliage and white summer flowers are always enhanced by moonlight. Icicles off the Fay Jones Designed Visitor Center gutter-less eaves adds beauty to snowy winter scenes.

This magnificent icicle off the Visitor Center was a marvelous ephemeral sculpture the second week of January. All the icicles and snow have now melted but the gray skies persist.
Even the White-tailed Deer want in to the brightness of the Visitor Center! This shot last Saturday is of a doe peering in the north doors after tasting some putrefied egg sprayed foliage. For the most part, deer have not eaten our treated conifers but have damaged some of the broadleaf evergreen shrubs around the Visitor Center. The weather conditions have not allowed for timely spraying plants to deter deer.
I have received many questions about whether the cold snap damaged plants at Powell Gardens. Powell Gardens experienced 9 consecutive days below zero F with a minimum temperature of -9F (and our thermometer is located at one of the site's coldest spots). We mainly design with plants fully hardy to -15F with only a few exceptions. It has not been -15F since 1989 at Powell Gardens. I will admit when lows -18F were being predicted, I thought it would damage azalea and peach flower buds and kill all the leaves on evergreen magnolias. Luckily those pesky clouds saved the day and prevented extreme low temperatures. Many areas of downtown to midtown Kansas City have yet to drop below zero keeping them in full zone denial around here. You will continue to see crape myrtle trees in Kansas City but they should have been killed to the ground out here at Powell Gardens. The cold snap also came and left gradually with heavy snow cover to protect plant roots. I don't expect much damage but we, as of yesterday, have 2 more months of winter to go. At least I can remind people that two-thirds of the dark half of the year are now over. We're ready for spring!
All photographs by Roland Thibault, Powell Gardens receptionist.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Blessings of the Snow

With one of the snowiest spells on record in Greater Kansas City and the continual negative spin by most of the media, I thought it was time to talk about and show all the good things about snow in our landscape and gardens.
* Snow is the "great white mulch" that insulates the ground and prevents deep frost penetration. This protection of plants' roots from severe cold improves plant hardiness.
*Snow moderates the temperature fluctuations of our normally "manic-depressive" climate. So far we will not have to worry about frost heave -- a more typical problem from our warm, then cold, snowless winters.
* Snow is simply beautiful and accentuates plants and the landscape.

The conifer garden on the north end of the Visitor Center is blanketed by snow. The yellow-needled conifer in the center is the focal point of this garden. It is the very rare Chief Joseph Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta) donated to us by Marvin Snyder of Overland Park -- past president of the American Conifer Society This pine is unique that it turns yellow in the winter and green in the summer!
The evergreen Southern Magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) also stand out dramatically in the snowy landscape. Here the cultivar 'Edith Bogue' (left) and our local selection 'Margarite' (right) grace the northeastern wall of the Visitor Center. Southern Magnolias actually prefer a spot not so exposed to the winter sun in our climate. Bright sun on a very cold day can burn the leaves -- some at Powell Gardens exposed in such conditions have already suffered severe leaf burn as temperatures fell below zero for nine days in a row!

The view to the Visitor Center from the Island Garden is certainly enhanced by snow. I always admire the masterful placement of the Visitor Center by the late Architect Faye Jones -- perfectly sited at the brow of the hill just like a natural rock outcrop.
We designed the east walk of the Island Garden to have the chapel as its focal point. The sunny, exposed living wall (left) is devoid of snow so one can still see all the unique plants that inhabit this largest living wall in the Western Hemisphere.
Its nice to see some evergreen perennials in the Island Garden's living wall like this Sedum (Sedum album) which is native to the Pyrenees and mountains of North Africa. Remember that central Portugal and Spain are at the same latitude as Kansas City.
Dried flower heads adorn the winter beauty of these large Pink Diamond Hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) on the Island Garden. This shrub blooms in late summer with white panicles of flowers that fade to pink. The flowers are rich in pollen and nectar and attract a wide array of beneficial insects. We do not remove the flowers until we prune in early spring.
The view from the Millstone Entrance Arbor of the Heartland Harvest Garden reveals the Meadow Pavilion on the far hill. Again, Faye Jones masterfully sited the prairie style pavilion at the brow of the hill. The sweep of native prairie grasses and wildflowers across the hill provides contrast in the snow and at all seasons and celebrates our spirit of place where sky meets prairie and woodland. Mother Nature planted the two Swamp White Oaks (Quercus bicolor) that frame this view while the Landscape Architecture firm of MTR masterfully lined up the design of the new Heartland Harvest Garden to this view and visually link Powell Gardens together.
The Apple Sculpture in the Heartland Harvest Garden's Apple Celebration Court really stands out in the snow! Just three more months and the apples will be abloom with pink-budded, white fragrant flowers.
The Quilt Garden Arbors define the center of the Quilt Gardens and punctuate the visitor's experience with a comfortable spot in this open, very Midwestern style garden. Yes, the overlook at the top of the Silo is open to visitors so come take in the winter view.
The view from the Quilt Arbors to the Villandry "vegetable" Quilt Garden reveals a uniform blanket of snow hiding the intricate pattern of the gardens. Just TWO months until we start planting the frost hardy, cool season vegetables in this garden. I am thankful we have this restful winter season to prepare for the spring, summer and fall gardens of 2010. It will be shocking in just a short while to look at the snowy landscape of January and I hope you all take the time to experience the special blessings of this ephemeral landscape.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Post Solstice Winter's Fury

My how the landscape has changed since the last blog before the holidays on the Winter Solstice! Near record snowfall has whitened the landscape (see above) and looking out my screened office window I see the resident Northern Mockingbird huddled in his winter larder of possumhaw berries (see below).

The Possumhaws (Ilex decidua) from outside on this dark, snowy day reveal their vibrant red berries that will be the sustenance of the mockingbird. Unfortunately this year our mockingbird is a nuisance as he throws himself at his image in windows of the hort cabin and every car's rear view mirror in the parking lot. He is just being very aggressive to protect his territory and food reserves--thinking his image is another rival mockingbird. One gardener reminded me of the book To Kill a Mockingbird--they are a protected songbird!

Greenhouse I from the outside on this snowy day: for the first time in 14 years we are unable to transport plants from the greenhouses to the Visitor Center's conservatory where they comprise the ever-changing display. "Treasures of the Desert & Winter Blooms" was supposed to open this weekend but many of the plants cannot be moved in this weather so the full display is postponed (check the website for updates).

Inside Greenhouse 1 it is quite comfortable and you can see our extensive collection of succulents -- most destined for the conservatory display as soon as the weather allows.
Here some large Agaves (Agave americana) and an old jade plant (Crassula argentea) in full bloom await transport to the conservatory.
Greenhouse 1 is kept cool in winter and is the place to store or start plants that need cool winter weather. Here 4 California Buckeyes (Aesculus californica) have germinated from nuts gathered by our Director Eric Tschanz in high elevations of the California Sierras. California Buckeye is listed as hardy in zone 6 but prefers a more Mediterranean, maritime or snowy montane climate -- probably even more stunning as a flowering tree in English gardens than in the wild. We will try this plants outside at Powell Gardens because you just never know until you try and Eric found these at or near the coldest part of their native range. Plants grown from the colder (northern or higher elevation) parts of their range are almost always hardier than the same species of plant grown from warmer parts of its range.
Red Buckeyes (Aesculus pavia) have germinated well too as we had great nut production on our plants last fall and I could not bear to let this valuable Missouri native shrub/small tree go solely to the squirrels. These plants will be planted in wooded portions of the gardens where their brilliant scarlet spring flowers will one day attract visitors' gazes as well as hungry hummingbirds. Red Buckeyes grow slowly, but small plants will often bloom.
It is "week 2" in the Greenhouse complex where Horticulturist Donna Covell works to get all the seed scheduled for growing. More than 80 planted seed trays are already sown in the greenhouse but more than 300 varieties are yet to be scheduled. Donna has to determine when the seed is sown of each plant variety requested by gardeners. The gardeners give the date they need a plant by and Donna works backward in time to provide a quality plant ready to go in the ground. Spring planting begins around March 15, summer planting around May 1. Each species and variety takes various amounts of time to germinate and grow into a blooming plant. Yes, it's a mind boggling and time consuming project but Donna always delivers!
Yubi the greenhouse complex mouser gives me a heads up that she has been doing her job and keeping mice out of the seeds and newly planted seed trays. Pre-cat, mice did considerable damage!
Cyclamen in bloom brighten up Greenhouse #6. These colorful blooming plants are perfect for winter displays and a good indoor plant for cool, bright rooms (they despise warm, dry indoor spaces). The phenomenal diversity of this plant is from hybridization of just one diminutive cyclamen species found wild in the Mediterranean (Cyclamen persicum).
Cyclamen Halios white -- note the silver patterned foliage, another great attribute of this plant.
Cyclamen Halios pink
Cyclamen Mini Metis has exceptionally silvered leaves!
Back outside, the winter landscape beckons: an almost unprecedented amount of snow! We invite you out to enjoy this snowy landscape--an opportunity we may not get for many more years. Gardeners have shoveled a path through most of the gardens so they will be accessible by Saturday. Unfortunately Saturday's forecast is for record cold--a prediction we hope fails to come to fruition. Sunday's weather is supposed to moderate and be quite ideal for a winter walk. With the proper garb, it is a great season to enjoy the winter beauty of Powell Gardens.