Friday, June 25, 2010

Midsummer's Bloom: from Lotus to Trees & Shrubs

The most magnificent flower currently in bloom in the gardens is the Mrs. Perry Slocum Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera). This water garden plant can be seen on the Island Garden though a few more weeks must pass for the Island Garden lotuses and waterlilies to be at peak season.
Magnolia trees are in the same ancient Order of plants as the lotuses and waterlilies and the Southern Magnolias continue with their sporadic bloom: abuzz with bees and visitors alike. This is the Twenty-four Below Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) on the south side of the Visitor Center -- its flowers don't stand out in the photo.

A closeup of a Southern Magnolia flower reveals its relation to the lotus. It has a marvelous lemony perfume: we have picked one for the front desk for all to smell as they are mainly up in the tree -- out of reach to visitors.
The Royal Crown Magnolia is our only Asian hybrid magnolia with a marvelous midsummer bloom that beats its early spring show. Look for the Royal Crown Magnolia at the Visitor Center trolley stop.
Golden Rain Trees (Koelreuteria paniculata) are also in full bloom around the gardens. Their warm, cheery flowers seem most appropriate in this sun drenched season. Many of our trees have suffered this year from being too wet for the third season in a row. This is a tree that demands good drainage. Golden Rain Trees can be invasive in certain areas with glade-like natural areas but has never escaped in the wet clay soils of Powell Gardens.

Hardy Mimosa trees (Albizzia julibrissin var. rosea) are also in full bloom at the gardens -- these outside the Conifer Garden outside the north end of the Visitor Center. See my blog from last year on this "you either love them or hate them" tree. This tree is native to cold Korea and is hardier and more refined than the typical species found wild from Iran to Japan.
The Hardy Mimosa trees around the Rock & Waterfall Trolley stop we have named 'Kansas City Red.' This selection is from a tree in Brookside that weathered the severe winters of the 1980's but besides its proven hardiness, its first flush of flowers are brilliant hot pink-red! The later flush of flowers is more typical of the others and a rich pink. This variety comes true to type from seed and is more vigorous than others. The original tree is now gone so I'm glad we saved this unique plant.

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) with its marvelous spherical flowers is coming into bloom on the Island Garden. This huge, native shrub can easily be trimmed up into a small tree like we have done on the Island Garden. Its flowers are rich in nectar and visited by many beneficial and pollinating insects.

The large white pom-poms of flower make the Annabelle Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) one the largest flowering of all shrubs. This is actually a selection of Missouri native Wild Hydrangea and was discovered in a garden in Anna, Illinois. Many of our best ornamental shrubs were never specifically hybridized -- just chance seedlings that were discovered by a plantsman with a good eye for promising and unusual garden plants.

The huge flowered and aptly named Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) is also a superior midsummer blooming shrub. Bottlebrush Buckeye does become a massive shrub over time -- easily 15 feet or more at maturity with twice the spread! It can be controlled by removing wayward stems and cut back on occasion if so desired. This shrub is almost exclusively native to Alabama, barely venturing into adjacent states in the wild but popular intemperate gardens world-wide!

The showy red color in this shrub is not flowers but fruit. The Shasta Doublefile Viburnums (Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum) on the Island Garden are loaded with bright red berries this year. Often grown solely for its lacecap flowers that march down either side of its twigs (double file!), the fruit (which ripen black) are actually showy for a much longer period of time than the flowers.
The Tapestry Hedge in the Perennial Garden just got a haircut to keep it a maximum height of 8 feet. You can see that the Perennial Garden is awash in floral color as Booms and Blooms looms for a daylily extravaganza next week.
Enjoy the midsummer colors of Powell Garden, there were simply too many in bloom so I focused on the trees and shrubs. Daylilies, Lilies, Coneflowers, Beebalms and Milkweeds are other flowers commanding attention among the Big Bugs in the garden. Blueberries are still at peak in the Heartland Harvest Garden so be sure and taste their fresh picked taste there as well.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Berrilicious Days in the Heartland Harvest Garden

It's soon to be Father's Day weekend but Sunday is also Berry Berry Day! at Powell Gardens. If you want to see and taste everything from late ripening strawberries to red & black raspberries, dewberries, blackberries, blueberries and black, red and white currants a trip to Powell Gardens this weekend is sure to deliver.

Volunteer Bob Hathaway picks Black Raspberries in the Missouri Star Orchard Quilt Garden. Only staff and volunteers are allowed to pick fruit for tasting stations, Cafe Thyme and Cafe Fresh and for visitors to the weekends festivities. Please refrain from the temptation! The fruit will be there for you to sample at the Tasting Stations and in the Cafes.

Black Raspberries (Rubus occidentalis) in Bob's container depict one of the many types of berries in the Genus Rubus which also contains the Blackberries, Dewberries, Red Raspberries and their hybrids. Black Raspberry is native at Powell Gardens and throughout Greater Kansas City but three select cultivars are growing in the HHG: 'Bristol', 'Jewel' & 'Mac Black'; all selected for superior fruit production and disease resistance compared to their wild cousins.

Red Raspberries (Rubus idaeus hybrids) can be a challenge in our climate but this season's copious rainfall and moderate temperatures have allowed their first crop to be wonderful! This is Lauren Red Raspberry, selected for great flavor and fruit over a long season. Most Red Raspberries have a second crop in our cooler fall that is more reliable in our hot summer climate zone. We purposely selected early ripening varieties so that the first crop would be produced before our usual summer heat waves.

Blackberries fresh from the garden are an experience all should have! This Prime Jim Blackberry is large and luscious so be sure and taste the blackberries during your visit.

Here is a "floricane" stem of a Prime Jim Blackberry in the Missouri Star Orchard Quilt Garden. That cane grew last year and was tied to a trellis and bloomed this season to produce ripe fruit now.

Prime Jim Blackberry is a breakthrough in blackberry breeding because it is one of only two cultivars now on the market that will have new summer canes of flowers for fruiting later this season. These secondary canes are called "primocanes." Blackberries have beautiful white flowers, delicious and colorful fruit that go from green to red and black when ripe and then their fall color can be outstanding shades of red in late fall. Blackberries are a fundamental Edible Landscape plant but remember many cultivars like Prime Jim are thorny.

Red Lake Currants (Ribes sativum) are translucent red jewels of tart flavor, cherished for baking special torts and pastries.

Red Currants are from a more northern climate but have been stellar performers the past couple seasons of abundant rainfall and moderate temperatures. They are simply stunning shrubs while in fruit now. They do lose their leaves prematurely so plant them accordingly (not a good front door shrub in the edible landscape).

Black Currants (Ribes nigrum) have fruit that is not so showy but European visitors to the garden always are thrilled to see them! (Yes, I've had 3 such visitors already relay that message to me this year!) Cherished across the pond, this shrub is little known or grown in America's Heartland. Come see and taste for yourself!

The Blueberry crop is ripening well and a bumper crop is upon us. This Bluecrop Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) is a classic performer in our climate. Blueberries make awesome edible landscape subjects with beautiful white, urn-shaped flowers in spring, the gorgeous and tasty fruit in summer and fall color that is among the best of all shrubs. Blueberries do require a soil rich in organic matter on the acid side so amend your soil before planting them. Use peat moss or Beats Peat for organic matter and fertilize with something listed for azaleas, rhododendrons or camellias to help acidify the soil.

Again, leave the picking of blueberries to us: this cluster is not quite ripe!

We have been growing the new Minnesota Series blueberries which are hybrids between the standard eastern native Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and the flavorful northern wild Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium). This is St. Cloud Blueberry, named after the city in Minnesota; it has very delicious blueberries!

Here you can see another of the Minnesota Series Blueberries: 'Northcountry.' These shrubs are smaller but just as berry-studded as others so have value in the front of the border or where you don't have space for a larger shrub. Tasting Stations will allow you to taste several varieties of blueberries -- you be the judge on flavor.

Our mulberry crop is about over but you can see a Eastern Kingbird checking out the last of the crop in this little weeping mulberry tree in Fun Food Farm. We have netting to keep birds away from our berries but so far we have comfortably shared the bounty of the garden.

Berries? Nope, this is a NUT! The maturing hazelnuts almost look berry-like right now. I was surprised to see this Hazelnut (Corylus avellana) cultivar 'Heterophylla' (which means cut-leaf) has very short husks so that the nut really shows now while other hazelnut varieties are more hidden in their husk. Another reason to abstain from picking because you could accidentally remove a cherished crop meant for a later time.

I know the forecast for the weekend is for hot and muggy but these hazy days of summer are great for a lazy stroll through Powell Gardens. The Vineyard in the morning haze with Hyssop in full bloom beneath the grapes is worth the trip alone. But be sure and taste the berries and other bounty from the garden. You can cool off with a splash in the Fountain Garden before you leave too!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Pre-Solstice Rainbow of Flowers

The summer solstice (longest day of the year) looms and Powell Gardens is at unprecedented lush foliage and a rainbow of blooms. We are thankful for a third season of abundant rainfall which makes all the difference in the world. Enjoy the sampling of flowers from white through all the colors of the rainbow in bloom at Powell Gardens on May 10, 2010.

Southern Magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) have one of the finest white flowers of exceptional lemony fragrance. The air smells like lemon water around these trees! The trees looked a bit disheveled after the long, cold winter but have a fresh attire of new leaves. Their exquisite flowers make up for their untidy spring appearance.

Oakleaf Hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) laden with flowers drape over a wall in the Perennial Garden. This scene reminds of the first place I saw these magnificent shrubs in the wild: cascading over a loess embankment in the Tunica Hills near the Mississippi-Louisiana State Line. Oakleaf Hydrangeas are in full bloom around the gardens and are one of the most ornamental of shrubs at every season.

Asiatic Lilies (Lilium Asiatic hybrids) are also in full bloom throughout the gardens. This vivacious red-flowering cultivar is of an unknown variety but can be seen on your way from the Visitor Center to the Fountain Garden in our "Drop Dead Red" border.

Pink-flowering Figleaf Hollyhocks (Alcea ficifolia) grace the northeast walk around the Visitor Center. This old fashioned flower is always a delight when growing well -- this species (or variety? -- botanists can't agree) is more disease resistant than others so a good choice for most local gardens.

Karley Rose Fountain Grass (Pennisetum 'Karley Rose') in the Perennial Garden and other locations is one of the loveliest of early season ornamental grasses. It's plumes are really a lovely rose tint.

Native Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) steals the show when it comes to orange flowers! From wild locations on our 3-mile Byron Shutz Nature Trail to beds in the Island Garden (shown here) and in the Insectaries and Perennial Garden, this perennial is a winner for color and insect drama.

The Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia 'The Rocket') also screams orange and is one of our few hardy African plants. It is pollinated by sunbirds in Africa but orioles and hummingbirds visit its nectar rich flowers in the Perennial Garden.

The intensely reflective Missouri Primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa) is difficult to photograph in the intense sunlight of the season. These large, gorgeous flowers can't be beat for shocking yellow in the landscape. They are a tough as nails native perennial that can thrive in poor, rocky soil as well as average garden soil. These were photographed on the Island Garden.

Green flowers get no respect but I cherish this time when the native Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) blooms. The fragrant, nectar-rich greenish flowers are visited by many insects and small butterflies. Male plants flowers will fade away while female flowers produce the fuzzy red fruit that become a staple for birds in winter weather extremes. Look for sumac blooming along the nature trail, near the gatehouse and this running clump near the Perennial Garden.
The beds around the Visitor Center have color themes for Summer 2010: the raised beds flanking the deck outside the Conservatory are planted with blue flowers and highlighted by stunning succulents like this Golden Barrel and Century Plant Agave. A future blog will show all the color beds around the Visitor Center as they will all be installed by this weekend (June 12).

Veronica (Veronica spicata) has spires of blue on the Island Garden. These are seedlings though there are many selections with various colored flowers from deep blue to pink.

Jackman Clematis (Clematis x jackmanii or 'Jackmanii') has one of the largest and most striking purple flowers. An heirloom plant, it always reminds me of my grandparents and their farm in Iowa which had a magnificent vine gracing their home. Powell Gardens' relatively young plants are on the east or meadow bridge to the Island Garden.
Japanese Iris (Iris ensata) are a great study in purples and one of our later blooming iris. These wetland loving plants can be seen at the rain garden along the Dogwood Walk between the Visitor Center and the Island Garden.

Though there are currently no black flowers (the Visitor Centers "black" themed bed is outside the north doors), this pack of black Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillars will soon be black "flying flowers" of exceptional bluish iridescence. This toxic caterpillar has red spikes on it as warning to would be predators that it is not a tasty treat like some caterpillars. Remember to put the Festival of Butterflies on your August calendar (Aug. 6-8, 13-15) and come back for a visit then.

Don't forget that Big Bugs grace the garden as well and I wouldn't want to cross paths with our massive Praying Mantis if it were for real! Look for the mantis sculpture in the strawberry bed in front of the Heartland Harvest Garden's Missouri Barn (photo by our Receptionist, Roland Thibault).

Where does my bread & cereal come from?

Our bread and cereal comes from GRASSES! As my Hortus Third A Concise Dictionary of Plants Cultivated in the United States and Canada states about grasses: One of the largest families, the most important economically and the most widely distributed worldwide. The four big cereal grasses are currently nearing maturity in the Old Missouri -- Row Crops Quilt of the Heartland Harvest Garden.

Barley in the foreground and Rye in the background form the eastern 2 sides of the Old Missouri Quilt.

Our Barley is 'Two Row Barley' (Hordeum vulgare), most widely grown for malt while 'Six Row Barley' is higher in protein and mainly used for food.

Cereal Rye (Secale cereale) is an important cereal and fodder crop.

The western flanks of the Old Missouri Quilt are bound by rows of oats in the foreground and winter wheat beyond (closest to the Quilt Arbors).

Our Oats on display are 'Hull-less Oats' (Avena sativa), the source of the Cheerios that grace your bowl at breakfast .

Winter Wheat (Triticum aestivum) is the common bread wheat. Your whole wheat bread begins here with the seed grains of this plant.

And what would your morning cereal be without fresh blueberries? Our northern or Minnesota series varieties are starting to ripen and should be available for tasting this weekend. This is 'Northblue' Blueberry, a hybrid between northern wild "lowbush" (Vaccinium angustifolium) and regular "highbush" blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum).
The cereal grains should be harvested by the Fourth of July and the blueberries should be producing from now until August. We still have strawberries ripening so look for those at tasting stations as well. A plethora of companion plants is also in bloom from marvelous blue Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) in the Vineyard to vivacious Bergamots & Beebalms (Monarda) along the Pear Promenade. The vegetables of summer are gradually replacing the spring crops. Come see the Heartland Harvest Garden and its continual changes: you will be amazed!