Friday, December 30, 2011

A Sample of Colorful Evergreens from Powell Gardens

Plants with evergreen foliage are a mainstay of the winter garden.  But how many of these plants are truly green?  The term evergreen means they hold their foliage through the winter but the wintertime foliage can be in almost any hue!  Here's a look at some of the evergreen plants around the Visitor Center which offers an exceptional collection of evergreens as it was designed to be a sort of winter garden for folks who didn't want to walk to far to see the beauty of the gardens on a cold winter's day.

Nandina domestica 'Blush Pink' offers about the wildest color one can have this season on a dwarf or compact shrub.  The winter color of this shrub is fiery fall red -- its pink in the summertime. 
Nandina domestica 'Obsession' also offers a wonderful blend of winter color with red-bronze-purple hued foliage.

 Nandina domestica 'Flirt' is a very compact grower with a more overall purple hue now.  All three of these mini-shrub Nandinas are part of the Southern Living Shrub Collection's zone 6 hardy varieties which were all donated to Powell Gardens for trial.  So far these are tough shrubs surviving last summer's ferocious heat and drought just fine.  These 3 varieties can be seen around the Visitor Center trolley stop.

Here's a grouping of native Eastern Redcedars (Juniperus virginiana) that were dug from the wild and planted as a screen to the Visitor Center's parking lot.  Native male Eastern Redcedars like these three have orange-colored pollen cones on them in winter that will release dusty yellow pollen in spring.  Many gardeners don't care for this color of evergreen in the wintertime but we feel it is part of the natural color scheme to our local landscape -- the "Spirit of Place" we try to capture at Powell Gardens.
These are a grouping of a 'Oxford' Eastern Redcedars which is a cultivar selected in southern Kansas for its greener foliage in winter.  It is a female cultivar so has some of the blue, berry-like cones that are so nice to adorn the plant in wintertime and ofter a major food source to wildlife.  You can eat these cones too, sometimes they have a sweet burst of flavor to begin with but always end with a strong gin aftertaste.  Yep, gin is flavored with juniper "berries."

Cannaertii Eastern Redcedars are another Kansas selection of our only native evergreen.  Canaertii Junipers are also female and have wonderful open branching patterns that are so striking in the winter landscape.  The trees on the right side of this shot are a bit lopsided because of severe deer browse on their leeward side.   
This evergreen (but yellow-leaved at all seasons) is the Golden Japanese Sweetflag (Acorus gramineus 'Ogon').  It is a very underutilized perennial groundcover that really does add a bright spot in the landscape throughout the year.  This mass is just northeast of the Visitor Center right along the main path.
Here's one of the greenest evergreens I could find: a Southern Magnolia (M. grandiflora) grown from a cutting off the Greater Kansas City champion.  This is certainly one of the hardiest Southern Magnolias anywhere and does grow as a sturdy, relatively compact plant despite its unsheltered site south of the Visitor Center.
The wonderful red-purple hues and rugose texture of this Leatherleaf Viburnum (V. x rhitidophylloides) make it one of our favorite huge shrubs for winter interest.  The foliage holds well through mild winters but this shrub can become more deciduous after a harder winter like last year.  Look for these big shrubs below the Visitor Center's Conservatory.
Rhododendron 'PJM' has some of the nicest dark, almost chocolate purple leaves of any hardy shrub that grows well here.  On cold, sub-freezing days the leaves roll up -- rolling up tightly during severe cold and giving the plant an entirely different look.  I think of it as a living thermometer in winter as the leaves unfurl as the temperature returns to above freezing.
This is the fabulous foliage of the Redboor Kale (Brassica oleracea) which holds beautifully down to temperatures around 10F or above.  It is naturally a biennial where completely hardy but since we are usually colder than zone 8, it often dies or the foliage is killed by our winters.  We would love to see this mild winter continue as all the kale look great right now.  We also have blooming pansies and a few spring bulbs already out!

Come out to Powell Gardens for a New Years hike and enjoy some of the beautiful evergreens that adorn the grounds.  The biggest collection is around the Visitor Center but there are marvelous varieties to be seen from the Heartland Harvest Garden to the Perennial Garden and even  a plethora of winter colors along the Byron Shutz Nature Trail.  Consider staying fit by walking outdoors as often as you can this winter, and may our mild winter continue!

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Holiday Season's Garden

Powell Gardens is brimming with flowers, foliage and fruit that make this season bright.

The Conservatory and its Victorian-themed palate is full of unique Poinsettias and companion plants in a beautiful design by Horticulturist Anne Wildeboor. Here Poinsettia 'Winter Rose Marble' & 'Premium White' is set off by Diamond Frost Euphorbia and Pink Polka-dot Plant. If you are in the market for unique poinsettias, Perennial Gifts (our gift shop) will have these for sale for you to take home.

Outside the last of the season greens are part of our masterful foliage display playing off their leave's beautiful colors and textures. This marvelous array of edibles was designed by Horticulturist Matt Bunch in the Heartland Harvest Garden's Villandry Quilt Garden in front of the barn. From left to right the mustard greens varieites are: 'Golden Frill', 'Purple Rain', 'Green Wave' and 'Garnet Giant.'

No, the gardening season does not end with a freeze! Many of the "greens" of the fall garden hold well into December with some kale hardy to near 10F. Make sure to walk to the barn on your Powell Gardens visit to see some of these beautiful compositions and be sure and hike (or ride on the elevator) up to the top of the silo for a bird's eye overview of the landscape.

No, this is not a "beached" starfish but a gorgeous bed of greens (purple 'Garnet Giant' mustard and green tops of radishes)

in the Villandry Garden. The unique fringed edge are 'Chinese Ornamental' peppers which, though killed by a freeze, create a gorgeous border in the winter landscape.

The screaming red berries of the Possumhaw or Deciduous Holly (Ilex decidua) always warm the soul on a winter garden walk. All berried hollies are female and require a male pollinator -- when we planted this fruiting plant in the Perennial Garden we forgot to plant a pollinator and it still fruited! I thought we might have the first self-fruitful possumhaw but then we discovered a wild male plant in the woods nearby.

This Prairie Rose (Rosa setigera) in the Apple Celebration Court is also loaded with beautiful deep red hips. It is a companion planting to the apples and makes the garden beautiful all through winter.

Prickly-pears like this wild Bigroot Prickly Pear (Opuntia macrorhiza) draping over the living wall on the Island Garden are great for winter interest in the garden. The companion reddish foliage is from the Hardy Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) used as a colorful companion plant.

The Island Garden is choc full of neat foliage plant treats like this Angelina Sedum (Sedum reflexum) which in winter has orange hi-lights.

Angelina Sedum combines well with other evergreen plants like silver Santolina (back left), Candytuft (back right) and fine forest green creeping thyme (front left) and rich green six-sided sedum (front right). All these grow on top of the Island Garden's living wall.

Snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii) have already made their appearance on the Island Garden! Perhaps the severe drought of fall followed by copious rains fooled them into thinking it was spring. At any rate we sure enjoy these cold hardy, floral gems whenever they appear.

Sweet Violets (Viola odorata) are also in bloom with their intensely sweet perfume. They are awesome edible flowers with a sweet floral taste that can really make a salad sing in this season.
These were photographed on the east side of the Island Garden but they are also sweetening up the Kitchen Garden south of the barn in the Heartland Harvest Garden and a few other secret locations around the garden--your nose will find them before your eyes.

These flowers, foliage and fruit await your discovery on a holiday walk at Powell Gardens. Take a break from the hustle and bustle and discover the beauties of our winter garden.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Owls Banded at Powell Gardens

One of North America's smallest and most secretive (and cutest!) owls: the Northern Saw-whet Owl were banded at Powell Gardens last week. We invited staff from the Missouri River Bird Observatory to come sample appropriate habitat near the Byron Shutz Nature Trail where we thought the owls might reside. 2 owls were caught: one male near 9 p.m. and one female at 11:30 p.m.

Dana Ripper, Director of the Missouri River Bird Observatory (MRBO), shows off the male Northern Saw-whet Owl netted at Powell Gardens. Across North America, a network of researchers is monitoring the autumn migration of this tiny owl. Northern Saw-whet Owls were thought to be quite rare in our area but the MRBO is proving that we have more owls in central Missouri than previously known. Learn more at and visit the MRBO website at

Here Dana relays information about the bird to Ethan Duke, Assistant Director of the Missouri River Bird Observatory. Each of the two owls caught were measured and weighed, checked for health, banded and released very near where they were caught. Based on the information gathered the first bird was a male and the second a female (you can't tell by their plumage). Both birds were more than a year old.

Dana holds out their relatively large wings to see their molt patterns. This bird weighed less than 3 ounces and can fly away with a mouse more than one third its weight.

Only professionals with proper permits may net and band these and all protected species of birds. Myself and a handful of Missouri Master Naturalists accompanied Dana and Ethan to the banding here at Powell Gardens. If you ever come across a banded bird (owl or any bird!) please report it to I wondered what the story was with each of the Saw-whets caught here at Powell: where did you come from? From the high elevations of the Rocky Mountains? From the great northern forests of Canada? From Northern Minnesota? Were they planning to stay here for the winter or fly farther south? If only they could speak. The banders' research is helping us to understand the lives of secretive birds and put in place an understanding of what their conservation needs are now and for future generations.

Meet Dana and Ethan from the MRBO at Powell Gardens on Sunday, February 5th for banding birds around the Powell Gardens Visitor Center. It will be a chance for our visitors to get up close and personal to wild birds. Watch for specific details soon.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Colors of November

The low light of November creates some sublime scenes by intensifying the fall hues. A walk through Powell Gardens offers a prime finale of the fall season.

4p.m. light on the Perennial Garden makes the towering 2o year old Baldcypresses show off their fine fall color to a tee. What better time to sit at the arbor and enjoy the scenery.

Sweetbay Magnolia's (Magnolia virginiana) fall attire of subtle yellows compliments the composition of shrubs beneath it: from purple-red Concorde Barberry (left & background right) to orange Magic Carpet Spirea, glowing yellow Vintage Gold Falsecypress and blue-gray Lavender (right foreground). Look for this scene in the Fountain Garden.

Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra) decked out in fall attire of bronzy oranges and reds along the walk to the Fountain Garden.

Dwarf Fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii) is known for some of the best fall colors in a hardy shrub. Here Green Giant Arborvitae provides a nice evergreen backdrop. Look for this scene between the Perennial Garden and Rock & Waterfall Garden.

Pink fall color is rare but is occasional in some viburnums like this self-sown seedling of Missouri Native Southern Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) in the Rock & Waterfall Garden.

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) offers some of the best red fall color year after year -- here at the south entrance to the Rock & Waterfall Garden.

Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum) offer some of the most intense red fall colors: almost like they are plugged in! This is foliage of the cultivar 'Emperor I' which is the best of the purple-leaved cultivars for our region as it is slower to leaf out in spring and rarely damaged by late frosts. This small tree is thriving in the shady Rock & Waterfall Garden.

This Zumi Crabapple (Malus x zumi 'Calicarpa') is completely studded with tiny red crabapples. A feast for the eyes in this season and literally a feast for the birds too as their winter larder. Look for these crabapples on the Island Garden.

Plants that stay evergreen are also standouts in this season like this clump of Lily-of-China (Rohdea japonica) in the Rock & Waterfall Garden. Looking like young corn plants, this long-lived perennial stays green all winter. Lily-of-China is a great companion to hostas for some winter interest when they leave the shade garden would otherwise be empty.

The flower beds around the Visitor Center are at peak with cool season, frost tolerant flowers and foliage. This bed contains pansies, lettuce, chrysanthemums, kale and fountain grass left from summer. All these plants hold well until Thanksgiving and often into early December depending on the weather.

The Poinsettia crop in the Powell Gardens' greenhouses is looking as good as ever.

Poinsettias are a difficult crop to grow and need the lengthening nights (without any light pollution -- even light from a street light!) to initiate the beautiful bracts that surround the tiny flowers. This week they will be installed in the conservatory, opening for public viewing on Saturday the 19th. Don't let cabin fever set in and come walk through the late fall gardens and be inspired by late fall's beautiful scenery.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

October's Garden Glory

It is the peak of fall at Powell Gardens and there is still a bounty of flowers, foliage and produce throughout the gardens.

Closed or Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii) is one of the true blue flowers we can grow and a must see in person each fall.  Who do you think pollinates such a unique flower?  The answer is big bumblebees that are strong enough to open the twisted shut end of the flower.  The bumblebee climbs into the flower and then there is a whole lot of shak'n going on!  Trick or treat?  Well the flower does reward the bumblebee with some wonderful nectar and gets pollinated in the process.  Look for a nice mass of this native gentian in the New Millennium border of the Perennial Garden.

Prairie Gentian (Gentiana puberulenta) is another locally native gentian but defies captivity.  It must have some relationship with some soil fungus, microfauna or whatever that is lost when a native prairie is plowed up.  Too bad because it would certainly be one of the most popular garden flowers and also a spectacular cut flower.  This one was photographed on a Friends Member's Ona Gieschen's private native prairie during a visit last week.  Trek out to a native prairie near you to see this beauty -- one of so many reasons to cherish, protect and manage our native prairie remnants
The Island Garden pools are still lush with flowers and foliage and surrounded by billowing flowers from Maximilian Sunflowers and Golden Asters in the prairie to Gauras, Verbena bonariensis and Autumn Sages in the garden beds.  This Powell Gardens centerpiece is the most flower and color filled location on the grounds right now (don't miss it!).  It's the last weekend for such a show as temperatures next week may flirt with Jack Frost and we will have to begin to remove the tropical water plants to their winter quarters.

Gorgeous cushions of Aromatic Aster (Aster oblongifolius) grace the east side of the Island Garden's living wall right now.  Watch for hoards of pollinators and butterflies imbibing their last nectar and pollen meals of the season from these flowers.  These particular flowers were grown from wild aromatic asters on the native prairie remnants on the property.

New England Asters (Aster novae-angliae) are also in bloom in wild areas of the garden but especially in the Perennial Garden.  Look for them in shades of purple to pink and some with some ruby-violet tones.  We let them self-sow to within reason and always remember why now, when they put on such a magical hurrah of flowers near the end of our growing season.

Helen's Flower or "Sneezeweed" (Helenium autumnale) is another native wildflower with many colorful selections that self-sows in the Perennial Garden and supplies gold to brick red flowers now.  This seedling is in the New Millennium border and was spared for its gorgeous bi-colored flowers.  Sneezeweed doesn't make you sneeze unless you do what the Native Americans allegedly did: make a snuff out of it to make you sneeze to rid your body of evil spirits.  I don't recommend that.
This colorful border of fall flowers in the Vineyard are a local seed strain of chrysanthemums donated to us by local Gardener Jackie Goetz.  We call them Jackie's Mums (Chrysanthemum x morifolium) and they are self-sow naturally into a myriad of colors from yellow to orange, rust, maroon, pink, and white.  They are companion plants to grapes and attract a myriad of beneficial insects and butterflies to the garden now. The flowers are allegedly edible too, just don't eat the base of the flower which is very bitter.
Here's a couple more images of Jackie's mums in the Vineyard.  We have tried to select some of the colors for propagation but they are relatively short-lived so it is best to let them be free to self-sow and show their true colors!

There is always some unusual plant that grabs my attention in the Heartland Harvest Garden and now it is the Huacatay Marigold (Tagetes minuta).  This is a great companion plant in edible landscapes to help protect plantings from nematodes, slugs and tough perennial weeds like bindweed.  Oil from this plant is used in commercial food flavorings but it also has many herbal uses.  This plant has a host of other names including Muster-John-Henry, Khaki Weed and Stinking Roger!!!!  Hmmmm...

Matt Bunch (Heartland Harvest Garden Horticulturist) has uncovered quite a catch!  A 14 pound 'Beauregard' sweet potato.  It is not even close the world record but quite a feast nonetheless.  There's a lot of sweet potato fries in this plant's tuber.  Come explore Powell Gardens this weekend and uncover your own special garden experiences.  From the Heartland Harvest Garden to the Perennial Garden and the Byron Shutz Nature Trail, there lies a phenomenal bounty of October's glory.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Unfamiliar Flowers and Fruit of Fall

The Seven Sons tree (Heptacodium miconioides) has been blooming and attracting a wide array of butterflies this fall.  A Viceroy, mimic of the Monarch butterfly, dines on the nectar-rich flowers.  Look for Sevens Sons near the Fountain Garden and in the Perennial Garden.

Colchicums are also in bloom with there large autumnal flowers.  This clump is Colchicum byzantinum aka Colchicum autumnale major.  These deer and squirrel resistant bulbs are expensive but worth it as one bulb will sport all the flowers shown.  The leaves are large in spring and go dormant by midsummer so plan accordingly in the garden.  We think blue-flowering Hardy Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) is the perfect companion plant.  As soon as all the flowers are done and lie flat, you can separate bulb masses to propagate the plant.  Look for Colchicums on the Island, Rock & Waterfall and Perennial Gardens.
This is the second day flower of the Amazon Victoria (Victoria amazonica).  They are white the first day and have this pink center on the second day -- it has to do with cross pollination as the pollen is ready on the first day and the stigma is ready to receive pollen and be fertilized on the second day.  Victorias are pollinated by beetles in their native Amazon rivers but must be hand pollinated here.  Look for them in the Island Garden pools.
These brown fruit may look unappealing but are a delight to eat!  This is a selection of the Jujube tree (Zizyphus jujuba) called 'Coco' and has very sweet, crisp fruit.  Jujubes are popular in China and were the inspiration for the candy as the fruit can be candied for long term use.  Jujubes have no shelf life or shipping life so are not found in grocery stores.
Jujubes come in various shapes and sizes and this larger, pear-shaped variety is 'Black Sea' from the Ukraine.  Look for several varieties of Jujube trees in the Heartland Harvest Garden. 
The Starfruit tree (Averrhoa carambola) has been blooming and is setting some fruit.  This tropical tree comes from the Malay region and can be seen at Powell Gardens in the Heartland Harvest Garden's greenhouse.  Though this fruit is at many local grocery stores, many have not sampled this crisp fruit with a star-shape when sliced and a sweet-sour taste like rhubarb.

Make a date to visit Powell Gardens and find this sample of unfamiliar flowers and fruit -- there are many more than this!  We are in moderate going into a worse category of drought but the gardens are irrigated so cultivated plants are blooming and fruiting well.  Fall color is going to peak early because of the drought and already there are many beautiful native trees in gold to purples.  Come see the tractors on display this weekend (October 1 &2) but don't forget to take a walk through the gardens.