Friday, April 29, 2011

Dogwoods with Dinosaurs

Dogwoods and other unique spring flowering trees are coloring the grounds for quite a horticultural experience at Powell Gardens. If you are coming to see the dinosaurs these beauties will also grab your attention as they are some of the most beautiful of all flowering trees.

Missouri's State Tree the Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) are in full bloom at Powell Gardens. The Gardens displays a collection of most available cultivars with the Pink Flowering Dogwood (f. rubra or 'Rubra') near the Visitor Center depicted.

The first Pink Flowering Dogwood tree along the Dogwood Walk from the Visitor Center to the Island Garden always grabs attention. We just acquired the 'Prairie Pink' selection from Sunrise Nursery (Lawrence, KS). Prairie Pink Dogwood was selected by the late great Kansas plantsman John Pair from a tree in Laramie, KS. It has proven a reliable cultivar for easternmost Kansas.

It is always fun to show new plants that exceed our expectations. This narrow tree depicted between the Visitor Center and the Trolley Stop is a Amanogawa Flowering Cherry (Prunus hybrid). This tree was donated to us by the Northland's Narrow Tree Nursery (

The Amanogawa Cherry blossom are very cheery! Its gorgeous semi-double flowers of soft pink, age to almost white. The fact that the tree bloomed 100% after last winter was a good hardiness test. I think it has potential as a tree to bring distinction to tight spaces.

The vivacious purplish-red leaves of Emperor I Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) stand out in the shade of the Rock & Waterfall Garden. This tree boasts beautiful spring and fall color! It is a new selection from Oklahoma's wholesale Greenleaf Nursery that is more suited to our plains climate and doesn't leaf out as early and thus set itself up for a late freeze's damage.

This NEW Redbud (Cercis canadensis 'The Rising Sun') is also very unique with sunny butter yellow new foliage! WOW, it is shockingly colored in the spring landscape and perfect for contrasting with other foliage colors. This new cultivar was brought in for us by Blue Spring's Colonial Nursery from wholesale Greenleaf Nursery and will soon become available to the general public. Look for this small tree near the Rock & Waterfall Garden's trolley stop. We also have the new 'Burgundy Hearts' Redbud with shocking new purple leaves near the Learning Shed in the Heartland Harvest Garden. Be sure and look for these and other fine flowering trees this weekend on your visit to Powell Gardens.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Peak of Spring in Flowers

Native redbuds and plums paint the landscape of Powell Gardens expressing that our spirit of place is at the peak of spring. This composition of our native Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) and Wildgoose Plum (Prunus munsoniana -- one of 5 species of local wild plums) welcomes visitors to Powell Gardens just before the gatehouse. Often times we gardeners embrace exotics at the expense of those that originally decorated this land in a new term I am seeing called "contempt for the familiar." The splashes of raspberry sherbet pink-flowering redbuds and fragrant sparkling white-flowering wild plums coloring our landscape make this my hands down favorite time of year. In the Heartland Harvest Garden's edible landscape the gorgeous flowering fruit trees have advanced to the pears taking center stage. We have the biggest variety of pears in public display anywhere around. Kikisui Asian Pear, shown above, has the most beautiful flowers of them all this spring. The ornamental callery (Bradford, Aristocrat, Chanticleer, etc...) pears (Pyrus calleryana) are popular in local landscapes but Powell Gardens has none because they are becoming the next invasive exotic to damage our wild lands. Consider the beautiful Asian edible pears (Pyrus pyrifolia) as an alternate and feed yourself instead of the starlings with the bounty of crisp, juicy pears following their bloom. Pears are known for their upright form and here's a mug shot of Honsui Asian Pear in bloom. You do need two varieties of Asian pears to set fruit and their narrow crowns do not take up much air space and offer unique uses in edible landscape where space is limited. Some of our varieties like this '20th Century' Asian Pear have coppery leaves while they bloom adding a color echo to the centers of the flowers and thus adding to the ornamental appeal of the plant. I am busy trying to keep track of all these details on our premier collection of fruit trees because edible landscaping implies you know the ornamental beauty of a edible plant along with its productivity and garden performance. The Daisui Li Asian Pear may have the most coppery leaves of them all at bloom time. I only had time at mid-day to capture the image so it looks better to the eye than the camera in the now August-like mid-day sun of April. Heartland Harvest Garden Horticulturist Matt Bunch ranked 'New Century' Asian Pear as the best for productivity, flavor and right size fruit in our collection; but noted that for the most part they all were good! This heirloom purple-leaf plum (Prunus unknown hybrid) is a pass along plant from near Liberty, MO and has delicious plums according to Matt Bunch. Its tiny pinkish-white flowers cover every stem and twig making it a bit dazzling looking and a great color with the redbuds on the edge of the Vineyard seen in the background. Remember redbud flowers and young pea pods are edible and a nice addition to a spring salad. I had to include a picture of the arbor at the center of the Heartland Harvest Garden 'Quilt' Gardens because the Clove Currants (Ribes odoratum) continue to grab attention with their phenomenal scent and the Akebia vines (Akebia spp.) growing up the arbors are beginning to bloom. Make sure to take a closer look and the unique flowers of the akebias varying in color from white to purple. (My close up lens is still not fixed so I can't share that with you -- you'll have to see it in person!) The Flowering-Quinces (Chaenomeles spp.) are in full bloom around the gardens and they are not the trash collecting shrubs they were once thought of anymore. New varieties have flowers in double petals and colors from white to blush pink to almost orange and vivid reds. This is the peachy 'Cameo' Flowering-Quince along the dogwood walk. Remember to grow quinces for their fruit as well (if you have at least 2 varieties to pollinate) which make delicious spicy preserves or natural air fresheners if you are not into the culinary experience. The double white 'O Yashima' Flowering Quince that buds greenish and whitens as it opens may be my favorite and look for it near the entrance to the Heartland Harvest Garden. New varieties for the spring plant sale have flowers almost as large as camellias! The late season daffodils are now at peak but other unique bulbs can be observed around the gardens. The interesting Guinea Hen Flower or Checkered Lily (Fritillaria meleagris) blooming in the Rock & Waterfall Garden is a great bulb that does best in a site that is wet in spring.

The ground flora of the Rock & Waterfall Garden is really kicking into bloom with gorgeous Summer Snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum), various Epimediums (Epimedium rubrum shown) and the hat-like new leaves of native Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) interspersed. Now through early May is the peak color of the Rock & Waterfall Garden but it will be another week or so before the azaleas are in full bloom -- and they are looking great for a superior display this year.

The sunny weekend forecast sounds marvelous for a springtime visit to Powell Gardens with temperatures in the low 60's on Saturday and 70F for Sunday. If you've never been here in spring before, you are in for a real floral treat!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spring Has Sprung!

Spring has really sprung at Powell Gardens and the gardens are giddy with flowering flora. The sights and scents of the flowers are especially captivating after a winter without them in the landscape.

We had a freeze Wednesday morning (29F) and I thought our magnolias would be toast but they were just tight enough in bud to endure and burst forth now with glorious flowers. This is the Galaxy Magnolia (Magnolia liliiflora 'Nigra' x M. sprengeri 'Diva'). The scents of this and some other magnolias are somewhat musky but remind me of my experience-rich childhood and the neighborhood saucer magnolia.

The path by the Trigg Building is now a tunnel of softly sweet-scented Star Magnolias (Magnolia stellata). The star magnolia flowers are a bit disheveled on close inspection but overall wonderful -- they endured hot winds (Sunday), cold winds (Monday), hail and torrential rain!

Magnolia 'Butterflies' (Magnolia acuminata x M. denudata 'Sawada's Cream') is one of the best yellow-flowering magnolias with small waterlily-esque, delightful and musky scented flowers. This magnolia always draws attention at the Visitor Center trolley stop and should be in full bloom this weekend.

The burgundy goblets of Magnolia 'March till Frost' is a complex hybrid ((Magnolia liliiflora x cylindrica) x Magnolia 'Ruby') that does repeat flower a bit all season. It did survive the vagaries of this spring and is gaining rank on my list of Magnolia favorites.

This unassuming shrub in the Heartland Harvest Garden grabbed my attention as I walked by with its phenomenal and alluring aroma. The small yellow flowers of Clove Currant (Ribes odoratum) are a sweet and rich with a clove-like scent. I also remember this shrub from childhood when it bloomed in older neighborhoods of my hometown as I walked home from school. It lost favor from gardeners for many years but now is back in popularity as it produces edible black currants great for preserves and pies (and fresh eating too)!

The plum trees are also in bloom in the Heartland Harvest Garden and just starting to open in the natural areas of the grounds. The HHG has a superb collection of plums ( Plum 'Burbank Red Ace' shown) and their flowers are wonderfully fragrant. I must admit the plum blossom scents took me back to my childhood visiting my Grandpa and Grandma on the farm in Iowa. They grew on the fencerows perfuming the air in spring and Grandma always made a memorable preserve out of the plums and mixed it with apple.

Two plums in particular stand out in our collection: The Shiro Plum shown here grows on the south side of the Learning Shed and has a beautiful spreading crown. Its plums are yellow when ripe and a favorite of Horticulturist Matt Bunch.

Our other favorite is the Toka Plum shown here just south of the corn crib. It is sometimes called the bubblegum plum because its sweet plums have a remarkable bubblegum-like flavor which Matt described and then read that was another name for this plum! This is the plum whose ripening plums are depicted on our set of note cards available to Friends members. If you have room for just two plums, plant Toka and Shiro and they do pollinate each other. We do have many more varieties, each with their own merit and I captured their images for documentation and future reference (but I don't want to put you to sleep looking at them all here).

The Perennial Garden's beds are filled with Daffodils and spring has burst forth throughout Powell Gardens. The weekend sounds like it will be warm and mild and that predicted rains will happen at night! Come explore the fabulous flora now in bloom and may its sights and scents bring back fond memories or create new ones to reflect upon. Springtime is my favorite season with renewal of life in a burst of beautiful optimism for all to enjoy.