Thursday, February 17, 2011

Spring Preview: Winter Windowsill Flowers

Come sit a spell in the beautiful "Feather Your Nest" display at the Powell Gardens' conservatory and you can experience some of the wonderful flowers for the winter windowsill. Many of our most gorgeous flowers require short, cool days to do their best so they are a winter only flowers in Kansas City. Winter is truly waning outside and we all have spring fever for the fragrance and color of flowers!

Blue-flowering Cineraria with silver-leaved Dusty Miller and a white-flowering Cyclamen create a gorgeous composition in the Webster House Garden Room display in the far left corner of the conservatory.
Vivid fuchsia Cinerarias (above) and Kalanchoes (below -- pronounced kal-en-ko'-ee) compose similar vibrant colors.

New hybrids of Cyclamen continue to amaze me with their unique range of flower colors and foliage patterns. All the hybrids are derived from just ONE species: Cyclamen persicum.

How about this Cyclamen with lighter edged rich pink flowers and silver edged leaves!

Hybrids of Kalanchoes also show an amazing array of flower colors from this hot pink to white, light pink, yellows, orange and reds. Kalanchoes are succulents and a more adapted to the average dry air of a winter home. They need to dry out between watering for best results. They are easy to keep from year to year but will only bloom in the short days of winter.

Pink Fairy Primroses (Primula malacoides) are a favorite of winter windowsills. They must be kept in a cool, bright window and not be allowed to dry out between watering.

This picture shows Kalanchoe on top, lavender Stocks (Matthiola incana) in the middle and Cyclamen at the bottom in the display. Stocks are a wonderful cool season annual that will bloom well in a sunny indoor window and thrive outdoors from mid-March into May. Their intense spicy fragrance is one of the most memorable of spring.

Red Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephala) is also blooming in the display. This is actually a shrub from Bolivia but does well in containers here and can be brought indoors to a sunny window for the winter.
Come out for a visit to get a preview of spring with these flowers in the Powell Gardens conservatory. The birds are a delight all around the Visitor Education Center and on the grounds as well.
It is the Great Backyard Bird Count on Sunday, February 20, 2011, at Powell Gardens so come to participate in that if you want to learn more about birds. Winter is waning and the Killdeer are back, the Vernal Witchhazels in bloom and the Snowdrops on their way too. The Byron Shutz Nature Trail is open but requires boots because of all the melted snow. A Great Horned Owl is soon to hatch her winter clutch of eggs on last year's Red-tailed Hawk nest on the trail. Everything from geese to eagles, blackbirds to robins should be on the move back northward so it should be a great weekend for the Great Backyard Bird Count. Spring Peepers (a species of frog) were heard this morning so all the signs are there that a new season is on its way -- I love the anticipation of this time of year. Monday will mark only one more month until the Vernal Equinox, the first day of Spring!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Post Blizzard Views

Wow! I never thought I would see this much snow in Greater Kansas City. The blizzard of February 1, 2011 dumped 14" of snow on Powell Gardens. We are open for visitors and we hope you will take time to experience this truly rare event.

The Visitor Center's prairie style architecture looks marvelous in the snowy landscape.

The Heartland Harvest Garden also looks snug in its blanket of snow. The snowy landscape really depicts the feel of a farmstead on the rich Midwestern plains.

The parking lot is plowed and its landscape's trees are finally gaining some size to punctuate its broad expansive feel. This Powell Gardens landscape is evolving from sunny prairie to a savanna -- a prairie with scattered trees.

Evergreen, deciduous, marcescent: do you know what they all mean? The dark evergreens with picturesque form in this shot are evergreen 'Cannaertii' Redcedars (Juniperus virginiana). They hold their foliage year-round. The oaks just beyond them are Pin Oaks (Quercus palustris) and have hung on to their dead leaves: that's called marcescent. Small, young trees in the foreground and the old hickory in the background are bare now: deciduous.

These two young White Oaks (Quercus alba) are also marcescent. Many species of oaks do this and since they cannot speak, we can only speculate why. One theory is they held their leaves to make them less appealing for browsing animals to eat. Remember that great herds of elk once roamed throughout the Midwest and those old marcescent leaves were not appetizing and deterred them from munching on nutritious buds beneath. When most oaks get bigger they usually become completely deciduous.

The tree with the picturesque winter pods is a Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus). Its botanical name makes a lot of sense if you understand Latin: Gymno is naked -- because after its large multi-leaflet leaves drop the tree is very open with coarse twigs; appearing naked. Dioicus describes that the species is dioecious: meaning male and female flowers are on separate trees. The tree above is a female and her flowers form the pods with hard seeds. The tree to its immediate right is also a Kentucky Coffeetree but it is podless: it's a male, its flowers only produce pollen.

This scene in the drifts of snow in the parking lot also shows some plants with long black pods. These neat winter interest plants are Wild Senna (Senna / Cassia marilandica). Yes they are relatives of the coffeetrees in the same bean or legume family. The pods of this gorgeous perennial hold well all through the winter landscape unless a Wild Turkey finds them to snap them up for lunch.

This past fall I began to worry about a drought because it was SO dry. Now all the snowfall has provided wonderful moisture and protection to the gardens. Underneath the thick drifts of snow on the terrace garden beds lie happy little pansies and violas snug in their winter blanket.

Temperatures at KCI airport recorded -12F tying a record on Thursday morning. The low at Powell Garden's official site in a cold pocket was -11.5F, the coldest it's been here since 1997. The local low varied from around -5F to 10 degrees colder in open, low lying areas. This Victoria Southern Magnolia is one of the hardiest and should be fine through this cold snap. It always helps to know your microclimates and plant more tender plants in mild positions sheltered by buildings and existing mature trees.

Horticulturist Donna Covell is our Greenhouse Grower and her work keeps her in a much different environment! We have 9 greenhouses and they are full of flowers for spring at Powell Gardens and for our Centerpiece Display we will be installing next week at the Metropolitan Lawn and Garden Show at the American Royal in Kansas City.

Our Metropolitan Show Garden will be the 'Garden of Eat'n' showcasing edible plants and its 30 x 3o' vegetable garden was designed by Heartland Harvest Garden Horticulturist Matt Bunch who here is inspecting Ruby Perfection Cabbage for the display.

Here's Ruby Perfection Cabbage with ferny-leaved Fennel behind, also destined for the Metropolitan Lawn and Garden Show.

Dark red-leaved 'Bull's Blood' Beets are in the foreground with Society Garlic's vertical variegated leaves in the middle with purple basil and chard in the background. A beautiful landscape can easily be created by the wonderful foliage colors and textures of many of our favorite edible plants.

Flower like these fragrant Stocks will also enhance our Metro Show Garden so you will experience a complete preview of spring and a well grown garden. Make sure to mark your calendar for February 11th -13th and come see us at the Metropolitan Lawn and Garden Show. We'll have all sorts of tips and ideas for you to grow your own edible garden at home. Until then don't let cabin fever keep you indoors, get out and experience the wonderful winter landscape now on display at Powell Gardens! It may be several more lifetimes until we experience such a snowy landscape again.