Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Suspended Animation

Day number seven of gloomy skies and temperatures at least 15F degrees below normal. It stopped spring's progress in its tracks and is making many flowers last a long time. At least it has not gotten cold enough to do much damage to any flowers or emerging vegetation. You can see on this view from the trolley stop into the Perennial Garden that the early Daffodils are in full bloom. We have many 1,000's of daffodils and these should remain in phenomenal bloom through the predicted seasonal (warmer!) weekend. Ice Follies Daffodil (Narcissus Large Cup Division II) has soft yellow center's again this spring as the temperatures have been so cool -- this makes 3 cool springs in a row! Often they are at best cream and sometimes look fully white during our warm springs. Gold Tide Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia 'Courtasol') is in full bloom and a Plant of Merit because it is a low growing forsythia that won't engulf an entire garden. Forsythia is always a blast of color in the early spring landscape. More subtle are the fragrant clusters of pink flowers on the Dawn Viburnum (Viburnum x bodnantense) which often blooms by early February for us -- only to be killed off by a harsh freeze. This is a big shrub (easily 8 feet tall): look for them on the south ramps of the Visitor Center. Magnolias are always freeze tender and the buds of most are bursting forth from the warm spell a week ago. This is Magnolia 'March 'til Frost' which is a rebloomer but its spring bloom is the fullest with deep burgundy goblet-shaped flowers. Only time will tell if these will all open ok -- actually so far so good. The delicate flowers of White-Forsythia (Abeliophyllum distichum) is related to Forsythia but is NOT a true Forsythia. The flower buds were depicted in an earlier blog but the delightful blooms really add early spring sparkle to the landscape. It forces very easy indoors in winter as do all these early spring flowering shrubs. This shrub takes more time than forsythia to become a nice landscape plant and also requires some pruning so it doesn't become a disheveled mess (thinning older canes for forcing is a good thing!). It is a very rare shrub in the wilds of Korea. The lichens are loving this weather and since "Alice algae and Freddy fungus took a like'n to each other" these symbiotic alive organisms prosper from each other and don't harm the tree (hackberry shown). They are a good indicator of good air quality and such images cannot be found from Greater Kansas City's more urban core. Japanese Cornelian-Cherry Dogwood (Cornus officinalis) is one of our earliest blooming small trees and its clusters of tiny yellow flowers cover it in a yellow haze. These will produce tart red fruit by late summer -- edible but very tart. Look for These and their European relative (Cornus mas) throughout the grounds. The flowers of Cornelian-Cherry Dogwoods are very frost and freeze resistant. The vivid red berries on the American Holly (Ilex opaca) on the north end of the Visitor Center also made me take a photo to share today. These beautiful berries have been colorful for almost 6 months now. May you make plans to come visit Powell Gardens this weekend and enjoy the early spring landscape. After more than a week of gloom it will be a breath of spring and fresh air! Most of the spring beds are planted including in the Heartland Harvest Garden. Our plant sale list is now on-line so start making your wish list for that event the first weekend in May. The spring flower and companion plant seeds available now in the Gift Shop are also on-line so be prepared to pick some of them up and get your garden for the 2011 season already underway. The sun will come out soon!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Greenhouse Preview

Powell Gardens' NINE greenhouses are in full swing of production for the 2011 Growing Season. A quarter million plants are in production now; 240 varieties for the spring gardens, 600 varieties for the summer gardens and 420 varieties for the Spring Plant Sale!

Golden Ranunculus or Persian Buttercups (Ranunculus asiaticus) in Greenhouse #6 grabbed my attention with their glorious warm yellow flowers. Yes they are closely related to the little woodland buttercup growing wild around here. Greenhouse #6 finishes many of the spring display crops so they look fabulous when they go to the conservatory or elsewhere in the gardens.

Fairy Primroses (Primula malacoides) in various shades color a bench in greenhouse #6; a perennial favorite flower for the cool, spring season for us.

Fragrant Stocks (Matthiola incana) fit the bill as well!

Here's an overview of part of Greenhouse #6. The plants in the foreground are for the spring plant sale.

Greenhouse #7 stores many of our unhardy edible plants for the Heartland Harvest Garden and our collection of banana varieties (Musa spp. ) is bursting at the seams and aching to go outside after all danger of frost has past in May.

What on earth is this? It's a fresh new banana flower! This is 'Williams Hybrid' banana, the huge foot long flower bud is just starting to emerge though you can see the "fingers" of baby bananas (the female part of the flower) in the upper right. The pointed "beak" part of the flower is where the male flowers are located but not yet opening. It takes about 10 months for bananas to ripen so we won't be able to enjoy these until next winter!

These are benches of seed trays and seed flats where all seeds begin their germination journey at Powell Gardens in Greenhouse #4.

The seedlings are then transplanted by hand into cell packs where they can bulk up and be ready for transplanting into the gardens.

Here's a mass of perennials destined for the Spring Plant Sale here on May 7-8. These will be transplanted into larger pots next week so they will become top-of-the-line perennials for you to purchase and take home.

Shrubs for the Spring Plant Sale got their start back in February and should be nice full plants for you to purchase by early May.
Kudos to super Greenhouse Staff and volunteers who grow all these crops so that the plans and designs of the Horticulturists and Gardeners become a reality. Our glorious gardens all begin here: from seeds and cuttings all transplanted by hand. It always makes me feel good watching these "babies" grow and mature each season. May they bring us great beauty and joy; sustaining our bodies and souls in the 2011 gardening season.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spring Conservatory Display 2011

Our Spring Conservatory Display opens to the public on Saturday, March 12, 2011. Orchids steal the show as usual but look for Begonias and other spring flowers and colorful tropical plants from all colors of the rainbow. Fairy Houses are a hot gardening trend and 33 custom made in house styles will be set in the flower-filled indoor garden.

Miltonia Orchid has a face reminiscent of a pansy and its cheeriness on this springy day really grabs your attention.

This red-leaved Cordyline (sometimes called cabbage palm, though it's not a palm) is native to New Zealand but it's spiky foliage is becoming very popular here as a container plant.

Pastel Ranunculus with crape-paper-like flowers are set with dark red cyclamen for a beautiful composition. Ranunculus are a classic spring only annual with gorgeous flowers. It's hard to believe they are first cousin to our wild buttercups so their other common name Persian Buttercup doesn't belie.

The intricacies of some orchid's flowers make them look unreal. This one is on our tree of cork and I couldn't reach its name.

Moth Orchids (Phalaenopsis) are a great orchid for beginners and new hybrids are giving them more colors and patterns than their ever popular white standard. This is a the new cultivar 'Mei Dar Blackberry.'

Pink Ranunculus with pink-flowered and silvered leaved Cyclamen create a very harmonious combination. The silvery Dusty Miller in between also color echos the cyclamen leaves to make them stand out even more.

Autumn Carnation Encore Azalea is in full bloom and is one of 10 of these popular repeat-flowering azaleas considered hardy through zone 6. We will be planting these 10 hardiest cultivars outdoors in the gardens for the first time this year.

The slipper orchids like this Paphiopedilum are always popular and intriguing.

Colm. Calatante 'Solar Flare' is the label on this interesting orchid in shades of orange.
Golden yellow Ranunculus are as welcome as the sunshine today. These are Persian buttercups for sure.

The stunning fan shaped leaves of Bismarckia nobilis palm are surely a study in texture and form. Their chalky blue coloration makes them a stand out among palms.

This unique orchid is a cross between two Genera and is why the "X" is seen before the Genus of its botanical name: X Degarmoara 'Jay Yamada Kauai'.

The translucency of this orchid makes it look completely different when back-lit. Many orchids are stunning that way so be sure to look at them from many angles.

This Cattleya 'Binosa' with purpled lips and green petals and sepals is another of the 1,000's of the variations in the Orchid Family. Over 25,000 species have been cataloged and many more hybrids and cultivar selections make it the most diverse plant family on Earth. Come enjoy its splendor along with many other flowers and foliage to help chase away the winter blues. On display March 12th through Easter Sunday with an ever changing display as various orchids are rotated in from the greenhouses as they come into bloom. Don't forget to see the small bulbs that are the outdoor harbingers of spring and listen to the new bird arrivals in the garden too. The Eastern Meadowlarks finally sang this morning, a couple weeks later than normal. Spring is almost here!

What Zone are We?

I'm often asked what zone are we: referring to the USDA winter hardiness zone map. The hardiness zone map links areas together that have, on average, similar winter low temperatures. They are broken down into 10F degree intervals; 5F degrees into sub zones a & b. Most plants are given a hardiness zone rating to correspond with this mapped area. On existing maps we are in hardiness zone 5b at Powell Gardens so on average our winter low should be between -10F and -15F. Since we had -11F at our official weather station this past winter that looks right on. The only thing is that if you average our winter lows out for the past 15 years we would average around -5F here. In the past 15 years we've been as cold as -12F and as mild as +17F; with a reading of -27F in 1989! I was just in Wichita where it allegedly got to minus 17F last winter -- but at Botanica, the Wichita Gardens, I saw no or little damage to tender zone 6 plants. Clearly there is more to it than the minimum low.

This Chicagoland Green Boxwood (Buxus hybrid 'Glencoe') is listed as hardy fully through zone 5 (-20F) but burned badly this past winter and has done the same at the Kauffman Memorial Garden in the past. It is a good example why I don't like hardiness zones because as I get more experience under my belt I see why my mentoring professor (Robert W. Dyas) wouldn't teach us winter hardiness zones. I followed his advice: look around and see what is doing well in a particular region, paying most attention to things that have done well for many years.
This badly burned Green Bay (registered trademark) Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana 'Green Shadow')is supposed to stay evergreen to -20F as well but I wouldn't call this evergreen. The plant will be fine as only the leaves are winter burned but it is not living up to its billing here. I'm glad we are here to do a lot of testing for the Greater Kansas City gardening community.

I had to take a picture of our 'Taylor' Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei). We planted this many years ago for trial as a below zero hardy palm. It has always died back but funny thing is this one always sends up a new basal shoot every summer, only to be killed back the next winter. Sure it can survive a rare below zero event in North Carolina but not the predictable and sustained below zero weather here. You could go to a lot of trouble and put winter protection around a plant like this and it might survive better.

Our Bracken's Brown Beauty Southern Magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) are living up to their name: brown. At least that's the way they look from their southern side where the leaves were winter burned (consistently the most burned of our hardy southern magnolias each year). Evergreen shrub China Girl Hollies are fine at its base.
The same Bracken's Brown Beauty Magnolia is green on its shady side where the leaves weren't burned by the abrupt change in temperatures caused by the sun's warmth after our bitter cold. So our hardiness zone depends on how you look at it. From gardener's I have talked to; local lows ranged from the single digits below zero in the city's heat island and wooded hilltop gardens like my own, while it was a sustained -15F below in low and outlying regions where cold air settled -- a difference of more than 10 degrees across the region that was largely due to microclimates. Where does your garden sit? A visit to Powell Gardens will show you what does well here and what was disheveled by this colder than average winter. Very few things were killed by last winter but we plant things accordingly: plant more tender plants in sheltered microclimates and the tough ones in low, open places. Gardener common sense.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Meteorological Spring!

Today is March 1st so meteorological spring begins!!! March, April and May are by far my favorite time of year. Though I've heard some talk of wanting a divorce with Mother Nature I say bring on her wildest weather so indicative of this season. From the most benevolent beauty to vicious bouts of winter relapses this season is always a wild ride but I dare you to make it fun like a carnival and not let it get you down. Spring and summer WILL come.

Vernal Witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis) is still in bloom and has been off and on for more than a month (photo from last year). The tiny but fragrant spidery flowers are always welcome this time of year and the petals simply roll up if inclement wintry weather returns.

The Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) are also in bloom and the first honeybees are out foraging too (photo from last year). Snowdrops are just getting started though some have been in bloom since December. They are not even close to peak in the Rock & Waterfall Garden which has many thousands to carpet the ground with floral snow.

The Pansies (Viola x witrockiana) are also starting to bloom though they look like they just got out of bed -- newly arisen from a blanket of snow that finally was washed away by Sunday's torrents. If you think they don't look good you'd be wrong, these plants are ready to flower and grow with the warmer days. In just a couple weeks they should be stunning -- a good reminder to plant pansies in the fall get ahead of the spring gardening season.

The Starbor Kale (Brassica oleracea) looks stunning with crinkly foliage that survived the winter unscathed. I will say I have never seen kale weather the winter as well! There was some value in having unprecedented snowfall: as mulch!

Here a sweep of Starbor Kale has some bedraggled plants to the left but those plants that may not look so good are actually in great shape too! They are Snapdragons and you can clearly see the alive green basal foliage at the base of each dead stem. The snapdragons too, have weathered the winter at almost 100% -- the highest percentage ever. In a couple weeks we will cut off the dead tops and either transplant or let the plants grow where they are for a peak spring bloom in May.

Most of the hardy, early-flowering shrubs are not quite in bloom but you can see the swelling purplish buds of this White-Forsythia (Abeliophyllum distichum) which is (after the witchhazels) one of our first shrubs to bloom with white or blush pink flowers.

Most evergreens weathered the winter well but you can see some background plants that did not like the winter so well here. The foreground is a Japanese White Pine (Pinus parviflora 'Gyokoshu hime') in great shape but the Citation Yews (Taxus x media) behind it did not like the wet winter.
'King's Gold' Threadleaf Sawara Falsecypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera "Filifera") is probably our brightest golden evergreen in the Conifer Garden north of the Visitor Center. It got a little bit of winter burn (brown foliage) but we know it will recover quickly in spring and that this particular plant was newly planted last summer so did not have a complete chance to get established. Always make sure to give plants a chance to establish before condemning them from a bit a winter damage.
The related 'Lemon Thread' cultivar has been in the ground a couple years and is in perfect shape. These golden, thread-leaf Chamaecyparis pisifera (pronounced kam-ee-SIP-ah-ris, peh-SIFF-er-ah) are some of the best conifers for gardens in our region and are considered Plants of Merit

This wonderfully cute, tiny and ferny-leaved evergreen is a new cultivar of Hinoki Falsecypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Emelie') named by Larry Stanley of Stanley & Son Nursery after the late Emelie Snyder (wife of Marvin Snyder). This evergreen gem is not as tolerant of our winter winds and does better in a protected location in our region. We put a few cut evergreen boughs over this newly planted one for the winter to make sure it gets established and it did weather the winter in near perfect condition.

This may be our bluest needled evergreen in the Conifer Garden and it was one I was in doubt about how it would weather the winter. It is the 'Silberzwerg' Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) native to the Pacific Northwest. Obviously it weathered the winter in perfect condition and may become a good choice for a blue-needled conifer in sites where blue spruce fails.

This little evergreen groundcover is rarely seen in these parts but is a neat choice for a sheltered spot. It is the Dwarf Sweet Box (Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis) which will have tiny, but wonderfully vanilla scented flowers soon. This plant is in the same family as boxwoods but makes a nice low, evergreen groundcover.

As almost usual, our Nandinas (Nandina domestica 'Compacta') have been completely winter-burned. This plant is NOT dead and will fully recover with new growth later in spring. I have always thought Nandina is only fully hardy in zone 7 where temperatures do not go below zero. Here they are root and often stem hardy but the leaves almost always are killed by winter.

Our Needle Palms (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) seedlings also have survived the winter unscathed. This hardiest of shrub palms still requires a sheltered place against a wall or foundation. I have had this palm for many years here and it is actually better to let it be and DO NOT mulch it heavily in winter which seems to just invite rot which is worse than any winter damage. These palms grow slower than "molasses in January" so give them time! Powell Gardens' plants were purchased from Plant Delights mail order catalog, a great source for needle and other "hardy" palms.

The Southern Magnolias also fared better than last year through the winter. When I look at pictures of them from last March, those on the south side of the Visitor Center had leaves completely burned. This is the Victoria Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) on the north side of the Visitor Center and it's leaves didn't burn much at all despite temperatures near -10F. Many Southern Magnolias leaves burned badly again this winter but be patient because no stem or bud damage appears to have happened just like last year. New growth will quickly usurp any damaged leaves later this spring and the cold winter will be forgotten.

Here Daffodils a.k.a. Narcissus are emerging with Sparkler Monkey Grass below and Goldsturm Rudbeckia above. With the rains of Sunday it was just like magic how many spring bulbs burst through the soil surface. Yes, the winter garden may look tired and flattened by all the snow but the new foliage of the 2011 growing season is set to grow! May all you gardeners have weathered the winter well and be ready to "bloom" this coming spring. A visit to Powell Gardens now is a great inspiration to the beauty of the early spring garden. I just got word the first Iris (Iris reticulata) just opened this afternoon on the Island Garden. With each passing mild day the bulbs of early spring will begin to carpet the gardens and usher in the new season at last. Enjoy!
(All the photographs except the first two were taken on February 28, 2011 by Alan Branhagen at Powell Gardens.)