Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Solstice Specticles in the Heartland Harvest Garden

Monday was the longest day of the year and the summer solstice occurred yesterday. The intense sunlight and long days sure are one of the joys of summer! Here's some observations from the Heartland Harvest Garden:

June in the Harvest Garden has a theme of berries and blueberries are ripe and ripening! Come get a taste of them at the tasting station. Depicted is the cultivar 'Bluecrop' which is one of the most reliable of the Highbush Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum).

These are not red raspberries but ripening fruit of Blackberries. It looks like we will have a bumper crop coming on soon.

Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis) are one of our most spectacular wildflowers with almost dinner plate sized clusters of softly fragrant, white flowers. The flowers are edible but the tiny purplish-black fruit won't be ripe until around Labor Day. This is a popular landscape shrub in Europe but sadly little used in local gardens -- what could be more spectacular in this season!

The pink-flowering shrubs in this image from the Apple Celebration Court is another of our most showy wildflowers in bloom now: Prairie or Climbing Rose (Rosa setigera). This is a great natural landscape combination with elderberries but part of our companion planting to our apples. You can see a sea of strawberries as groundcover in this photo and the bluish spikes of Anise-hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) flowers. Anise-hyssop is one of the best nectar plants to attract good bugs to a garden AND the edible flowers taste like licorice.

The Vineyard is at its peak of beauty with Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) in bloom beneath the vines. Hyssop flowers are also edible but very bitter with anti-fungal properties. Make sure you take a walk down the vineyard and take a gander at our 50 varieties of grapes: each row has a different theme of how the varieties on display are utilized.

This 'Delaware' grape is indicative that there is going to be a bumper crop of grapes this year. Delaware grape ripens a red, seeded "multi-purpose" use grape. You can make a fine jam or jelly from it, a red juice or eat it fresh with its healthy and crunchy grape seeds inside.

Here's the row of purple multi-purpose grapes: the most vigorous are the 5 closest vines which are all Concord Grapes. Concord grapes were the first hybrid American grape from Concord, MA and are the prime grape for juice and jelly rich in anti-oxidants. At the end of the row are two other grape varieties: 'Alden' and 'Buffalo.'

The grapes in this row (right) are Niagara Grapes which are white, multi-purpose grapes. They make the white grape juice which doesn't stain.

Here's a look down the west row of the Red Wine Grapes. The first vine is 'De Chaunac' but the bulk of this row are Missouri's official state grape: 'Cynthiana' a.k.a. 'Norton.' Cynthiana/Norton Grape is a vigorous and disease-resistant grape derived from the native Summer Grape (Vitis aestivalis) which grows wild throughout Powell Gardens and is currently in bloom and perfuming the solstice air.

Here's the east row of our white wine grapes: 2) Traminette, 3) Cayuga White, 3) Seyval Blanc, 2) Vignoles, and 1) Melody on the end of the row. The recent couple of colder winters have not been kind to some of our French hybrid grapes and we have learned over the past 3 years which varieties are better suited to our climate.

The grapes have attracted the "hornworm" caterpillar of the Hog Sphinx. We moved this guy from our vineyard to grapes we have growing specifically for the Festival of Butterflies in early August. This year the Festival of Butterflies will feature caterpillars and showcase the incredible array of these fascinating creatures that are part of the metamorphosis of butterflies and moths.

This plant may look like a weed but it is Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) a gluten-free grain that is a complete protein. Look for this plant along with some other interesting crops including peanuts, cotton and rice in the Old Missouri Quilt Garden.

The little yellowish "nubbens" along the branches of this small tree are the flowers of Jujube (Zizyphus jujuba) a very popular fruit tree in China and whose candied fruit inspired the candy jujubes! Be sure and stop in this fall to sample the crisp, honey-pear flavored fruit of this up-and-coming fruit tree for Greater Kansas City gardens. You never see it in the grocery stores because it has NO shelf life as a ripe fruit but it can be dried or candied for long term use.

Come see for yourself the great bounty of edible plants now lush and full of ripe and ripening fruit in the Heartland Harvest Garden. You will be amazed at all the varieties at hand. Be sure to stop for lunch at Cafe Fresh and visit the tasting station to sample first hand the flavors of the garden.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Jurassic Garden Plants

On your Powell Gardens visit to see Guy Darrough's Dinosaurs on display now, don't forget to take a look at the ancient species of plants labeled with signs along your journey through the gardens. Many plants found in fossils during the dinosaur's reign still survive in today's world. If only they could speak, what a story they could tell!

Daisies are familiar to almost everyone, gardener or not, but daisies and their relatives in the Aster family are a recent branch on the plant family tree. The daisies shown are the new cultivar 'Amelia' Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x maximum) in full bloom between the pools on the Island Garden. If you like daisies, this is a great one to plant because it tolerates our hot humid summers and doesn't "flop" like many other varieties.

Magnolias are the first Jurassic Garden plants you'll come across on your Powell Gardens journey and one of Earth's most ancient of flowering plant families. The Southern Magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) can be identified in fossils nearly 20 million years old! Here the cultivar 'Bracken's Brown Beauty' shows a day old flower -- the fragrance of these flowers is classic. Their is hardly a finer plant to have near an outdoor seating area to enjoy on our warm summer nights.

The Southern Magnolias planted around the Visitor Center have reached 25 feet and up; growing faster than I ever expected. Be sure and select hardy varieties and plant them in a sheltered place as we are at the northern edge of their adaptability to our cold winters. The cultivar '24 Below' is left, 'Bracken's Brown Beauty' right and Variegated Giant Reed (Arundo donax) is the bright variegated grass in this image.

Yes we have a Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Hazel Smith') which is both an ancient species of plant and also the largest plant known on earth. Native to isolated stands in the California Sierras, this tree can live over 3,000 years and grow nearly 300 feet tall. The cultivar Hazel Smith is probably the hardiest cultivar; a good choice for our zone.

Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) is another ancient tree that was actually described from fossils BEFORE it was found alive living in a remote valley in China. These magnificent deciduous conifers make remarkable shade trees. This image is a picture of a grove we planted at the same time along the dogwood walk to the Island Garden. These were grown from seed and one tree is twice the size of the second and three times the size of the third. It depicts my pet peeve when people ask how big will a tree get. Sometimes, just like how tall your children will be, it is hard to know! Dawn Redwoods can grow over 100 feet tall but 60-70 feet may be their size in our area and soils.

I had to show this beacon, the gold-needled form of the Dawn Redwood: Gold Rush(TM) a.k.a. 'Ogon'. Look for this striking tree northeast of the Visitor Center -- you can't miss it off to your right on your way to the Fountain Garden.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is probably the most ancient of trees alive today. There are fossils that date back 200 million years! Ginkgo trees can grow very large too and are actually conifers. The trees are mainly male or female and female trees produce seeds coated in a very nasty smelling flesh. Most trees sold in nurseries are clones of male plants so that no (or rarely a few) seeds are produced. As Powell Garden is a young garden we just have small examples of this magnificent tree, planted the first year we displayed Jurassic Garden. There are 1,000 plus year old ginkgos in Oriental temple gardens.

The leaves of Ginkgo are like no other; fan-shaped, often with a cleft in the middle to make them lobed (hence the botanical name "bi" (two) "loba" (lobes). This is the rare cultivar 'Majestic Butterfly' which has yellow banding to the foliage in spring (you can still see that a bit here).

Virtually all needle-leaved trees are conifers which are an ancient group of plants. This image is right before the bridge to the Island Garden and shows the needles of two closely related deciduous conifers: Pondcypress (Taxodium ascendens) fine and thread-like left and Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) more feathery on the right.

This is a more full shot of the Pondcypress growing next to the larger Baldcypress. Baldcypress is interpreted as a Jurassic Garden plant near the Hypsibema (Missouri State Dinosaur) and yes, the fossils of Hypsibema found in Missouri have shown that it actually lived with and fed on Baldcypress. Baldcypress trees can be found growing wild in Southeastern Missouri but grow well in gardens throughout Missouri.

Waterlilies (Nymphaea 'Colorata' shown), like Magnolias are another of the most ancient of flowering plants. They are just now coming into marvelous bloom in the Island Garden's pools. Be sure and give them a look: their flowers range in all colors of the rainbow. On Friday night's Dinos in the Dark event, Caitlin Bailey our Senior Gardener on the Island Garden will have some waterlily flowers cut for you to smell their intoxicating aroma (usually they are far out of our nose's reach).

I always am in awe at the variations found in our flowering plants. This is the "Smokey" flower of Grace Smoketree (Cotinus coggygria x obovatus) which is in the modern Cashew family along with pistachios, sumac and poison ivy.

...and how about these unusual male flowers of the Chinese Chestnut (Castanea mollissima) in flower near the Rock & Waterfall trolley stop. Chestnuts are in the oak family.

The magnificent, fragrant trumpet of Northern Carillon Lily (Lilium hybrid) adorn 6 foot stems! Lilies and grasses and palms are in another section of the plant family tree known as Monocots. Look for these magnificent flowers in the secret sunken garden of the Island Garden.

The vivacious, vivid orange flowers of Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) are hard to photograph in our mid-day intense near summer solstice sun. Their flower structure is most interesting to be pollinated by the feet of wasps and other insects. Look for these blooming on our native prairie remnants along the nature trail, on the Island Garden and near the gatehouse entrance to Powell Gardens.

...and how about these drop dead red flowers of true Beebalm (Monarda didyma 'Jacob Cline' a wild selection from the southern part of the plant's range so tolerant of heat and humidity without mildew) which are in the mint family. They are also an edible flower with the taste of bergamot found in Earl Grey tea (and this plant makes a nice tea too -- known as "Oswego Tea").

So take a look at the ancient and modern plants on your visit to Powell Gardens along the Jurassic Journey. Oriental gardens are why ginkgos still survive (they are not known in the wild) and our mission is to play a role in understanding the importance of plants in our lives and their conservation and display to all.

It makes me want to ask the question: what will the flowers of millions of tomorrows look like?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Red Hot in June

Along with the "Jurassic Garden" dinosaurs, several stunning "red hot" flowers grab the attention of Powell Gardens' visitors this week...

Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica) is a Grow Native! ( Missouri native wildflower that always grabs attention in the Perennial Garden while in bloom. The flowers are hummingbird magnets while its name refers to the pink roots that the Native Americans utilized medicinally.

Autumn Sunset (TM) Encore Azalea sports its fiery post-spring encore of bloom already. We have the 10 hardy cultivars of Encore Azaleas on trial and display flanking the Hypsibema (Missouri's state dinosaur). The location is between the Rock & Waterfall and Perennial Garden beneath the lacey baldcypress trees. Visit to learn more about these repeat flowering azaleas and the 10 cultivars that have proven zone 6 hardy. You can come see them in person at the gardens!

Red Hot Pokers (Kniphofia 'Alcazar') blaze like orange torches in the Perennial Garden's New Millennium border. Both hummingbirds and orioles like to nectar from these flowers though in their native South Africa they are pollinated by sunbirds. Yes, one of only a few hardy plants from Africa we display at Powell Gardens.

The vibrant rose-red flowers of Ghost Weigela (TM) (Weigela florida 'Carlton') show brightly near the Visitor Center trolley stop. This shrub starts out green, then produces these bright flowers and as you can see the new foliage after flowering becomes ghostly, iridescent buttercream -- becoming even more pronounced as the summer progresses.

This beautiful clump of Blush Knockout Roses set in the tapestry of shrubs besides the Fountain Garden has a red hot "sport" of it's original origin: regular Knockout Rose! Other shrubs in this garden tapestry are Magic Carpet Spirea in front of the rose, Concorde Barberries with Concord grape-colored foliage in the back, a shaggy Sungold Chamaecyparis left and feathery Vintage Gold Chamaecyparis right. Budding lavender at the bottom of the image completes the tapestry of foliage textures and colors that make this planting design showy in all seasons.

The red, fuzzy berries of native Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica) have also colored up and create a perfect compliment to the shrub's green foliage. This shrub is native along the Nature Trail but planted around the grounds as well; only the female shrubs produce these berries which make a sassy tea rich in vitamin C.

The dinosaurs are "red hot" popular and I had to include this picture of the Allosaurus and her babies because they almost startled me in the morning light. Consider purchasing a ticket to Dinos in the Dark: Meet a Paleontologist on Friday evening June 17th -- call extension 209 to reserve your after hours visit when the life-like dinosaurs almost come to life.

The turkey sized Citipati also came alive in this morning's light. Don't forget to take a close look at the smaller dinosaurs and their relatives located throughout the Rock & Waterfall Garden.

The current hot weather is supposed to moderate this weekend; but still consider a refreshing taste of the many berries at the Heartland Harvest Tasting Stations, a cool splash in the Fountain Garden and the misty breeze of a walk past the Island Garden's water features. The first waterlilies are beginning to bloom their as well. These, plus the red hot flowers and dinosaurs on display are certainly worth the trip!