Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hollywood at Powell Gardens

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly may be a popular song of the holidays but Powell Gardens is sure decked out in dazzling hollies right now.  From the entrance at the Gatehouse to the Visitor Center landscape, Dogwood Walk, Island Garden, Rock & Waterfall Garden and Perennial Garden there are berry-filled hollies ablaze with color now. We tend to think of hollies as evergreen but there are both deciduous and evergreen varieties to celebrate the season with.

Here is the line of seedling Possumhaws or Deciduous Holly (Ilex decidua) along the entrance road by the gatehouse (you can see the road and gatehouse in the background).  We grew these from wild collected seed and the girl plants are filled with fruit from orange-red to red.  The bare trees are male but needed for pollination.  Possumhaw hollies have tiny flowers in mid spring rich in nectar and make a fine honey.

I cannot get enough of the dazzling berries on leafless Possumhaws at this season.  They last and last, far longer than color on a blooming tree.  The birds are starting to feed on these fruit and will be sustained by this larder well into and sometimes through winter.  The berries stay bright red until severe cold (below zero F) can discolor them.  Possumhaws are also one of the few small trees that weathered last summer just fine without extra water!  A mature possumhaw is 20 feet tall and wider than tall.

Here is an image of our American Holly (Ilex opaca) on the terraces out the north side of the Visitor Center.  THIS is the plant people think of as holly in America.  American Holly is native to the southeastern corner of Missouri along Crowley's Ridge and I have seen the wild trees there.  True American Hollies are otherwise confined to older neighborhoods around Kansas City where some spectacular trees occur as tall as 50 feet!  This species is no longer found in area nurseries so rarely seen in new landscapes as it also is NOT a tree for instant gratification.  It can suffer in disturbed or low pH soils and grows slowly but has iron strong wood.

This is a full view of the American Holly tree on the north terraces of the Visitor Center.  American Hollies grow into a strongly pyramidal evergreen tree. This one was simply loaded with red holly berries though the robins have dented the fruit set now.  It is in a raised bed with good drainage.  The foliage of American holly is highly deer resistant, but has sharp spines making gardening beneath them without gloves a painful ordeal.

Around the Visitor Center we also have some evergreen hollies that are shrubs.  This is the 'China Girl' Holly which is a hybrid between the heat-loving Chinese Holly (Ilex cornuta) and a very hardy northern Japanese Holly (Ilex rugosa).  We have it on the "hot" south side of the terraces as it is very heat tolerant from its Chinese parent.  The China Hollies ('China Boy' is the pollinator) have decidedly yellow-green leaves but they are very heat and drought tolerant.

Off the shaded, north terraces of the Visitor Center we grow some of the "Blue" or Meserve Hollies (Ilex x meservae) which have rich dark foliage with almost a bluish overtone.  This is 'Blue Maid' Holly but we also have 'Blue Princess' and 'Blue Stallion' as pollinator. They have gorgeous foliage but they are hybrids between the unhardy English Holly and the hardy, northern Japanese holly (Ilex rugosa).  They are much more sensitive to heat and drought in our local gardens but they do have beautiful foliage!  Unfortunately, all these shrub hollies are a favorite winter fodder for deer and are stripped leafless unless protected by sprays or netting.

Along the Dogwood Walk from the Visitor Center to the Island Garden you will see Winterberry Hollies (Ilex verticillata)  which is a shrub also native to Missouri.  It is found in east central Missouri but has a range that stretches from Minnesota to Texas and eastward to the Atlantic coast.  Many selections have been made for beautiful berry production and 'Scarlet O'Hara' is the one in the center of the picture above with 'Winter Red' on either side of it.  They all have the beautiful red berries but must have a pollinator -- in this case 'Southern Gentleman.'  These shrubs do become quite large over time and really count on at least 6 feet but I have seen them even bigger!  You can train them into little trees (like our Horticulturist Duane Hoover has done at the entrance to the Kauffman Memorial Garden) but they will never get as big as a possumhaw.

For a more compact Winterberry Holly, try this one: 'Red Sprite' which usually stays lower than 4 feet like our plants shown here in front of the Gatehouse.  It needs 'Jim Dandy' as a pollinator.  New in 2013 is a new compact Winterberry: Berry Poppins(TM) which stays very compact 3-4 feet. We will have that new cultivar at the spring plant sale.

'Winter Gold' Winterberry has salmon-orange berries that are just starting to discolor.  I love the color of this one just after the leaves drop when it is much more salmon-gold.  Our plant is on the back side of the Rock & Waterfall.  This cultivar was discovered as a sport branch of 'Winter Red' and was propagated from that.  More than half of our plant has reverted back to 'Winter Red'!  It was a cool plant just a week ago with red and orange berries but the birds have devoured all the red berries and left that part bare.  I do not know why birds prefer the red-berried hollies to the yellow and orange-fruited varieties. 

Here's the Possumhaw Holly in the Perennial Garden today with a view of the Chapel beyond.  The clouds made for a gray sky and the garden is dormant but the holly is dazzling!  Why oh why are these trees not more popular?  It IS because gardeners tend to shop in the spring and these hollies have tiny flowers with no impulse purchase appeal.  They are beautiful in fall when few people are buying plants though that is a better time of year to be planting! This particular tree was donated to us by the late local plantsman Andy Klapis. We went and dug it from his backyard in Raytown.  I can still hear his wonderful laugh every time I see this plant.

Here's a closeup of the Andy Klapis Possumhaw in the previous image.  It is just such a vibrant red!  I cannot imagine a winter garden without these beautiful hollies.  The hot red color is just such a feast for the eye in this season of browns and grays.  The birds they attract add to the beauty and drama of the scene, entertaining one for months.  Our most beautiful possumhaw is in our trial nursery areas and it has vivid red, LARGE berries that last a long time, unscathed by below zero temperatures.

The last image is a closeup of the 'Sparkleberry' Winterberry in the Perennial Garden.  This cultivar is actually a hybrid between native Winterberry and its Japanese counterpart (Ilex serrata).  This group of shrubs has been so stunning in the Perennial Garden but the birds have really been feasting on it now so it is not as heavy fruited as it was earlier -- this image from today is on the back side of the mass of shrubs.  Mockingbirds, robins, bluebirds, and waxwings are the main species of birds attracted to holly fruits.  Annoying European Starlings hate holly berries -- another reason to plant them to attract our native birds!  Enjoy these wonderful images and come out and see them for yourself while they last.  The gardens sure are a good place to watch winter birds and we have a Feeder Watch area set up in the Visitor Center right now.  Most of all, put hollies on your garden wish list to plant next year and you too can deck your garden with these beautiful plants so in spirit with the season.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ornamental Attributes of the Winter Landscape

The winter landscape is upon us.  Just two more weeks until the winter solstice and the official beginning of winter but meteorological speaking, winter begins with December.  The mild weather so far this season has made foliage and fruit hold well and many of our earliest blooming plants already start to flower!

I like this image of the entrance to the Island Garden now.  The light levels are low but there is a rich amount of foliage, fruit and other interest to the scene.  It has also been mild enough to want to sit on the bench and enjoy the scene.  The small trees on either side of the bench are Tea Crabapples (Malus hupehensis) loaded with fruit, there are other shrubs with persistent foliage and many perennials and groundcovers with evergreen foliage to help add interest to the scene.

Bright berries add the most color to the gardens now.  What could be more warm and invigorating than the brilliant berries of hollies now?  These are some of the Winterberry Hollies (Ilex verticillata) along the Dogwood Walk.

These beautiful fruit at the opposite, cool end of the color scale are also lovely now: it's a Rusty Blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum) on the north side of the Rock & Waterfall Garden.

I had to show a yellow-berry to contrast again how the warmer colors are much more vivid in this season.  This is a 'Finch's Gold' Possumhaw Holly (Ilex decidua) between the Rock & Waterfall and Perennial Gardens.  Yellow sure glows at this season.

With the deciduous trees now bare, their bark becomes center stage in the winter landscape.  I love the exfoliating and shaggy nature of the 'China Snow' Peking Lilac (Syringa pekinensis) in the Perennial Garden now.  Behind the tree you can see the wonderful winter nature of a maiden grass (Miscanthus).

The gardens grasses literally shine right now but only when back lit.  The sun illuminates the seed heads of many of our grasses: Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) in this image along the walkway next to the Chapel.

The Island Garden's living wall has some of the best foliage now.  Here's Silver Frost Lavender, Partridge Feather and Winter Savory all decked out for this season.

This has to be one of our more unique fall foliage -- it's the almost blue fall color of Sichuan Deutzia (Deutzia setchuenensis) with contrasting evergreen foliage of Encore(R) Azaleas.  This scene is along the south path into the Rock and Waterfall Garden.

Again, warmer foliage colors now are much more dramatic like this mass of Wild Strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) in the Peach Court of the Heartland Harvest Garden.  Wild Strawberries are a very underutilized groundcover and a companion plant to the peach trees.  Their foliage is "evergreen" but you can clearly see it turns some rich shades for the winter season.

Evergreen conifers really are structural elements in the garden now but so often they are not utilized to their fullest potential of contrasting textures and shades of green from blue-green to gold-green!  Here's the tapestry hedge in the Perennial Garden comprised of three evergreens: Glauca Juniper (Juniperus virginiana 'Glauca' - left), Berkman's Gold Oriental Arborvitae (Platycladus orientalis cultivar in bright green but soon will turn gilded in gold with COLD weather, and an 'Emerald Sentinel' Juniper (Juniperus virginiana cultivar) with darker green foliage and blue "berries."

The Conifer Garden off the north end of the Visitor Center also depicts a wonderful array of evergreens in various hues, textures and forms.  Why do people grow standard blah foundation plants and clip them into shapes when they could choose plants like this?  Come check it out for ideas!

The gardens are in their winter garb but no less beautiful.  Consider a visit to get ideas for your own winter landscape or just enjoy the subtle beauty of the gardens in this tranquil time of year.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Powell Gardens' Poinsettias

Poinsettias remain the premier and most popular Christmas and Holiday Season plant we produce in our greenhouses.  These beautiful plants are a native of Mexico but have been bred and selected by greenhouse growers into colors beyond the traditional red.  They are challenging to produce because they must receive NO extra light as they bloom only in the short days of our winter.
Donna Covell is our Horticulturist in charge of the Poinsettia Crop and this is a picture of her with the poinsettias on October 30th, just as the bracts are beginning to color up nicely.  Horticulturist Anne Wildeboor orders the poinsettias in January of each year, they arrive in late summer as small rooted cuttings and are planted and cared for by Donna and the Greenhouse crew.  Poinsettias are ready for our displays by late November each year.

Freedom Red is our classic and quite spectacular traditional red poinsettia.  Powell Gardens grew 29 varieties this year and here's a sample of some all photographed in our production greenhouses:

Poinsettia 'Shimmer Surprise' is Horticulturist Anne Wildeboor's favorite poinsettia as she is in charge of Powell Gardens' seasonal displays and events. It's her favorite "because it has all of it in there."  I must say it is a festive and phenomenal plant.

Anne also likes 'Winter Rose Dark Red' which is also one of Powell Gardens' visitors favorites.  The bracts are puckered and compact more like its namesake rose blossom.

There are now even more selections with the "Winter Rose" look to them!  This is Poinsettia 'Winter Rose Early Marble' with lovely pink and cream variegated bracts.

Poinsettia 'Winter Rose White' is also a stunner -- seen here in mass in Greenhouse #4.

And how about this variety called 'Peppermint Twist'?

If you like pink poinsettias then our most spectacular in that hue is this one: 'Premium Pink Lipstick.'

Some like it HOT so how about 'Polly's Pink' which is sure vivid and very difficult to photograph and capture its real hue.  Our Polly's Pink Poinsettias were ordered by Duane Hoover, Horticulturist at the Kauffman Memorial Garden so you can see these in person at the Christmas display in the Orangerie there.

If you are more into subdued or pastel colors then Poinsettia 'Premium Apricot' fits the bill.

Poinsettia 'Mars Marble' creates a soft variegation of cream and pink and makes a nice transition between pink and white-bracted poinsettias.

We grow several white-bracted poinsettias and 'Freedom White' is probably our most spectacular but doesn't turn pure white until very late.

Poinsettia 'Premium White' has finished coloring up now and you can clearly see the flowers which are the yellow "nubbins" at the center of the beautifully pillowed white leaf bracts.

Donna and her crew have grown some tremendous "tree" poinsettias that are currently for sale on-line through our website. They are 'Peterstar Red' Poinsettias that do well grown this way.  Actually most of the varieties you have just observed in this blog are available for purchase at our gift shop: Perennial Gifts. They are not the mass produced varieties of the big box stores.

'Tis the season for decorating for the Holiday Season and I hope this showcase of almost half the varieties we grow inspires your own home's decor.  Almost all varieties can be observed at the Visitor Center's conservatory.  Come experience their splendor!  Poinsettias are surely one of the most beautiful and spectacular seasonal plants we grow at Powell Gardens.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Berried Trees Enliven the Late Fall Landscape

Jack Frost's cousin Mr. Deep Freeze hit the gardens Sunday night -- we had a low of 20F at Powell Gardens (22F in the city at the Kauffman Memorial Garden) that ended the season for many of our fall flowers.  Pansies, Violas, ornamental cabbages and kale weathered that well and fruiting plants are just as beautiful as ever so there is still a lot of beauty to see in the gardens.

Deciduous Hollies or Possumhaws (Ilex decidua) are now leafless but the female trees are simply ablaze with red holly berries.  What a warming element to the late fall (and winter) landscape -- a wonderful display of these can be seen along the gatehouse landscape when you enter Powell Gardens.

Flowering Crabapple varieties that produce fruit are simply stunning now too.  This is the 'Donald Wyman' Crabapple in the Perennial Garden simply loaded with small red crabapples right now.  Some would argue that these fruit are messy but the varieties we display at Powell Gardens hang on to their fruit until the birds eat them.  There is minimal mess, an easy price to pay for such an ornamental display that lasts for weeks and even months depending on the weather.  Donald Wyman Crabapple has fleeting red-budded, white flowers in spring but a much more spectacular display of red crabapples in fall and winter.

Here's another view of the Donald Wyman Crabapple (right) showing its neighbor the 'American Masterpiece' Crabapple (left).  There are several varieties of crabapples with more orange fruit like 'Amercan Masterpiece' which unfortunately is no longer available.  American Masterpiece has cranberry red flowers in spring and almost pumpkin orange little crabapples in fall and winter.

Here are the orange crabapples of 'Indian Magic' Crabapple which is widely available.  It's a smaller tree with purplish-red flowers in spring.  Our tree of this is wedged between the much more vigorous Donald Wyman and American Masterpiece Crabapples in the prior image. 

Tea Crabapples (Malus hupehensis) are bronzy orange now too, as they age you can see some are turning redder.  These trees have a beautiful vase shape but grow quite large over time.  Look for these at the west (Visitor Center) entrance to the Island Garden.

Yes, crabapples come in yellow too!  Here are 'Harvest Gold' crabapples which are such a warm yellow at this season.  Their spring flowers are red-budded opening to white, fragrant flowers.  Night lighting is reflected beautifully from these too.  The color of the yellow crabapples holds until eaten by birds or a severe freeze (colder than 10F) makes them turn bronze.  Look for Harvest Gold Crabapples on the east (Meadow) side of the Island Garden.

Here's a 'Sugar Tyme' crabapple on the edge of the Perennial Garden.  It has very nice fruit set too and stays a smaller tree -- what most nurseries are going for now.  When selecting a crabapple I always start with learning if it is a disease resistant variety (all described above are very disease resistant here).  Secondly I look at its mature size (most grow taller than wide).  Thirdly I pick them for their fruit display and I pick them last for their flowers!  Ornamental crabapples are phenomenal plants for wildlife friendly gardens.  Their fruit is a staple of many fall and winter birds.  They are also host to many beneficial insects and unlike most non-native plants, our native insects readily transfer from our disease-prone native crabapples to these more garden ornamental varieties.  Crabapples are also NOT invasive like ornamental pear trees in our region.

The Washington Hawthorns (Crateagus phaenopyrum) are also beautiful at Powell Gardens right now as the leafless trees are completely cloaked in red fruit.  The dry year helped them out as they can be very disfigured by cedar-quince rust disease -- a reason we no longer recommend them.  Look for them by our trial beds near the old visitor center.  Hawthorns are a beautiful and important part of our native flora so we do have them in the wilder parts of the garden including 3 native species along the Nature Trail: Frosted Hawthorn (Crataegus pruinosa), Red or Downy Hawthorn (C. mollis) and Cockspur Hawthorn (C. crus-gallii). 

The blazing red shrubs in the above image are 'Sparkleberry' Hollies (Ilex serrata) in fruit in the Perennial Garden.  Behind them are Shumard Oaks (Quercus shumardii) which are very late in their fall color -- some Shumard Oaks usually have no fall color while others can be a nice red.  So there is still much beauty in the late fall garden, most specifically the brilliant fruit of fall-fruiting plants.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Flowers that Defy Jack Frost

It's early November and the weather is still mild.  We've had some short cold snaps and a few hard freezes but Indian Summer is here today and tomorrow and after another brief cold snap early next week it will return again.  YES, there are still many beautiful flowers at Powell Gardens.  The fall floral displays are designed with flowers and foliage that defy Jack Frost.

The planting in front of our entrance sign is a beautiful tapestry of pansies in blue & white, 'Lemon Cream' Calendulas, ornamental "flowering" cabbages, kale and 'Delphi Purple' mums.  All these plants have held beautifully through a hard freeze and should last at least through Thanksgiving.

Here's a closer side view that captures the beautiful flowers and foliage of the entrance planting.

Hardy flowers also come in HOT colors!  I love this planting outside Cafe Thyme with red 'Speedy Sonic Crimson' Snapdragons encircled by 'Orange King' and 'Lemon Cream' Calendulas.

Strawflowers (Bracteantha) 'Sundaze Flame' is a very underutilized fall flower and can be cut used as an "everlasting".  Here there is a bit of a color echo with its orange edged "petals" and the 'Merville des Quatre Saisons' (The Four Seasons) Lettuce, an heirloom variety with gorgeous bronze foliage so lovely at this season.  Look for these in the ramp terrace beds leading to the Dogwood Walk.

Verbena 'Superbena Blue' has been one phenomenal "annual" this year.  It actually survived last winter and has bloomed, and bloomed and bloomed and is STILL in bloom!  The last of the season's butterflies have been all over this flower too.  It is on the south side of the Visitor Center below the Conservatory.

The 'Hillside Sheffield Pink' Mums are still the best of the late season perennial flowers!  Look close and see the butterflies and other pollinators.  I will carefully look over these flowers today and Saturday for unique species of butterflies that may have blown up here from the South or even the tropics.  Fall is the time for stray butterflies and a Tailed-Orange (butterfly) from Texas's Rio Grande Valley showed up in Wichita yesterday!  This picture was taken on the Island Garden.

These are seedling mums (Dendranthema) in the Perennial Garden.  Sometimes mother nature does some really neat plantings for us we must save.  I love the just right highlight of the white with the yellow flowers we could never have created so well.

In the conservatory the "pot" mums are simply stunning.  This is 'Brunswick' Mum with dark 'Sweet Caroline Raven' Sweet Potato and orange 'Sedona' Coleus as companions in the conservatory display.

I love this composition of 'Shanghai Red' Mums with 'Dipped in Wine' Coleus also in the Conservatory.

I like all the fall inspired mum compositions in the conservatory:  here's  'Golden Gate' Mum with 'Honeycrisp' Coleus.

How about 'Pittsburgh Purple' Mum with 'Fishnet Stockings' Coleus' where the mum picks up on the purple veins of the coleus.

Here's a Checkered White butterfly enjoying the last of season's flowers (an Aromatic Aster) at Powell Gardens.  The weather is supposed to be blustery but warm on Saturday so join the butterflies and visit the gardens and see our wealth of fall flowers, and foliage.  Jack Frost has visited but there are still many flowers and the cool season crops in the Heartland Harvest Garden are near peak.  The late fall colors on plants like Japanese Maples are also beautiful right now.