Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Winter Activities 2012

Yes, that's a sprinkler on in the Conifer Garden north of the Visitor Center.  Our snow drought has meant a real drought now as rainfall has just been spits and drizzles too.  6 days in January 2012 have had a temperature above 60F! 

Cabbages and Lettuce at the end of January?  Almost unheard of for "up here" but with just a bit of cold damage and lows hovering around 10F in protected places, it is the new normal this year.
Even the Kale looks pretty darn gorgeous for the end of January.  Usually its a mush pile by now but many still have their gorgeous foliage colors as kale is generally hardy down to 10F.
This Prairie Rose (Rosa setigera) bush in the Heartland Harvest Garden's Apple Celebration Court shows us where the mockingbirds nested last summer.  The great songster on top of the greenhouse actually had 3 family broods in the roses around the apples last year and all 3 nests are now visible in the winter landscape.  Most songbirds build a new nest for each brood to avoid both predators and parasitic pests.
The bare trees and shrubs and the January thaw make it the ideal time to prune fruit and nut crops as you can see the branching structure well and your hands don't go numb!  HHG Horticulturist Matt Bunch is busy pruning our nice collection of Hazelnuts and Filberts (Corylus spp.).  Hazelnuts are one of our first shrubs to bloom in spring with very unique flowers: the female flowers look like tiny red spiders and the male flowers are dangling catkins that release pollen into the wind.
Heartland Harvest Garden Gardener Barbara Fetchenhier is busy pruning the peach trees.  The peaches in the Peach Plaza are really starting to show great form and the potential for a phenomenal crop of peaches.  We all are worried how the mild weather is affecting our fruit and nut crops but so far these plants are remaining dormant.  The dry weather has been a benefit and a warm, spring-like rain would not be a good thing now as it would force plants flower buds to emerge too early!
Oregon Grape-Holly (Mahonia aquifolium) shows beautiful red-purple winter foliage right now in the Menu Garden.  This evergreen shrub has beautiful and nectar-rich yellow flowers in early spring followed by blue, tart berries in summer that can be made into delicious preserves.  This shrub adds some variety to an edible landscape as a welcome evergreen.

The Encore(R) Azaleas are a new evergreen shrub added to the Powell Gardens landscape this year.  These repeat-flowering azaleas are gaining immense popularity.  I photographed our 10 hardy varieties now to voucher what their foliage looks like in winter and this is the cultivar 'Royalty' which has large, royal fuchsia flowers produced sporadically all summer and into fall (in addition to springtime bloom!). 
 The sky on Monday, January 30th was crystal clear but the jet contrails created a very unique pattern of clouds that stuck through the day.  Yep, there is "global dimming" researched by scientists as a result of these conditions.  I won't explain that now but it does lower daytime temperatures and increase nighttime temperatures.  At any rate, staff and visitors to the garden couldn't help but notice the fabulous sky yesterday.

So yes, it's time to water any new plantings or evergreens whose soil around them feels dry to the touch.  It's also time to prune fruit trees for a bumper crop next year.  Most of all this mild winter weather offers no excuse to experience the beauty of the winter landscape from evergreens to sky!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bones of the Winter Landscape Nature Hike

Sunday afternoon, January 15 provided an unseasonably mild day for our Bones of the Winter Landscape Hike on the Byron Shutz Nature Trail.  Betsy Betros, local naturalist and butterfly book author, took the following pictures of our hike and I thought I would share this "nature of" Powell Gardens experience here.

We began our tour at the Visitor Center and talked about the beautiful evergreen Southern Magnolias at Powell Gardens and that the Gardens has been designated an official magnolia collection of the North American Plant Collection Consortium by the American Public Gardens Association. 
We looked at the tapestry of deciduous and evergreen shrubs along with winter grasses left standing and how they are all excellent examples of the "bones" of the winter landscape.

The sky was beautifully blue and the temperature approaching 60F.  You can tell by our long shadows that we are not quite a month past the winter solstice.  It is amazing how this backlit landscape looks entirely different than the picture above.

We stopped to talk about one of our fallen giant tree: a Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) that we are allowing to decompose in place.  The tree fell right across the trail and we made a cut at that point so visitors could count the rings of the tree ( approximately 92) and see all the interesting fungi that are returning the tree back to Earth.

We talked about the Osage Orange or Hedge Trees (Maclura pomifera) along the trail.  It was a rare tree when settlers arrived in the Midwest -- first brought back to the East by the Lewis & Clark Expedition.  The tree was on its way to extinction when we discovered a use for it beyond the Native Americans premier wood source for bows (The French explorers called it Bos'd Arc).  The tree was soon widely planted as a living fence throughout the Midwest before the invention of barbed wire and old hedgerows of it can still be experienced along the trail.

We found this abandoned American Goldfinch nest with 2 eggs still intact.  Goldfinches are one our last birds to nest and we pondered why this one still had unbroken and unpierced eggs in it.  Bird and Squirrel nests, cocoons of moths and even a butterfly chrysalis shell were discovered along the walk in the January bare and dormant landscape.

The trail crosses areas we have restored the remnant native prairie in with help from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation.  The wintertime native, warm-season grasses were in beautiful hues from brunette to blond.

Cattails (Typha latifolia) with their fluffy seed heads and Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) frozen in ice grace the Clay Pond along the high ridge of the trail.  What an odd place for a pond!  It is simply spectacular when the lotus are in bloom from mid to late summer.
The trail passes through an old orchard that now has become a naturalized pine woods complete with the scents and sounds so indicative of such a place.   

Virginia Pine (Pinus virginiana) makes up most of our pine grove.  It is a bushy pine with short needles and abundant prickly cones whose seeds are great for winter birds.  This pine is somewhat susceptible to pine wilt that is killing all our Scotch pines in the landscape.

Here's one of the old Loblolly Pines (Pinus taeda) admired by the hike participants.  This pine has very long needles and is very tolerant of our wet or dry clay soils and has also naturalized extensively in our "pine woods."  This is one of the farthest north places this normally Southern tree grows on its own. (see the little pine seedlings in the foreground and larger "teenager" pines behind it)  It's only problem is that the long needles collect ice and make it susceptible to ice storm damage.
The final leg of the hike returned to the Visitor Center while admiring emerging blooms of Vernal Witchhazel in the Rock & Waterfall Garden and Snowdrops blooming on the Island Garden.  Everyone got a good workout and I hope learned more about our winter landscape.  February's hike will focus on birds and the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Powell Gardens staff lead walks and hikes at the Garden's trails each month from January through April.  Stephanie Acers, Youth Education Coordinator leads a Family Fun Walk on our mile-long short loop nature trail while Alan Branhagen, Director of Horticulture, leads a Season Highlights hike on the 3.25 mile Byron Shutz Nature Trail that transverses the wilds of our 970 acre site.  If you are interested in learning more about the "nature" of Powell Gardens, attend one of these hikes -- see our Garden Culture or visit our website www.powellgardens.org or call Linda Burton at 816-697-2600 x209 to register.