Thursday, May 31, 2012

Summer's Early Start

The warmest spring in history has brought about the earliest flowering and fruiting ever recorded for many plants at Powell Gardens.  Meteorological "Summer" begins on June 1st and a visit to the gardens now will reveal some shocking plants at their prime nearly a month ahead of "normal" schedules.  The pulsing buzz of the dog day or scissor-grinder cicada can already be heard -- normally a sound of the Dog Days of summer.

Peaches ripe in May?  Yep, that's a first and what a welcome to summer's early start at Powell Gardens!  These are 'Harrow Diamond' Peaches from Canada and have proven a hardy, flavorful and EARLY variety for our region.  Try a taste of fresh peaches at the Heartland Harvest Garden's tasting station and check at Refresh-- the snack shop at the Missouri Barn to see if any are for sale to take home too.
Apples are showing surprising sizes already too.  Here are some 'Yellow Transparent' Apples in the Quilt Gardens.  'Lodi' is our earliest apple in the Heartland Harvest Garden and I can see it will be ripe and ready for fresh baked good in just a couple weeks!

These are not raspberries but ripening Blackberries -- usually a fruit of much later, it won't be long until these are ready for picking (they turn black when ripe).  The abundance of berries in the garden is astounding after our mildest winter AND spring on record.

Ripe winter wheat in the Old Missouri Quilt Garden is also a first for this early.  Here's your chance to see this beautiful grass up close and be sure to see its contrasting color enhancing the quilt pattern of the garden when viewed from the Silo's observation deck.

The flouncy puff balls of the Annabelle hydrangea's flowers are making their change from lime to cream and white so are at their peak of beauty in the garden.  Normally a flower of midsummer they are a sight to savor now on the Island Garden.

Come sit a spell on the Island Garden and find yourself ensconced in flowers in all shapes and sizes from little cuties on the living wall to the waterlilies in the pools and of course be among the gorgeous hydrangeas.

The Hardy Mimosas (Albizzia julibrissin var. rosea 'E.H. Wilson') are also in bloom with their powder puff flowers of vibrant pink.  Hummingbirds and butterflies love these lightly fragrant flowers and they can be seen north of the Visitor Center.

Butterfly Bushes (Buddleia davidii) have reached unprecedented sizes of 8 feet tall and 8 feet wide and are in FULL bloom already.  Watch for our flying flowers (butterflies) imbibing nectar from their wonderfully fragrant flowers throughout the gardens.

I was shocked to see the Rose-of-Sharons (Hibiscus syriacus) are already in bloom too.  This is the cultivar 'Bluebird' besides the Heartland Harvest Garden's Seed-to-Plate Greenhouse.  These flowers ARE edible and make a spectacular garnish to a summer plate or salad.

So come and savor the new summer season at Powell Gardens.  Even the Fountain Garden is already a favorite stop by our young visitors as a place to cool off and get wet after an adventure to experience all the Fairy Houses and Forts.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Improving Heirloom Tomatoes

Improving on tomatoes?  Well, sort of!  Those who love tomatoes know that the heirloom varieties have the best flavors and an assortment of colors, shapes and textures.  Unfortunately most of the varieties are not known for their ease of cultivation when it comes to plant vigor and disease resistance.  Tough tomato varieties that are vigorous and disease free usually lack great fruit so why not combine them both?  How to do that: GRAFTING.

Staff from the Greenhouses and Heartland Harvest Garden assembled on this overcast day in the Heartland Harvest Garden's Seed to Plate Greenhouse to graft tomatoes today.  A "perfect" day for grafting!

Heartland Harvest Garden Intern, Marisa Algaier from Missouri State University (left) and Greenhouse Intern, Anne Peterson from University of Central Missouri (right) were our grafters.

I realized I didn't get a shot of the tool used to make the cuts between the tough 'Colossus' and 'Maxifort' tomatoes as understock (the roots!) and the scions of the fussy heirloom tomatoes you want to grow on those roots.  The tool is called a Topgrafter and it makes precision cuts so that success in grafting is improved from 50% to 90%.  A dozen varieties of heirloom tomatoes were selected for grafting onto the two types of understock including: 'Cherokee Purple', 'Flame', 'Long Tom', 'Pink Brandywine', 'Prudence Purple', and 'Wapsipinicon Peach.'

Greenhouse Horticulturist Donna Covell (left) and Heartland Harvest Gardener Claire Zimmerman (right) teamed up to tape together the understock and the scions to create the grafted tomatoes.

Parafilm "M" is used as the tape to secure the graft union.  It stretches and sticks to itself to create a tight bond which is critical so that the two tomatoes grow back together.

Here's a photo of the actual taping process.  Gloves are used as you want to keep everything clean and pathogen free.

Greenhouse Gardener Kellyn Register then staked the newly grafted tomatoes -- this is necessary just like a brace is for healing a broken bone.

Nursery tape was used to secure the newly grafted plant to its bracing plant stake.

Heartland Harvest Garden Horticulturist Matt Bunch placed each newly grafted plant into our homemade "Healing Chamber" where plants will recover and hopefully begin to grow together as a new grafted plant -- hardy roots and tops that will produce heirloom fruit!

Stop by the Seed to Plate Greenhouse and see our Healing Chamber and watch how our grafted tomatoes grow.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Oh What a Season (Spring 2012 that is!)

Little did we know that the cold morning (24F) of March 6, 2012 would be the last freeze of winter and that day would begin the 2012 Growing Season.   Winter's coldest low of +6F at our cold spot (+10F around the Visitor Center terraces) would mean our winter was more like the Red River Valley between Texas and Oklahoma!  Redbuds, our harbinger native tree of real spring would bloom 3-4 weeks earlier than normal too.  For the last frost to be almost 6 weeks earlier than normal is unprecedented -- the winter low the second mildest, though the overall average winter temperature was the mildest ever.  A mere 3" of snow a record low amount too.

Redbuds in full flower lined the walks to the Visitor Center in March rather than April this year.

Gardeners were worried we'd have another "Easter Freeze" like in 2007 and we didn't.  The spring flowers and the springtime weather have been absolutely beautiful and one to remember.  This anomaly is so off the charts we can't use it for any record keeping of bloom time or dates of when to plant or when to hold events -- we will still use overall statistics!

Catalpas (Catalpa speciosa shown), a flower of June, began to bloom the last week of April!

So what does all this mean for gardeners?  My words are from long-time area gardener Jane Overisch: enjoy every day of it!  Literally it will mean our first crop of spring figs fresh from the garden (the figs didn't die back to the ground this year for the first time ever).  Crape Myrtles will bloom extra early and reach tree size and of course many of our fall annuals lived through the winter and bloomed up a storm of beautiful colors: pansies, snapdragons, cabbages, kale and even lettuce survived the winter.

The SOPP tour ended at the Perennial Garden Arbor to enjoy the unprecedented full bloom of the wisterias.

On the Nature side of things the early emergence and flowering of plants corresponded with the earliest dates of observing most species of butterflies, moths and other insects.  Plants and insects emerge based on the temperature.  Oddly enough all our summertime birds that spend the winter in the tropics didn't get the message and migrated back as they always do based on day length.  Violent weather to the south held them up and they actually were late.  The 1,000's of missing migrant birds meant the insects had a field day as they are normally fuel for the countless migrating birds.  When the birds finally got here they were well fed with more insects than ever and hardly visited bird feeders at all.  No orioles at my grape jelly and oranges for the first time ever.

I photographed this Queen (tropical relative of the Monarch butterfly) nectaring on a Purple Milkweed on the Byron Shutz Nature Trail on Sunday.  This is only the FOURTH record of this butterfly in Missouri EVER.  We expect to see more tropical vagrant butterflies this long season following a mild winter.

So will the summer season be full of pests?  Nature has checks and balances and I know it will all even out in the end.  The lack of rain is now starting to grind on us gardeners and beginning to stress plants as well.  The USDA has predicted average rainfall and temperatures for the summer with growing drought to our north and southwest but I haven't seen any recent updates and hope their predictions will still come true.  Gardeners are the ultimate optimists!

The greenhouses are filled with plants for the coming season: here a peek at the containers put together for the Under A Blue Moon Rare Plant Auction fundraiser coming up next month.

The apple, pear and peach crops look great -- cherries for some reason are not fruitful (they bloomed beautifully at least).  Strawberry season was a month early and already over while the blueberries are ripe NOW!  Daylilies are beginning to bloom and we hope they still will be at Booms and Blooms on June 30th.  Some gardeners have picked their first ripe tomatoes though we waited to plant ours outside.

The already ripe Red Currants hang like jewels from their shrubs in the Heartland Harvest Garden.

The Fairy Houses and Forts display at Powell Gardens is up and delighting children and visitors of all ages to walk through the gardens and have an enchanting adventure.  Mother Nature has helped create a stage for us gardeners for a spectacular season.  Don't miss out on the unprecedented beauty, bounty and spectacular weather in the gardens of 2012.

A view of Star Tetrahedron in the Powell Gardens twilight during the Friday evening opening of the Fairy Houses and Forts an Enchanting Adventure at Powell Gardens.