Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Value of Trees

We are now in the throws of a HEAT WAVE with temperatures flirting with 100F or more with a forecast for it to last at least a week.  Heat waves near the summer solstice are especially brutal on us and plants because the days are so long.  Trees have enormous value to us in times like this as their shade is the cheapest air conditioner available!

This image is the woodland walk from the Marjory Powell Allen Chapel to the trolley stop at Powell Gardens.  On days like today it is a respite compared to the full sun of the garden's  open prairie landscapes.
It is noticeably cooler in summertime when you enter this walk (and noticeably milder in winter too). But what is the real value of a tree during the year? 

Last week Powell Gardens' Director, Eric Tschanz and I attended the American Public Garden Association's (APGA) national conference in Columbus, OH.  I visited the Chadwick Arboretum on the Ohio State University Campus and was thrilled to see this sign that gave an actual dollar value of a shade tree!  This particular Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) was given a value of $265.09 per year.  It's energy value in terms of cooling summertime and trapping a bit of warmth in the winter was given as over $80 per year of that value.  I was disappointed no value was given to it hosting 5 species of butterflies and providing fruit for winter birds -- many things just can't be assigned dollar values!

Here's an image of a tree that helped inspire Powell Gardens.  We call it Marjory's Oak and it stands in front of the Chapel.  It's a maturing Shingle Oak (Quercus imbricaria) and it survived the catastrophic ice storm of 2002.  The image was taken from INSIDE the chapel today.  The late Marjory Powell Allen was a leading human force that helped create Powell Gardens and her spirit is still present here as she inspired many and left a lasting legacy.  As most trees live for many human generations they leave a lasting legacy of the past that is impossible to assign a value.

This young oak also has significance at Powell Gardens as it was planted on Arbor Day 1990 to honor Chuck Brasher, local tree expert and friend of Marjory.  We are sad to announce that Chuck passed away Tuesday at age 90 and his knowledge of trees and his charity and altruism will be greatly missed.  This Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) graces the old (deliveries and staff) entrance to Powell Gardens and is a constant reminder of Chuck and his love for and expertise with trees.  He maintained the list of Champion Trees of Greater Kansas City and I had the pleasure of spending many days with him measuring and scouting for champion trees.  Chuck wrote a list of the value of trees along with the champions: 
Think Trees... Your future depends on their survival!
*TREES supply the oxygen we need to breathe.
*TREES keep our air supply fresh by absorbing carbon dioxide that we exhale and also that which we emmitted by factories and engines.
*TREES are natural air conditioners.  They lower air temperatures by evaporating water in their leaves.
*TREES cut down on noise pollution by acting as sound barriers.
*TREES trap and filter out dust and pollen on their hairy leaf surfaces.
*TREES shelter us from direct sunlight on hot sunny days.
*TREES roots stabilize the soil and prevent erosion.
*TREES camouflage unsightly scenes and break the monotony of endless highways, sidwalks and lawns.
*TREES slow down strong winds.
*TREES give us privacy.
And lastly Chuck included: A country without children would be hopeless... a country without trees would be almost as hopeless! 
Trees leave a lasting legacy to the future as well -- a Swamp White Oak can easily live 300 years or older.
See Champion Trees of Greater Kansas City at

This large shade tree is a White Ash (Fraxinus americana) in front of the Chapel.  White Ash are threatened by an imported exotic pest, the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) which is ravaging ash trees in the eastern Midwest and is spreading our way.  I learned at our APGA conference last week that with treatment as EAB arrives and for several years thereafter, your ash trees can be saved and their appreciating value retained.  Good News as I thought there was no hope for ash trees and the over 400 species of insects and other creatures besides ourselves who need them for their livlihood. Powell Gardens will be spreading the word of what local communities and landowners should do as part of The Sentinel Plant Network that APGA and the United States Department of Agriculture have set up to monitor and advise about threatening pests and diseases.
Just remember from tiny acorns mighty oak trees grow.  This is one of our seedling sof the extirpated (locally extinct) Arkansas population of Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla).  Powell Gardens was given 5 seedlings of these important trees by Dick Figlar as part of our North American Plant Collection Consortium Magnolia collection where part of Powell Gardens' responsibility is to preserve and protect the native magnolias found west of the Mississippi in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.  These magnolias were once found on Crowley's Ridge just 8 miles south of the Missouri border and their importance is that as the western most population by many, many miles; they probably offer improved drought resistance.  Bigleaf magnolia has the largest leaf of any North American tree and takes about 15 years to bloom.  Some day this tree will really inspire visitors with its 3 foot leaves and 12 inch fragrant blossoms!  How does one assign a value to the beauty of trees?  I hope you all are inspired to visit Powell Gardens and its extensive collection of trees and to plant a tree yourself for their appreciating dollar value AND for their value beyond human currency designations.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Garden in Midsummer

It's hard to believe that the summer solstice will be upon us next week!  The phenomenal long days of midsummer are a delight to us in northern climates and the weather has been simply spectacular.  The gardens are verdant green and productive in both beauty and produce.  Here's a view of some of Powell Garden's midsummer delights.

Shade trees cloaked in foliage are the prime player in the midsummer landscape as they cool us from the sun's most intense rays at this season.  This image is from along the Dogwood Walk, just before its hairpin curve to the Island Garden.  The huge double oak on the left is a Shingle Oak (Quercus imbricaria and actually the largest one on the site) while the tree on the right is a Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor).  Swamp White Oaks are the trees that shade the new 9-11 Memorial at the Twin Towers site in New York. Both these trees are native, original trees to Powell Gardens and make fine shade trees for gardeners.  Note the giant honeycomb which is the Fairy Wings fairy house.

I just submitted this image to show our renown Magnolia Collection during the American Public Gardens National meeting in Columbus, Ohio next week.  It shows the Southern Magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) and Sweetbay Magnolias (M. virginiana) that grace the Visitor Center.  The Southern Magnolias are blooming now with their huge, fragrant white "classic" magnolia flowers.

Here's a photo of the 'Poconos' Southern Magnolia -- a very hardy selection found growing successfully in the Poconos region of eastern Pennsylvania.  Our plant is on the southeast corner of the Visitor Center and can be seen from terraces as well as from the Dogwood Walk below.

The Perennial Garden is really starting to billow with the color of daylilies and other perennials set amid ornamental grasses and a framework of shrubs and trees.  Her Queen-of-the-Prairie (center left Filipendula rubra) blooms with pink cotton candy-like flowers on 5 foot stems! To its right is a pink-flowering daylily while mid right is the billowing airy new seedheads of 'Wind Dancer' grass (Eragrostis elliotii).
The Rock and Waterfall Garden is a shady respite during a summertime visit to Powell Gardens.  This year there is an unprecedented display of hydrangeas thanks to the mild winter and frost-free spring that otherwise damages the spring buds of the Bigleaf Hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) cultivars.
The Island Garden is a wealth of exuberant colorful flowers and unique textures.  The waterlilies are already in bloom!  Note the fort Skeleton Island in the background.
Watch for our attention grabbing male Red-winged Blackbird (aka "Fabio") as he bathes in the spring pool and preens afterwards atop the boulders seeming to egg on visitors to photograph him.  Now that it is the breeding season he shows off his brilliant red shoulder epaulets.
The Conifer Garden on the north end of the Visitor Center is a fine example of the use of plants for their colorful and unique FOLIAGE textures.
The wheat was harvested in the Heartland Harvest Garden so come visit to learn about the process of how it becomes bread!  Gardener Bob Glinn cut the wheat with an old fashioned scythe.
And the peaches continue to ripen so check Refresh snack shop in the barn for any that may be for sale.  I bought a delicious bag of 'Early White Giant' from the garden yesterday and I'm sure glad I ate the first one over my kitchen sink.

So come explore the beauty and bounty of the midsummer gardens of Powell Gardens.  Don't forget to explore the Fairy Houses and Forts, and spend the whole day strolling through the scenery from the Perennial Garden to the Heartland Harvest Garden.  It will be an enchanting adventure.