Friday, December 3, 2010

Meet The Poinsettias of 2010

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are Powell Gardens' premier Christmas and Holiday Season plant grown in our greenhouse complex. This fickle plant native to Central America and tropical Mexico is actually a shrub that can grow to 10 feet. Poinsettias bloom only on the short days of the winter solstice; it is actually the leafy bracts surrounding the tiny flowers that create the show!

The Greenhouse Gals: (left to right) Penny Hudson (part-time gardener), Kellyn Register (gardener), Donna Covell (Horticulturist) and Yubi (the greenhouse mouser) pose for a picture with our vibrant crop of poinsettias. Meet the various varieties of poinsettias they (along with Senior Gardener Eric Perrette) have grown for the 2010 season:

Poinsettia 'Freedom Early Red' may be our most showy red poinsettia with huge bracts literally covering the entire plant.

Poinsettia 'Novia Red' has vibrant red bracts that contrast beautifully with its green leaves. This is more of a classic poinsettia to me -- not as gaudy as Freedom Early Red above.

The vermilion bracts of Poinsettia 'Orange Spice' have a orange-red color more similar to the wild poinsettia.

Poinsettia 'Enduring Marble' has a smattering of pink on its otherwise large, red bracts.

Poinsettia 'Sonora White Glitter' has a splattering of white on its bracts, some bracts containing larger white and pink sections.

Poinsettia 'Tapestry' has yellow variegated leaves that really set off this plant from the others.

If pink is your color then Poinsettia 'Freedom Pink' displays the largest lovely pink bracts of any we've grown.

Poinsettia 'Polly's Pink' displays exceptionally vibrant pink bracts.

Poinsettia 'Winter Blush' has marvelous pink and cream variegated bracts. It also displays two tiers of flowers -- huge ones above smaller below.

Poinsettia 'Winter Rose Early Marble' has the crinkled tight bracts so popular in the winter rose series but with an nice blend of cream and pink.

White Poinsettias offer a classic color favored by many indoor designers and gardeners. The giant creamy white bracts (I sense salmon and lime overtones) identify this as Poinsettia 'Freedom White.'

Poinsettia 'White Star' has more starry bracts of a similar but perhaps whiter color.

Creamier, peachy-white bracts make Poinsettia 'Classic White' another favorite of white poinsettias.

Lastly, Poinsettia 'Ice Punch' still receives the most comments of the poinsettias we've grown this season. The variegated bracts are quite striking but in a good way.
All these poinsettias are on display in the Visitor Center's conservatory and some are for sale in Perennial Gifts too. Come visit them in person and pick your favorite variety.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Autumn's Crescendo

The crescendo of autumn is at hand, a last burst of colors before the more monochromatic winter landscape sets in.

The White Oak (Quercus alba) on the north side of the Visitor Center is at peak of color in burnt reds; and flanked by Sweetbays (Magnolia virginiana) in the best golden attire.

White Oak is a favorite tree and one was planted on either end of the Visitor Center back in the spring of 1997 after the building's opening (this is a picture of the same tree in the above photograph). Both trees are now going on 30 feet tall and showing a strong upright, oval form with great fall colors. It's interesting to imagine what they might look like in 400 years!

Many Viburnums put on quite a show in late fall and this Catskill Linden Viburnum (Viburnum dilatatum) is no exception.

The fall leaf colors are not as spiffy on its neighboring cultivar 'Asian Beauty' but the berries are sure colorful. The fruit will add winter ornament well past leaf fall into winter.

This Missouri native Southern Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) sports beads of blue berries. Birds somehow have missed this particular one as some of our arrowwoods were de-fruited by migrating Eastern Kingbirds way back in late August. The birds are now at their winter home in Bolivia! Our berries helped fuel their migration which brings to mind Aldo Leopold's great quote: hemisphere solidarity is new among statesman but not the feathered navies of the sky.

The Koreanspice Viburnums (Viburnum carlesii) are burning reds now and a good choice for replacing your invasive Burning Bushes (Euonymus alatus). We have spotted and removed many more burning bush from the woodlands around the gardens even though Powell Gardens has removed all the plants from its gardens.

The Flying Dragon Hardy Orange (Poncirus trifoliata) has turned some interesting yellow hues and together with its "curlicue" green branching this image reminds me of an impressionist painting.

We have removed many of the tender plants from the Hummingbird Garden outside the Cafe and low and behold our Taylor Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) has returned. This is allegedly one of the hardiest palm selections from North Carolina and we planted one for trial many years back. It died to the ground but keeps coming back from the base, which is very unusual for this species as it normally has ONE growing point and if that is killed, the whole plant is killed. Plants always seem to defy what we write about them and try to make liars out of us whenever they can!

The views of the Heartland Harvest Garden from the silo overlook are quite wonderful as of Monday. Here the Kansas Star Quilt Garden of pasture and forage plants really stands out with autumn hues in the warm season grasses and greens of cool season grasses and legumes. This garden is at its finest now.

The Villandry Quilt Garden is also gorgeous from above with its late fall simplicity of winter cover crops in green mixed with a few summer leftovers and fall vegetable crops.

Blackberries are finally starting to turn their rich shades of red in throughout the Heartland Harvest Garden. Here they are quite nice growing in the fence on the edge of Barbara Damrosch's Author's Garden.

The masses of Oakleaf Hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) along the woodland edges near the Chapel's trolley stop are rich shades of red now. This bold American native shrub is the quintessential colorful crescendo to our fall color season.

The hollow base of the old Swamp White Oak in front of the chapel is not yet a crescendo of color but Horticulturist Richard Heter cut the stump a bit lower and planted a natural seedling of Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) in the center of the stump! One day the dogwood will grow through the stump and provide a blast of rich fall color too (You can't see it in this shot but the stump is hollow to the top: 115 tree rings from the hollow to the bark!).
I hope everyone takes a moment to take in the last glory of this exceptional fall season and does a little garden planning or planting to create future seasons of glorious autumn colors.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cool Color

It may be Novemberrrr but there are still many colorful, cool weather-loving flowers and foliage to decorate our gardens with!

Though this is a scene from the Powell Gardens Visitor Center Conservatory, it does depict the colors of the season. The red foliage is Sedona Coleus (frost tender) and the Chrysanthemum is 'Carilion.'

Outside, in the terrace beds of the Visitor Center the cool loving, freeze tolerant plants are shining stars this fall. This is a beautiful "specimen" of Kale 'Chidori Red.' Remember that ornamental "flowering" kales and cabbages are delicious to the eyes and the palate too! They are hardy to +10F too.

Tall Kale 'Red Ursa' hugs the wall behind colorful Kale 'Nagoya Red' for a wonderful contrast of form, texture and color.

Gorgeous Kale White Peacock struts its stuff between vivacious 'Racquel' mums for quite a color contrast.

Kale 'Komome White' has the most ruffled edges of any: and stitched in green for marvelous visual effect. The purple in the foreground is a waning aster and the white "daisies" behind are Vanilla Butterfly Argeranthemum.

The camera can't quite capture the subtle blends from blue-green to violet and pink in the intricate leaves of Kale 'Red Peacock.' The contrasting flowers are Stocks 'Hotcakes.'

Cabbage 'Tokyo White' divides 'Mammoth Blue-ti-ful' Pansies (yes that's its name) from more Stocks 'Hotcakes' and the Red Peacock Kale in the far back. The fragrance of this bed is as good as its color from the sweet pansies and the spicy stocks.

Mustard Greens also are not necessarily green: 'Giant Garnet' Mustard is stunning with vivid 'Red Rocket' Snapdragons in the bed south of Cafe Thyme.

Flowers that bloom from early spring, all through summer and all through fall are simply rare or unheard of -- until now. This is stellar 'Snow Princess' Alyssum whose delicate white flowers scented in honey have been blooming since MARCH! Through frost and freeze and heat and humidity, this annual is a winner all year in Kansas City gardens. NO, typical sweet alyssums will fry in our summer heat and need to be replanted for fall, but not this one.

The Encore Azaleas are also putting on their namesake fall bloom. This Encore Azalea is 'Autumn Royalty' which is my favorite of the series. The large, vivid flowers of spring are repeated a bit all season with an encore for the autumn. Autumn Royalty Encore Azalea is not quite fully hardy here though has done well the past few years in sheltered sites outdoors. We still grow ours in containers and put them in our cool greenhouse for the winter. A great container plant.
You may think the gardening season is over in Kansas City but there is a still a beautiful array of colorful plants that thrive in the cool weather and shrug off light freezes. We usually have lively beds around the Visitor Center through Thanksgiving and occasionally into December as Mother Nature allows. Embrace and enjoy this encore of living beauty as a final act of the 2010 outdoor Gardening Season.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Reflections of a Grand Growing Season

The 2010 Growing Season finally came to an end this morning with temperatures dropping to 27.5F at our official weather station. It had not been below freezing since March 24, 2010. Our 219 day growing season with more than 46 inches of rain is almost unprecedented -- certainly the wettest in the 14 years I have been with Powell Gardens.

This Pink Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida f. rubra) was decked out in fine fall color on October 25th. Many trees did not develop great fall color this year because the fall was so warm and dry!

A Nikko Maple (Acer maximowiczianum) also turned brilliant colors in the courtyard on the north side of the Visitor Center. This small tree was planted as a Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) but never developed that orange, papery bark so I took a sample of the leaf and yes, it was not a Paperbark Maple but a Nikko Maple. Mix ups like this happen in the nursery trade.

I looked back through unutilized images from the 2010 growing season and decided to share them as a reflection of this great growing season:

Hard to believe there was still snow on the ground on March 22nd when I took this picture from the terrace of the Visitor Center. Just two days later the growing season began! We all know the Kansas City climate has wild mood swings...

Within two weeks the Daffodils were in full bloom: this is Cum Laude Daffodil (Narcissus split corona division) blooming on the Island Garden in early April.

Though winter was long and dragged on, Redbuds (Cercis canadensis) were in full bloom right on schedule in mid-April. This shot was taken in the Perennial Garden and note the floriferous drifts of daffodils beneath them.

The Apples (Malus pumila) in the Heartland Harvest Garden were in full bloom on April 16th. The trees have since grown 2 to 4 more feet!

Our last Kwanzan Flowering Cherry (Prunus serrulata) also bloomed this spring but this would prove its last -- the incredible rainfall actually drowned this 15 year old established tree. We will have to try again in a site that will drain better.

Indian Paintbrushes (Castilleja coccinea) bloomed in the prairie planting in the Heartland Harvest Garden and were screaming scarlet. These plants originated from seed collected off our friend Ona Gieschen's native hay prairie outside Sedalia.

The Whitaker sculptures were fun in the spring winds and this piece on the Island Garden was a favorite. The Tea Flowering Crabapples (Malus hupehensis) on either side were in full bloom (as were all the crabapples on the Island Garden) and echoed beautifully the white puffy clouds overhead.

By late April the gardens were already green and the trees nearly leafed out! This shot of the Heartland Harvest Garden was taken on April 24th from the silo overlook. If you've not had a chance to view the garden from the silo you are missing a great experience of Powell Gardens.

The greens of May in the prairie meadow show a large clump of Gama Grass (Tripsacum dactyloides) right of the path already with its turkey-foot-shaped blooms. This inspires me to take this shot now with billowing grasses in rich fall attire.

Our large Golden Barrel Cactus and American Agave loved the warm growing season, nearly being swallowed by a wayward morning glory towards the end of the growing season. These frost hardy cacti can stay out late but spend the winter in our cool greenhouse for safe keeping and use in 2011.

June 18th the Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) decorated the rows of grapes as their companion. There blossoms are backlit by the morning light of the Vineyard.

Native Prairie Rose (Rosa setigera) always shines with its pink flowers around the summer solstice. It's a challenge to photograph in the intense light of its season. We have it planted around the outer edge of the Apple Celebration Court as a companion planting to the Apple trees.

The greens of mid-summer are contrasted with white variegated leaves in this planting near the Chapel's trolley stop. The variegated foliage is from the Floating Clouds Redbud and it contrasts nicely with the bold foliage of Oakleaf Hydrangeas on either side.

At Booms and Blooms time the Perennial Garden is exuberant with daylilies, hardy hibiscus, purple coneflowers and other vivacious perennials in bloom. The tapestry hedge also is really filling in and got a good trim this June to keep its height maintained around 8 feet.

The lush wet season allowed the Butterburs (Petasites japonica) in the Rock & Waterfall Garden to reach huge proportions. Here they are wet with rain while Incrediball Hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens 'Abetwo') bloom behind them. This is only the second year for our Incrediball Hydrangeas and once they are fully established they will have immense flower heads on sturdy stems.

The intensely fragrant flowers of Ruby Spice Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) caught the attention of many visitors to the Island Garden. This Plant of Merit makes a great summer blooming shrub and thrives with extra moisture.

This July shot of the Island Garden pools almost looks laughable because shortly after all these plants mushroomed in size and abundant flowers! The upright plant left is a Red-stemmed Thalia, the right one is Papyrus while a tropical waterlily and the saucer leaves of Victorias float behind them.

Hibiscus Lord Baltimore reigned over the Perennial Garden again in August with its rich red flowers. This flower steals the show every year in the Perennial Garden.

Frothy bluish-purple Verbena bonariensis creates a meadowy look to the north side of the Visitor Center. Yes, Horticulturist Anne Wildeboor let them self-sow to create this butterfly heaven and easy care border.

The Butterfly Bonanza Bed really lived up to its name on the south side of the Visitor Center's conservatory. It was painful to remove this bed and install the fall plantings which are already full and lush in this space (and frost and freeze tolerant too).

Here's another shot of the Missouri Mountain thunderstorms that made for a spectacular sky on any one's September 18th Powell Gardens visit. We already miss the Big Bugs ants that spent the summer on the hill beyond the Meadow Pavilion.

The newer end of the Conifer Garden added several new specialty plants to give it a finished look. The donations by Marvin Snyder and Skinner's Nursery in Topeka really made the last bit of this garden look full. This garden will only get better over time and has been immensely popular to our visitors.

Wild Willow-leaved Asters (Aster praealtus -- pinkish here) and New England Asters (Aster novae-angliae--purple) kept nature's floral display going in the natural plantings of the parking lot. What a fine finale to a magnificently long, lush and colorful growing season.
Horticulture Staff is working on growing the plants for spring displays in 2011 and the plant orders for next summer's flower beds are due in mid November! There is never a dull moment in the gardens -- the greenhouse Poinsettias are starting to show their colors too. We hope you visited Powell Gardens many times this past season and plan to do so again next year too.