Out of the Blue, A Spring Butterfly Exhibit

IT’S MARCH! Close friends know that’s my line for this magical month when winter finally let’s go and spring takes hold. Geese, blackbirds and robins migrate in droves and the wetlands come alive with the sounds of spring peepers and chorus frogs. The first flowers come to life from crocus and snowdrops in the garden to the little-noticed blooms of silver maple and elm trees overhead.

In celebration of the season and to entice guests out for a visit, Powell Gardens has added some magic to our conservatory display: Morpho butterflies from the tropical rainforests! This morpho March madness means shipping in 1,200 morpho chrysalises from butterfly farmers like El Bosque Nuevo in Costa Rica.  300 chrysalises arrived last week and have begun to hatch in droves, another 300 chrysalises arrive this Friday. (for comparison, we ship in less than 400 total for the Festival of Butterflies in August).  The display opens on Saturday morning (March 7) at 10 a.m and will run daily through the month of March from 10:00 a.m. to 4 p.m. Above is a newly emerged female Blue Morpho — I feel these March Morphos are a bit deeper blue than the summer forms we display during the Festival of Butterflies. Continue reading

A Crop of Spring Gardening Classes

It’s time to start planning for the gardening season. If you are not sure how to get started, sign up for one of our hands-on gardening classes. We’ll get you out in the garden so you can see techniques firsthand and send you home with hand-picked seeds or plants to increase your odds of success!

Starting a home vegetable garden can be fun and rewarding but it also can quickly become overwhelming. Proper planning can eliminate many obstacles and ensure you don’t bite off more than you can chew. This spring start “smart” with our Garden Planning Workshop, where you can learn veggie care basics and design your home garden with expert supervision.

You’ll also receive a tried and true collection of seeds and learn everything you need to know to grow them into a bountiful harvest.

Maybe it’s time to branch out with some perennial edibles. We have got you covered with our perennial favorite Growing Strawberries class, and a brand new class, Growing Asparagus.

In both classes, you’ll learn the fundamentals you need to grow these spring favorites and get hands-on experience in the garden. You get to take home plants selected specifically for our climate and will have what you need to know to plant them at home.

These classes fill up quickly, so register today to save your seat in class. Hope to see you in the garden.

To see a complete listing of upcoming education classes, follow the Learning link.

Great Backyard Bird Count 2015

Sunday, February 15th was the annual Great Backyard Bird Count at Powell Gardens. The Great Backyard Bird Count is sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada to gauge bird populations at the peak of winter in February before birds begin their migration northward for spring. This year 17 people participated in observing and counting birds at Powell Garden — the weather was the coldest in all the dozen years we have been conducting the count and many participants cancelled. Visitors who still made the trek to Powell Gardens were treated to good birds at the feeders, observed comfortably from indoors.

The count provided a good opportunity to see up close many of our unique sparrow species, sometimes called LBB’s (little brown birds). This is a White-throated Sparrow, a bird that breeds up north in Canada (I believe it’s their national bird because of its beautiful song). It does have a white throat and always has a bit of “egg on its face” — yellow “lores” (between the bill and eye) in birder’s language.  Continue reading

Butterflies at Powell Gardens in 2015

Thursday, February 5, 2015, Powell Gardens received a marvelous donation of the lifelong butterfly collection from the family of the late Richard Meier Minteer. It contains local butterflies as well as species from all over the world. It is truly a breathtaking gathering of some of the most beautiful species in every hue, and in patterns and color combinations that inspire. Each butterfly is labeled with its name and native origin. Why does Powell Gardens care about butterflies? Is a garden without butterflies a garden?  We feel butterflies are a visceral component to a garden as an indicator of a healthy landscape, their presence adds to a garden’s beauty and enhances the experience.

Here’s a sample of one of the thirty Riker mounts of butterflies of Mr. Minteer. These butterflies are all Pierids which includes our local Sulphur butterflies and the pesky Cabbage White. The species above are all from southeast Asia from China to Indonesia. Continue reading

Field Trip: Champion Trees of Greater Kansas City

A list of the Champion Trees of Greater Kansas City has been maintained since 1955. It was originated by Stanley McLane, Landscape Architect for the J. C. Nichols Company. Today Powell Gardens maintains the list and we periodically take a field trip to go measure nominated trees. A nice day in winter is usually a good time to measure trees so myself and Senior Gardener Jesse Stauffer-Baum in charge of Powell Gardens collections scheduled Wednesday, January 28th to measure trees around the metro.  What a great day with a record high temperature over 70F and we confirmed several new champion trees!

Above is the new area champion Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) that was nominated by Matt Bunch. It grows in a ravine behind the old Blue Valley Recreation Center in northeast Kansas City on Kansas City Parks property. Photographs of trees never make them look impressive and you can barely see Jesse just to the left of the trunk in a thicket of honeysuckle that protects the tree from mowers. Jesse is 6-feet tall and has his hands up — you can see a white notebook in his left hand. This bur oak has a 200-inch circumference, is 102-feet tall, and has an average crown spread of 100-feet! Continue reading

The optimism of a gardener

I like to think of us gardeners of an optimistic bunch and full of faith. We all can envision a paradise of plants and the accompanying wildlife they bring to the garden. And here at Powell Gardens we’re always aiming to inspire visitors with an enjoyable experience that reflects the importance of plants in our lives.

We know what it takes to plant the seed but wish we had a crystal ball to know when the last frost date will be, whether the rains will be timely or how extreme weather will affect us. We plan for beauty, sustenance, nature and oxygen–but the plants really do the work for us. 

Above is a ginkgo seedling from a tree that survived the bombing of Hiroshima. This spring it will be 2 years old and will move to the outside nursery where it can grow some size. Then it will be transplanted to the Truman Library. Trees require patience, grass requires persistence. Continue reading

What Happens at the Gardens in Winter

I am often posed the question: “What do horticulturists and gardeners do in winter?”  The answer? Planning and preparation for the next growing season, plus the routine garden maintenance chores. Here’s a look at what’s happening behind the scenes right now.

The Visitor Center is decked out in holiday display but we’re already busy planning its next displays: Desert in Bloom, opening Jan. 10, followed by Out of the Blue: Morpho Butterflies in March opening on March 7.

We typically house our succulent collection in Greenhouse 1, which is not open to the public. The Desert in Bloom exhibit will be a chance to see our collection again, along with seasonal flowers.  This picture illustrates a challenge we’re having behind the scenes. Where is the sun? The inordinate number of cloudy days has put some of our winter flowers behind schedule, even in the greenhouse environment.

The greenhouse staff has already began to sow the plants for spring outdoor displays, and even some of the long-season summer crops will be sown shortly after the new year. It’s a mind-boggling spread sheet that sets the stage for all our plants to be set out in bloom on the day requested by each gardener.

The main grounds and natural resources need winter tending, too. It’s the best time for the Byron Shutz Nature Trail maintenance, tree maintenance, invasive species control and prairie management. Above fire lanes are cut as are prairie areas with too much brush and too little grass fuel to burn well. (This photo is from last winter when we had an inordinate amount of blue skies.)

The main task in the Heartland Harvest Garden will be fruit tree pruning as of the January thaw. It’s a race to get all the fruit and nut trees; grape, hardy kiwi and other fruiting vines, and berry bushes pruned before they burst with bloom and new growth in spring. Here’s last winter’s peach tree pruning with Scott Solar and Audrey Davis.

For me, the search for new interns and seasonal gardeners begins, programs to inspire gardeners must be finished and updated, and future garden plans must be created. Yes, all the LEGO brick sculptures for next summer are sited so that they may open to visitors on May 2, not to mention that all the plants for the Spring Plant Sale are on order and scheduled for production in the greenhouses.

Butterflies are locked in for their farmers to raise and USDA paperwork and regulations met and reviewed. Above is intern Brett Budach processing morpho chrysalises for the 2013 Festival of Butterflies. Our first Blue Morpho chrysalises may arrive as early as February 24 for Out of the Blue.

As we wrap up this year and work our way through the rest of the winter, we wish you Happy holidays, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  We hope to see you at Powell Gardens in 2015. (photo of the Island Garden Christmas tree during the luminary walk.)