Color in the Veggie Patch

Vegetable gardens are often dismissed as utilitarian and boring, but at Powell Gardens’ Fun Foods Farm we like to embrace bold color and whimsy.  Color is easy to overlook when planting a vegetable garden; however, a little planning can add so much to the garden aesthetic and your dinner plate.

Yellow tomatoes and purple basil taste great and add bright color to the garden.

Fantastic sunflowers tower over red okra, squash and soybeans, creating depth and dimension.

Fennel and anise hyssop are excellent for attracting beneficial insects like pollinators that are necessary for pollinating squash and melons. These lovely, edible blooms not only boost your garden beauty but improve fruit set on your traditional crops.

Bolting cilantro has frothy, white blooms that soon mature to coriander; both are fantastic in Mexican and Asian cuisine. Other herbs like dill, lavender, mint and thyme have lovely blossoms and fresh flavor.

Amaranth is a beautiful plant that can be harvested young for salad greens or you can harvest its seed heads for grain. If you’re really adventurous, try mixing the heads into cut flower arrangements.

Edible flowers are a great addition to the vegetable garden.  ‘Alaska’ Nasturtiums have bold color and flavor. They need a little afternoon shade to help them last into the summer, which makes them a good choice for filling shady spots your sun-loving veggies will not thrive in.

Sunflowers are real showstoppers, and the seeds are delectable to birds and humans alike. They come in many colors and sizes. This year we love the ‘Short stuff’ and ‘Lemon queen’ varieties.

Dazzling orange and yellow marigolds, planted as companion plants, accent neighboring vegetables with their vibrant colors. Marigolds attract pollinators and deter some nasty pests like root nematodes.

Many ornamental peppers can be used for cooking, too. Two favorites are ‘Black Pearl’ and the mild ‘Sangria.’  Even traditional peppers like mini bells are highly ornamental.

Crops like okra, Swiss chard and eggplant have pretty flowers and/or brightly colored stems. They also are packed with flavor; I prefer the taste of red okra to the more common green.

Legumes like beans often have attractive blooms. Scarlet runner, purple hyacinth, yard long noodle and striped ‘Rattlesnake’ pole beans all dazzle in Fun Foods Farm.

Squash, melons, cucumbers and gourds also have fetching blossoms.  Vining types can be trained to cover fences and arches.  One of my favorites is the diminutive ‘Mexican Sour Gherkin,’ which will quickly climb a trellis and cover it in adorable grape-sized cucumbers.

For more inspiration, visit Fun Foods Farm youth education garden and the Heartland Harvest Garden and check out what we are growing.  It’s never too early to start planning for next year’s bounty!

 

Meet An Instructor: Christine Shuck

Each season, I am excited to work with many of our long-time instructors to offer great learning experiences through our Garden Culture classes. This month, I am happy to introduce a new instructor to our line up—Christine Shuck.

Christine is a writer, artist, community education instructor and homeschool mom who lives in Kansas City. A confirmed auto-didact (self-learner), Christine enjoys a wide range of interests including permaculture and organic gardening, DIY projects, cooking, arts and crafts and keeping chickens and bees.

This month, Christine will be your guide to cooking and preparing dishes and teas with fresh and dried herbs. Reap all of the flavor and health benefits from cooking with herbs as Christine shows you multiple ways to use them. Register now for Cooking with Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, on Saturday, July 19—the class includes samples to taste!

When not busy renovating her 1893 Victorian home, you will find Christine in her garden pulling weeds and tending her chickens. In winter you will find her inside writing, decorating, or creating art. Christine has written three books and maintains three blogs.

Christine’s other interests include Zentangle, an art form of creating beautiful images with repetitive patterns that is well suited for both novice artists and seasoned professionals. Christine recently displayed her Zentangle artwork at Maker Faire Kansas City and will offer an introductory course at Powell Gardens this fall.

More Classes this Month:

  • Musical Solutions with the Native Flute, 9:30-11 a.m. Friday, July 18. More information.
  • Learn to Play the Native Flute, 12:30-2:30 p.m. Friday, July 18. More information.
  • Watercolor Workshop: Sketch Technique, 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday, July 19. More information.
  • Cooking with Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, 10 a.m.-noon, Saturday, July 19. More information.
  • NABA Butterfly Count, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, July 26. More information.
  • Evening with Moths and More, 8-11 p.m. Saturday, July 26. More information.
  • Astronomy: By the Dark of the Moon, 8:30-10:30 p.m. Saturday, July 26. More information.

Fruit Tree Menace 2014: Fire Blight!

The 2014 growing season in the Heartland Harvest Garden will go down as the year of the Fire Blight. This menace has the capability to kill the trees it infects if the blight is not removed and treated. Certain pears are especially susceptible and if the blight is not controlled, it spells most certain death. Powell Gardens is not alone in dealing with this menace; an unprecedented infestation has been reported throughout the Greater Kansas City region and beyond from Kansas to Tennessee.

Not all trees in the Heartland Harvest Garden are infested as shown above in a very healthy pear in the garden. Some naturally resist the disease while others may not have been harmed by our late frost in mid-May. Heartland Harvest Garden staff did spray a pollinator-safe, organic “liquid copper soap” and a “microbial blend” on the trees to deflect space for the blight (which is a bacteria) as a preventative measure. We accomplished that spraying back in April during flower time when pollinators can spread the blight’s bacteria and infect new trees.

All was good until we had the surprise heavy frost in the garden well after bloom time, which caused slight damage to new growth on trees. The frost-damaged tissues were the perfect places for infestations of bacterial fire blight to take hold. Because this disease spreads best in cooler (65F to no more than 85F), damp conditions, trees were even more susceptible. Continue reading

Picture yourself at Powell Gardens during the Amazing Animal Quest!

Powell  Gardens goes wild this summer with an exhibit of amazing animal sculptures by Colorado artist Dan Ostermiller. These monumental works are inspiring for all ages, but kids especially will enjoy taking The Amazing Animal Quest to discover the nine adventure zones in which they are placed.

When you document and share your journey through the tropics, woodlands, wetlands and more, you could win an amazing Kansas City adventure for the entire family with tickets to attractions around the region!

It’s easy to play along! Just pick up your guide in the Visitor Center when you arrive, then follow the photo prompts for each area. Post your photos to Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #gardensgonewild. We’ll pull names for free Garden prizes each month all summer and draw for the grand prize on August 24.

Picture yourself (and your family!) in these locations, which are just a sample of the many fun areas to explore during Gardens Gone Wild:

The Big Backyard

Home to bunnies R.B. (above), Lola, and the permanent Garden residents depicted in “Close Quarters,” the Big Backyard offers a place to rest and consider the habitat humans know best! Photo prompt: See how high you can jump!

The Forest Floor

Flex your muscles with these bears before enjoying the forest floor play area.

Continue reading

Jungle in a Jar: Learn to make terrariums

As summer heats up so do the classes at Powell Gardens. This summer we have some hot, new classes for your home, including Terrarium: Jungle in a Jar on June 14.

Terrariums have been around for years, popularized in 19th century by Dr. Nathaniel Ward’s Wardian case. The invention of the Wardian case allowed exotic plants to be shipped all over the world, and delicate plants to be grown at home by hobbyists. Ornate Wardian case terrariums decorated many Victorian homes.

Terrariums are back in vogue again, with some modern twists. The new terrarium is chic, elegant, and makes a great accent piece for your home or office.

A Peperomia sp. stands alone in a simple wine bottle terrarium. Others embrace whimsy and fun like the popular fairy gardens or my personal favorite, the monster garden for carnivorous plants. Tillandsia bulbosa is right at home with carnivores such as Venus Fly trap (Dionaea muscipula) and Octopus plant (Drosera sp.).

Terrarium keeping can be as simple or complex as one cares to make it. Many plants work great for a simple hassle-free terrarium. Bromeliads like air plants (Tillandsia sp.) can be nestled in rocks in a jar to create an interesting centerpiece for a sunny room that only requires occasional misting. Many ferns like the Heart Fern (Hemionitis arifolia) do well in terrarium culture and work well in small or large displays.

Surprisingly, miniature Phalaenopsis orchids are great for simple elegant terrariums.

Selaginella sp. is often challenging as a house plant but thrives in a humid terrarium with little effort.

Plants like Babies’ Tears (Soleirolia soleirolii) and Artillery Plant (Pilia sp.) make lovely groundcover in miniature landscapes.

Plants like begonias, peperomia and polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) make great miniature shrubbery.

Ornamentation adds pizzazz and personality to a terrarium. Shiny rocks and marbles add texture. Natural elements like drift wood and sea shells provide dimension.

For the whimsical terrarium, one might add fairy furniture or perhaps small figurines. Godzilla peeking through orchids and bromeliads is a constant source of amusement at my house.

There is still time to register for the Jungle in a Jar terrarium class this month. Hope to see you there!

Classes this Month:
* Terrarium: Jungle in a Jar, 10 a.m.-noon. Saturday, June 14
* Kids’ Club: Nature Hike, 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday, June 14
* Herbal Home Remedies, 1-4 p.m. Saturday, June 21
* Honeybee Keeping 201, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday, June 28
* Geocaching Gone Wild, 2-4 p.m. Saturday, June 28
* Astronomy: Eye Spy, 8:30-10:30 p.m. Saturday, June 28

Winter’s Wear on Plants

The winter of 2013-2014 was certainly a cold stretch, the longest stretch of cold weather in the 18 winters I have lived here in Kansas City.  At Powell Gardens the lake froze over in late November and didn’t thaw until early March — that was a first! Powell Gardens lowest temperature was -10F (rounded up) with many mornings at or below zero F and little or no snow most of the time.  All this took a toll on plants that had begun creeping into our gardens from the South. We’ve experienced so many mild winters that there was zone creep of plants.  The winter was also exceedingly dry which also hurt plants, especially those normally hardy. I wanted to wait until everything had a chance to grow this spring to see what really survived and what was set back and as usual there were surprises on both extremes!

Blooming Atamasco Lilies (Zephyranthes atamasco) were a complete surprise to have survived the long-frozen ground. This native of the American South’s Gulf Coastal Plain is a personal favorite and often listed as hardy only to zone 7.  Look for these in the New Millennium border of the Perennial Garden. Continue reading