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.)

The Big Chill of November 2014

Our November chill with temperatures today colder than our average January day has been a shock since it was 71F at the gardens on Monday (November 10th).  A sharp fall freeze occurs around once a decade and creates what is called a marcescent fall — it freezes many leaves on the trees.  Our current big chill is nowhere near as bad as the Halloween freeze of 1991 which actually killed many non-native trees in Greater Kansas City.

This was the scene on Monday (Nov. 10) in front of the Visitor Center: the large tree, a pin oak (Quercus palustris) was just past peak fall color, an orange fall colored baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) can be seen back left, and still green-leaved northern sweetbay magnolias (Magnolia virginiana var. virginiana). Continue reading

2014 Fall Splendor at Powell Gardens

Fall color is actually about a week earlier than normal this year. We have had a great growing season with ample rain with just two minor, three-week dry spells. Fall color was lackluster on some tree species despite the perceived perfect conditions while some trees have been as beautiful as ever.  Go figure.

Here’s a picture of a Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) in full fall color on the Dogwood Walk today (October 27, 2014). Flowering Dogwoods have put on a spectacular fall display again this year and throughout the Greater Kansas City Community. Continue reading

Gardens Gone Wild and The Amazing Animal Quest

Thanks to everyone who’s been enjoying the Amazing Animal Quest during Gardens Gone Wild: An Animal Art Adventure this summer at Powell Gardens. The 26 visiting sculptures by Colorado artist Dan Ostermiller have inspired some amazing photography and fun photo opportunities this summer.

Enjoy these Instagram photos by five randomly selected first-round winners, who will receive tickets to use this fall at Carolyn’s Pumpkin Patch plus passes for a return visit to Powell Gardens!

If you haven’t had a chance to visit Gardens Gone Wild yet, it’s not too late. In fact, you still have a chance to meet the artist himself when Dan returns to Powell Gardens on Saturday, Sept. 27. He will lead a cooking demonstration at 2 p.m. and ticketed art experience at 5:30 p.m. Learn more about that event here.

The Gardens Gone Wild exhibit will remain on display through Sunday, Oct. 5. We’ll award the final prize for the Amazing Animal Quest the following week. Have fun exploring the woodlands, wetlands, tropics and more and share your photos with #GardensGoneWild. See you at the Gardens!

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.