A Peachy Keen Landscape

The Powell Gardens’ landscape will near its peak of spring this weekend, the earliest since 1987 from gardener’s recollections–certainly the earliest in the 16 springs I have lived here. The Daffodils/Narcissus have been simply spectacular and the early flowering trees have been a breath of fresh springtime colors dancing across the gardens. The Heartland Harvest Garden’s peach trees were simply a great joy to witness and we photo documented the entire collection because each variety has flowers that are either showy or not so much.  This information is valuable to edible landscapes that want to balance beauty and productivity!


Here is the Peach Court in the Heartland Harvest Garden with its collection of almost 30 varieties of Peaches (Prunus persica and Nectarines var. nectarina).  A few of the best cultivars are repeated on different rootstocks, smaller “semi-dwarf” rootstock closer in on the spiral and on “standard” rootstock where they will grow larger to full size on the outer ring of this garden.


This a Stark ‘Saturn’ Peach which has some of the showiest, rosy-pink flowers.  17 of the Peach and Nectarine varieties have similar showy, rosy-pink flowers.  Saturn Peach is a flat “doughnut” peach from Northern China that does very well in our climate and the peaches are funny looking but delicious!


Here’s a closeup of a ‘Stark CrimsonGold’ Nectarine that fits the category of beautiful, showy-flowering peaches and nectarines.


This is the classic Missouri ‘Redhaven’ Peach which you can see has much smaller, carmine pink flowers that are much less showy in the landscape.  We still recommend this variety for its superior peaches but in an edible landscape it looks even better mixed or paired with the showier flowering varieties.


Here’s a closeup of ‘Reliance’ Peach which depicts a variety with less showy, carmine pink flowers.  I actually split the less showy varieties into two groups: 11 with less showy carmine pink blooms (which included ‘Reliance’) and 10 varieties with the least showy carmine pink flowers (which included ‘Redhaven’ above).  Most of the hardiest peaches with both extreme cold and frost tolerance have the less showy type flowers but ‘Saturn’ is an exception to that rule.


A very few peaches and peach hybrids have beautiful, showy soft pink flowers.  This is our “Wilbur Kephart Indian” Peach,which is a family heirloom that was brought from Tennessee where Wilbur’s forefathers found it growing wild (Wilbur is an 80-something local farmer, historian and Powell Gardens volunteer).  Peaches are actually from China but traveled to Europe on the Silk Road, then via the Spaniards to the New World.  The Native Americans quickly adopted the plant and spread it northward into Tennessee where it was already growing by the time settlers arrived. Think of the journeys this plant made!


The “Hardy” Almonds also have this beautiful soft pink bloom.  This is the ‘Reliable’ Almond (Prunus amygdalo-persica) which gets its hardiness from peaches as it is actually a peach-almond cross.  It does produce dry fuzzy fruit with edible almonds in the pits.  DO NOT EAT THE PITS OF REGULAR PEACHES as they are poisonous.  True Almonds (Prunus dulcis) have white flowers and we have several new varieties hybridized in Russia that are doing well.  Look for both ‘Reliable’ and ‘Hall’s Hardy’ Almonds in our Vineyard.


The mid season Magnolias are currently in full bloom throughout the gardens.  Here is Ann Magnolia in full bloom in the Courtyard on the north side of the Visitor Center with a sculpture by the late Mary Kay Powell on the bench below the Powell Memorial plaque.  Ann is one of the “Little Girl” Magnolias bred at the National Arboretum as hybrid crosses between Star and Lily Magnolias in an effort to get the frost resistance of Star Magnolia and the later bloom of Lily Magnolia.  The best ones are named and we have ‘Betty,’ ‘Jane,’ ‘Pinkie’ and ‘Randy’ in other parts of the garden.


Here are the darkest flowering magnolias currently in bloom at the garden. This is the ‘O’Neill’ Lily Magnolia (Magnolia liliiflora) growing by the Visitor Center trolley stop. WOW is it vivid this year and seems to be deeper colored the warmer it is.  Most varieties are just the opposite and are paler in warmer weather.


Look at this spectacular Magnolia blossom!  This is a new cultivar called ‘Toro’ and is a hybrid with Missouri native Cucumbertree (Magnolia acuminata).  It has HUGE flowers and is very hardy through zone 4. Look for Toro Magnolia blooming on the east edge of the Perennial Garden along the path to the Trigg Building.


Our native woodland wildlfowers are also making their graceful appearance.  Linda Williams took this picture of White Trout-lily (Erythronium albidum) during the nature hike on Sunday on the Byron Shutz Nature Trail.  Actually the best woodland wildflowers are along the first portion of that trail in the oak-hickory woods and include Spring Beauty, Toad Trillium, and Virginia Bluebells.  Our showiest native tree is also going to be in full bloom this weekend: REDBUDS!!!  They normally bloom about April 10th here but opened on March 19th out here this year.  Come see them and all the other floral surprises of spring now in store for you at Powell Gardens.

Last weekend’s tours of the Magnolia collections hit the peak of spring bloom on the early-mid “precocious” (blooming before the leaves) varieties but the mid-season varieties will be in peak flower for this weekend.

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