Colors and Textures of Spring

Though the calendar says mid-April the gardens have a decidedly May look to them with mid-spring flowers in full bloom and rich springy foliage bursting forth all around.  This is the season when shade gardens are at their peak and a visit to Powell Gardens’ Rock & Waterfall Garden is an annual ritual to see the azaleas and the full cacophony of springtime colors and textures.

Here’s a view from the south bridge in the Rock & Waterfall Garden with the large and luxurious leaves of Ashe Magnolia (Magnolia ashei) in the foreground with flowering azaleas and colorful foliage beyond.  It is the epitome of a shade garden this time of year.

Fringetrees (Chionanthus virginicus) are almost in peak bloom (pure white in full bloom) and grace the north entrance to the Rock & Waterfall Garden.  This Missouri native huge shrub/small tree is related to lilacs and a perennial hit of Visitors when it is in bloom.  It was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson and has an alternate name “Grancy Gray Beard.”

Here are the flowers of Chinese Fringetree (Chionanthus retusus) on the east or trolley stop side of the Rock & Waterfall Garden.  Chinese Fringetrees are currently a popular tree though they have not lived up to their billing for us with random flowering.  The overall tree is wonderful through the seasons and makes up for the weak bloom.

This is the gorgeous spring foliage of ‘Grace’ Smoketree (Cotinus obovatus x C. coggygria) found just south of the Chinese Fringetrees near the Rock & Waterfall Trolley Stop. This hybrid of the native Smoketree has simply spectacular spring foliage sure to get attention.  You can see it is also in bloom, not showy now but the feathery seeds give it a smoky appearance later in the season.]
The gorgeous golden new leaves on The Rising Sun (TM) Redbud (Cercis canadensis) also invite a shockingly, springy look to the garden.  This tree is also near Grace Smoketree and the Chinese Fringetrees.
Herbert Azalea provides masses of lavender-purple in several places in the Rock & Waterfall Garden. This is one of the toughest and hardiest evergreen azaleas for our climate.
If you need an azalea that stays compact try the VIVID and vivacious flowering Girard Dwarf Lavender Azalea.  We have a nice grouping of this delightful azalea in the Rock & Waterfall Garden.

Pride’s Pink Azaleais one of the finest for pure pink in our zone but very difficult to procure.  We received this azalea from the former Roslyn Azalea Nursery on Long Island.  Our plant can be seen on the walkway to the Upper Deck of the Rock & Waterfall Garden.

 This lovely pale pink azalea is an unknown cultivar!  Yes, even botanical gardens receive plants that are mis-labeled and this group of azaleas in Verly’s Grove seating area along the upper walk in the Rock & Waterfall Garden was bought as Compact Korean Azaleas which they are not.  There are 1,000’s of varieties of azaleas and it is sometimes very difficult to tell the various named varieties apart. This may be the cultivar ‘Watchet.’

The deciduous “Lights Series” azaleas bred in Minnesota are another good group of azaleas for our zone and come in many warm colors.  This is ‘Golden Lights’ Azalea near the south bridge of the Rock & Waterfall Garden and it has a wonderful aroma too.

 Most flowers of spring are not so showy but are lovely none-the-less like the green yellow puffs of flowers on this Trident Maple (Acer buergeranum) between the Rock & Waterfall and Perennial Garden. These wonderful yellow-greens and chartreuse of spring really make the season and provide a perfect compliment to the many vivid pinks, lavenders and purple flowers of the season.

Japanese Roof Iris (Iris tectorum) is a great iris for the shade garden with a very showy blooms.  Look for it around the donor plaque of the Rock & Waterfall Garden.

Missouri’s state flower, the hawthorn is in bloom on the north side of the Rock & Waterfall Garden.  This small wild tree blooming between fringetrees is the Frosted Hawthorn (Crataegus pruinosa) with pure white flowers and red fruit that appear “frosted” with a waxy coating.

 So walk the paths of the Rock & Waterfall Garden this weekend and make some wonderful floral discoveries of your own and take in the spectacular colors and textures of the season.
Also be sure and visit our rare Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) on display in the Conservatory.  This living fossil was found in 1994 in Australia and the above beautiful specimen tree was donated to Powell Gardens by nationally renowned Iseli Nursery.
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