Author Archives: Alan Branhagen, Director of Horticulture

Heavenly Bamboo?

With our decade-and-a-half string of milder winters, a popular southern landscape plant has become increasingly prevalent in Kansas City landscapes. It’s the Nandina or Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica). I will call it Nandina because it is not a bamboo and as for heavenly, you be the judge.

This Nandina is more than a decade old and growing within the sheltering walls of the Kauffman Memorial Garden. The walls are 8 feet tall so you can see how big some forms of this evergreen shrub can get. It is studded with beautiful clusters of red berries through the winter. Nandina is native from India to Eastern Asia and generally not hardy if temperatures drop much below zero.  A big plant like this one is a good indicator of at least a warm zone 6b climate.  Continue reading

Extreme Broad-leaved Evergreens

Greater Kansas City’s manic-depressive climate does not make it an ideal place to grow many broad-leaved evergreens. Just one state south and such plants are everywhere but our palette of these plants is somewhat limited by our climate’s extremes of cold AND heat.  There still are some fantastic choices for our local gardens and Powell Gardens trials as many as we can.

Yuccas are one of the most rugged of our broadleaf evergreens and new selections have foliage colors that really stand out in winter. Here ‘Color Guard’ Yucca (Yucca filamentosa)  adds its yellow-variegated, spikey foliage as a dramatic exclamation to the Heartland Harvest Garden.  Its flowers, when properly prepared, are edible. Continue reading

Winter Garden Plant Jewels

Greater Kansas City gardeners have (endure?) a dormant, winter period in their gardens.  From mid-December to mid-February and more there are almost no flowers and most garden plants are dormant, dropping all their foliage.  A few garden plants do retain their foliage throughout the winter and some even change colors and become even more colorful!  Here’s a look at some of the winter garden plant jewels that actually are at their best in the garden NOW.

Here’s a beautiful example from the edible landscape that is our Heartland Harvest Garden.  These two Thymes go from relatively lackluster to gorgeous in the winter!  The purple-foliaged thyme above is Red Creeping Thyme (Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’) and the yellow-leaved thyme below is Golden Lemon Thyme (T. x citriodorus ‘Aureus’).  These wonderful herbs are perfect for a kitchen garden but also are beautiful groundcovers for along a path or garden edge, Continue reading

Busy and Beautiful Birds of the Winter Garden

Nothing enlivens the winter garden more than its bird-life.  If you’ve never taken time to watch their busy activities and observe their beautiful plumage, now is the best time to do so as they are easily attracted to feeding stations for an up close and personal look.  Powell Gardens’ Visitor Center is a great place to observe a marvelous diversity of birds, readily viewed from the warm comfort of the building.  We have set up a special observation area as part of Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s (study of birds) Citizen Science project. 

The most popular winter bird is the cardinal, its official name is the Northern Cardinal because other species are found in the Southwest and South America.  This bird was once found only in the American South but spread into the Midwest and Northeast with settlement and the planting of evergreens.  It’s favorite wintertime food are black oil sunflower seeds so it is easily attracted to feeding stations.  Only the adult male bird has the gorgeous red plumage. Continue reading

Midwinter Moments in the Greenhouses

I wanted to do a blog to show what’s going on in midwinter at Powell Gardens. Sort of like the “Day in the Life” photographic journals. I thought I would start at the greenhouses so headed down to capture what was going on. It’s a bee hive of activity, producing plants for the 2013 season and all these images were taken within a half hour’s time of perusing our eight greenhouses.

Horticulturist in charge of greenhouse production Donna Covell and Senior Gardener Eric Perrette were discussing watering and germination details in Greenhouse #4.  With over 800 varieties of plants in production the needs of each is a bit different and some are quite tricky, requiring tedious procedures to make them grow properly. Continue reading