Author Archives: Alan Branhagen, Director of Horticulture

Spring Planting Season

Easter Weekend looks like it is going to be wonderfully spring-like.  All of us gardeners are anxious to get our hands in the soil and do some gardening!  Despite what some of the media is saying, YES you can start planting this weekend!  Please also note that the list of plants to be offered at Powell Gardens’ Spring Plant Sale the first weekend in May is now on our website.

I took this image of blooming Hellebores / Lenten Roses (Helleborus x orientalis) yesterday in the Perennial Garden.  Despite being slammed by heavy wet snow and subjected to temperatures as low as 20F, this plant is just fine.  It’s an example of a plant you should be headed out to your favorite nursery and buying NOW!  They are always best to buy in bloom because you know what flower color and pattern you are for sure going to get.  The plants are just fine being planted immediately (as long as they’ve been hardened off outside).  Look for beautiful Hellebores in bloom at the entrance to the Island Garden, Rock & Waterfall Garden and in the Woodland section of the Perennial Garden. Continue reading

Spring is Here?

We passed the Vernal Equinox this week but you wouldn’t know it by looking outside.  For nearly a month now, we have had MUCH below average high temperatures (but no record lows –not even close) and Saturday night’s predicted THIRD MEGA-SNOW appears eminent.   Of course we had an all-time record high in this past month too; it just wouldn’t be spring in our region without a wild, exhilarating ride.  We do have flowers outdoors and all should be fine.  The tall budded daffodils will be flattened by heavy snow but have shown their resilience in past years by springing back once it melts.  Snow is actually a good insulator against the cold and will actually help protect emerging plants.

Here’s one of our early daffodils ‘February Gold’ blooming on the Island Garden. Continue reading

Anatomy of a Spring Color Bowl

I’ll admit it, I have spring fever.  On my rounds today, color bowls put together in the Greenhouses stopped me in my tracks.  They were just what the doctor ordered for spring fever so I thought I should share their beauty and floral components for all those out there inflicted by this fever.

Here’s the “bell” shaped color bowl planted in shades of blue.  It was my favorite of the four color bowls I encountered. Continue reading

Late Season Mega-snow

Powell Gardens received over 10″ of snow on Thursday, February 21.  We were back open for business Friday but only the Visitor Center, Chapel and Dogwood Walk and Island Garden walk has been cleared of the incredibly heavy, wet snow.  The gardens are none-the-less in their winter glory.

The Visitor Center has amazing icicles, a seasonal hi-light of E. Fay Jones’ gutter-less designed buildings.  This is a view to the south terraces which are clear for a winter wonderland walk down the dogwood walk to the Island Garden.

I find the contrast between the Visitor Center’s icicles and the evergreen Southern Magnolias below the terrace quite stunning.  Luckily, the heavy snow did not cause any damage to the gardens’ plants.  This is an image from the Conservatory looking to the south.

Here’s a view from the Dogwood Walk.  Rarely do we have such a snowy scene!

The Island Garden also has a passable walk now — you can actually see Gardener Caitlin Bailey digging out the trail ( middle right in this shot).  In front of the garden is a flock of various waterfowl which surprisingly did not fly away with Caitlin’s work on the garden.  Temperatures dropped to +4F so our lake has re-froze.

Here’s a closer look at some of our waterfowl in front of the Island Garden: It is mainly Canada Geese but you can also see Greater White-fronted Geese (smaller with pink bill, white above the bill and speckles/stripes of black on their belly).  There are also several Mallards (green heads) in this image too.  The photo did not capture the beautifully elegant Green-winged Teal and Northern Pintails which were also present in this flock.  I am tempted to have our aerators turned on to re-open the lake and provide water for all the waterfowl stranded by this storm. (Bright late February sun and temperatures in the 40’sF opened the lake up by Sunday and it is a waterfowl paradise now.)

Killdeer, another early migrant are also stranded; finding refuge in the bare areas cleared along the gardens’ roadways.

Blackbirds are another early migrant who have gotten caught up in this heavy snowfall and are coming to our feeders in abundance.  These are all Red-winged Blackbirds who are not quite in their breeding plumage finery.  They cover their brilliant red wing epaulettes except during flight.  I wish they were in better light but I wanted to show this image because we get so many questions what these birds are.  All blackbirds are declining but I find them some of our most wonderful birds and always welcome them when they begin their migration in late February.  Where will these guys end up?  On a field hedgerow or wetland in Saskatchewan?  .

The hoar-frost was exceptional on Saturday morning and I tried to capture the best of it, especially as it was raining snow crystals known as diamond dust.  Having just 3″ of snow so far this season this late snow has made up for missed wintertime experiences.

The Powell Gardens Conservatory offers a peek of spring and a respite from our late wintry landscape.  The fresh scent of earth, and the fragrant stocks, paperwhites and sweet-olive sure gave me some joy of springtime that waits on our doorsteps.   Remember it is less than one month until the Vernal Equinox!

The flowering Sennetis in the Conservatory are sure beautiful and are certainly a healthy dose of flowers.  The forecast for next week looks like we may have a repeat performance of more snow but our conservatory filled with flowers, a beautiful snowy garden landscape and flocks of wintering and early migrant birds await any visit to Powell Gardens.  Our Cafe Thyme reopens on Friday March 1st so that will be a great time to come enjoy all this beauty.

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