Author Archives: Alan Branhagen, Director of Horticulture

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

Winter Garden Workhorse: Switchcane

Switchcane (Arundinaria gigantea) is the only species of bamboo native to Missouri & Kansas and is a very underutilized evergreen shrub. Yes. this grass has woody perennial stems so is classified as a shrub! It is such a garden workhorse: providing screening year round in full sun or shade.

Here’s an image of Switchcane at Powell Gardens near the entrance gatehouse (which you can see in the background).  Its purpose here is to screen the parking spots for the employee or employees working in the gatehouse and it fulfills its purpose well!  Switchcane does spread by underground stems (rhizomes) like many running bamboos and creates a thicket. Continue reading

Our League of Ivies

Ivy is more than just “Any of a genus of climbing or trailing plants having lobed or evergreen leaves.”  This usually means the ubiquitous English Ivy (Hedera helix), which is grown indoors as an ironclad house plant or outdoors mainly as a groundcover. English Ivy is a native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. Besides English Ivy, there are actually two other hardy species of vines known as ivies that are common in Greater Kansas City.

Here is a picture of Powell Gardens’ Visitor Center terrace walls cloaked in English Ivy cultivars.  These plants survived from a past seasonal display and look nice as a backdrop to the bed outside Perennial Gifts. They are the cute juvenile form of English Ivy often used as house plants too.  Recent mild winters have allowed them to thrive, including a more tender variegated variety.  We have had to reduce their size by two-thirds this season. Continue reading

‘Holly’wood at Powell Gardens

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly may be a popular song of the holidays but Powell Gardens is sure decked out in dazzling hollies right now. From the entrance at the Gatehouse to the Visitor Education Center landscape, Dogwood Walk, Island Garden, Rock & Waterfall Garden and Perennial Garden, you will find berry-filled hollies ablaze with color now. We tend to think of hollies as evergreen but there are both deciduous and evergreen varieties to celebrate the season with.

Here is the line of seedling Possumhaws or Deciduous Holly(Ilex decidua) along the entrance road by the gatehouse (you can see the road and gatehouse in the background).  We grew these from wild collected seed and the female plants are filled with fruit from orange-red to red. The bare trees are male but needed for pollination. Possumhaw hollies have tiny flowers in mid-spring that are rich in nectar and make a fine honey.

I cannot get enough of the dazzling berries on leafless Possumhaws at this season. They last and last, far longer than color on a blooming tree. The birds are starting to feed on these fruit and will be sustained by this larder well into and sometimes through winter. The berries stay bright red until severe cold (below zero F) can discolor them. Possumhaws are also one of the few small trees that weathered last summer just fine without extra water! A mature possumhaw is 20 feet tall and wider than tall. Continue reading

Ornamental Attributes of a Winter Landscape

The winter landscape is upon us. Just two more weeks until the winter solstice and the official beginning of winter, but meteorological speaking, winter begins with December. The mild weather so far this season has made foliage and fruit hold well and many of our earliest blooming plants already start to flower!

I like this image of the entrance to the Island Garden now. The light levels are low but there is a rich amount of foliage, fruit and other interest to the scene.  It has also been mild enough to want to sit on the bench and enjoy the scene. The small trees on either side of the bench are Tea Crabapples (Malus hupehensis) loaded with fruit, there are other shrubs with persistent foliage and many perennials and groundcovers with evergreen foliage to help add interest to the scene. Continue reading