April 2017

April is an amazing time to be in any Kansas City garden. The flora and fauna have come alive and everything seems to be singing the song of spring.

This is the second year that the Kauffman gardeners have had the opportunity to care for the main flower beds at the Kauffman Foundation headquarters. We truly appreciate everything that the Kauffmans have done for our city, so we try our best to make their flower beds as beautiful as possible. Considering the weather and climate in Kansas City, this is never an easy task.


Tulip ‘Russian Princess’ and viola ‘penny white’ in front of the Kauffman Foundation

A wave of ‘Russian Princess’ tulips danced across the Kauffman Foundation main entrance with a combination of colors ranging from a dark magenta to a softer pink tone. This was our first try with this particular variety and it got a big thumbs up from the gardeners.

Another tulip variety that was new to us this year was ‘Silver Parrot’. It had a white variegated stripe through it’s leaves and a very striking pink color in the parrot tulip-style petals.


Tulip ‘Silver Parrot’

Since pink was one of Muriel Kauffman’s favorite colors, we chose to plant the ‘Silver Parrot’ tulips all around her in the garden. This is a variety that will definitely show up again in future designs.

Speaking of birds, the ducks are back in the garden. Every April, mallard ducks find their way into the garden. They love to swim in the fountains and waddle around in the flowers until the cat spots them and they fly off to other midtown locations.


A male mallard duck swimming and a female mallard watching for the cat. 

No matter how big or small, it makes a garden better by having features that will attract and benefit local wildlife. You don’t need an enormous fountain like we do at the Kauffman Memorial Garden. Birdfeeders, birdbaths and insect houses are a fun and easy way to make the animals feel welcome in your garden. In return for your kindness the garden animals will give you a better rounded ecosystem to live in and improve your connection to nature. In our modern world, that is always a blessing.

On the flip-side of encouraging wildlife into your garden, I also found a large goose waddling around in our community garden on the other side of the Kauffman Legacy Park.


A goose in the community garden with an owl decoy in the background.

When you garden with wildlife you have to be thankful for the good and just laugh at the bad. I am just glad that the goose in the community garden wasn’t hanging out in my patch. Thankfully, our little Princess Crazy Cat pounces at the chance to keep the geese away from the Kauffman Memorial Garden.

Below is a recent picture that I took of our sweet garden kitty on the prowl. I snapped the photo just as a duck quacked overhead, so I am calling this the cat’s “duck face.”


Spring is here! It’s time to garden and time to enjoy everything that we have been waiting all winter for! Let’s do this!


Tom Corbin sculptures in the sunset


March 2017

I am beyond describing March in Kansas City as a lion or a lamb. We need to pick new critters for 2017. These animals need to be the craziest, most erratic beasts in the whole animal kingdom. I am thinking maybe a moose and a honey badger.

Every time the heat began to approach record high temperatures, the spring blooms would open up just a little bit more, then we would dip into the 20’s.  This can be unnerving for folks that remember what can happen when we have a hard freeze after all of the trees bloom and leaf out.

One tree that blooms early and often gets burned by frost is the Rustica rubra magnolia. This year we enjoyed a few weeks of their showy, dramatic blooms in the near 80 degree weather. Then the temperatures dipped and we went from hot, dark magenta petals to brown ones.


Rustica rubra magnolia after a freeze in Kansas City

While the magnolia trees were getting zapped by cold weather, other garden plants seemed to not even notice the cold temperatures. Three of those were in the Rosaceae (the rose family.)

The flowers of the Japanese Flowering Crabapple along both sides of the canal garden have begun to open. Luckily, the small, tight buds are capable of handling a few late frosts without showing damage.


Japanese Flowering Crabapple buds with snow

Another early blooming member of the rose family in the Kauffman Memorial Garden is the Toyo-Nishiki Quince.


Toyo-Nishiki Quince in March

This espalier shrub is often the star of the garden in early spring. Every morning, after a cold night, we are amazed at the hardiness of these delicate-looking but tough little blooms.


Quince with a dusting of snow

This year we had to cut back the roses very early as they were already starting to grow and leaf-out. It felt very odd to prune them back in the first week of March, but all of the garden signs were there to get the loppers out and start chopping.

Their leaves are just thick and glossy enough to withstand some of the colder night temperatures and a little bit of snowfall.


The ‘Reeve’ English rose with a little snow

Behind the scenes, the gardeners have been busy watering dry spring plants that do not easily tolerate temperatures above 80 degrees. They have also been picking up flowers from the Powell Gardens greenhouse, to fill in holes where some of the cold-hardy annuals died.


Horticulturist, Duane is unloading fresh shipment of violas and pansies from the greenhouse


Princess Crazy Cat is managing the pansy delivery from a comfy spot in the Liriope patch.

Every year we plan on about 25-40% of the cold hardy annuals to fail. Surprisingly, this is not due to temperature, but to dehydration, salt damage or animal damage. This year we were pretty lucky and were able to hand-water during drought, there wasn’t as much snow, so there was less salt damage and we sprayed a homemade rabbit repellent twice as often. So when the warm temperatures began, the flowers started to grow and bloom early and there were less holes to fill in.

Along with filling in empty spots in the garden, we are also getting the insides of the fountains painted this spring. This has made plant care and watering an interesting challenge, as our largest annual flower bed borders our largest fountain.


Fountain painters and gardeners working together to get ready for a busy spring

This year the gardeners have been watering a lot more than the usual for March. The cool season annual flowers are not equipped for the summer-like conditions that we have been experiencing this year. This means that instead of watering them once a week at most, some violas are begging for water every other day.

THANKFULLY, then there was rain!


A much needed March rain and a happy gardener

The early season daffodils and hyacinth are already up and going. In the blink of an eye thousands of tulips of every color and variety will be blooming from one end of the garden to the other. Spring is here!


‘Tahiti’ Daffodils



February 2017

This February has been a wild one in Kansas City. After experiencing a rather usual winter, we began blasting through our record high temperatures, often reaching the 70’s and 80’s. The plants have been adjusting to these wild swings and many things are blooming VERY early.

Most early season plants are used to this kind of thing. We warm up, we cool down, there is rain, snow and sleet. Some of the spring bulbs seem to be so much prettier when this moody and wild weather hits us.


Snowdrops (Galanthus) sans snow

Daffodils are always among the first bulbs to bloom in the garden. We enjoy them here at the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden, since the rabbits won’t go near them and they are a classic English garden favorite.


Daffodils have begun to bloom in the garden

This was also a very early year for the hellebores (Helleborus) on the north side of the garden. We really didn’t want to cut them back so early, but some had already grown to almost a foot tall, which makes clean-up more difficult. They are still looking wimpy on more seasonal mornings, but during these hot afternoons, the hellebores are standing up tall and blooming their heads off.


Hellebores in the morning sun

One of the garden shrubs that seems to be a harbinger for things to come is quince. Their early season blooms are often saturated in color and very showy against the last of the winter dreariness. I expect the Kauffman Garden quince to open a few blooms any day now.

Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa 'Toyo-Niskiki')

Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Toyo-Niskiki‘)

Another bright and colorful early spring/late winter blooming garden favorite is the ‘Rustica rubra’ Magnolia. The blooms have already begun to open slightly in the Kauffman Garden this February and many other south-facing magnolias around town were in full glorious bloom this last week of the month.

Magnolia 'Rustica Rubra'

Magnolia ‘Rustica Rubra’

By the end of the season, gardeners will probably have a good idea about how far ahead of the “regular” season we are this year. Local weather forecasters are still predicting more normal winter weather ahead. All I can do as a gardener is wait and see what happens.

A few other plants in the garden are blooming, but it isn’t from the warm weather, it’s because they are supposed to bloom in February. Witch hazel (Hamamelis) is a fun plant for anyone looking for some winter interest in the garden. They seem to defy all reason, but when the weather warms up and the honeybees awaken, the pollen in witch hazel flowers can be the difference between life and death for the bees.

'Arnold's Promise' witch hazel

‘Arnold’s Promise’ witch hazel

Some witch hazels are native to Asia and some are native to the united states. By getting a varied selection of these, you can have spicy and fragrant winter blooms in the Kansas City garden for months.

Black Pussy Willow 'Melanostachys'

Black Pussy Willow ‘Melanostachys’

The black pussy willow (Salix gracilistyla ‘melanostachys) is blooming its head off outside of the garden walls in the southfacing shrub beds along Brush Creek. So many plants were dying in these beds due to the wet soil conditions. This last year we decided to experiment and plant 3 species of willow to see how they would do. So far, the experiment is going very well.

Most early spring plants have the ability to “weather” this type of weather, but we must stay aware and try to protect plants that have come out of hibernation if our temperatures start to dip and we experience a hard freeze. This would be a period of more than four hours where the temperature is below 25F.

As always, there is an early spring display in the Kauffman Garden Orangery. Striking blooms in all colors are adorning the room. A popular garden flower, ranunculus, is back along with stock, kalanchoe, primrose, violas and pericallis.

Also inside, are flowering orchids, citrus blossoms, gardenia flowers. A few of the camellias are in bloom with their over-the-top splendor. It seems like everything wants to bloom so badly but the gardeners want the plants to slow down just a little bit.

Spring flowers in the Kauffman Garden Orangery

Spring flowers in the Kauffman Garden Orangery










January 2017

It’s time to put the holiday decorations away and let winter settle in. The gardeners and volunteers are enjoying a brief slow down in the Kauffman Garden.


Princess Crazy Cat is helping put away the holiday decorations.

Slow down doesn’t mean stop and January is the time to appreciate winter interest in the garden.

We are fortunate at the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden to have four sculptures by local bronze artist Tom Corbin. His work adds serene structure every month of the year.

In the summer months, the three sculptures in the main fountain, entitled “Jazz I” and “Jazz II,” are playful. In the wintertime, with the stark, surrounding landscape they are more serious and dramatic. Even when the fountains are drained they transform the garden into an oasis in the city.


Tom Corbin’s Jazz I and Jazz II sculptures dancing in the winter garden.

It makes the gardeners smile to see garden guests emulating the dance moves of these sculptures. Some people are lighter on their feet than others and they put on a pretty interesting display of balance and coordination trying to get their poses just right.

The fourth Tom Corbin sculpture is off on its own and is commonly called “The Shell Girl.” This piece has been greeting guests in the entry allee with her calm expression since Memorial Day 2000.


The Shell Girl

This graceful and beautiful sculpture is also a fountain. In the summer months water gently drips from the shell that she is holding in her hand.

The Shell Girl is a focal point, subtlety contrasting the formality of the the hedges and rigidly-pruned trees around her.


While visiting the Shell Girl guests can easily see the pattern of the iron fencing. This special “tulip design” was chosen specially for the garden. Art and sculpture were high priorities when the garden was being built in 1999.


Tulip-patterned fencing.

There is one last piece of art in the garden that rotates in and out of the Orangery. It is called “Mind’s Journey” by local sculptor, Becca Williams. The child in this piece is reading a book and going to far away and fascinating places. What looks to be a rock from the front of the sculpture is actually a large turtle surrounded by sea life, whisking the child away to the farthest reaches of their imagination.


The front of Becca Williams’ ‘Mind’s Journey’


The back of ‘Mind’s Journey’

Sculpture in a garden can be simple or ornate. Adding art into the garden landscape is a great way to increase winter interest for anyone who visits.



December 2016

Fall is over and it is time for the holidays. In the Orangery of the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden the elves have been hard at work.

This year’s display was based on the idea that nature is beautiful. We left the lights off of the tree and used many of Mother Nature’s natural decorations. Delicate hydrangea blooms, bittersweet vines, and woven bird houses adorn the tree and flower cart.


The tree and the barn wood cart in the Orangery – The poinsettias pictured are ‘Polly’s Pink’, ‘Cortez Burgundy’, and ‘Princettia Hot Pink.’

Hundreds of bright and showy poinsettias fill the room along with the aroma of paperwhite Narcissus, gardenia and citrus blooms. Variegated coleus and frilly ferns were added to bring texture to the whole display.

The Orangery will remain decorated for the holidays until a week after the new year. We open at 8:00am daily and close at dusk.


‘Polar Bear’ poinsettias and ‘Limerick Lime’ decorative mums.

Outside in the garden the temperatures have been falling fast. We will protect the cool season annual flowers from the first few hard freezes. This will increase the success rate of their survival.


Frost blankets on the annual flowers

Frost blankets usually give between five to fifteen degrees of protection, depending on how thick they are. For large flower beds this is a very popular technique. Almost anything that comes in sheets can be a frost blanket. Even actual bed sheets.


Snapdragons are enjoying protection with a frost blanket.

There are also many natural options available to protect your plants. We use Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis) needles to for our azaleas. We planted these shrubs very close to the pine trees, so when the needles drop, it is very easy to nestle them among the azaleas.


Azaleas and pine needles under the Limber Pine.

Another natural protection method is to allow a thin layer of leaves to naturally collect around tender plants. In the picture below, violas are safe and sound in their layer of leaves. It is my natural inclination to rake all of the loose plant material out of flower beds. At this time of the year, debris is a free way to protect plants from moisture loss as well as frigid temperatures.


Viola ‘Penny Yellow’ nestled in the leaves.


In the picture below you can see ice crystals in the soil between the ‘Marina Blue’ violas. Smaller root systems will enjoy a healthy watering before a freeze. This is to protect them from winter drought. When the sun warms the plants, they often loose moisture and if there isn’t enough to bring up from the roots they will die.


A well-watered, frozen flower bed.

One last cool season annual protection method is to use cut plant material from around the garden. The blue spruce near our front gate has been in need of a good pruning all season long. I have held off on the pruning because we found a great use for their prickly needles in the wintertime.

The garden rabbits were halted last winter when we recycled our pine tree from the holiday display and used its branches for winter protection. Not only is this evergreen beautiful, it is also very pokey and the rabbits won’t go near it.


Blue spruce and magnolia protect cool season annuals.

Have a very happy holiday from the gardeners, volunteers and garden critters at the Kauffman Memorail Garden!


Bad kitty eating items from the holiday display.


November 2016

November is the month when we start buttoning up the outside plants and start focusing on indoor ones at the Kauffman Memorial Garden. All of the non-hardy collections like camellia, gardenia and citrus are moved inside the Orangery and the indoor displays begin.


Crazy the cat and Duane are decorating for fall in the Orangery

We usually start small with decorative mums throughout the indoor space and a few other adornments. This year that included a homemade flower cart and a load of large, colorful gourds.

The cart was something that Horticulturist, Duane Hoover dreamed up. We found antique metal wheels and a local farmer had some old barn wood. Before you knew it, a flower cart was born.


Decorative mums and gourds for a Thanksgiving display in the Kauffman Garden Orangery.

We filled the barn wood cart with decorative mums, grown at the Powell Gardens greenhouse. Duane put on the farmer charm and haggled a local retailer for a great price on a load of decorative gourds. Even gardener Lori was able to contribute. She found someone throwing away even more gourds, and she filled her trunk and brought them for the display. One man’s trash is another’s treasure this year!

We used bales of straw and pine needles for a finishing touch. This filler will then be used to protect the hardy camellias outside in the garden against winter chill and moisture loss.

November is also the time when the gardeners and volunteers finish planting the spring bulbs and cool season annuals. These plants will survive the winter and bloom again in the spring.

In the fall we prefer to use plants that have a very good survival rate. We stick to things like violas, dianthus, parsley and cabbage. In the spring the list grows longer, including Nemesia, Osteospermum and cool season vegetables.


Duane, directing the gardeners and volunteers in the annual flower beds.

Below are three pictures, all of the same flower bed. The first one is what a guest will see in October. The second is how stark the flower beds would look if we didn’t plant the cool season annuals in November. The third picture below on the right is what the cool season annual flowers will look like in April when the tulips bloom.

This is a time of great change in the gardens of Kansas City. It is when we start saying our goodbyes to fall and our hellos to winter.


A mantis having a snack

October 2016


‘Dragon’s Breath’ Celosia, ‘Mesa Gold’ Gaillardia, mixed Canna and mums in front of the Kauffman Garden.

October is the boldest and brightest month of the year in Kansas City. Every plant is doing their best to grab your attention and the colors can get pretty outrageous.

People are not the only ones paying attention to the flowers in the Kauffman Garden. Thanks to last winter’s milder temperatures, the increased rabbit population is still out there, looking for their next meal. Below are before and after pictures of what a few rabbits can do to the cool season annual display.

Upon seeing this destruction, I immediately went into the office and mixed up some garlic and hot pepper tea. I normally let it steep in the sun, very similar to sun tea. After brewing, the tea gets strained and I add Dawn dish soap. This concentrate concoction can be added to water and sprayed on plants. I wouldn’t say it stops rabbits, but it definitely slows the plant damage down.


Rabbit tea is brewing.

I went outside to check on my steeping tea and noticed that a possum had knocked it over. Now my tool area reeked of garlic. I had to find that possum.


Two possums living in the possum hotel in the frost blankets.

We found that two possums had constructed a high-rise possum hotel in our frost blankets. The frost blankets were no longer usable, as I don’t think that the possums remembered to put restrooms into their hotel design. Possums are not very good architects.

After we ordered new frost blankets, we set out the no-kill traps to hopefully give these possums a new home. In my possum trapping past, I noticed that they will eat almost anything, so I baited one with an old doughnut. Then I caught this…


A camera shy raccoon.

The raccoon that we caught was relocated and then I finally caught the two possums over the next week. I also found a tight fitting lid for my next batch of rabbit tea. One that is “mostly” possum proof.

With alfalfa as bait, I caught this little rabbit. He was released in my back yard in the KC Northland. There are lots of good things to eat in my yard and there are lots of good places for a rabbit to find refuge.


Caught ya!

During all of this animal excitement I wondered what the cat was up to. The cat that was supposedly here at the garden to keep animals from eating the plants down to nubs.


The cat “hard at work”

October is a fantastic time to be in any garden in Kansas City. From the trees down to the groundcover, every plant puts on one last hurrah before the season comes to a close.