Winter Garden Tasks

This winter has turned out to be a continuation of the frigid and early fall last year. I am often asked what we do at the Kauffman Memorial Garden during the “off” season. Quite a bit actually. Winter is when we can catch up on our plant accession record keeping, and this year we are working to digitize all of our records to make it easier to track and obtain the information we need. This also minimizes the risk of losing our plant records if the hard copies are damaged since the new database is housed on a backed-up server.

Winter is also when we have time to plan our displays for the next year; we work on designing, sourcing, and ordering plants. And of course, there is shoveling… lots and lots of shoveling. We do not use salt in the garden as it can quickly build up in the soil and damage the plants. Think of the Romans sowing Carthage with salt, that’s what we’re trying to avoid here.

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Unfortunately, due to the extreme cold and ice, we were not able to install an orchid exhibition this winter. Instead, we worked on remounting all of the orchids that are growing on the pindo palms in the orangery. The last time this was done was about 5 years ago.

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After we take an orchid off of the palm, we craft a new little basket out of chicken wire.

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Then the basket is secured to the trunk and lined with a thick layer of moss. The moss helps to keep the orchid bark from falling through the chicken wire and also keeps the wire hidden. The orchid is then placed in the moss-lined basket and our homemade orchid mix is packed in around the roots.

 

 

We don’t follow a strict recipe for the orchid media we mix up, rather, we mix a number of ingredients together until it looks and feels right. We use orchid bark, charcoal, and perlite. For the orchids that like to be a bit more on the moist side, we add a little long fiber sphagnum moss as well.

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Ultimately, our goal is to have the orchids grow onto the palm trunks so that they no longer need wire baskets to stay attached. A couple of our Cattleya have actually already done this and are quite firmly rooted to the trunks.

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This Cattleya has already rooted onto the palm.

As an experiment, we remounted two Cattleya without a basket to see if this will encourage them to attach themselves to the trunk. I will be sure to keep you all posted as the orchids settle into their new digs.

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This is one of the Cattleya we remounted without a basket to see if it will grow onto the trunk more aggressively.

Hopefully, spring will be here soon!

– Bryan Boccard, Senior Gardener

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Battling an Early Winter

 

As the new senior gardener and author of this blog, I should introduce myself. My name is Bryan Boccard, and some of you may already know me from my time at Powell Gardens as the supervisor of Core Gardens and senior gardener of the Perennial Garden. I’m still relatively new to Kansas City, having only moved here in May 2017. Prior to Kansas City, I spent nearly 4 years in horticulture training at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Originally however, I am from Wisconsin, which leads me to my next topic, this cold weather!

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Over 100 flats of our violas covered in snow a couple weeks ago

This fall was a challenging one for us at the Kauffman Garden. Though the summer was hot and dry, we had a rather wet fall which made it difficult to plant our spring bulbs because the ground turned into a muddy mess. On top of that, winter moved in hard, fast, and early. The early cold weather affected us in a few ways. With extended temperatures below freezing, the top couple inches of soil froze solid making it difficult to near impossible to plant bulbs at times.

Additionally, we implemented a unique bulb planting technique. In most of our tulip beds, we interplanted the tulip bulbs with violas, dianthus, dusty miller, or pansies. That will give us some winter interest (aside from bare dirt and decaying ornamental grasses). The violas and dianthus are also fairly hardy, especially in a mild winter. They will rebloom in spring and create a colorful, flowering groundcover underneath the tulips. This was my first time planting violas as a groundcover for bulbs, so I’m looking forward to seeing the result next spring. Though I will say we are all a bit nervous about how well they will establish if the temperatures return to as cold as they had been recently. We had to keep our flowers under frost blankets for a few weeks since the temperatures had been dropping as low as 12 degrees some nights! After being outside for three weeks, however, they were as hardened off as they’re going to get so we bit the bullet and got them planted in the ground before it froze completely solid for the winter.

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Krazy helps us by directing where to place the tulip bulbs.

I’d like to discuss the fall planting of violas and dianthus a bit more in depth because I have received so many questions about it. The first thing to understand is what the differences are between violas and pansies. In simple terms, violas are winter hardy and pansies are not. However, it is a bit more complex than that. “Pansy” is the common English name for a complex hybrid of three different Viola species: V. tricolor, V. lutea, and V. altaica. The latin name for this very hybridized group of pansies is Viola x wittrockiana. In general, pansies have large flowers, some up to 5” wide! And they are also not considered perennial or winter hardy.

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“Pansy” —  Violawittrockiana

As for what people colloquially refer to as “violas”, they are generally referring to hybrids of the the species V. cornuta. This group of violas is usually much hardier than pansies and is considered perennial in many areas. They also have smaller flowers, usually no more than two inches wide. In a word, all pansies are violas, but not all violas are pansies.

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“Viola” — Viola cornuta

 

How does this impact our bulb planting design? For the most part, we interplant our tulip bulbs with cultivars of V. cornuta, as well as some Dianthus. If the weather is mild enough for them to establish roots before the ground freezes, most of them will come back and bloom in the spring. It is important to note that they do need to be periodically watered in the winter. You probably know firsthand how our cold, dry winters can chap your skin — the same thing happens to plants! Because of this, it is helpful to water perennials with evergreen foliage during mild sunny spells. (The same can be done for broadleaf evergreen shrubs such a camellias and hollies which often suffer winter burn in our area).

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You can see here an example of one of our dianthus which suffered from both a hard freeze and drought stress.

What happens during winter warm spells is this—the air is much warmer than the frozen ground, so the leaves of broadleaf evergreens heat up and begin to transpire. However, the ground is often still frozen which means their roots can not take up any water. The plants transpire more water than they can take up. Correspondingly, the leading cause of winter death for broadleaf evergreens in our areas is not cold, but rather drought stress! If you come visit the garden on a warm sunny day this winter, you will probably see one of us watering the violas and dianthus to keep them hydrated. Stay tuned to see see how our viola/tulip combos turn out in the spring, and better yet, come see them for yourself!

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Aside from our planting struggles outside, we have also been busy away creating a beautiful holiday display in the orangerie. Featuring 19 different poinsettia cultivars, along with cyclamen, chrysanthemums, stock, and eucalyptus, you can’t find anything else like this in Kansas City.

Our 12-feet tall, decorated Fraser fir is inspired by an old German legend. We have placed several artistically inspired nests in the tree along with rustic colored ornaments, crab apple branches, icicles, and a handful of playful birds. Thankfully, our resident kitty, Krazy, has left the birds well enough alone. Our holiday display will be up into January, so please come by and enjoy the seasonal flowers!

– Bryan Boccard

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Time for Change

The Kauffman Memorial Garden blog will shortly be coming to an end (or at least a brief pause until the new gardener gets hired on). Most folks don’t know that the face and fingers behind the blog is me, Tracy Flowers, gardener at the Kauffman Memorial Garden.

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I have shared many magical moments in the garden with a very special group of hard working volunteers, seasonal gardeners, interns and of course, head horticulturist Duane Hoover.

It was always my goal to show some behind-the-scenes action of what it takes to keep a horticultural gem looking fab and to share the answers to the most popular questions that I hear from the garden guests.

Pictures can say a thousand words, but my memories are in the millions. Here are just a few of the things that I will miss.

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decorating for the holidays

The pineapple year

Planting thousands and thousands of tulip bulbs

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Having a furry buddy at work

As this chapter closes, I only hope that the next person to fill my gardening clogs at the Kauffman Memorial Garden has as many magical moments as I did. You may see me haunting those garden beds as a volunteer, so I won’t sign out, I’ll just see you in the garden!

-Tracy Flowers, gardener

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 2018

This July the garden felt like a case of the good, the bad and the ugly. Let’s start with the good.

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Annual flowers at the entrance of the Kauffman Memorial Garden.

July is the time when annual flowers have grown enough to crowd out weeds and really start to look like the pictures in the seed catalog. This summer’s hot-hued garden beauties are aflame in pinks, reds and magenta.

A favored plant by garden guests has been the ‘Celebrities’ mixed miniature hollyhock found at the Kauffman Garden’s front entrance. We put them front and center, surrounded by ‘Butterfly’ pentas, golden melampodium and a mixed variety of annual vinca.

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Swaths of summer annual flowers

Another eye-catching plant that the gardeners and volunteers were asked about daily was the ‘Carnival’ Amaranth. This plant is also known to old-school gardeners as the “summer”poinsettia” because they have very bright leaves that mimic a bold poinsettia. They are not actually poinsettias or related to them in any way. These amaranth just happen to have striking-colored, wide leaves.

The summer poinsettia amaranth would have a better following in gardening circles, but their habit can be a little unpredictable. Every plant will be a different height or have a different shape. We chose to plant them in dots throughout the planting bed and hope for the best. Most of these amaranth were so tall that we needed to affix them to garden stakes.

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‘Carnival’ Amaranth

Now for the bad and the ugly.

Unfortunately, the dreaded Japanese beetles are also attracted to hollyhocks and amaranth. They are also very difficult to control whether you rely on organic or non-organic techniques.

We have inoculated the soil with Milky Spore which controls the Japanese beetle grubs that emerge from the soil in late spring/early summer. We knock the beetles into soapy water in the morning when they are groggy and throughout the day when there is a spare moment.

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Picking Japanese beetles every day!

There are oil-based spray products like Neem oil and horticultural oil with pyrethrin which will kill these pests, but when temperatures are above 90F, the product will burn the plants. This makes it very difficult to use anything with an oil base, as our July temperatures were closer to 100 most days.

There are also non-organic products like Sevin and Malathion that will harm the butterflies and pollinating insects. When we are forced to use these we cut all of the flowers off of the Canna or roses, then spray the plant down. That way the munching beetles are harmed, and the pollinators just go to a different plant.

Using beetle traps are fine for people that have a lot of land, as they are recommended to be used about 1/8-1/4 mile away from your garden. Most normal gardeners and homeowners don’t have that kind of space.

I even experimented with literal snake oil. When looking at the hardware store for a concentrated cedar oil (which Japanese beetles are supposed to hate) the only product I could find with this ingredient was a snake deterrent. To make a long story short, it didn’t work

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This has prompted me to invent something called “garden blinders.” This is when you walk past all of the beetles and try not to notice their damage until their adult stage is completed at the end of July. Then you cut off damaged plant parts when the beetles are gone for the season.

The Japanese beetles are going to be back next year, so we have the whole winter to think up new schemes to battle them. Gardening in Kansas City is not for the faint of heart. There are droughts, floods, insects and diseases to keep us busy. In the end, it is important to not sweat the small stuff and enjoy the triumphs when you can.

 

 

 

May and June 2018

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Giant tulips and Tom Corbin’s Jazz I and Jazz II sculptures

This May, the tulips sprang from the ground after much anticipation. Our weather was extreme, to say the least, and seeing brightly-colored blooms after the bitterly cold winter was a joyful sight to the gardeners and volunteers at the Kauffman Memorial Garden.

We chose bulb blends like “Big Ups” to line the main walkway areas of the garden and accented other spaces with bulbs donning variegated foliage and unique petal structures.

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Tulip ‘Big Ups’

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Just after the tulips finished their big show, the garden’s iris collection started to bloom. Most of the varieties found in the Kauffman Garden were bred by a local professor and Iris breeder named Dr. Norlan Henderson, or just “Doc” to his many friends.

One of Doc Henderson’s iris varieties, ‘Kansas City’, had five minutes of fame when it was featured on our city’s 1984 car inspection sticker. I consider this dark and sultry purple flower to be the highlight of the collection due to its reputation and locally-inspired name.

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Dr. Norlan Henderson’s ‘Kansas City’ Bearded Iris

The best way to get your hands on many of the Henderson iris varieties is to call or visit Gower Missouri’s Commanche Acres. The owners of this iris farm thought so highly of “Doc” and the Kansas City area that they named some of their own breeds of iris after him and the local area.

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‘Doctor Norlan Henderson’ Tall Bearded Iris

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Iris ‘Plaza Lights’

As May drew to a close, the birds of the garden started their nesting. The same female duck has returned to the garden for at least three years. Each season she gets just a little bit smarter and wiser about dealing with our cat.

I don’t know who is more excited for the ducklings, the mama duck or the gardeners.

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A Mallard duck nestled on her nest

When they finally hatched, this mama duck taught the ducklings to swim within the first day. She showed them all of the good hiding spots for when the cat is on the prowl, and then they waddled out of the garden when she felt like they had enough education for the outside world.

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Mama Duck showing the ducklings how to hop into the fountain.

Once June began, even with the ducks gone for the season, there was still a lot of animal activity in the garden.

A newcomer to the Kauffman Memorial Garden is a turtle named “Chip.” I don’t know if it is a lady turtle or a gentleman turtle, but there is a chip missing from the back part of its shell.

Every time we encounter a new animal in the garden it is fascinating what we can learn about them. For example, Chip is an “Ornate Box Turtle” (Terrapene ornata ornata) which happens to be the state reptile of Kansas. They are commonly found throughout the state of Kansas and most of the western edge of Missouri.

FYI: The official state reptile of Missouri is the three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis). If you ever find one of these you can distinguish their sex by their eye color. The males have red eyes where the females eyes are brown.

The garden can be so many things to so many people. It can be a classroom, a place of mediation or a place of toil and work. My mother always said, “you reap what you sow.” So for now, I’m going to care for the plants, pull the weeds, be nice to the wildlife and try to sit back and enjoy the beauty of the garden while the weather is nice.

 

March and April 2018

After a very cold winter the gardeners and volunteers at the Kauffman Memorial Garden were ready to see some spring.

Just when the Rustica rubra magnolias and iris reticulata started to bloom, and everyone was packing their winter coats into the attic, the weather turned uncomfortably cold. We saw snowflakes on more than one day and temperatures were cold enough to break records. Delicate perennials like bleeding hearts (Dicentra) were burned by the drastic fluctuations.

On the occasional warm day we were able to get out into the garden and cut back perennials that had been beaten down by the winter weather. It is important to allow most of the foliage to remain on garden plants over the cold months because many helpful, beneficial insect overwinter in leaf debris, hollow perennial stems and close to the soil surface.

Even with wacky weather, the insects, birds  and other animals of the garden are starting to emerge from their winter hibernation.

A mantis pod and a green lacewing in the March garden.

The ducks have made their return to the Kauffman Memorial Garden. Every spring these feathery friends make morning visits and sometimes even make their nests in the perennial beds.

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A male Mallard doing laps

After spending time with the ducks in Kansas City, this Kauffman gardener went to Portland, Oregon to see what their ducks were up to.

Mallard ducks in the Portland Chinese Garden

Koi in the Chinese Garden

The city of Portland Oregon is about one planting zone warmer and quite a bit more moist than Kansas City. While hiking in the city’s Forest Park I saw some interesting slimy creatures that really like the weather there.

Snails and slugs in Portland’s Forest Park

Portland being Portland; I peered into the stump of an evergreen tree to look for moss and I came upon a Triceratops. They were thought to be extinct in the area but recent efforts by the residents have increased the number of dinosaur sightings in the city.

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Afraid that I may encounter more dinosaurs, we headed back to Kansas City straight away.

Back in the Kauffman Garden there was quite a buzz going on around the Haven hive by local artist and beekeeper Jarrett Mellenbruch. When the project was originally erected we were instructed to look for swarming behaviors. This is when bees start to leave the hive. They will form a huge cluster around the queen to protect her.

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The reason why the queen and her drones have left the protection of the hive is that a new queen was born, so the old one hits the road. The old queen also releases a lot of pheromone, so her most loyal drones follow her and protect her until a new home is found.

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Artist/beekeeper Mellenbruch is explaining bee behavior to the gardeners

The bee swarm was removed and taken to another site where they can be helpful in the Haven hive project. These wild bees are studied to look for clues to save the domestic bee population from colony collapse.

The bees that remain at the Kauffman Garden are busy gathering pollen and nectar to present to their new queen. The early spring flowering quince ‘Toyo-Nishiki’ has been a popular spot for pollen gathering.

This Kansas City spring has been the usual ups and downs. Snow, sleet, rain or shine, spring is here and as the garden awakens lets enjoy all of the fun and unusual creatures that emerge in the landscape.

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February 2018

This February in the garden many small bulbs felt that it was safe enough to come out of hibernation and enjoy some unusually warm and sunny days.

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Iris reticulata

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The first of the Snowdrops (Galanthus)

When the bulbs start to emerge, it is time for the gardeners and volunteers at the Kauffman Memorial Garden to do perennial bed cleanup. We do this so that the bulbs have extra sunshine and we can spread fresh compost over any low spots.

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Cleaning leaves from the hydrangea

Many guests at the Kauffman Memorial Garden ask how much they should prune their ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangea. Luckily, this plant is very forgiving. In the picture above, you can see that this year we chose to cut the winter branches to a height of about 2 feet tall. The ‘Endless Summer’ variety is an unusual macrophylla, because it blooms on both old and new wood. This means that you can either prune it to any height, or not touch it at all, and you will probably get some kind of bloom. Our only issue is that some years the spring blooms are damaged by frosts. Kansas City is land of wild weather fluctuations, so there isn’t much we can change about that.

During the cleanup process we try to be gentle to protect hibernating beneficial insects. This includes leaving some areas alone until the weather breaks. It also may involve waiting to prune plants that have praying mantis egg cases on them. I found this mantis pod while cutting back some anemone. It looks like one that already hatched last spring, but it is still fun to see them.

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An old mantis egg case on a cotoneaster

The cleanup process continued to the hellebore patch. Once the old leaves were cut off, we saw that the bloom stalks and leaves were already starting to emerge.

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Hellebore are one of the first things that we cut back in early spring.

As gardeners we try to make the most out of every sunny day in February. The winter is not over yet, and anything is possible in Kansas City. Here are some pictures from this month’s snowy and icy weather. Have a fabulous rest of your winter and we will see you in the garden!

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Japanese Flowering Crabapple in the snowy morning.

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The Kauffman Memorial Garden on a snowy February morning.

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