Solstice Flowers and Flying Flowers

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Solstice Flowers and Flying Flowers

Categories: Blog, Garden Guru

The exquisite white flowers of Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) are out tempting the eye and nose with their alluring form and scent. The flower depicted is from a locally propagated tree we named after the owner: ‘Margarite.’ Powell Gardens has the finest collection of the hardiest Southern Magnolias you can find in the lower Midwest.

A closeup of the Southern Magnolia flower depicts its cone-like center. We will have some in bowls during Friday night’s “Full Moon Friday” event for you to admire up close. (Remember you must RSVP for this event)

Hydrangeas are the theme of Full Moon Friday and two species are in full bloom now at Powell Gardens. The Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) is depicted in front of the Horticulture Cabin. This plant is a special one grown from a cutting from a friend’s garden in Rockford, Illinois: it has the most colorful flowers of any oakleaf hydrangea we have seen. I will never forget the first time I saw this shrub in the wilds of the Southwestern corner of Mississippi in my “Flora of Louisiana” class at LSU. It has been a favorite shrub of mine ever since. It is fully hardy in Kansas City but native only to the South Central part of the United States.

A closeup of the above Oakleaf Hydrangea reveals the pink tones already overtaking the older blooms (left). This special plant we have named ‘JoAnn‘ for the friend who gave us cuttings of this fine plant. I was so thankful my friend JoAnn Mercer sent a package of cuttings to us at Powell Gardens before they moved from their premier garden in Rockford, Illinois, to Gastonia, N.C. We really saved many garden treasures! By next week I will show you how the flowers have all turned pink. Then they age to a beautiful rust pink a while later.

‘Snow Queen’ Oakleaf Hydrangea (on the Island Garden) has tighter upright panicles of flowers. Remember Oakleaf Hydrangeas bloom only on old wood from flower buds that were formed on the plant the previous fall! If you prune them anytime other than right after flowering, you will have no flowers. Deer also love to eat all the flower buds off the plant in winter so beware. We receive lots of comments from visitors that their oakleaf hydrangeas do not bloom.

The magnificent flowers of the ‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) are also in bloom on the Island Garden. Here in good soil and with extra irrigation we can get away with planting them in full sun. It is best to plant these in afternoon shade, especially if they receive no extra water during dry spells. This is a selection of Missouri’s native Wild Hydrangea — it was discovered by two lady “belles” from Anna, Illinois. This hydrangea (unlike the Oakleaf Hydrangea) blooms on new wood so can be cut back in spring to encourage huge flowers on strong, new stems.

The classic Jackman Clematis (Clematis x jackmanii) is also currently in full bloom. This plant takes me back to growing up in Iowa and the huge vine of this my Grandmother cultivated. There are many new varieties with huge flowers but none can hold the flower power of this old variety! It was bred in 1858 by George Jackman and Son in England. We have an exuberant pair on the east bridges to the Island Garden.

The marvelous Betty Corning Clematis also is one of the best and also cascades with a million bells of bloom on the east bridge to the Island Garden. This was a chance seedling found on the porch of Betty Corning’s house in Albany, N.Y. Many of our best garden plants were chances like this! We feel our Margarite Southern Magnolia and JoAnn Oakleaf Hydrangea may be premier plants just like this someday.

The gorgeous orchid-like blooms of catalpas are also out now. This is the rarer Purple-leaf Catalpa (Catalpa x erubescensPurpurea‘) growing northeast of the Visitor Center.

The magnificent flowers of our native Prickly-Pear cacti are also in full bloom. Look for them on the Island Garden where two species (Eastern Opuntia humifusa and Bigroot O. macrorhiza) are in bloom side-by-side on the Living Wall. The state endangered Bigroot Prickly-Pear O. macrorhiza can also be seen blooming along the high ridge of our nature trail.

The purple coneflowers are also in full or beginning to bloom. This clump in the Perennial Garden is a spontaneous hybrid between the Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida) and the Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). We will keep an eye on this clump as it merits further garden testing.

The butterflies are also starting to make a noticeable appearance in the garden as their numbers increase with the temperatures. This male Monarch rests (posed?) on a sunflower leaf in the Perennial Garden after nectaring on Purple Milkweeds. Monarchs may be in trouble as their tiny wintering grounds are under siege by armed illegal loggers! Make sure you mark your calendars for August 8-10 and 15-17 to attend our Festival of Butterflies to see and learn more about these marvelous creatures.

One of the tiny jewels of the season is this Banded Hairstreak sunning on a hosta leaf in the Perennial Garden. These tiny wonders are only found in mid June each year! They overwinter as eggs laid on the twigs of black oaks and the caterpillars emerge to dine on the fresh new leaves next spring. This unique butterfly is called a hairstreak because of the “hairs” on its hindwings that mimic antennae. The butterfly actually moves its hindwings so that these hairs move and the orange and blue markings nearby give this the appearance of a false head to the butterfly. Any predator often goes for the wrong end of the butterfly and it escapes! (The real head of the butterfly depicted is on the right).

Numerous brilliant Great Spangled Fritillaries are out in the gardens, here nectaring on native Purple Milkweeds (Asclepias purpurescens) in the Perennial Garden. I noticed many garden visitors admiring the butterflies out in full force today.

Friday at 7:59 p.m. is the summer solstice and the bright sunlight has made the flowers spectacular and the flying flowers (butterflies) out in abundance. Come out and enjoy their beauty and grace. Literally the most brilliant time of the year!