Winter Plants in the Perennial Garden

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Winter Plants in the Perennial Garden

Categories: Blog, Garden Guru

Powell Gardens received 8 inches of sparkling fresh, powdery snow overnight creating a clean insulating blanket of white over the gardens. Today’s crystal blue skies and peaceful atmosphere made a walk through the Perennial very special. Here’s what some of the “bones” of this delightful winter landscape look like now:


A view from the south “Shade Native Garden” end of the Perennial Garden across our frozen lake to the Visitor Center on the far hill depicts the quiet beauty of the garden’s scenery. We have cleared a walking path through all the main walks of the garden so any visitor may experience the beauty of our winter landscape. Rarely do we have so much snow!

The sculpture armillary and its shadow: we are a day short of one month past the Winter Solstice so the long shadows are getting shorter each day as we are now two months out from the Vernal Equinox (Spring!). Tomorrow, 2/3rds of the dark half of our year is over!

The Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) grove in the Woodland Garden portion of the Perennial Garden shows off very lovely wintertime trunks caked in bluish-gray lichens. Every time I walk through these clumps of trees I think of why I never promote “standard spacing” for plants. This would not have the same feel if they were all 10 or 20 feet apart! Be brave, dare to plant things (other than birches) in clumps and groves.

The horizontal branches of a Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) still support snow. I actually like the brown pea pod fruit as a bit of extra ornament. Some have told me they hate it that the pods hang on the tree and look ugly, to each their own I guess but this is how our native redbud is supposed to look in winter.


The pods of the Japanese Pagodatree (Sophora japonica) make a nice contrast with the blue winter sky. This color would not be anything special in the brilliance of our summer sun but adds a good bit of interest to the winter landscape. This tree is much revered in Eastern Asia where it graces many temples in China, Korea and Japan.

The twisting-pendant branches of Scarlet Curls Willow (Salix x erythroflexuosa) are almost cranberry red on the sunny side but the camera mutes them to an almost champagne color. None-the-less this is a very lovely tree in the winter landscape. It’s a hybrid between the Corkscrew Willow and the Golden Weeping Willow. You can see the snow-covered tapestry hedge in the background.

Here’s an overall view of the Scarlet Curls Willow in the middle of the Perennial Garden.

The curling bark of the “Paperbark” Chinese Fringetree (Chionanthus serrulatus) is completely different from typical Chinese Fringetrees (Chionanthus retusus) which have very dark stems. They are now considered the same species but they are two different plants in the landscape! The Paperbark form has prettier bark in the winter but is a shy bloomer of frilly-fringed white flowers in late spring.

The exfoliating bark of the Peking Tree Lilac (Syringa pekinensis ‘China Snow’) is polished with whiter horizontal dashes called lenticels that make it look a cherry rather than a lilac. Take a moment to feel how polished and smooth the fresh bark looks after the outer papery bark has peeled away.
I know the Seven Sons Tree (Hepatcodium miconioides) gets a write up in many of my blogs. The freshly exposed bone white bark with remnant strips of the sandy old bark always gets my attention in fall and winter when I walk by. The bark will age back to a sandy tan only to slough off again next season.

The interesting patchwork of gray and furrowed bark on this native Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) trunk is the result of a fungus that makes it slough off. It doesn’t harm the tree and is characteristic of the Swamp White and White Oaks (Quercus alba) which otherwise would have much more flaky bark.

The warty trunk of this Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) is exceptional in the “Woodland Garden” north end of the Perennial Garden. You can see the frozen lake, prairie grasses in the meadow and the chapel in the background. Can you identify the tree to the back and right? Swamp white oak with its patchy grays; the tree to the back right is a Shagbark Hickory with its characteristic shaggy bark.

The Sparkleberry Hollies (Ilex serrata ‘Sparkleberry) have endured below zero temperatures and lost a bit of their red sparkle. We got down to -7F one night at Powell Gardens last week. The snow cover was a good insulating blanket for most plants. The more urban core of Greater Kansas City did not even drop below zero!
A Serbian Spruce (Picea omorika) is beautifully flocked with snow. This is one of the finest evergreen trees for our region. This tree in the middle of the Perennial Garden is atypical as usually Serbian Spruces are very narrow, tall pyramids. We have an unusual form: there’s a ‘Fat Albert’ Blue Spruce but certainly we can think of a better name for this plant.
Powell Gardens’ winter gardens are more beautiful than ever with such a brilliant white blanket of snow. Dare to come take a walk and experience the quiet, peace and serenity of the landscape. Remember that Cafe Thyme is open Friday-Sunday with Lon Lane’s Inspired Occasions’ new menu so you can have a marvelous meal before or after your hearty walk. The roads to and the paths through the gardens are plowed of snow and readily accessible.