A Blooming Adventure

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Published on: Dec. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

into their settings. The harmony was not accidental.

Since the Garden first opened, expansions and improvements have taken place according to a master plan developed by early designers. Among other things, the plan called for a perennial garden, wildflower meadow, pavilion and a $6 million visitor education center, which opened in 1997. The Marjorie Powell Allen Chapel, built in 1996 to honor George Powell Sr.'s older daughter, who died in 1992, is a notable divergence from the master plan.

Powell Gardens boasts some 835 acres, but cultivated gardens cover only a small portion of the grounds. Much of the land is in timber or open fields. This rolling landscape was once part of the tallgrass prairie and savanna that carpeted Johnson County.

The three main structures on the grounds-pavilion, education center and chapel-were all designed by architects Fay Jones and Maurice Jennings. Jones said the chapel was meant to "look as though man and nature planned the structure in mutual agreement." The same could be said of all their work here.

Spencer Crews also deserves credit for the appearance of Powell Gardens. Crews, who grew up in St. Louis, served as horticulture manager until 1996 before departing to direct the new Omaha Botanical Garden. His contributions include the rock and waterfall garden and the adjacent wildflower meadow. These two sections re-create a forest and a prairie, two of Missouri's dominant presettlement terrestrial ecosystems.

The trail winding through the rock and waterfall garden passes through a botanical wonderland. Among the 200 plant varieties are natives, such as oaks and blackhaw viburnum, and non-native plants, such as Chinese allspice and showy bottlebrush buckeye shrub.

If you look east across the lake, your eyes are drawn to the wildflower meadow. This restored stretch of prairie is a reminder of Missouri's once vast grasslands. It's easy to imagine bison grazing in the draws. Indian grass, rattlesnake master and other prairie plants also have been restored to the landscape.

Alan Branhagen, the current director of horticulture, is adamant about putting the right plants in the right places. That means selecting trees and flowers that will do well in local conditions.

"You have a lot of heat and drought stress here," Branhagen said. "You have those blast furnace winds coming out of Kansas in the summer."

Branhagen compiled a list of all woody plants that are native to Missouri and Kansas. He ended up with more than 500.

"It's a goal of mine to eventually show

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