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Gardens in Winter

As cold settles into Missouri, its botanical gardens
take on a special beauty and peaceful atmosphere.
By Sally M. Snell

Spring, summer, and fall may be the iconic seasons for a garden stroll, but the winter garden is full of its own beauty and unexpected delights. Put down the seed catalogs, slip on a winter coat, and come along for a visit to two of the region’s best.


In Title: A winter sunset at the Marjorie Powell Allen Chapel at Powell Gardens. Roland Thibault, Powell Gardens photo

Above: Snow adds another element of beauty to the Missouri Botanical Garden. Erin Whitson, Missouri Botanical Garden photo

Below: Splashes of color can still be found in gardens during wintertime. Kyle Spradley, Missouri Botanical Garden photo

Missouri Botanical Gardens

Powell Gardens

“Winter is the best time to see the ‘bones’ of Powell Gardens or any garden,” says Director of Horticulture Alan Branhagen. “The architecture, landform, sky, water, stonework, trees, and evergreens really stand out.”

Bare bark, holly berries, and evergreens create a play of subtle hues and textures. Snowdrops and crocus can bloom as early as late January.

Powell Gardens is situated on a 970-acre tract in Kingsville, Mo., 30 miles east of Kansas City on U.S. Highway 50. Originally a weekend farm for a Kansas City business executive and later a regional Boy Scout camp, it opened to the public in 1988 as a botanical garden. Among its features are an Island Garden with more than 200 varieties of water plants, and the 12-acre Heartland Harvest Garden, the largest edible landscape in the United States.

For the best displays of winter-hardy flowers, visit the Rock & Waterfall Garden on the east edge of the developed gardens. Visitors will find Winter Aconite, Squills, and Glory-of-the-Snow. Spring Snowflakes are described as having “relatively large white bell-shaped flowers and flares gilded in green,” says Branhagen.

Listen for chickadees and the flash of red plumage of northern cardinals roosting in the trees. Most surprising are the wintering butterflies, such as the Eastern Comma and Question Mark, feeding on the tree sap within the garden.

The conservatory will exhibit a vivid display of cool season annuals, “In Living Color,” Jan. 12–March 10. Ranunculus and Persian Rose provide a breath of fresh air and color during the gray-toned mid-winter. The next exhibit, “The ‘Living’ Room,” opens March 16 and features the home of the fictional Moss family, complete with grass-upholstered chairs and a quilt of living flowers.

Missouri Botanical Garden

St. Louis’ Missouri Botanical Garden, founded in 1859, is one of the oldest botanical gardens in continuous operation in the United States. More than 4,600 trees grow within its boundaries; some date to the 1800s and can be traced to founder Henry Shaw. His 1850 estate home still stands on the garden grounds.

The 14-acre Japanese Garden is one of the largest in the country, and is particularly beautiful after a snowfall. In fact, snow is considered to be a flower in a Japanese garden. Accumulated snow on bare branches creates a thing of beauty.

It may surprise visitors to find fragrance and flowers in the winter garden. The earliest bloomers in the outdoor gardens can be found in the Witch Hazel collection. Ozark, Chinese, and Japanese varieties typically are at peak bloom between mid-January and mid-March. Look in the Missouri Native Shade Garden for examples that are close to the walking paths. Examples also can be found in the Jenkins Daylily Garden or at the Kemper Center for Home Gardening, which has specimens set near the footpath where their fresh fragrance can be fully appreciated.

More than 2,800 plants can be found in the Climatron®, a geodesic dome housing a tropical rain forest habitat. It opened in 1960 and was the first geodesic dome to be used as a conservatory.

In contrast to the modern, the 1882 brick Linnean House is the oldest continuously used greenhouse west of the Mississippi River, and dates to the days of Shaw. During winter, the camellia collection is at its peak. Tea is made from the fermented dried leaves of this plant, which is native to Southeast Asia.

The Orthwein Floral Display Hall is the setting for the annual Orchid Show, Feb. 2–March 31. The show features an original design every year, with plants rotated to ensure blooms of the more than 800 varieties of orchids are displayed at their peak. Plant displays are mindful of their natural habitats, displayed at ground or eye level as appropriate for each variety.

The Missouri Botanical Garden keeps an active class roster in every season. Mid-winter classes include tips on sowing and growing seeds, and appreciating nature through watercolor.

Before and After

Enjoy a gourmet, organic meal before or after a day at Powell Gardens. Once a month, the blue bird bistro in Kansas City (1700 Summit) holds a Farmer’s Table, a chance for diners to meet and share a five-course meal with the farmers and ranchers who grew and raised the food that is being served. In the 12 years that the restaurant has been open, “we have always made it a priority to know where our food comes from,” says owner Jane Zieha.

The restaurant places orders for food from regional farmers, but because nature is unpredictable, “we’re never guaranteed we’re going to be able to get what we think is coming in,” says Zieha. Instead, she describes the process as “cooking backward,” developing menus based on deliveries.

Guests at the Farmer’s Table may choose to be seated at private tables or join the farmers at a communal table. Upcoming dates are Jan. 25, Feb. 23, and March 23. The restaurant is open seven days a week.

You’ll need a good night’s rest to prepare for a day at the Missouri Botanical Garden, so consider a B&B in one of St. Louis’ most historical neighborhoods.

“An amazing number of our guests come to visit the garden,” says Janice Seifert, owner of the Fleur-De-Lys Mansion.

Located three minutes from the garden gates on Russell Boulevard, the 1913 mansion features a large central foyer floored with terrazzo and marble, pocket doors, and hardwood floors throughout the home. The solid oak door is framed by leaded glass sidelights.

“I fell in love with the place with the front door,” says Seifert of what led her and her husband to purchase the property. The four guest rooms (two with Jacuzzi tubs) are appointed with period-appropriate furnishings and have a spacious feel. Private gardens–with fountains, pond, and waterfall–beckon to be explored. Guests may request a private four-course gourmet dinner and chilled champagne after a private carriage ride through nearby Tower Grove Park.

Winter has a beauty that is its own. Enjoy the best of the season by spending a day at a beautiful botanical garden.

Sally M. Snell is a contributor from Lawrence, Kan.

Jan/Feb 2013 Issue


For more information, contact:

• Powell Gardens,
(816) 697-2600,

• Missouri Botanical Gardens,
(314) 577-5100,

• blue bird bistro,
(816) 221-7559,

• Fleur-De-Lys Mansion, (888) 693-3500,

To visit these gardens, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Missouri through the Free Travel Information Card, found online.


Rhapsody in Blue

Thousands of Blue Morpho butterflies will fill the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House during “March Morpho Mania,” March 1-31. The Butterfly House, located in Chesterfield outside the western rim of St. Louis, has 8,000 square feet in a vaulted conservatory, reaching 36 feet high at its apex. It is designed to create a natural and safe habitat for butterflies.

The metallic blue wings of the Blue Morpho butterflies give a stunning display as they rise into the upper canopy of the conservatory during their mating flights. Though unmistakably brilliant in flight, Blue Morphos prefer to camouflage themselves from predators by keeping their wings closed as they feed on tree sap and fermenting fruit in the understory of the forest canopy, when their trademark blue wing color is concealed by a mottled brown underside.

Call (636) 530-0076 for more details or visit

Brilliantly blue on one side, the Morpho’s wings are camouflaged on the other for protection. Missouri Botanical Garden photo

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