Pirates of Powell Gardens

May 27, 2012

It took a long time to edit all of the photos from my first day of summer vacation and even longer to get them and the video posted via the Overland Park Hampton Inn’s very slow WiFi. So that post did not go up until the next evening, and my post about my Sunday adventures would not go public until noon on Tuesday.

On Sunday I awoke to find the hotel breakfast room packed, so I drove down the road for a Denny’s Grand Slam and then headed east down US 50 to Powell Gardens.

Powell Gardens

Powell Gardens (click image for slideshow)

Back in 1948 Kansas City businessman George E. Powell acquired a 640 acre farm 30 miles southeast of downtown in Johnson County. Soon he was a co-owner of Yellow Transit Freight Lines and after years of enjoying the farm on weekends he donated it to the Boy Scouts in 1969 and they used it as a camp until 1984. Then the Powell Family Foundation teamed up with the University of Missouri’s School of Agriculture to develop the farm into a horticultural facility called the Powell Center. They parted ways in 1988 and Powell Gardens was established as a not-for-profit. It now employs 35 to 70 people through the year, with a new garden area opening every few years.

I arrived at 10:30 a.m., paid the $10 entry fee, and picked up maps at the Visitors Center. It wasn’t long before I was seeing colorful orchids and more as I headed southeast toward the Island Garden. The nearby lake was surrounded by seven small fairy houses and forts for youngsters and the young at heart to enjoy. Various girls dashed into the Light Wings fairy house, a rounded wooden structure reminding me of a hive.

From the shore I could see the wide lowest waterfall of the Island Garden and, up high on the hill to the side, the Meadow Pavilion which, like the visitor center and the later garden chapel, was designed by renowned Arkansas architect Fay Jones. He is well regarded for Thorncrown Chapel near Eureka Springs.

A fellow photographer was down by the shore as well, shooting the nearby Island Garden falls. I’d see many folks with lenses dwarfing mine this day, but I did not see any of them on the long nature trail later that afternoon. It pays to travel light!

Island Garden

The Island Garden

Soon I was crossing the bridge to the Island Garden, with its multilevel waterfalls and pools. The wind was buffeting spray back across the wide arc of the lowest waterfall, and across the lake was what looked like a pink tent: another fairy house.

The island pools have a Monet theme with pink and white water lilies and lotuses to admire. I soon left the Island Garden behind for the Woodland Garden, or what they term the Rock and Waterfall Garden.

Rock and Waterfall Garden

Rock and Waterfall Garden

It was warming up, so I was grateful for the cool shade of the woods with a meandering waterfall stream created with dirtcrete. I found a perfect shady spot near the shore to relax and view the panorama of the Island Garden and Chapel. Nearby was the Star Tetrahedron Fairy House, which now reminded me more of a Land of the Lost pylon than a pink tent. A wind toy was making the most of the stiff variable breeze.

Perennial Garden

Adjacent to the woodland is the Perennial Garden, with its Miss Mary and New Testament Daylilies and Oriental Lilies. There was more color by the trailside, including Arabella Clematis, Asiatic Lilies, and Oakleaf Hydrangeas.

Asiatic Lily

By now I was quite thirsty, so I sidetracked to a restroom building which sported on its exterior a pop machine as well as Coronation Gold Yarrow and Bush Clematis, which required inversion to see into its bell. Beside the trail was a profusion of Sichuan Deutzia, which I approached for a macro shot.

As I re-entered the woodland, I passed a Fairy Outpost, covered in colorful paintings with equally colorful children’s scrawls. Along came Bigleaf Hydrangeas which earned a closeup. A low plant nearby had even larger pink petals, but there was no sign to aid in identification. Also near was a botanist’s creation: Let’s Dance Starlight Reblooming Hydrangea. I rested on a bench in the cool shade, posing for a self-portrait. A fence beside my bench framed one of the tiny waterfalls.

Skeleton Island

The Meadow and a Kiss on Skeleton Island

Then I was out of the woodland and climbing the big hill of the meadow. I ascended to the pavilion, where I used my 20x zoom to spy on what for this boy was the best fort, the Skeleton Island one across the lake. I caught an elderly couple up who were up on the lookout sneaking a kiss.

The Marjorie Powell Allen Chapel

I walked over to the chapel. Like Thorncrown, it has a winding approach through the woods, but this one is situated out into the open with a view of the lake, whereas Thorncrown is thoroughly ensconced in the woods. Fay Jones learned the trick of an more confined entry which then explodes outward from his mentor, Frank Lloyd Wright, although here Fay does this in the outdoors, in contrast to Frank’s use of confined interior home entryways.

I entered through the big doors to an impressive interior quite reminescent of Thorncrown, but with a big view of the lake and sky behind the altar area. The design has a nice diamond motif at the top of its doors and each ceiling support, which struck me as similar to the tetrahedron atop the Star Tetrahedron Fairy House.

Marjorie Powell Allen Chapel

I exited the chapel and walked around to its low pavilion, finding a lower level there with restrooms and a plaque about Marjorie Powell Allen. Back out front was the matching fountain, echoing some of the chapel forms in metal rather than wood.

Skeleton Island Flag

Over to Skeleton Island

I crossed the bridge back over the Island Garden, past the largest living wall in North America, where they leave out the mortar between the sandstone blocks and culture plants which spring through the cracks. Some Prickly Pear Cacti were in bloom, with even more color by the island shore.

I crossed over to tiny Skeleton Island, the wonderful fort created by Convergence Design and Henderson Engineers. There was a fun “treasure map” for the kids. A chain of geese swam by as I approached Shipwreck Cove.

It was only a few steps to the Pirate Fortress, with its fake cannon and ship’s wheel, although they hadn’t solved the problem of keeping the wheel mounted with all of the tugs and turns from the children. I mounted to the lookout, with the skull and crossbones flapping overhead.

Then I crossed back onto the mainland to see the Ice Haus fort and deliberately broke the rule of keeping the cameraman out of the shot when I shot the final fort, Mirror-Mirror, although I was disguised a tad by the distortion, which turned me into a daddy long-legs.

Butterfly Garden

Butterfly Garden

Speaking of long legs, there was a giant Praying Mantis watching over a big splashpad for the kids over by the multilevel Butterfly Garden, with its stairstep falls. Oh, and various butterflies, of course, which deigned to pose amidst the conspicuously colorful flowers.

Heartland Harvest Garden

The 12 acre edible landscape of the harvest garden is the largest in the nation and so new only bare ground appears in my Google Earth satellite shot of that area. I posed in the Apple Court and liked the Vineyard with its Hyssop planted beneath the vines. I trooped onward toward a big barn and silo in the distance. The silo had a spiral staircase leading up to an observation deck. There’s also an elevator, but I eschewed that, of course.

Fun Foods Farm

I took in the panorama of four food gardens laid out in quilt patterns and the farm area. Then I climbed back down the spiral and made my way over to the large working windmill, busy pumping water for two fiberglass animals awaiting climbers.

There was a mint garden with a selection of leaves to sample. I disliked most of them except for the Candy Mint. A giant metal mantis was begging to be climbed, so I obliged it. Thank goodness no one was about, since my first attempt at the self-portrait just looked wrong in so many ways.

A bird looked much better on his branch than I did mounting my metal mantis. Another bird hopped on the ground ahead of me, calling out to warn others of this weird farm prowler. I took that as my cue to quit the farm and hit the trail.

Turtle on the Trail

Byron Shutz Nature Trail – A Day Hike!

It was 90 degrees with full sun, so I was the only one of the dozens of patrons at the gardens who braved the 3.25 mile Byron Shutz Nature Trail. It leads around the rim of the farm acreage, making its way past wetlands, across an old Osage Orange fencerow, over creeks, across remnants of the former prairie, and past a pond built to cool the rock saws at a former quarry. The pond featured lotuses and cattails, and the trail had some coneflowers, but for the most part it lacked the varied color of the manicured gardens. There are bird boxes all along the trail.

A low ridge provided an eastern view across Johnson County and then the trail dived down into some abandoned orchards and pines with cones dating back to the Powell Center days. I was impressed that almost all of the 24 marker signs along the trail were present and intact: few marked nature trails endure so well.

I tried to get a turtle to walk with me along the trail, but he was just too slow to keep up. I popped out at the other end of the trail, between the meadow and the woodlands. I traipsed back across the island to the visitor’s center. There I visited the last garden, the tiny Courtyard Garden at one end. In a rare lapse, this one was a bit neglected even though it has the plaque remembering the Powells.

I’d walked 6.75 miles and was hot and hungry. So I drove back to Overland Park, showered, and headed out for an early dinner at a nearby restaurant, fortifying myself for another late night of editing. The final day of this three-day sojourn would take me southeast of Kansas City to Knob Noster and Harry S Truman State Parks.

Here’s a video I shot at Powell Gardens:

Click here for a slideshow from this day hike

< Day 1 of Summer Break 2012: Starting Summer in the Paris of the Plains

Day 3 of Summer Break 2012: Knob Noster and Truman Parks

About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife Wendy and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
This entry was posted in day hike, photos, travel, video. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Pirates of Powell Gardens

  1. Thanks for sharing your visit to Powell Gardens in such great detail. I love it all–especially the stolen kiss on Skeleton Island.

  2. Pingback: Starting Summer in the Paris of the Plains « MEADOR.ORG

  3. Pingback: Knob Noster and Truman Parks « MEADOR.ORG

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