KINGSVILLE, Mo. — Eric Tschanz stands in the middle of the five-acre fruit and vegetable garden, near the giant red and green apple sculpture, gazes around, and is sort of amazed by it all.
The fruit and vegetable garden at Powell Gardens, about 20 miles east of Kansas City, hosts more than 2,000 plants. It opened in June.
It’s a sight he sees every day at work. And yet, he has a hard time believing what he and his staff have developed — a world-class garden of fresh produce that would be the envy of the most sophisticated of horticulturists and fresh food junkies alike.
“We had an international vegetable garden at our old visitors center 20 years ago,” said Tschanz, president and executive director for Powell Gardens, a botanical gardens complex about 20 miles east of the greater Kansas City, Mo., metropolitan area. “We were amazed at how popular it was. And it seemed to cut across demographics.”
Tschanz said Powell Gardens closed that old visitors center about 12 years ago to open its new gardens in its current location.
“We opened a new place and were amazed at the outcry that wanted to see us do a vegetable garden again,” he said.
Tschanz said the planning for this latest creation began about nine years ago. It’s been under construction for the past three years and finally opened this June.
The garden is all organic, except for a small amount of Roundup used to control weeds, said Matt Bunch, horticulturist at the gardens. Now that it’s up and running, the garden will undergo three plantings a year — once each in spring, summer and autumn.
There are more than 2,000 plants in the garden, including many most people will recognize. There are 52 varieties of apples from trees that include some transplanted from the old Stephenson’s Apple Farm, a now-closed institution in the Kansas City area. There are 60 grape varieties, 20 varieties of peaches. A pair of greenhouses hosts bananas, oranges and other tropicals. There are blueberries, hazelnuts, basil.
Then, there are plants probably few have heard of, such as the pawpaw, which looks like a small banana and has 15 varieties. There are persimmons, including a variety that was sent over as a gift from Russia. There are kiwis, hops, figs.
There are even edible flowers.
“It was as much luck as timing,” Tschanz said. “We didn’t know then that people would care so much about where food comes from.
“We want to show the whole route, seed to plate. We wanted it to be educational. I think we’re succeeding on all points.”
Another feature is what are called “authors gardens,” where writers of food books can literally display plants and product contained in their works.
There’s also a youth education component, which includes a maze for kids to play in and the ability to plant popcorn.
Product from the garden is used one of three ways, Tschanz said. There are cafes on the premises. There are also tasting stations. Excess is sold to gift shops at Powell Gardens or donated to local Harvesters.
Tschanz said there also are weekly chef demonstrations at a cook top out at the large barn structure at the west end of the garden, along with weekend festivals.