Flights of Fancy at Powell Gardens


Article by Chelsey Modde

Photography by Chelsey Modde

Let’s just say it – this summer is strange. It’s marked by cancelled plans and uncertainty. If you, like many others right now, are searching for a change of scenery – Powell Gardens just might have the answer.  

This weekend marks the start of the annual 2020 Festival of Butterflies, running through August 9. It’s bright. It’s cheery. And much like the creatures at the center of it all – it’s transformative in the sense it allows you to step out of our “new normal” routine and take a cross-regional journey bursting with beautiful blooms and butterflies. 

For more than two decades, this family favorite event invites guests to follow the path of the Monarch butterfly from the Midwest to Mexico. The experience is highlighted by a series of immersive exhibits, events, and hands-on activities designed to engage little ones and adults. 

It’s magical – and it’s just on the outskirts of the KC-metro. 

Mingle with Butterflies + Follow the Migration Path 

The journey begins at the Martha Jane Phillips Starr Butterfly Conservatory, tucked inside the visitor center, where hundreds of colorful, free-flying butterflies and moths put on a show for guests. This is up-close and personal, allowing you to walk inside the space and view a live display showcasing each phase of metamorphosis. If you can’t make it out until later in the festival – fear not. The staff get new shipments of chrysalises and cocoons each week so you can still catch a glimpse of the entire process.

It’s beautiful and educational. Signage in the space gives details about the more than two dozen varieties of butterflies and moths soaring around you. Experts are also on staff to answer questions. 

Migrate outside and you’re transported to Mexico where the staff has transformed the Seed to Plate Greenhouse into the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacán, Mexico – a World Heritage Site where monarch butterflies spend the winter months. You’re invited to follow a trail symbolizing the butterflies’ migration that’s lined with native flowers from Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas. You have the option to follow a paved path or embark down a more natural meadow trail before landing at the outdoor habitat where the gardens raise native Missouri butterflies each year.  

If you’d like a more in-depth visit, join butterfly expert Eric Perrette on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 1 p.m. for the Guided Monarch Migration Walk.  He’ll share facts and point out interesting details while you make the trek. 

More Daily Happenings + Special Events

You can follow the path and explore the conservatory and outdoor habitats at any point during the festival, but weekends are marked with special celebrations and activities.  

Catch Caterpillar Show + Tell at 11:30 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in the Children’s Garden. Kiddos can learn more about these pollinator’s life from the experts and handle caterpillars and butterflies.

Stop by July 25 and 26 from noon-4 p.m. for Rhythm, Blooms, & Butterflies.  Musicians will serenade guests with tunes inspired by the migratory path and Chef Michael Foust, the creative force behind KC favorite, Black Sheep + Market and the new head of the culinary experience at Powell Gardens, will serve his take on KC BBQ.  

For more foodie fun, save the date on August 1 and 2 as Chef Foust creates a farm-to-blanket meal for the Butterfly Picnic Brunch.  Make your reservation here, pick-up your meal, and then settle in at a spot on the Gardens’ 175 acres. If you can’t make it on these specific days, you can still enjoy butterfly-themed treats from Chef Foust during the festival or catch his new garden-fresh grab-and-go meals featuring items grown on-site throughout 2020. 

On August 7 at 10:30 a.m. take a short stroll through the gardens and Native Butterfly habitat to search for these winged wonders during Species Spotlight: Perfect Pollinators. This family-friendly event is geared toward kiddos between the ages of five and twelve and features a pollinator game and a chance to get up close with hungry caterpillars. Register online beforehand since space is limited and make sure to grab the sunscreen since it’s outside. 

The Logistics 

While masks are not required outside as long as social distancing is possible, they are required to enter the gardens and must be worn inside, on the Visitor Center Terrace, and in marked mask zones.

It’s important to note that guests are encouraged to grab a ticket in advance for contactless check-in as well as register for specific timeslots due to capacity limitations. You can do both here. To get the most bang for your buck, plan on making a day of it since your ticket gives you access to the entire botanical garden. I recommend exploring the butterfly fun, snagging a grab-and-go lunch from Chef Foust and some wine at the visitor center or The Missouri Barn, and then staking out a spot in the flowers for a relaxed afternoon. 

Powell Gardens is currently open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday - Sunday. More information and updates can be found online or on Instagram

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