The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


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Frozen Assets

A winter ice storm–the first of the season–put a frozen crystal glaze on the grasses, trees and shrubs. Melting now, forecasters warn of a second and possibly third wave of freezing ice this weekend.

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Graceful grasses look like spun brown sugar.

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Crystal branches from my neighbor’s shrub.

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Japanese forest grass

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Splayed out by the weight of the ice, the oakleaf hydrangea’s branches arch toward the patio.

 

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Yard objects are frozen in time.

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The birdbath transformed to an ice skating rink.

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2016 Garden Hits and Misses, Part II

Joys and victories are always so much more enjoyable to share and savor. But the losses–painful as they can be–are learning opportunities. My 2016 garden was not without its challenges, some of which I have not resolved. I’ve been on a true learning curve since I began gardening and the lessons aren’t always easy. Below are my “Misses” for 2016.

The Misses!

dscn4865Containers. I knew when I bought this adorable galvanized can planted with playful petunias that those plants were going to fry on my south facing fence in St. Louis’ hot summer. And I was right.

While this lesson only set me back $10, it’s a valuable reminder about trusting my gut. Imagine a $200 tree biting the dust because it’s in the wrong spot. That means leading with your head and not your heart. I can be a sucker for a nursery and its well tended plants and vignettes that say “buy me, buy me, take me home.” I mean, how cute is the container below?

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dscn4649I love petunias for their enduring blooming nature (minus the example I just gave). But I let them get leggy because I don’t take the time to pinch them back. The end result was containers that looked leggy. I had to show this because these are volunteer petunias and volunteer milkweed. They were beautiful in June, not so much in August.DSCN4578Voles. I’d like to declare war but I’m not sure what weapons of mass destruction I would use. My vole problem is affecting multiple garden beds. I called a mole company and they said they did not handle voles but I also hear that the traps really don’t work. I called a yar fertilizer type company and met with the same response as the first call. What works is chemical warfare but that’s not friendly to owls who eat the voles. And as I mentioned in my last post, owls hang out in the neighborhood.

DSCN4589These guys creep me out. I’ve stumbled across two or three of them and all I can say is yuck. I have not located all their tunnels but they seem to be in the front yard, back yard and side yard. But something has to give: I won’t abide by daisies, coreopsis, penstemon, phlox and more falling over and splayed out because their tasty roots are being devoured. Truly a continuing dilemma for 2017.

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egg carton growing (960x1280)Growing from Seed. I admire those stalwart gardeners who begin their veggies from seed. But as I discovered in 2016, I’m not one of them. I tried it and realized I was in the wrong league. This route comes with no short cuts here (and I love a short cut)–a grow light is essential for success or your plants get leggy. I did manage to coax one very small lettuce head from two cartons of egg shell-filled seeds. That was a salad worth enjoying.

DSCN4483Instead, I will satisfy my fresh garden delight habit with small plants acquired at the nursery. Last year, peppers and spinach plants did well. The only caveat to this story is that I did scatter zinnia seeds with success.

dscn4642Tomatoes. Have you seen the number of articles, books and web posts out there on growing tomatoes? Who could fail with all these resources? I’m trying. Honestly I am. I like a great tomato as much as the next gal. But I think tomato growing is best left to someone else. I thought I had learned my lessons from 2015; I had that pot secured with netting like Ft. Knox and the @!##**!@ squirrels still invaded and took off with the ripening fruit. And the plant was l-o-a-d-e-d with tomatoes. I got one green tomato. No more. Produce stand here I come.

Garden Bloggers Fling. I attended my one and only Fling in 2015 but missed the fun in Minneapolis in 2016. This event is for gardeners who blog (what a great fit!) and the 2017 Garden Bloggers Fling will be hosted in the Washington, DC region beginning June 22. It’s a great way to put a face to the bloggers you’ve been reading and connect even further on this great joy we all share.

Happy 2017 everyone!

 


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2016 Garden Hits and Misses, Part 1

Happy New Year everyone. Due to extremely frustrating issues with my computer and WordPress, I have not been posting. Hoping that I have finally resolved these roadblocks, I am back to blogging.

Given it is now 2017, I see no reason to bring you up to speed on a relatively uneventful fall garden season. But a look back at the year is due. Due to length, this will be a two-parter, starting with the hits. Here are my ArchCity hits for 2016. (Drum roll please.)

The Hits!

DSCN4499paperbark by patioPaperbark Maple (Acer griseum). When I embarked on my backyard gardening journey in 2012, I was intent on only planting shrubs and perennials with the rationale that I didn’t want to get into pruning trees. Don’t ask why. The gardens were going to be easy, carefree and filled with shrubs and perennials, even though the first specimen I planted was a Japanese maple–like I said, don’t ask. In 2014, I amended my rule further and planted a dwarf Colorado blue spruce and rationalized that by the fact that it is a dwarf specimen. Dwarf is the operative here and it explains my justification for planting a paperbark maple in 2016. This beauty will top out at 20 feet and I can live with that. What I don’t want is a towering tree. I love this tree for its cinnamon-hued peeling bark, multi-stemmed trunk and vibrant trifoliate leaves in autumn.

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dscn5299More hardscaping. The garden beds soften the patio and the hardscaping provides structure to the garden. At least I think that’s the principle. My flagstone path is small but it draws the eye through the garden bed and in a couple of years, I hope to be able to walk on it. I know I am relying on the Japanese maple to grow, but I have faith. For now, crawling down the path suits me fine. Most of the time I’m down low digging out weeds anyway.  On the left of the photo, you’ll notice I added a bird bath. I like the structure it provides to the softly flowing hydrangeas. And it’s a nice to provide birds a place where they can frolic.

img_2389Rain barrels were on the top of my list when I started gardening. Now I have two in the back and two in the front (delivered and installed by surprise in December–more on that in another post). I am happy with the rain barrels but they did come with a bit of an adjustment. The hose from the house spigot is a much faster way to water, but I enjoy being out and I have a system for filling up my watering cans. Each rain barrel in the back has two spigots so I can maximize the fill. I was amazed at how quickly a 50-gallon rain barrel will fill up. One good gusher and they are full. There is not enough pressure in the rain barrel to run a long hose from it and soak a garden and there are times when a good long soak from the hose is required, so a rain barrel is not a solution for everything.

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DSCN4562Birds, butterflies and beesFor a new point of view, look no further than a garden. I’ve had a true attitude adjustment when it comes to gardening. I went into it for the flowers with nary a thought to the side benefits of providing shelter and food for insects, birds, butterflies and other critters. 2016 was a good year butterflies, birds and insects. DSCN5073dscn5172Sometimes I am repelled (crawly things can freak me out) but mostly I’m fascinated by what’s moving around the foliage. Is it a friend or foe? My new discoveries take me to a Google search to learn more. A garden gives you a real sense for the symbiosis of nature. To my delight, a tree in my neighbor’s backyard is home to a bard owl, which I have enjoyed watching hunt at dusk. I have several voles I would gladly offer to its diet. More about that in Part II.

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Late October in the Garden

dscn5211It’s hurry up time in my St. Louis garden–the last-gasp of nice-weather season before winter’s chill firmly camps out at the door. At least that is what the October calendar here usually means; this year, I am not so certain. Our temperatures have been very, very warm. Today we are just below 80 F.  My sweaters are mostly tucked away, coats still in the closet and my garden flowers still abloom. Not to mention the frenzy of peppers tirelessly produced from one “Sweet Sunset” plant.

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I’ve been busy moving plants around such as my zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’), ground covers and some perennials. This is the second time this year I moved the zebra grass. The first time I moved it from the back of the garden bed to the front in the spring because it was not getting enough sun. Problem solved, maybe too much as the plant seemed to triple in size and I no longer liked the visual balance in the bed. The grass became too overwhelming in its front-and-center spot.

As I planned undertaking the endeavor to move it a second time, I remembered Jason’s Garden in a City post and the resulting comments about the major chore dividing grasses and moving grasses can be. I must say, the comments gave me pause. So I made sure to water the grass thoroughly a few days before to get the soil good and moist.

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The grass in the front is actually in the center of this bed.

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The zebra grass, now at the end of the bed, has better visual balance and still gets plenty of sun. The grass had been in the foreground to the left of the pavers that bisect this bed.

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Removal was not nearly as bad as I had imagined, probably because the grass had only been in place one season. Ensuring the soil was moist also really helped. Fortunately the rain gods have been generous and provided a little more than 1 inch of rain last week to help quench the thirsty beds–my rain barrels were depleted–and keep moist the newly relocated plants.

I’ve also taken advantage of our mild weather to fill in bare spots in several areas with with creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) and relocate a “Karl Foerster” feather reed grass (calamagrostis x acutiflora) from my raised bed in the back to a spot front by the garage. I’m hopeful the grass will artfully cover the downspout it sits in front of.

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A mound of creeping jenny (with some thyme interspersed) is plenty to redistribute throughout my beds for ground cover.

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Individual stems and their roots are gently planted into the soil and kept moist.

I was really hoping the Karl Foerster grass would take off in the raised bed. It is was of two plants I put that bed along the fence, with the hopes of providing height to cover the fence. One took off and the other, well, not so much. Turns out the shade from a nearby tree was stunting its growth.

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The full effect of the ground cover and reed grass.

I have pulled out the scraggly petunias, cut the blooms from the zinnias (a tireless bloomer), pulled out the peppers and done some general clean up. Before long the trees will change their colors, drop their leaves, and I’ll be longing for spring again. Until then, I will enjoy nature’s autumnal palette.

 

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Rain Barrel Update

img_2389Regular readers will recall that I installed two 50-gallon barrels in May. Except for a week or so in June, they have been full and I’ve been able to limit my water use in the garden.

We’ve had plenty of rain in St. Louis this summer, which doesn’t represent a typical summer for the rain barrels.So far this month 5.21 inches of rain has fallen in the metropolitan area. Typical August rainfall is 2.99 inches. July rains filled the rainbarrels to overflowing when we received 8.37 inches, slightly more than double the monthly average of 4.11 inches. And June rains of just 1.29 inches put the barrels to work, and I drained them watering the pots and garden beds.

DSCN5158Overall, I’m enjoying them. I think in a typical summer, I would be supplementing with the hose much more than I have this year. When I water, I simulatenously fill both a bucket and watering can. Because the water pressure in the barrel is limited, containers are a little slower to fill. I rely on the hose when I’m either too lazy to wait for my containers to fill up or I’m in a hurry.I have no doubt, though that I have saved water. Strange to say, but I actually look forward to receiving my summer water bill to see how much I have saved versus last year.img_2387I’ve attached a short hose with a spray attachment to one of the barrels, but, again, there is not enough pressure for the spray attachment. As you can see below, debris from the roof runoff collects in the top of the barrel. This can clog a small overflow hole near the top, so I keep a small stick handy (kabob skewer works well too) to unclog the hole so that standing water doesn’t attract mosquitos.DSCN4376


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Building Garden Interest with Texture

DSCN4963The elements of texture and form, shape and garden occupy my thoughts more and more as I add plants and the garden matures. I really like the textures of plants in the shade bed, but the main bed along my patio is starting to look a bit messy. I’m not sure if it’s because the dwarf blue spruce is so slow to grow unlike the grasses, which are getting very big and therefore the balance is off, or because there are so many spillers in the garden and that’s creating some visual chaos. Either way, I’m exploring the themes of texture, balance and color as I consider moving things around next year.WWW Cacophony3I never thought much about texture until I started gardening. Texture creates interest and interplay among plants. In the world of texture, contrast seems to be key, and there are a couple of ways to achieve texture in garden design.

  1. Placing plants with contrasting leaf shapes near each other.
  2. Placing plants with contrasting bloom shapes near each other.

Properly combine fine, medium and coarsely textured plants in the garden and you’ll get visual interest. Too much texture and you can end up with visual chaos. And there’s both tactile and visual textures to consider.Yikes. (When I initially started planning my gardens, this overwhelmed me, not to mention other considerations of size, shape and color.)DSCN4968Most plants have medium texture. I typically use coarse and fine textured plants as a great way to achieve accents.Then I try and spice things up through complementary or contrasting colors of plants. The finely textured leaves from Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) complement the medium-textured leaves of rudbeckia. The bloom shapes from all three are small, medium and large. And the grayish-green Russian sage also provides a color contrast to the green of the other plants. DSCN4976Proper texture pairings provide lots of interest and result in pleasing vignettes. This is not as simple as you might imagine. It’s probably one reason why gardeners move plants around year after year.

Balance combines with texture and creates unity. I like the balance in my shade bed, achieved by repeating astilbe, hosta, fern and Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa) throughout its linear shape. The  astilbe’s bottle brush-shaped bloom lends coarse texture in contrast to the smooth leaves of the Japanese forest grass. Visual interest if further achieved through contrasts in color and leaf shape.

In the combination below a trifecta of color, shape and texture unite to create a pleasing vignette at the Missouri Botanical Garden. The coarse brown center of the yellow rudbeckia and the soft, finely textured brown plume from an ornamental millet pair up, as do the daisy-like petal shape and the contrasting shape of the brown plume. And last but not least, brown and yellow make a complementing color contrast. bes and milletWith so many varieties, succulents are a great way to add texture to a container. Soft rosette shapes combine with coarse texture, and the grayish hues of all the plants create color harmony in a succulent display at the Toronto Botanical Garden last summer. I love the fuzzy texture of the echeveria next to the crassula princess pine.DSCN2996 (1280x960)How important is texture in your garden? And what plants are you incorporating for textural variety?