The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


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In the Garden: What a Difference a Month Makes

Life in the backyard is abuzz with growth! Just one month ago, perennials were just beginning to push their way through the soil. Take a look and see for yourself the plant progress in my St. Louis garden.

This bed beneath the family room window and bordering the patio, looked rather barren on March 29.  The small bit of green is Meadow Sage.

This bed beneath the family room window and bordering the patio, looked rather barren on March 29. The small bit of green is Meadow Sage.

I had yet to trim back the roses and still need to add mulch. There are four KnockOut rose shrubs in this bed, three of them planted last year. This bed faces east and gets lots of morning sun as well as sun from the south.

Mother Nature is not the only one who has been busy. I have added the rocks to better direct the drainage from the downspout, cleaned out the bed and trimmed the roses. I have added a few plants as well, although the vast majority are perennials planted over the past three years.

Mother Nature is not the only one who has been busy. I have added the rocks to better direct the drainage from the downspout, cleaned out the bed and trimmed the roses. I have added a few plants as well, although the vast majority are perennials planted over the past three years.

This is one of my favorite beds. Everything I have put in this bed has been happy, happy, happy as Phil would say on Duck Dynasty. In addition to the roses and Mianacht salvia (salvia x sylvestris), there are Cranesbill Biokova Karmina (geranium x cantabrigiense) which edge the bed. These mounding plants have wonderful year round interest, their leaves turning deep green to crimson red in the fall and winter. In early summer they are filled with small rose-hued flowers. Filling in the bed are Shasta daisy(Leucanthemum × superbum), variegated lily turf (liriope muscari), threadleaf coreopsis and new this season, Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis). I added the lady’s mantle to the north end of the bed, near the door, to bring some yellow to that end of things. I also transplanted a small and struggling shasta that had been in a bed near the fence. Anchoring the bed near the rocks on the south end is a low-to-the ground, creeping juniper (Juniperis horizontalis).  This evergreen has lots of yellow in, which complements the hot pink of the roses and brightens the deep purple of the salvia.

I also like this bed because it wraps around to the south, which gets gobs of sun. It begins its southern turn where the Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) is anchored. I added two Stella D’Oro lilies(Hemerocallis) to play off the color in the juniper and contrast with the cool lavender of the Russian Sage. This small grouping is a nice segue to the south-facing part of the bed. I’ll share more of that in another post.

How’s  your garden growing?

 

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Volunteer Gardening Easter Weekend

I have been busy as a bee in the backyard and enjoying every moment I can get out there. Unfortunately, there haven’t been as many moments as I might like. Easter weekend brought with it a day to give back. I joined several beautification-minded St. Louis souls and volunteered at Castlewood State Park on Saturday morning to maintain the natural beauty of the park, help preserve the Kiefer Creek watershed and plant 800 native trees, shrubs and perennials.

The project was part of Operation Wild Lands, a project of the Open Space Council. The OWL project is a community based project that organizes volunteers to help maintain public lands throughout the St. Louis region. Wildlife habitat improvements include cleanups, trail development and maintenance, planting, educations events, etc. It was a lovely morning to get out, get some fresh air and share with like minded souls. Castlewood is a bit of a hike (no pun intended) from my house and I know it as a park that is good for mountain biking. I would go there when my son–who is now 27–would participate in mountain biking racing events as a teenager. The park also has nice hiking trails, ball fields, fishing, swimming and more. One thing I will say is true about Missouri, the state has a really wonderful park system.

But I digress.

My job was to help place the plants. Easy enough and it allowed me to spare my back for my own garden labor later that morning.

Standing ready, this is just one small collection of native plants the group of volunteers planted in Castlewood State Park

Standing ready, this is just one small collection of native plants the group of volunteers planted in Castlewood State Park

What I enjoyed about this experience is that there were volunteers of all ages who came out. There were retired professionals, volunteers from the Audubon Society, the Coalition from the Environment, Monsanto Company, area school districts, a Boy Scout troop, Truman State University and more. The saying “Many hands make light the work” could not be more true.

The volunteers' experience ranged from very little to very experienced.

The volunteers’ experience ranged from very little to very experienced. In the center, Karen, one of the leaders from the Audubon Society, explains where to place a plant to Tracy, one of the volunteers,while Herb (on the right) checks the plant list.


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Crazy for Cannas

This past weekend was perfect. There is nothing quite like enjoying a relaxing weekend with a lifelong friend. And I got to do just that! My friendship with Joan goes back to our early college days. Last weekend we enjoyed time together catching up at Joan’s lake house in the Missouri Ozarks, in southern part of the state. It was just the two of us for the weekend. There were no men, children, or other friends to sway our attention. While the lake is a hot spot during the summer, every season in the Ozarks is to be enjoyed for its natural beauty. Spring is pushing forth in the southern Missouri and the Ozarks is alive with it.

Amidst the constant conversation shared by two long-time friends who have not seen each other in months, we enjoyed watching goldfinch, pileated woodpeckers and other birds make their way to the bird feeders Joan has near her deck. And the trees seemed to be bursting forth their leaves before our very eyes during Saturday’s 80 degree temperatures.

Joan tends a lovely garden she has planted around her deck. Because the property is a weekend home, everything she plants must withstand neglect and  is drought tolerant. It must also be hardy enough to survive in the the rocky soil the Ozarks is known for. Canna meets those criteria.

In my last post I shared that I am obsessed with adding this tall tropical to my yard.  I have never grown them but between our catching up, eating and relaxing, Joan gave me a quick lesson in Cannas. She hauled out her over-wintered bulbs from last year’s garden and we commenced to cleaning them and planting them in very large pots she has on her deck.

The bulbs were over-wintered in soil in a plastic bag in the basement.

The bulbs were over-wintered in soil in a plastic bag in the basement.

Joan inspects the bulbs to see what condition they are in. She is looking for larger bulbs such as those shown here. She gently pulls the bulbs from the soil as she prepares to plant them.

This is what the bulbs look like after much of the soil is removed

This is what the bulbs look like after much of the soil is removed.

We then began to trim the dead roots off the bulb as well as any spongy, dead plant material so that we are left with a clean bulb for planting

We then began to trim the dead roots off the bulb as well as any spongy, dead plant material so that we are left with a clean bulb for planting.

We trimmed off lots of spongy, dead material. The decayed stuff is easily identifiable because it is a dark and soft matter, as opposed to a healthy bulb which is firm and white.

We trimmed off lots of spongy, dead material. The decayed stuff is easily identifiable because it is a dark and soft matter, as opposed to a healthy bulb which is firm and white.

We soaked the bulbs in water to further clean them and  re-hydrate them after a long winter in the basement

We soaked the bulbs in water to further clean them and re-hydrate them after a long winter in the basement.

It’s always fun at the lake and a spring weekend in April is not exception. Thanks Joan! Keep on smiling.

After adding potting soil, we placed a couple of the bulbs into the pot, covered with remaining soil and will look forward to seeing the canna's progress on the next visit to the lake

After adding potting soil, we placed a couple of the bulbs into the pot, covered with remaining soil and will look forward to seeing the canna’s progress on the next visit to the lake


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4 Annuals I am Obsessed With

A benefit of surviving a hot, humid St. Louis summer is that sub-tropicals perform well here as annuals. My list below includes annuals I’m obsessed with that are common in the south, but also pack a punch here in the Midwest. Or maybe I’m obsessed with these selections because they are a throw-back to my early 20s, when I lived in Houston, TX, where I was able to admire these plants day in and day out. Either way, these plants bring up the garden energy a notch and provide a leave me with sense of joy long after their beauty has faded. Most on the list I plant each and every year; while Canna has yet to join the backyard annuals.

What annuals accent your garden?

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Canna. No, St. Louis is not the tropics, although a sweltering July or August day will give zones 8-10 a good run for their money. I do not live in the right zone for this plant, so it is classified as an annual here, but, yes, I’ve got to have this plant. I promise to shelter it from harsh winds and give it the full sun it requires and I am confident this tall, handsome plant will return the favor with gorgeous foliage that climbs the length of its 8-ft height and an unfurling of vibrant, ruffled flowers.

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Caladium. Arching gracefully above the other mix of annuals in my window boxes on the front of my house, caladiums provide a little bit of that extra curb appeal I’m looking for every summer. And they give me the height I am looking for…not too tall, but just enough to draw attention. Their variegated white/green/pink foliage provide a nice pop of color in the shade, and I adore their arrowhead shape. So pretty, you might forget they’re not a flower.

Mexican heather (cuphea hissopifolia). Some like it hot and this baby really performs when the sun beats down…as long as it receives a restorative drink of water each day. Looking for a plant that seems to be in constant bloom? Mexican heather is the perfect choice, as it always has small purple blooms among its glossy green leaves. I have incorporated this annual into my potting scheme for several years now and have never looked back. Typically I fill a pot with a variety of annuals for visual interest, but not with this one. She gets a pot all to herself.

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Nicotiana (nicotiana sylvestris). Known as flowering tobacco (for the shape of its leaves, I suspect), I am a big fan of this guy. The bright, star-shaped blooms on this annual really know how to show off. And when daylight gives way to evening, nicotiana lets of a fragrant scent that’s sure to make you slow down and take notice. I have typically planted this in pots but this year I intend to give it a go in the garden bed to accent “Spruce Springsteen,” the name we have affectionately given the dwarf Colorado blue spruce that I planted a year ago. I gave Spruce  lots of space to accommodate its girth, which won’t happen for a few more years. Nicotiana will be a nice way to fill up the mulch bed.


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It’s Looking More Like Spring

It seems like forever but it won’t take long now until we’re in full fledged Spring in St. Louis. Forsythia, Bradford pear, pink magnolia and star magnolia are in bloom. After reading the Steve Bender’s, aka the Grumpy Gardener, opinion of Bradford pear trees, I can no longer drive past one without laughing. According to Grumpy, having one in the front yard is akin bragging that you have a toilet in the house. So funny! He also says its spring flowers smell like fish. I wondered what that awful smell was! Of course, they line the streets and boulevards of St. Louis and are popular in neighboring front yards. And they look great.

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Tonight’s backyard tour highlight are the blooms on my PJM rhododendron. This is one of three rhodos growing in the yard and the one that was protected most from our severe winter. Oddly, though, it always blooms ahead of the other two. Go figure. Coming along nicely is the Oakleaf hydrangea I planted three years ago. This plant loves the spot it is in (north side of house and protected in winter) and was laden with blooms last year.

What’s blooming in your neck of the woods?

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5 Plants I’m Obsessed With

Stealing a line from Bravo TV host and hometown son Andy Cohen, I am obsessed with these five plants for the garden:

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1. Tall garden phlox. The color range available and the lovely “eyes” of  tall garden phlox make my heart skip a beat. These tall wonders are first on my list for an after-work garden stroll. They are fragrant and mingle delightfully among the Russian sage, bee balm and Stella de Oro daylily. While I enjoy them most in the garden, they hold up well in a cut arrangement gracing the dining table.

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2. Hosta, “Dorothy Benedict”. This beauty seems to have it all. It looks like a painting with streaks of bright green-yellow, blue-green and green-green interspersed with white. Leaves are textured, edges are smooth. Pop it into the shade garden and gaze away. What’s not to love? Oh yeah, the price (I’ve seen Dorothy Benedict quoted at $200-$500).

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3. Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis). Chartreuse-hued plants work well in a wide range of applications in the garden. Contrast this plant with cool blue-tinged foliage or the deep purples of “Mainacht” salvia. Or complement lady’s mantle with bursting colors such as bright pink Knockout roses. The old-fashioned girl will make its way into the garden this year.

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4. Kobold Gayfeather (Liatris spicata). I like spikes, and this plant delivers. Commonly known as blazing star, it pushes forth a stalk that really is a bunch of rounded flower heads that are fun to watch unfold from the top down. It attracts butterflies and works well in clay soil. Kobold is a compact version of liatris, and I am told this plant does not need staking, another bonus.

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5. Foxglove (Digitalis). The tubular bells on this biennual are nothing short of amazing. The freckles on the inside if the bloom spill forward on these charming flower spikes will be the perfect addition to my cottage garden. I grew them years ago in my backyard garden in Palatine, IL. Why I haven’t introduced them to my St. Louis landscapes escapes me. But that’s about to change.