The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


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The Garden in Late May

I love the delicate pink and white blooms on the deeply hued stems of penstemon.

I love the delicate pink and white blooms on the deeply hued stems of penstemon.

At the end of April, I posted photos showing how much progress had been made from the start of the month to the beginning of May. Of course, Mother Nature was just getting tuned up. To lean on the old, tired adage “April Showers Bring May Flowers,” I know why Mother’s day, weddings and graduations fill the weekends of May–because it’s so doggone beautiful.

I have not yet mulched. Shame on me but my gutter man has not shown up! And while I know the mulch will make the beds look that much better and be beneficial to the beds, all the rain and nice spring temperatures have really brought on the blooms. The only bed that really looks shabby is along the fence line where the Cannas are starting to emerge. It could use some mulch. And the bed in the corner of the backyard looks terrible, but more about that deliberately neglected space later.

This post isn’t to dive into the rough spots of the yard, but to celebrate how lovely May is.

Let’s take a look at how things are coming along, shall we?

I under-estimated just how many plants I will need and how long it will take to fill in this bed.

I under-estimated just how many plants I will need and how long it will take to fill in this bed.

Not shy on ambition, I envisioned a plant-packed bed, spilling forth with flowers throughout spring, summer and fall when I started this project three years ago. And it is taking a lot longer than I thought. I am trying to be patient and let the shrubs fill in, the Japanese maple put some height on and the dwarf Colorado blue spruce fill out, but I am like a kid–I want it now. May was spent dividing hosta, coreopsis, shasta daisy, black eye Susan and other perennials in the beds. They payback is that I save money on plants and have some much-needed repetition, which provides some continuity to this project.

The “May Night” salvia are attracting lots of bees as are the cranesbill. I really like this combination. This must be the perfect spot for the cranesbill because it was the first thing I planted in my new garden in the summer of 2011. The salvia tends to get a bit leggy and last year–its first summer–I cut it back quite a bit. Clearly that didn’t both it!

What a lovely combination of color. Hot pink roses, not shown here, dial up the intensity.

What a lovely combination of color. Hot pink roses, not shown here, dial up the intensity.

Pink and purple plants took center stage in early May but now the yellows are starting to show. The coreopsis are balancing atop their delicate stems, and the stella de oro are blooming. Later this summer, the black eye Susans will be out in force.

This variety of coreopsis blooms all summer but requires a bit of maintenance trimming off the spent blooms.

This variety of coreopsis blooms all summer but requires a bit of maintenance trimming off the spent blooms.

I have been looking forward to watching gayfeather (liatris spicata) come through this year. I planted three of them last year. One did not make it but these two look terrific. It looks like they will bloom soon.

True to their promise, the Knockout roses are providing a profusion of blooms. I am really enjoying this pink shrub. It was mislabeled as a deep pink but it turns out it was a happy accident. It’s also encouraging to see how quickly these guys grow.

Ribbon grass grows behind this pink rose.

Ribbon grass grows behind this pink rose.

Right now the Kobold does not need staking. This is the second summer for it in the garden.

Right now the Kobold does not need staking. This is the second summer for it in the garden.

Nothing seems to have grown as quickly as the Oakleaf hydrangea! This bad boy either a) loves this spot on the north side of the house; b) is a vigorous grower; or c) all of the above. I think the answer is c) all of the above. This specimen is actually in the middle of this particular bed. When sitting on the patio, it towers above the rose. Behind it, where there is more shade from the eaves of the roofline, I have put in shade lovers such as coral bells, astilbe, hosta and fern. Originally, I had intended the oakleaf to screen the trash cans. This year I decided to move them to the other side of the house and expand this bed. That’s the gardening way, right?

Until May, I had not given much thought on which month I really enjoy in the yard. While early spring provides much-needed anticipation and relief from being inside all winter, the temperatures this May have been good (not too hot or humid). The humidity and temps are starting to climb but it has been a great month to enjoy the yard.

Spring and summer means cut flowers.

Spring and summer means cut flowers.

Having something blooming each month throughout the summer is one of the key benefits to gardening. You can bring the outdoors inside with vases of cut flowers, a joyful reminder of the garderner’s hard work paying off.

I like to I look forward to providing an end-of-June report and watching what’s growing in your yard, fellow bloggers.

Thanks for reading.

The Oakleaf hydrangea "Alice" begins to bloom.

The Oakleaf hydrangea “Alice” begins to bloom.

The black eye Susan here in front of the yellow coreopsis, love this location. Other sun lovers include monarda, tall garden phlox, lily and Russian sage.

The black eye Susan here in front of the yellow coreopsis, love this location. Other sun lovers include monarda, tall garden phlox, lily and Russian sage. On the left is a  blue false indigo (baptisia australis), a new addition to the bed this year.

The soft velvety texture of artemisia, seen here creeping on the edge of the patio almost cries out to be touched.

The soft velvety texture of artemesia, seen here creeping on the edge of the patio almost cries out to be touched. What really took off this month, though, is the Oakleaf hydrangea in the back of this photo.

I have concentrated on planting in the sunny spots in the yard but have found a few shady areas to fil lin.

I have concentrated on planting in the sunny spots in the yard but have found a few shady areas to fill in. Contrasting shapes and color provide visual interest.

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Gardening: It’s a Dirt(y) Business

I have written a little about the clay soil that is prevalent here in Arch City. If you are going to garden, you are going to encounter this very dense, hard to break-through soil that seems as hard as concrete during a hot, dry spell (translation: summer in St. Louis). How do you identify clay soil? Easy. If it sticks to your shoes, attaches itself in clods to your shovel and you have to throw a clump of it across the yard to break it up, you’ve got clay. Clearly, this has not deterred the hardy souls in the area who have the vision and fortitude to overcome this stuff. My strolls in my neighborhood and beyond are testimony to that.

And so is my soil. In my fourth year of amending, amending, amending, I am starting to see the difference. More accurately put, I am starting to feel the difference. Arch City-ites know what I am talking about. When I place the shovel or spade into the ground, the resistance isn’t quite as fierce. In fact, when I was digging into the patio bed to put in “Crazy Blue,” a new, compact Russian sage (perovskia atriplicifolia) my favorite nursery is featuring, the soil actually gave way with minimal effort. I consider this a major break-through.

After three years of adding lots of compost to my clay soil, the structure is finally improving

After three years of adding lots of compost to my clay soil, the structure is finally improving. Digging into the soil is no longer at backbreaking, shovel bending experience–at least in this part of the garden.

Can you spot the clay soil in this sample? Hint: It's the stuff that looks like meatballs.

Can you spot the clay soil in this sample? Hint: It’s the stuff that looks like meatballs.

There are several shrubs and perennials that will bust through this tough, mineral dense soil and there are things clay habitues need to know, such as:

1. This soil is dense, and the roots of many annuals, perennials, and vegetables struggle to make their way through. Many spring bulbs tend to rot over the winter in clay soils discouraging gardeners who must deal with this soil type. However, all is not lost–as long as you improve the soil structure. By that the experts will tell you to add 6-8 inches of organic matter throughout the bed, not just where you are placing your new specimen (yes, I have taken that short cut).

Of course, I continue to add the good stuff to the soil when I layer on mulch on top of all this. And my plants have thanked me for it. I’ve been pleased with the new emergence each spring and have become committed to amending my soil EVERY year.

2. Clay soil is slow draining. In addition to improving the soil structure of the garden beds, I want to improve the lawn where after a heavy rain the water has a tendency to sort of just sit there. I’m not talking about the low areas of the lawn, I’m talking about the slope areas where you’d think the water would be flowing down. Not so much. I do have areas where the water ponds. Those spots will get shrubs that tolerate ponding such as winterberry (ilex verticilatta), ligularia or river birch.

3. It can heave in the winter. Thankfully I have not experienced this with my plants, but I do have a gate that won’t open when the temperatures drop. In fact, I had to move my trash and recycle bins this winter because I could not get them through the gate.

4. There are lots of perennial “clay buster” choices available that thrive in this soil type. Black-eyes Susans, goldenrod, Russian sage, daylily (hemerocallis), purple coneflower, yarrow and canna are among the hardy perennials that can thrive in clay soil.

As I stated more than once, I am about the sizzle. I wasn’t really excited about concepts such as soil structure and amendments. My goal was to plant beautiful flowering annual, perennials and shrubs. I am glad I slowed down and have taken the time to prepare the soil. This annual chore has become a right of passage into spring and it’s paying off.

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Feeling Springy

mai nacht up close (600x800)The backyard is starting to do its thing–bloom! And I am surprised at how quickly things are coming on. I have spent a fair bit of time cleaning the pollen trash from the patio and beds (forget the lawn) and still need to mulch (after I get the gutters cleaned) and then I’ll be able to enjoy a bit more. Although last night was a night for dining al fresco with the kids and tonight found me lounging outside reading a book while dinner cooked on the Weber. Not a bad way to spend a Monday night, eh?

Fortunately, amidst the sweeping, I am enjoying the blooms in the garden beds. The salvia x sylvestris “May Nacht” bed under the family room window is a beautiful, deep purple and just in time, the deep scarlet pink roses are blooming in back and the Cranesbill “Biokova Karmina” geranium x cantabrigiense lightens up the intensity with its softer pinkish purplish blooms. The roses surprised me when I came home tonight and I did not take a photo. The others below will have to do.

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family room bed in MayAnd here’s a pretty rose bud from the bed the flanks the east edge of the patio. This bed is taking a while to fill in but every year I manage to enrich the garden center and soothe my senses by adding more perennials.

Happy gardening this week.

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Attack of the Killer Sweet-Gum

What a cute looking pollen...until it covers the  yard.

What a cute looking pollen…until it covers the yard.

I’m lucky. I don’t really suffer too terribly from seasonal allergies. I notice the car or patio table lightly dusted in a shade of green, but really haven’t given it much thought. There is something in the air in July that makes my nose itch like the dickens but besides that, I really don’t have any problems. And, really, I have not been all that sympathetic to those who do suffer. My daughters will testify to that.

Until now. Wow.

Take a look at the pollen in my yard and on the patio. I came home from work yesterday and–as is my evening habit–went outside to survey the garden beds. Are the astilbe, hosta, heuchera and black eyed Susans I transplanted over the weekend holding up under the nearly 90 degree heat? Are the new ferns I planted adapting to their place beneath the tree? But wait, before I could even begin to answer these compelling questions, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the plethora—and I do mean plethora—of Christmas-tree shaped pollen grains from my neighbor’s sweet-gum (Liquidambar) tree littering my lawn and patio.

swept up pollenThose who know and love me know that I am not a fan of the sweet-gum tree. And Arch City is full of them. The sweet-gum is the tree of choice in my neighborhood. No doubt a builder’s special in the 1950s because they are everywhere in my mid-century-built subdivision. In fact, my backyard neighbors’ has a towering sweet-gum in their yard right next to a 100-foot sycamore. A sweet-gum will grow up to 100 feet and by the looks of it, my neighbor’s tree has accomplished this height. By the way, both trees drop fruit, a spikey gumball in the case of the sweet-gum and one-inch balls in the case of the sycamore.

Sweet-gum trees abound in my neighborhood. This one towers over my yard. At maturity, they can be 100 feet tall. I think this one is mature.

Sweet-gum trees abound in my neighborhood. This one towers over my yard. At maturity, they can be 100 feet tall. I think this one is mature.

I commenced sweeping the Christmas tree pollens up from the patio. And as I did, they began to break down and the patio looked as if it were littered with yeast. I decided to do a little research and visited pollenlibrary.com (who knew?) where they describe this yard menace as a mild allergenic.

To add insult to injury, the two smallish maples in my yard and in the yard of my neighbor to the south, have released a profusion—and I do mean profusion—of winged beans. I know you know what I’m talking about. Don’t ask me what kind of maple these are, because I have no idea. And these winged beans are a moderate allergen.

Winged beans from the nearby maples fill the gutters. Oh joy!

The forecasters warned that we would have a robust pollen season. Clearly they had this forecast spot on. Now that I’m becoming more sensitive to my friends and family with allergies, I can’t help but think I might have the sniffles. Oh, and a little cough too.

How’s your spring shaping up?


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A Closer Look at What’s Coming Up in the Garden

Here’s a close up of what’s blooming and coming up in my yard. I took these photos over the weekend, before we were hit with high winds and lots of rain.

A newcomer to the garden, I love the "freckles" on this guy.

A newcomer to the garden, I love the “freckles” on this guy.

Bloodgood Japanese Maple was the centerpiece of my gardens and the first specimen I planted in 2012. In fact, it was the first tree I had ever planted. During spring the leaves seem to change color daily.

Bloodgood Japanese Maple was the centerpiece of my gardens and the first specimen I planted in 2012. In fact, it was the first tree I had ever planted. During spring the leaves seem to change color daily.

lady's mantel april 2014

I can’t wait to watch one of the new additions to the garden–lady’s mantle. This is one of the plants I am obsessed with this year.

 

I am glad to see this shrub blooming. I see azaleas all over St. Louis and really like them, but have a hard time growing them. I plan to move my azaleas to a new location this fall in the hopes that a new spot will be better

I am glad to see this shrub blooming. I see azaleas all over St. Louis and really like them, but have a hard time growing them. I plan to move my azaleas to a new location this fall in the hopes that a new spot will be better

I moved my Frances William hostas because they were getting too much sun. The new spot has morning sun and afternoon shade. I love  the way this plant unfolds as it comes out of the ground

I moved my Frances William hostas because they were getting too much sun. The new spot has morning sun and afternoon shade. I love the way this plant unfolds as it comes out of the ground

The rhododendron got the worst of the winter and suffered lots of leaf scorch. It's blooms are beautiful though.

The rhododendron got the worst of the winter and suffered lots of leaf scorch. It’s blooms are beautiful though.

This silver mound is vigorous and hardy and is a wonderful groundcover at the edge of the patio bed.

This silver mound is vigorous and hardy and is a wonderful ground cover at the edge of the patio bed. Notice how the water droplets magnify on artemisia’s feathery leaves.