The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


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Things to Do While I Hurry Up and Wait

Tick, tick, tick. The PJM rhododendrons are the first signs of spring in my yard.

Tick, tick, tick. The PJM rhododendrons are the first signs of spring in my yard.

My Midwest suburban garden is dormant at the end of January. Limited diversion is provided from HGTV, blog trolling and old garden mags. It’s time for a Diversion List to get through what lies ahead…February.

February can be rather gloomy in St. Louis. While the days are getting longer and the temperatures are climbing, these positives are offset by cloud cover, 40-ish degree F daytime temperatures and a generally humid climate. Quite often the days drag on, making February feel like the longest month. You might understand why one needs diversion. This month would be a wonderful time to take a trip somewhere marvelous, like Hawaii, the Southwest, or Europe. But alas, my plans do not include such far-flung departures.

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

It won’t be long until the hosta begin to unfurl, it just seems like it.

My Diversion List includes taking an introductory digital photo class, swimming at the local Y, and perhaps a visit to the Missouri Botanical Garden.Things will no doubt be looking up by the end of Cupid’s month…temperatures will be on the rise, the days will be even longer yet and we will be moving into March and the much anticipated vernal equinox. And we all know what that means! How do you wind your way through February?

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Preparing for Productive Spring Gardening

I take great in pleasure reading gardening blogs where I find kindred souls who also while away their winter doldrums by planning for spring, reviewing last year’s accomplishments and reading gardening books (no doubt for the delicious eye candy). Spring daydreaming finds me focused on two new garden bed projects I’m itching to dig into.

But I have gotten ahead of myself.

Autumn is where this story begins. Autumn in St. Louis is glorious. Hot, hot temperatures have eased, the humidity has backed off, and the season is long enough to enjoy the garden’s last hurrah. That is when I began preparing my two spring projects. Just enough was accomplished to leave me feeling satisfied that I could “put the garden to bed” for the winter. In fact, I highly recommend beginning the foundation of a project in fall because it gives us gardeners all winter to mull over plant selection, peruse Pinterest for great combinations and spend the dreary and dark cold winter thinking about the possibilities to come.

Raised Bed on The Sunny North Fence

With the railroad ties removed, I could create an entry that did not require visitors to take a very large step down into the yard.

With the railroad ties removed, I could create an entry that did not require visitors to take a very large step down into the yard. The square stones are the original patio repurposed. I will move them to the side yard where I store my pots and yard waste. I’ll install a rain barrel where the downspout is located.

Project number one entailed replacing the rotting railroad ties that made this a bed, improving the entry into the yard from the gate, and adding more soil and grass seed to improve water flow. I selected a stone to tie into the patio but I am not entirely sold on its look. (I won’t get into the sordid details of my ugly complaint to the materials store, but let’s just say what was delivered didn’t exactly look like the materials on display.) But I think spilling plants will make me a true believer. This bed would be ideal for veggies, and I have dabbled in that area with limited success. The yard is Club Med for Squirrels and they have robbed me of any bounty tomatoes might bring. I’ve had limited success with peppers but always place herbs here. No, this sunny runway will be filled with florabunda. The great Canna Experiment took place in the raised bed last summer and I plan to install Canna 2.0 this year.

It’s often the unnoticed things that make a difference. I also added a lot more soil to the ground in front of the bed and reseeded. The season was getting late and I will probably have to add a little more grass seed in the spring. But the net effect is that rainwater will flow to the slope in the yard instead of just sitting there. A rain barrel is also in the planning. Not exactly what I want at the entrance to the yard, but I really like the sustainability aspects of the rain barrel and will somehow camouflage its unattractive exterior. I think they are making more options for barrels as well. This part of the story is to be continued.

The lower left is the step added to the wall at the entrance to the yard. I do like the curve.

The lower left is the step added to the wall at the entrance to the yard. I do like the curve. I placed flagstone pieces at the entry to create a sort of “landing” as you enter the gate.

View of the length of the bed. This photo was taken from the gate

View of the length of the bed. This photo was taken from the gate. Most of my perennials were cut back or moved in the fall. The Great Canna Experiment though, required the leaves to get a healthy frost bite and die back before removing the canna.

The Shady South Fence

Directly opposite the North Fence is the South Fence which sits in shade. This, too, is a runway along the fence. However, it terminates at the pie-shaped wedge in the corner of the yard that has been my nemesis. When I first moved here in 2011, the wedge had 3 hosta in it. I added more hosta and azalea with an end goal of having large, hot pink azalea fill the back corner. That plan did not work as this area if draped in deep shade and part of its is the wettest spot in the yard…think standing water when it rains hard. Year 2 was spent coaxing the plants and adding plenty of mulch. Year 3 found me abandoning this bed completely.

Oh so weedy, oh so neglected! I gave up the fight in the summer of 2014 only to resume the battle to make something of this difficult space.

Oh so weedy, oh so neglected! I gave up the fight in the summer of 2014 only to resume the battle in the fall to make something of this difficult space.

Before Corner bed with Viburnum

The wedge in transition. The azaleas have been moved to the front left. The winterberry on the far right has been planted and to the right of that is the edge of the new bed that runs the length of the fence line. There’s still work to be done but if this plan works out the shrubs will screen the corner. I may even use that space to place the wheel barrow and other garden tools.

The "before" glamour shot of the South Bed. At the bottom edge of the photo is where water pools after hard rains.

The “before” glamour shot of the South Bed. At the bottom edge of the photo is where water pools after hard rains.

The new bed along the fence is waiting to be planted. My winter day dreaming is under way.

The new bed along the fence is waiting to be planted with shade lovers. 

The new plan is all about creating a screen and involved moving the three remaining azaleas (rhododendron) to the edge of the the wedge where there is a bit more sun; adding three leatherleaf viburnum (Viburnum rhytidolphyllum) along the edge as they grow tall and fast; and putting in winterberry (Ilex verticillata) to wettest spot in the wedge.Now I only added one winterberry because this low, ponding area is where the deep shade begins. I will see how things go this summer but would like to add two more winterberry.

As for the shade-loving runway along the fence: That’s where the winter day dreaming comes in. Thank god for Pinterest, gardening magazines and blogs. My mind is filling with ideas hopefully to be realized in 2015.

What are your best bets for shade? Are there any tall shrubs that love shade and screen the dull gray fence?


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Making Progress in the Garden

I’ve written much about the bed that faces east and south beneath the den windows and the large bed that lies opposite it and runs the length of the patio. But my “vision” is to wrap gardens around the back of the house; to update the old railroad-tie, raised bed; and to build a bed along the south fence. Ambitious, I know. Rome was not built in a day and neither is this garden.

I imagine all gardeners are familiar with the three year adage: “First year sleeping, second year creeping, third year leaping.” 2014 was year three and I am pleased with much of the leaping that occurred. Take a look.

Just getting started in year one. A blank slate is fun.

Just getting started in year one. A blank slate is fun.

Second year creeping.

Second year creeping.

My "vision" is to wrap gardens around the house. The blue door is the entry to the den, which faces east.

My “vision” is to wrap gardens around the house. The blue door is the entry to the den, which faces east.

On the north side of the den, I planted a lovely oakleaf hydrangea (“Alice”), one Knockout rose bush and perennials in 2012. My thought was that the oakleaf would be a screen and behind it would be my potting shelves and storage for the trash cans. Because I am the youngest of two sisters who have great sensibilities, I listened when they observed that seeing the trash cans first thing upon entering the gate gives a less than stellar first impression of the garden.

My thought in planting the oakleaf hydrangea (in the back of photo) was to create a screen to hide the potting shelves and trash cans.

My thought in planting the oakleaf hydrangea (in the back of photo) was to create a screen to hide the potting shelves and trash cans.

The view from the gate...not a welcome one, according to my older and wiser sisters. A clean up of the area commenced in 2014, and plantings were installed.

The view from the gate…not a welcome one, according to my older and wiser sisters. A clean up of the area commenced in 2014, and plantings were installed.

The "after" look includes plantings of hosta, heuchera, astilbe and ferns.

The “after” look includes plantings of hosta, heuchera, astilbe and ferns. The oakleaf has turned into a godzilla of sorts, devouring the hostas with its branches. I will move all the hosts in the spring.

So two seasons later, I heeded their advice and extended the bed and moved the trash cans and shelves. My gardening style tends to be experimental in that I will place several specimens in a bed to see how they behave. The back end of the bed is shaded. In fact, the oakleaf pretty well grabs the last of the sun as the bed turns north facing. I expect to move many of these shade lovers to a new bed I am building on the south side of the yard (more on that in another post). In fact, I am contemplating removing the smaller-sized plants and moving an azalea in here. I think the balance will be better.

I look forward to sharing with you my plans for some new garden spaces in 2015 and hearing your comments. Thanks for reading.

 


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Writing Prompt: Our Gardens Ourselves

foxgloveOne quick glance through the window into the backyard and my garden tells a story of transition. Or more aptly put, growing.

In 2011, after nearly two years of being tossed about by the midlife changes of divorce and children launching into their own lives, I bravely charted a new path and moved to a new home. Its backyard was a blank slate, nothing there but an expanse of lawn with rickety pavers masquerading as a patio and two lonely rose shrubs under the den’s window. A raised bed running the length of the short fence was fallow, not a single plant pushed through the clay soil.

Seeking a permanence that had been uprooted, I immediately set about anchoring my existence and installed a large concrete patio. Nothing says “I’m here to stay” like concrete. A dining table, coffee table, chairs, planters and chiminea invite visitors to have a seat and stay awhile. And the curving garden beds I would plant surrounding the patio, house, and borders of the yard, would provide a floral vista worth the linger.

den bed in May  (1024x768)The serious work of establishing roots came with the plantings. A riot of intense color beneath the den tells a story of passion and nerve. Here a bed brims with hot pink roses, spikes in spring with the deepest purple salvia and spills mounds of pink cranesbill at its edges. It wraps toward the south and tall garden phlox, swaying Russian sage, happy Shasta daisy, deep crimson monarda and an assortment of red and yellow lilies and other perennials are kissed by the sun and return its affection with bloom after glorious bloom. This has been my experimental bed, the place where I try out different perennials.  It is my cutting garden and it is a spot in the yard in which I am unafraid to try new things.

Opposite the den garden and running the length of the patio, a large paisley shaped bed tells a story of ambition and optimism. A graceful Japanese maple, stout dwarf Colorado blue spruce and small hydrangeas that serpentine their way through the bed are the foundation. Yet there is plenty of room to grow. Each growing season, the sun soaked garden receives new plants that provide another layer of color, form and texture.  I watch from the den as the specimens play host to birds, bees, butterflies and squirrels. Tall grasses, pink roses, spiking liriope, speckled purple foxglove, sturdy mauve gayfeather, Russian sage, echinachea, bold black eyed Susans come back in profusion year after year.

DSCN0096 (1024x768)The raised bed has provided a bounty of tomatoes (alas, mostly for the squirrels), peppers, herbs and flowers. Its rotting timbers have been replaced with stone and this year tall cannas stood sentry along its straight line.

Three summers have passed since I began my garden adventures. Happy to be in place, but not content to be static, new plants are added each year to the initial garden beds. I continue to make way for new possibilities, and will build a bed that run the length of the graying wood fence that faces north. I am unafraid to move shrubs to new spots that will encourage greater growth and know when to give up and pull a plant that just won’t make it. And no matter the season, I nurture the gardens, coaxing them to put forth their very best, year after year.

Thanks to You Grow Write Guild for the excellent writing prompt. This is my first go at such a thing and I am glad I stumbled upon this. In the short time I have been blogging, I am amazed at the communities available online and the resources available.


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Trying to Grow Orchids

Orchid #2 leaf growth (640x480)I’m fairly excited. I truly am. I came in from my dark, 10 degree F (-12 C) work commute to discover one of my orchids seems to be growing! There are new leaves and “shoots” (for lack of a better word) coming off the stems. Could this plant actually be–dare I say it–thriving?

I find the world of houseplants to be more frustrating than my garden. Mostly it’s because I have limited space for them. But I enjoy the green beauty of a houseplant, especially in winter. I have two orchids, both from the grocery store, that were given to me as gifts. I believe they are Phalaenopsis or “moth orchids.” My first orchid was given to me two years ago at Christmas, and, it’s not doing the greatest (more on that in a minute). My performing orchid was given to me in August; both were in glorious bloom when I received them. Of course, I watched, misted, fed and fretted what I should do when the blooms die. Do I cut the stems down? The instructions on both tags told me to give the orchid 3 ice cubes a week. And to give it plenty of light. Check. Check. No problem following those simple instructions.

Orchid #2 stems

The browning stem makes me nervous? Do I cut this completely down? Trim it as it browns? Leave it alone? This time I opted to leave it alone.

But I do get nervous once the blooms fade and fall off. That’s because the stems begin to turn brown from the top down. Yikes, do I cut that off? Just trip off the dead stuff down to the nodule on the stem? Well, on the first plant I cut the stems when they completely turned brown and looked dead. I figured the plant would grow new stems. Hmmmmm, not so much.

Orchid #2 new growth

There’s new growth emerging from the stem of Orchid #2.

So when plant #2’s blooms faded and fell, I repeated the same step. Only this time, the stems are not completely brown and growth is coming off the nodules of the stem. And–yes, there’s more good news here–there is new leaf growth. Truthfully, that does not excite me nearly as much as the stem growth because Orchid #1 had lots and lots of leaf and root growth after the stems died. In fact, it had so much leaf and root growth that I re-potted it after I had it more than a year and it seemed rather apparent that it was not going to rebloom. I thought that perhaps the thing was root bound.

Orchid #1 doesn't seem so happy, even though I have treated it the same way as its sibling orchid. What gives?

Orchid #1 doesn’t seem so happy, even though I have treated it the same way as its sibling orchid. What gives?

I went to one of my favorite nurseries, bought a pot and planting material. I already had the orchid food, and the ice cubes. But I got nothing; the poor thing has not performed.

Maybe sibling rivalry will kick in and will start doing something, lest it be shown up by its younger sister.


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Armed and Dangerous

My new multipurpose gardening tool stands ready for all the hand work the  garden can throw at it.

My new multipurpose gardening tool stands ready for all the hand work the garden can throw at it.

Watch out weeds. I’m coming after you compacted clay soil. Transplanting will be putty in my hands. Like a kid at Christmas, I can’t wait to try out my new toy, a multipurpose planting tool. It’s a trowel! No wait, it’s a weeder! It’s big grip means comfortable control as I slice through sod. No more struggling to tear open sacks of soil, the multipurpose tool is ready.

I can’t wait for spring!