The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


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Do You Believe in Magic?

On a cold, dreary winter night this week a spell was cast in Glendale, MO.

I am among the 5,900 or so who call this bedroom community home. And several of us came together this week as volunteers for a community beautification effort called Grow Glendale Gorgeous. This grassroots effort was started by a woman named Julie. Her plan is to beautify the community with containers, gardens, and landscapes. This week she and her board members hosted their second community meeting, an evening get together at City Hall to share their progress and start sign up sheets for a work day in April and to volunteer to water.

Here’s a little bit about Glendale: It’s 1.2 miles large and is situated in central St. Louis County. These are just statistics, however. What they don’t tell you is the pride and passion its residents have for this place. Glendale was recently named the #1 community to live in Missouri. While there may be no city park (at least I have not come across one in the 4 years years I have lived here) if GGG has its way, the city will be unified with large containers overflowing with flowers, a native garden bed at the school, window boxes at local businesses and gardens and containers at City Hall.

Julie and her crew describe it as “magic.” Do you believe in magic? I know I do. I look forward to sharing progress of GGG in the coming months.

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Missouri Botanical Garden Orchid Show

IMG_1009A common expression heard in St. Louis is, “If you don’t like the weather just wait a day.” So true. Last night’s ice and snow was a short-lived inconvenience as the temperatures got up into the 40s today and the sun melted what was sitting on the drive way. Good thing too, as I was not delayed in a visit to the Missouri Botanical Garden for its annual orchid show.

There may be variety in the Midwest weather–especially at this time of year–but nothing compares to the variety found in orchids. Wikipedia tells me that there are four times the number of orchid species than there are mammal species and twice the number of bird species. That’s a lot of orchidaceae. It makes the temperature swing we are expecting seem insignificant.

And fortunately for visitors to the orchid show, MoBot provides a healthy assortment to view. The show displays but a sampling of the garden’s permanent collection of more than 7,000 orchids. These represent more than 280 genera and 2,500 unique orchid taxa.

IMG_1017 yellow purple orchid IMG_1011  white aphrodite orchidshade orchid Red coral orchid

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IMG_1040 IMG_1039

The exhibit is in a moderately sized room and went under construction immediately after dismantling the Holiday show. Apparently it takes quite a bit of time to prepare the space for the lush assortment of cattleya, phalaenopsis, oncidium and dendrobium species, to name drop just a few species. What I really enjoyed is the way the designers did a nice job of moving the color palette through the rainbow. There are yellows, oranges, reds, corals, purples, chocolates on display.

The theme of the show is “Orchids and Their Pollinators” and the Garden provides a G-rated lesson in the mating habits of orchids, pointing out that orchids have a very specific relationship with their pollinators. They lure them in ways to attract specific animals and insects. In fact, their floral structure is specifically adapted to accommodate a specific pollinator. If that pollinator becomes extinct, so might that orchid species. To learn more about the importance of pollinators visit the Pollinator Partnership.

What floral show is playing in your neighborhood?


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Lush Life in San Antonio, TX

Lush may not be the first adjective that comes to mind when one thinks of gardening in San Antonio. Difficult rocky soil conditions can seem unforgiving to one’s back and the shovel. Summers are very hot and dry; rainfall is cause for celebration. Yet sprawling live oak trees and limestone fences are emblematic in this tough Texas landscape and lend charm to to this Southwest city.

My sister Susan set her roots in San Antonio more than 35 years ago, unfazed by the gardening conditions. As the crow flies, her home is about 800 miles southwest of St. Louis. Driving would would take more than 15 hours, which is why when I sit in her back yard and take in its beauty, it feels like I am worlds away. Because our climates are decidedly varied–she is in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 8b and I am in Zone 6a– this makes our small-yard tours all the more enjoyable when we are together. This post, unfortunately, is not a recap of a personal visit, but an an armchair tour for both you and me. As the temperatures rise and the last frost date (March 1) nears in San Antonio, Susan sent me a few photos that show her lush landscape as it awakens.

A tabletop container of succulents.

A tabletop container of succulents. Just to the left of this patio is the fence, dotted with containers of succulents.  The bare trees will soon provide a canopy of shade and provide for an intimate setting in the two seating areas of the yard. The arching branches of the Mexican plum hold hanging baskets.

San Antonio is increasingly drought prone and relies on the Edwards Aquifer as well as the Trinity and Carrizo aquifers for its water. Smart gardeners in this part of the United States focus on conserving resources, most notably water, when selecting plants. In Susan’s small backyard, creative expression is evident through drought-hardy native selections and, increasingly, succulents .A large Mexican plum (“Prunus Mexicana) has arching branches to provide lots of look and plenty of shade. Better yet, this native has inconspicuous flowers and is drought hardy. I have always enjoyed the respite of her backyard, no matter the time of year. There is a laid-back casual style to her yard that immediately puts visitors to ease.

Bare now, the Mexican plum has large, arching branches that provide lots of shade when the days are hot.

Bare now, the Mexican plum has large, arching branches that provide lots of shade when the days are hot.

Back-saving planters are found throughout the yard and help create a casual vibe. I am continually amazed at how Susan’s selections thrive with minimal water, but they were not chosen haphazardly, far from it. For years she has spoken about the expert advice imparted by the “Texas Aggies,” also known as the Texas A&M University extension service. The Aggies have not let her down. Which brings me to a question, Arch City readers, where do you turn to for advice for your growing region? One of my favorite resources is the Missouri Botanical Gardens plant finder.

Broadleaf evergreens are the backbone to the garden and provide color throughout San Antonio’s relatively mild winters. A densely leaved burford holly provides a screen from neighboring yards. The berries will soon be gone, replaced with clusters of springtime white flowers. Asparagus fern grows year-round and like the burford holly produces red berries in the winter. The fine texture of this plant belies its drought tolerance and vigorous nature. Asparagus fern is well established in the garden bed and cascades from hanging baskets. Two seating areas in the yard are surrounded by large trees and convey an intimate feeling. Perfect for those sister-to-sister conversations. A limestone fence also runs across the back of the yard. I love this fence and the plantings she has around it. A small pond is in front of the fence and worth a lengthy stop when we’re touring the yard.

Evergreen shrubs such as this yaupon holly (ilex vomitoria) are the backbone of the garden and provide color in the winter months.

Evergreen shrubs such as this yaupon holly (ilex vomitoria) are the backbone of the garden and provide color in the winter months.

Burford holly in bloom.

Burford holly (ilex cornuta) makes an evergreen screen from the neighboring yard.

A crape myrtle is to the left of the pond, which is densely planted with sun loving natives.

A crape myrtle is to the left of the pond, which is densely planted with sun loving natives.

With daytime temperatures now averaging in the mid to upper 60s F (18 C), potted cyclamen and primrose provide a nice contrast to enjoy while sipping a sweet tea. Soon the crape myrtle will be in bloom as will the plantings in and around the pond, providing a nice view from the patio and an attractive display against the lovely limestone fence.

Primrose and cyclamen in bloom in February.

Primrose and cyclamen in bloom in February.

These lovelies are treated more as an annual than a perennial in San Antonio due to its hot, hot summers. Before long, heat loving, colorful annuals will take their place. Brightly colored containers and chair cushions also provide color to her garden. By the time I am placing pansies in pots to provide a spot of spring color, Susan’s yard will have transitioned and be in full bloom, her pansies a recent memory.

Small space gardening is full of possibilities. I am inspired by large amount of creativity in the small city yards and suburban yards I have been invited into. I continue to explore the possibilities for my own small yard.

To glimpse another small backyard garden, please visit my June 2014 post “An Urban Garden Oasis.”


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Great Pairings for Shade

There’s no denying a dynamic combination when we see one. John, Paul, George and Ringo; tomato, mozzarella and basil; red wine and chocolate are three that come quickly to mind. As planning for the new shade bed along the south fence takes on more mental bandwidth, I’m focusing on great combinations that incorporate texture, shape, color and proportion. It can be enough to make my head spin, especially since I have had limited success in the deep shade areas of the yard.

To date my focus has been mostly on the sunny combinations I have been able to put together. Pots provide an inexpensive way to experiment with combinations. Each year I try and experiment with different textural and color combinations, keeping in mind the “filling, thrilling, spilling” trinity. And I have a sunny spot in the yard that I affectionately refer to as my “experimental bed.” There I have introduced all kinds of specimens that I have later moved to other sunny beds.

This pot of purple fountain grass, sweet potato vine and creeping jenny help screen the gutter by the front of the garage.

This pot of purple fountain grass, sweet potato vine and creeping jenny help screen the gutter by the front of the garage.

Yellow and orange dazzle during the hottest time of the day.

Yellow and orange dazzle during the hottest time of the day. The coreopsis, which thrives in this spot, got its start in the so-called “experimental bed.”

And while these combinations have been fun and lively, they won’t do for the shade. I began experimenting under the tree by the south fence last summer by planting two types of fern, hosta and astilbe. I may have planted one of the ferns (sensitive fern [Onoclea sensibilis]) too deep as it did not perform well; the astilbe withered, and the hosta tried to hang on for dear life but looked pathetic. I will wait to see if the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) reappears and plan to move it to the other end of the bed and plant a variegated solomon seal (Polygonatum) beneath the tree instead.

This is a long runway of fence to fill (about 28 feet) and I want something tall in the center. That’s where part of my angst comes in. What to plant? What to plant? A hydrangea of some sort? I have hydrangeas in two beds and love them but I want to branch out and try something new. I envision white caladium running along the length of the bed, filled in with hakonechloa grasses to brighten the shady spot. Other contenders include astilbe, large hosta, heuchera and brunnera. None of these meet the height requirement I am seeking. Any ideas, fellow gardeners? I am considering a vine or a small tree to put in the center of the bed to provide vertical interest.

If indecision gets the best of me this year, I will resort to moving a tall concrete plant stand and placing a lovely pot on top, keeping in mind the successful combination “filling, thrilling and spilling.” As always, thanks for reading.

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

A blank slate–the shade bed along the fence.

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

Another bright green and purple combination, this time for a shady spot. The coral bloom adds yet another colorful layer.

The silvery gray-green of the artemisia contrasts with the pink roses and spikey angelinia in the pot.

The silvery gray-green of the silver mound artemesia contrasts with the pink roses and the potted white angelonia.