The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


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Whistle While You Work

This blog title pretty well describes my day yesterday. First, it was Friday. No explanation needed there. Even better, it was planting day.

A group of us at work have come together to plant a container garden outside the patio of one of the buildings. We’ve been planning this for quite some time and have had several meetings to discuss what we’d plant–veggies; when we’d plant–Earth Day; steps needed to take to get this done–get seeds, containers, soil, signs, building approval, watering schedule, weeding volunteers, etc.

As these things tend to go, one thing led to another. I’ve mentioned before that I work with seed and plant experts, so at sometime along the way (like Meeting One) we decided we needed their, ahem, “engagement” in this project. And by that I mean we went begging, asking for quality seed, assistance to grow out the seed and maybe even a little bit of agronomic support. We’d do the rest! Honest. Especially the planting on a Friday part.

“Engagement” wasn’t an issue. This small project taps right to the roots of the joys of gardening. Lots of us love to get our hands dirty; and are as passionate about home gardening as we are about farming. Even one volunteer brought everyone rosemary plants he started at home from seed. Kind of a party favor, if you will. And Nick, a marketing manager for Seminis Vegetable Seeds, was more than happy to provide seeds and supplies so we could showcase the products he is so proud of on campus.

Planting site (1280x960)Here’s the lineup of what we’ve got going on. Many are AAS selections. Maybe you’ve planted some of these seeds in your own vegetable gardens:

  • Lettuce: Amanda
  • Spinach: Green Beret
  • Brocolli:” Artwork (AAS)
  • Peppers: Flaming Flare Fresno (AAS), Emerald Fire Jalapeno (AAS), Hot Sunset Banana (AAS), Sweet Sunset Banana (AAS), Flaming Jade Serrano (AAS)
  • Squash: Bossa Nova (AAS)
  • Tomatoes: Better Boy, Rugged Boy SV0056TD, Dixie Red
  • Cucumber: Gateway
  • Custard Beans

Eric, one of our planting experts, explained over lunch that our patio garden will have some challenges. The garden’s location gets lots of sun, which is good. It also will give off lots of heat retained by the patio. Fruiting plants like tomatoes will require lots of watering–even on weekends. And we’ll need to be coordinated in our watering schedule. We don’t want to drown the plants and we don’t want to overwater them either.

M Building Before (1280x960)

This is the patio bed before the plants were removed. It’s the perfect size for a container garden. Bonus: It gets tons of sun.

Full serpentine planters (960x1280)

The cool season crops like broccoli, lettuce and spinach will soon be replaced by more peppers, zucchini and other warm season vegetables.

I did learn this tidbit: Water deeply to encourage the roots to reach down to the water. I’m guilty of watering too lightly. That encourages shallow root growth. I’ll be more mindful of that in my garden this summer.

And he explained that we’ll need to be on the watch out for leaf molds and fungus, as well as critters who enjoy the fruits of our labor. You’ve heard me complain about squirrels and rabbits. This garden will in all likelihood also include deer.

What started as lots of gardending enthusiasts thinking “Wouldn’t it be neat to have a garden at work?” has become a reality that turned into a really neat way to meet and know new colleagues. We have more in common than where we work. We all love to garden. I’m thinking we could have a plant swap down the road.

Does your office or company gardening opportunities?

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Roll Out The Barrels

Rain barrel and rhodos (960x1280)There’s nothing like the need for new gutters to finally motivate me to install a couple of rain barrels. I’d been thinking about installing barrels since I moved in five years ago and even more so when I found myself constantly watering a newly planted parched garden bed baking in the 105 degree heat that second summer.

My two 55-gallon barrels have arrived and are already full. That’s right. One rain gusher filled them to the brim. I live in a modest ranch-style home, approximately 1200 square feet if that helps you in picturing just how much rain runoff is going on here.

Rain barrel installed (960x1280)I’m always interested in conserving resources and being as “green” as I can–every day is Earth Day. The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District’s web site cites an EPA stat that 40 percent of home water use is for landscape and lawn needs. Rain barrel proponents tout the devices as a low tech way to tap into a free supply of water that would otherwise drain into the sewer system. I’d agree with that–they are low tech–but given how fast they have filled up, and watching the overflow feature cascade rain off the front of the barrel, I’m not sure I’m saving that much storm water from entering the sewer system. I’ll know at the end of this garden season if they made a difference in my water bill. I do derive small pleaure in filling up my handy dandy watering can with abandon and have yet to turn on the hose for watering. Although each barrel sits on a makeshift platform, water pressure is low. That’s okay, I’ve got patience. While one watering can is filling up, I am watering with a second or doing something else.

Many sites claim the water that is coming off the roof is better for the plants than the water coming from the house system. That’s because it is softer because it is low in salts and chlorine. Unlike tap water, fresh rain water does not contain flouride compounds.Still, you don’t want to drink this stuff. There’s lots of nasty coming off the roof. Many web sites have FAQs that discuss if this is water that can be used to water vegetables. Short answer is yes but water the soil not the plant directly.

Aesthics are important to me. Color, size and shape were all carefully considered. I wanted a barrel that blends into the landscape, not competes with it. Then there are the practical considerations: spigot type (plastic versus brass–I chose brass), overflow mechanics (mine have a front overflow design, no diverter), barrel openings (only a screen for inflow). Not sure I like the fact that I can’t pop off the lid of the barrels at the end of the season. I will have to unscrew the inflow screen to clean and empty them.

I spent lots of time looking for the right rain barrel and read review after review. Common complaint is that they leak. One of mine was leaking at the spigot but I didn’t have it tightened in properly and that problem has been resolved. A common feature is that you install a plant on the top of the barrel. I don’t plan on doing that but can see how standing water in this reservoir will be a mosquito draw. I am, however, planting fern around the base of one of the barrels to obscure the stone perch it is atop. I plan to extend a small hose to the soaker hoses in my shade bed for deep watering. Will let you know how that works.

What do you think of rain barrels?

 


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April Progress Report

Flagstone finished (960x1280)I’ve embarked on a garden improvement plan, but then what gardener hasn’t? Tired of struggling with the slow fill in of the big bed that runs the length of the patio, I decided it needed some help filling in and plants weren’t going to do it.

Rabbits have gotten fat off of hearty helpings of the liriope planted in a ring around the Japanese maple. And not just this year. They’ve been munching on the liriope since they discovered them in 2013. Enough! No longer an enabler, I dug them up and gave them to a friend. They don’t bother the liriope planted up near the house but I think they’re too afraid to get near the door.

The growing maple cast too much shade on the zebra grass planted in the back of the bed. It is now positioned in front of the tree where there’s more sun throughout the day. Haphazardly planted daylilies (a gift from my neighbor) have been moved together for a more cohesive look.

flagstone I (960x1280)Suddenly I was left with lots of space around the tree. And I discovered two flagstone castoffs in the back of the yard. Well, you know the rest of the story. A quick trip to the nearby materials supply store and I was off to the races. Fortunately the ground is still soft and the soil is pretty good–not the rock hard, compacted clay I encountered when I started this bed in 2012.

“Walkers Low” catmint (Nepeta recemosa), “Maggie Daley” astilbe and “Amethyst” astilbe x arendsii, and lady’s mantle (alchemilla mollis) will find a home in the bed alongside roses, coneflower (echinacea), liatris, coreoposis, dianthus, “Little Joe” pye weed (eupatorium) and black eyed susans (rudbeckia) that are planted among the Little Lamb and Little Lime hydrangea.

Here’s a picture of the path before the flagstone was dug into place. (As a side note, I can’t believe how much the maple has leafed out in the past week. I love its dark maroon leaves.)

flagstone II (960x1280).jpg

I moved those suckers into several arrangements before deciding on this layout. Their heft is deceptive; the materials guy told me in total they weighed more than 225 pounds.

The addition of a couple of rain barrels, my great vegetable experiment and–coming soon!–the addition of a paperbark maple have also filled my weekends. Stay tuned for upcoming posts on these adventures.

As always, thanks for reading.

 


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In the Swing of Spring

Here’s a quick peek at the goings on in my Arch City backyard. So happy it’s spring!

Japanese Maple April (2) (960x1280)

Bloodgood Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) starts to leaf.

Tulips April (1280x960)

Pretty pink tulips in bloom. Fond reminders of a family trip to the Netherlands last fall.

Clematis April (960x1280)

Clematis begins its winding growth. Transplanted in the fall from a container, it seems to like its new spot. This is the second year for this plant and I think I’m falling in love! 🙂

Japanese Forest Grass (1280x960)

Bright chartreuse and green leaves of Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra) after a rain.

Rain barrel and rhodos (960x1280)

Pretty pink and purple rhododendron in full bloom. Note the rain barrel in the back. More about that in a coming post.

Penstemon April (960x1280)

Husker Red penstemon (Penstemon digitalis) bursting forth. This is one of my favorites. I love the purple/green leaves with red veining. Before too long it will be in bloom.

Astilbe April (1280x960)

Hairy stemmed astilbe (Astilbe chinensis) are planted near the Japanese forest grass. But there are other signs of life in my shade garden: pointy tips of hosta emerging, curly coral bell (heuchera) leaves, rosy colored  tips of Solomon seal (polygonatum biflorum), lemon-lime creeping Jenny (lysimachia nummularia), and soon, ferns, glorious elegant ferns.

VegTrug April 1 (1280x960)

The great seed planting experiment shows signs of life: cool season greens and brocolli.

Rain Gauge April (960x1280)

Spring rainfall, cool night time temperatures and warmer days make possible all of the above.