The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond

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The Garden in Late May


My oakleaf hydrangea, lush, laden with blooms and ready for a trim. Purple coneflower in front.

April showers did indeed bring May flowers to my Arch City garden. What a lovely month we’ve had; for the most part marked by relatively warm days and cool nights. Yet, as we wind our way through the month, the spring showers have not let up, and the forecast for early June in St. Louis looks pretty wet. (I just hope we don’t have a repeat of last year’s 19-inches of rain in June.) And true to form, our temperatures are on the rise as is the humidity and the frizz in my hair. What’s a girl to do?

Here’s an update of the garden.



Keeping with the order of things, the purples bloomed first, strutting their stuff throughout the garden. Purple clematis, English lavendar, “Walkers Low” catmint, hardy geranium and “May Night” salvia sprang to life earlier in May. Electric-hued gomphrena, Mexican heather, tall garden phlox and Russian sage will provide purple accents throughout the rest of the growing season.


English lavendar is a new addition to the garden. I have planted one in a pot as well.


Baptisia australis is one of the first to bloom in May.

The first bloom of roses was really quite beautiful and fragrant. I just trimmed the spent blooms.


A lovely trio of radrazz roses, salvia and cranesbill.

DSCN4532Out popped the yellows as the month marched on. Stella d’Oro daylily and coreopsis began to bloom.



Petunias are a key feature to my containers this year. In fact, one container that held last year’s failed attempt at tomatoes is full with volunteer petunias from last year and volunteer butterfly milkweed.


I was wondering what to plant in this large container. The volunteers tood care of that decision.


Supertunia “Raspberry Blast” on top and “Blue Star” Laurentia axillaris on the bottom.


A combination container of gomphrena, yellow Surdaisy, cherry red angelonia and licorice plant.


“Amelia” shasta daisy, ready to spring open…


…fully blooming a few days later.

My favorite season is coming to a close and I am hopeful summer’s sizzlers will be equally as thrilling. Gardening friends, I hope you’ve enjoyed spring’s bouty as much as I have.


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Beware of the Vole in Your Garden


My beloved penstemon is taking a beating.

Ugh. Something is making itself awfully comfortable in my yard and gardens. And I believe it is a vole–or more accurately, voles. Given their voracious habit of reproduction, I’m sure it’s the plural form of this noun.

Regardless, they are beginning to wreak havoc on some of my garden favorites, like my penstemon, which is listing and appears to have some heavy root damage.


First sign of damage: plant laying down and roots exposed.


Close up of root damage.

At first I thought it might be moles, but my research leads me to believe it is voles, commonly referred to as the meadow mouse. Apparently moles will leave mounds of dirt resembling small volcanos in its wake. Not so the vole. Multiple small holes are the hallmark of this rodent. Because both like to tunnel throughout the yard, the mole is often blamed for the havoc of the vole.


Clear over on the other side of the yard, the coreopsis has fallen over and the roots appear damaged. Note the small hole on the right near the edge of the plant’s foliage.


When I first saw the holes they were near the edge of my raised bed and I thought it was just signs of the soil settling. I even added new soil this spring. The beds were installed last year.

In casual conversations with friends, I’m learning voles are relatively prevalent in the area, at least the 3 of 3 conversations I’ve had in the past two days would confirm that. In fact, it was not 1 hour after talking with a friend who has voles, that I actually saw on the creatures–clearly startled by my presence–quickly dive into its hole by the flagstone. All have cautioned me to take swift action. My research via the Missouri Botanical Garden website confirms that as well. Apparently voles can do some very serious damage to the garden. On anthother note, one of my friends told me she and her husband have a “vole guy.” I had to laugh at that and get his number.

On a high level, here is what I’ve learned:

  • Voles are herbivores, not like the mole, which is a carnivore.
  • They begin reproducing at three weeks of age and don’t stop until they die., with litters of two to nine created monthly. Fortunately, their life span is only 16 around months in the wild.
  • They overwinter in their tunnels, enjoying the food they store in hollows near their nests.
  • They make elaborate tunnels throughout the yard.
  • They enjoy the tender roots of young herbaceous plants and the bark of young trees.
  • Habitat management, traps, repellents and chemicals are treatments to rid voles. Chemical warfare to rid this pest is probably not that effective in the spring/summer when the vole has lots of food choices at its avail.

Have you treated your yard and garden for voles?



Salad Gardening Experiment Update

Salad fixins

Lettuce, spinach and broccoli grow from seed in my veg trug.

I’ve enjoyed my first home grown salad of the season. Tender lettuce and spinach leaves gingerly harvested from the veg trug. Truly a satisfying feeling. A salad that was fresh, delicious and grown from seed in my own backyard.

Yet I seriously doubt I will grow vegetables from seed again.


Freshly picked, washed and ready for tossing.

It’s not that I didn’t derive a great sense of accomplishment from harvesting my own salad fixins. I did! Honestly, though, I did not enjoy the growing-from-seed experience. I did two experiments: Starting seeds in eggshells (what I affectionately call The Pinterest Salad) and direct sowing seeds into my veg trug (what I call the No-Fuss-No-Muss Salad). And if I had to choose one over the other, I prefer the latter.

Daily I misted the eggshells and the seeds quickly began to sprout. Joyous, I envisioned gently positioning my eggshell seedlings into the trug beside the No-Fuss-No-Muss experiment. The race would be on! But wait, what’s this? My eggshell seedlings became…leggy. Apparently my bright sunny window was not enough. I actually needed a grow light which would provide the appropriate light so that that lettuce would grow bushier.


egg carton growing (960x1280)

Leggy lettuce, broccoli and pelargonium get their start in eggs shells.

Meanwhile, the seeds in the trug were, well, trugging along. They were very slow to get going. Day after day little progress greeted my pre- and apres-work inspections. Was I watering enough? Too much? Not enough sun? Too cold? I moved that trug from sun to shade to partial sun/partial shade. Time would soon tell. Wouldn’t it? The broccoli plant looks wonderful but has yet to bear broccoli.

Veg Trug April (960x1280)

Direct sown into the veg trug, spinach and lettuce begin to sprout.


I decided this was too much anxiety for a salad. But patience saved the day and eventually the lettuce and spinach produced lovely leaves worthy of picking and drenching with salad dressing. It occurred to me that I should have written down the date I planted the seeds so that I could generally expect when they would mature. (I think I was looking out the window during science class.) The brocolli has yet to produce.

I continued to mist the Pinterest Salad. I had read that blowing a small fan near the seedlings would strengthen their stems. Whose got time for that! It’s no wonder I prefer the No-Muss-No Fuss method to salad gardening. I eventually took my Pinterest Salad outside and attempted to plant the eggshells in a small pot. That did not work. The shell fell apart and the seedling root structure was far to fragile.

Next year, I will fill my trug with salad fixins, but I plan to buy small starter plants from the nursery, which I expect will be equally satisfying.

Do you grow vegetables from seed?


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5 Container Favorites

I don’t talk about annuals much, preferring to invest in perennials and shrubs. But I do a bit of container planting each year to keep the color going. I’m anxious–but not too–for this cool, rainy spring to turn over to summer where the containers really take off. Every year I like to experiment with something new but I do have some tried and trues that I can’t live without. Here are five of my recent favorites.


2015 nicotianaNicotiana. I plant this near a window so I can enjoy its evening fragrance. A fast grower, nicotiana attracts bees and likes sun. Nicotiana comes in pink, a limey green and white. I like the white but have planted all three. I don’t usually combine this in a container because it likes as much room as it can get.

Trailing begonia 2Begonia. Not just any begonia. It’s gotta be dragon wing begonia. The light my window boxes receive suits this plant just right, and dragon wing has become a staple. I usually pair them with a spiller because these plants are all the thriller I need! Here I’ve paired it with purple spiderwort, another easy grower. I’m partial to the coral blooms that gently cascade on a delicate stem. As you can see, they take over, but I’m not complaining.

DSCN1945 (960x1280)Angelonia. I’m fairly new to this gem of a plant and I find the white cultivars are a bit more vigorous than the purple. However, I’ve only planted these in containers for two seasons and last season my containers (which had the purple variety) really didn’t perform well. This container had both white and purple varieties. I adored the yellow accent of calibrachoa, but it only bloomed once and looked pretty shabby.

Gerbera pot (600x800)\

Gerbera Daisy. Happy, hardy, colorful. A friend brought this over one day. I popped this sunny flower into a sunny yellow pot and enjoyed the heck out of it all summer. This is an easy care perennial that performed best in a container. It did not take well to being transplanted.

Gomphrena containerGomphrena.  I wish I had a better photo but you’ll get the idea. This is a real workhouse annual, providing bloom after tireless bloom all summer. Its cute pom-pom shaped spheres on long thin stems make for a great fill-in. I planted this last summer for the first time and combined it with sweet potato vine and petunias. I’d categorize this plant as fun, if there is such a plant category. The nearly neon purple bloom is a lot of fun too.



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Ewwwww, What’s That Smell?


The marketers of the rain barrel say this is a good spot for a plant. I don’t think so. It would block the overflow hole (see picture below). Also the front has a lip of sorts to also allow rain to cascade down the front. 

Here’s a rain barrel update. The water stinks.

In about one short month’s time, I have noticed that the water coming from  each of the two barrels has an malodorous quality. There’s also a slight greenish/yellowish tinge to the water. This was not the case the first couple of weeks of use.


The barrel relieves itself of water when full. The lip at the top also releases water when full.

While I knew there’d be some maintenance needed, I didn’t think it would be so soon.The barrels have a small screen in the top where the water drains in. Other than that, the system is completely enclosed. There is no removable lid, which in hindsight may not be ideal for dealing with clean out issues. I do know that there is no critter in there and there is no leaf/treat/plant debris in there because the opening in the screen is too small.


It’s amazing the amount of debris that comes off the roof.

I immediately turned to the Internet for help in diagnosing this problem.Probably causes: pollen in the water, algae growing in the water. Apparently it is not uncommon for the barrels to take on an odor during the spring pollen season as the pollens are deposited in the barrel along with the rain. The common antidote seems to be to drain the rain barrels or to quickly use the water following a rain.

I’m not going to do that. Both remedies seem counterintuitive to having them in the first place. I don’t want to get rid of all that water I am capturing in an effort to keep it out of the sewer system. And, my garden doesn’t typically need to be watered right after it rains. Especially in the spring when the temperatures are mild.

Another common cause for stinky barrel syndrome, as I’ve decided to call it, is standing water at the bottom of the barrel. Obviously that is not my problem. My barrel has two spigots–one up high and one down low. The lower spigot is near the bottom so that should not be a problem as I get into the dog days of summer and am draining them to water my thirsty garden.

What to do? What to do? I needed to find a remedy for the smell before it became too awful. And there are lots of ideas out there. Add baking soda to the barrel. Add vinegar to the barrel. Add baking soda AND vinegar. Add bleach. Install the barrels in a shady spot (now you tell me!). Add cedar oil or cedar chips to the barrel.Use a commercial algae killer. And there are those who say leave it alone, the microorganisms in the water are good for the plants.

Further research poo-poo’d the vinegar idea, saying it will only make the problem worse. I decided to add 1/4 cup of bleach to the barrel. It seemed the quickest solution I have on hand. I have only taken a small amount of water from them since I did this because we’ve had lots of rain (about 2 inches this week) but I didn’t notice an odor. Is it because of the fresh water coming in and displacing the funky water or is it the bleach? Time will tell.

How do you keep stinky rain barrel syndrome in check?