The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


New Addition: Paperbark Maple

paperbark by patioI love it when a plant is described as a “solution.” But that’s not what led me to select and plant Acer griseum, commonly called a paperbark maple due to its distinguising feature of peeling bark. T

No, I chose this tree because my yard is small and I wanted a smallish tree that would give more of an enveloping feeling to the space at the patio’s edge. We all know site selection is important when buying plants, and I’d say it’s very important when buying trees. They’re expensive and not easy to rip out like, say, daylilies or other type of perennial.

paperbark maple2So I considered not just my need for a more cozy spot, but also the fact that the site gets mostly full sun, is made of clay soil and I wanted to reduce the step down from the patio to the yard. Beyond these technical considerations, I wanted a tree that provides fall or winter interest. Winter is St. Louis is dreary. I like looking out something beyond a gray landscape. So far, additions of a drawf blue spruce (looks awesome in snow!) and winterberry have helped establish more four-season interest.

Paperbark maple site prep

Here’s a “before” photo. We had lots of rain this spring so there was a considerable lag time from when I bought the tree and when the landscaper could plant it. I prepped the site by killing the grass with glyphosate.

paperbark install2I’ve thought long and hard about what I wanted in this spot. Maybe an attractive shrub row with great fall interest, such as burning bush (euonymus alatus), or a tree that would provide dappled light, like river birch (betula nigra). I love the peeling bark of river birch, but I don’t care for its leaves all that much. A row of shrubs would obscure my view of my shade garden and would be too much of a repetition in size; I already have several shrubs of similar height. Oh, and I like clumping or multi-stemmed trunks.

peeling bark mapleOf course, I did lots and lots of online research and visited my favorite nurseries and the Missouri Botanical Gardens once or twice to look at trees I that interested me. By the way, MoBot has a wonderful plant finder tool on its web site. This is what a came across when I did a search for paperbark maple:

Attaining a height of 20 to 30′, paperbark maple is an excellent choice for small properties. This slowgrowing tree features beautiful peeling cinnamon to reddish brown bark and trifoliate leaves that turn red in fall. Its two-winged seeds tend to be infertile and will not produce as many unwanted seedlings in lawns as other maples.

Other pages on the MoBot web site describe the tree as a great choice for clay soil. Problem solved. The tree is larger than I can manage so a local landscaper planted it for me this spring. If I have one regret, it’s that the paperbark is a slow grower. It’s going to take a few years for it to fill in and lend that enveloping feeling I’m seeking. But all things considered, I would definately describe this tree as a “solution.”



Yes, You Can Tame Godzilla

DSCN4735OMG! My oakleaf hydrangea has gone C-R-A-Z-Y. I’ll be the first to tell you that I love a spiller/thriller of a plant–be it a potted wonder filled to the brim or a shrub. Bring it on is my motto.DSCN4737But this is ridiculous. My “Alice” oakleaf is on steroids. I. Kid.You. Not. She spilled her pendulous blooms across the sidwalk making it nearly impossible to get the mower out of the garage. And her dinner plate-sized leaves are a wonder to observe. Seriously! Is this plant prehistoric? Not to mention the blooms which were easily a foot long, and I am not exaggerating one tiny bit.

Alice needed a haircut, no two ways about it. So in the heat and humidity of a July summer day, I grabbed the shears and commenced to trimming. Several minutes later Alice was tamed and, voila!, I created 8 weeks worth of material for “In a Vase on Monday.”

For some truly inspiring cut flower vase arrangements visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden and John at A Walk in the Garden. Their weekly vases are worth a peek.



The Beauty of Garden Accents

happy leaf manJuly has been a splendid month. Very hot, very humid but full of travel, fun and frivolity. Isn’t that what summer is supposed to be about? I’ve left the garden to its own devices and have been welcomed back by a host of new bloomers–panicled hydrangeas, black eyed Susans, Joe pye weed, pink roses, daisies and zinnias, even as the voles continue their vicious attacks.

Wind chimesA 4th of July visit to my sister in San Antonio is what has inspired this post. Mornings were spent lounging on her tree-covered patio, coffee mugs and i-Pads for news in hand, interspersed with lots and lots of sister talk. Surrounded by Susan’s lush plantings, pond, and all sorts of of garden ornamentia my thoughts were naturally led to garden art.

Susan's fence planter

Beaded strings of whimsy hang from a succulent basket in my sister’s San Antonio garden.


Stone birds

Ribbon grass, now mature, provides a backdrop for the stone bird post.

I love garden accents. They provide a punctuation mark, whimsy or a much needed pause to the garden. Garden accents can take the form of some serious statuary or be as delicate as a glass wind chime. Big or small, I believe such accents give the viewer information about the garden and, more importantly, the gardener.

Fence hanging

I often buy garden accents as gifts. Sometimes they don’t make it to their intended recipients, as is the case for this blue glass bead dangler.

As my backyard playground progresses, I’ve slowly added small pieces to the yard, mainly to begin to fill in blank spaces in garden beds or to visually fill up the vertical void on the large fences. I like more natural and organic materials, such as unpolished stone, woods and rusted metals. And I love hearing the metal tones of chimes in the wind.



A mermaid marks the garden and memories of many trips to the beach and exotic islands.

Travels provide a great excuse to buy a little something for the garden. I bought this smiling leaf bird feeder during one of my travels. It reminds me of the trip I took and the cute garden shop I visited. Conversely, travels often inspire a local purchase. I like mermaids because they remind me of wonderful island trips I’ve taken; I bought a metal mermaid at a local art fair.


This metal plant stand used to live at a resale shop that was going out of business. 

clematis amillaryGarden ornaments also fulfill a function. They provide a structure for climbing plants, a resting spot for birds or even a stand for plants. The small armillary sphere in my raised garden bed has been a good climbing structure for the young clematis I planted last summer. Form can meet function and be artful at the same time. One of my friends created a beautiful privacy screen with custom-designed panels.EmilyDSCN4839The plant stand  above (a sundial base, really) has held containers full of caladiums, a basketful of fern and now an armillary sphere. But I placed it here to provide a focal point to the astilbe that surround its base and to fill up the fence line.Stars on treeI’ve also repurposed objects d’art for the garden. A swag of wooden stars originally used for a Christmas mantle display has been repurposed to dangle from a tree. It was getting zero use sitting on a shelf in the garage, now I enjoy it whenever I am out on the patio. I also found a couple of pieces of rusiting tin ceiling tiles at a resale shop that I’ve put to good use on the fence. I think they provide a whole lot of look for the $3 I spent on each piece. In the spring, my neighbor’s bright honeysuckle is a pretty contrast with the rusting metal.Rusted ceiling tileHow do you accent your garden?