The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond

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More Garden Blogger Fling Highlights

Memories from the 2015 Garden Bloggers Fling in Toronto linger. And as I think about what I want to achieve in my small backyard this year, I am reminded of the many gardens that inspire me.

  1. Lush spaces.
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This Cabbagetown front yard is small but packed with shade-loving hosta and lady’s mantle under the graceful limbs of a dogwood. A purple barberry adds a punch of color.

2. Art in the garden.

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Strips of metal create a sculptural element. I love art in a garden.

3. Edibles.

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A Cabbagetown garden proves you don’t need a lot of space to grow edibles.

4. Good things come from small spaces.

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The downtown Toronto backyard garden of entrepreneur Sarah Nixon, who owns My Luscious Backyard, a floral delivery business.

I can’t say enough good things about my Fling experience. Minneapolis is the host city for this year’s event in mid July. And by all accounts it appears to be shaping up to be a great event.



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Travelogue: Autumn in The Netherlands

greenhouses Netherlands (1280x960)Am I the only gardener and tulip lover who travels to Holland in autumn? I asked myself that question as I packed to visit my daughter during her fall break in her study abroad program last semester. After all, if I were taking a proper gardener’s sojourn to this canal-filled country, it would be in peak bloom time (April/May) where I could pedal among the petals at the Keukenhof Gardens to enjoy the Dutch bulbfields.

That didn’t happen. In fact, the Keukenhof Gardens are closed in late October. But an autumn visit to this beautiful, small country didn’t disappoint. Poetry-filled walls in Leiden, the mastery of world-renown Dutch painters, a tree laden with global pleas for peace in Den Haag, bracing winds along the North Sea beach at Scheveningen, the Hortus botanicus, windmills, castles.and bicycles–lots and lots of bicycles–filled our days.

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Colorful flower starter canisters for sale in the bulb market in Amsterdam.Important to note, however, is the that USDA requires they carry an import stamp. If that’s missing, they may confiscate your bulbs in customs. I wonder how often that happens. Tulip kits at the airport are priced about three times higher but contain the all-important stamp.

The Holland Bulb Market in Amsterdam did not disappoint. The interesting tidbit to note here is that the tulip did not originate in Holland. It began in Constantinople back in 1593 by botanist Carolus Clusius. His neighbors, seeing a good thing, stole them from him and began what is now known as the Dutch bulb trade. Tulip bulbs are not the only thing sold at the markets. Buyers can purchase canisters of all sorts of starter kits, including cannabis. My heart beat an extra step when I saw the very reasonable prices, but I did not buy any because many did not have the required customs stamp.


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Visitors to the Peace Palace in Den Haag are encouraged to add their personal wishes for peace to this tree.

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Flower-filled hanging baskets adorn light poles surrounded by bicycles.

A leisurely afternoon visit to the Hortus Botanicus in the city center of Leiden provided hours of enjoyment and lots to look as we strolled along the garden’s paths and toured its tropical greenhouse. Founded in 1590 by the University of Leiden, the botanical garden is the oldest in the Netherlands and one of the oldest in the world. There is an observatory on the grounds but we did not venture in.

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Bee habitat set ups such as this one at Hortus Botanicus are common in the Netherlands.

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An artful display lines the path at Hortus Botanicus. Note the palm trees in the bed in the background.

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Dahlias at Hortus botanicus in Leiden.


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A scooter decked out front to back with silk flowers.


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Ah Yes Moments in 2015

DSCN3119 (768x1024)If you’re like me, it’s easy to look in the rear view mirror and lament what went wrong during the previous season and think about all the “could ofs,” “should ofs” and “only ifs” as I plan for the next.

Last year was not the best year for my back yard garden. The tremendous amount of rain we had in June took a toll on the way the plants performed, and it seemed like there was never enough time to accomplish what needed to be done. But, there were plenty of highlights to year 4 in my gardens. Here are few:

1. Improving the Entrance into the Yard. Visitors who came through the gate in 2014 were met with a raised bed supported by rotting railroad ties whose 5-inch nail spikes stuck out. The step down into the yard was deep, making it awkward and potentially dangerous. I said goodbye to the ties and installed interlocking stone that coordinates with the stamped concrete patio. An added step provides a more natural distance down into the yard.

The addition of a step off of the raised area, makes stepping into the yard easier.

The addition of a step off of the raised area, makes stepping into the yard easier. The shasta daisies are transplants from a friend, as are the cannas.

The entrance to the backyard.

Goodbye rotted railroad ties. The  previous entrance to the backyard.

2. Attending the Garden Bloggers Fling in Toronto. Okay, this is technically not in my garden, but I’ll extol the virtues of expanding your network to anyone who enjoys gardening. First, who doesn’t like a garden tour? The Fling was a 3-day-plus extravaganza of garden tours. This experience allowed me to learn first-hand from other gardeners–hobbyists to the pros–what they are doing in their gardens and public spaces. It was an outstanding way to expand my thoughts on gardening and meet many of the people behind the blogs I so enjoy. The Fling has me thinking more seriously about natural resources conservation, starting a vegetable garden, composting and the joys of connecting with those who share a common passion.

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A rooftop garden overlooking the Toronto city skyline. The Garden Fling provided multiple venues to learn about gardening, sustainability, conservation and plant selection.

Claire Jones near Cabbagetown

Claire Jones, author of the Garden Diaries blog, takes time to appreciate the offerings at a city nursery in Toronto.

3. Installing a new bed along the south fence. Outside of raising children, nothing teaches patience like gardening. I may be planning and planting for four-season beauty, but each garden season (spring/summer/fall) is just one cycle and it took me several cycles to finally get to the south fence. I enjoyed sitting on the patio looking at this lovely, lovely shade garden.

September south garden

The caladium take center stage in the bed in September. The honeysuckle trailing over the fence from my neighbor’s yard was a welcome guest.


Freshly mulched, the south fence bed in June. Japanese forest grass, heuchera various fern, hosta, creeping Jenny, solomon seal and astilbe provided lots to look at all season.

4. Edging the Beds. What a difference a seemingly small task makes in giving a garden bed a finished look. I considered installing metal edging, but instead opted for the back labor (someone else’s, as I hired this job out) to cut a nice edge around my main garden beds.


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3. Plant division. Want to save a little money? Get more of a plant you just love, love, love? Fill in a space in the garden bed? Share with a good friend? Improve your garden design and color balance? Two words: Plant division.



First purchased from the Webster Groves Women’s Garden Club plant sale, these purple coneflower have been divided and added throughout the gardens. Self-seeders, they quickly and easily multiply. 

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The black-eyed Susans in the foreground have three homes in my yard. Profusive in Zone 6, I gladly divide them to share with friends. 



Knock-Knock–Your Weekly Flowers Have Arrived

I subscribe to our daily newspaper The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, to the nearby YMCA, to all sorts of professional magazines and newsletters, to home and gardening magazines (of course!), and to an assortment of other services. But I don’t subscribe to a weekly floral delivery.

If I lived in Toronto I just might.

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Sarah Nixon, owner of My Luscious Backyard, arranges a bouquet for demonstration.

You see, for the very reasonable base price of $45 per week you can enjoy fresh, sustainably grown flowers on your desk or dining room table. I could move the clutter aside for that, I really could. Your weekly vase is personally delivered and retrieved by Sarah Nixon, owner/operator of My Luscious Backyard, a homegrown business built in her downtown Toronto backyard.

Sarah’s small and intensely managed organic backyard flower farm was the first stop on a whirlwind extravaganza of Toronto area gardens, courtesy of the Garden Bloggers Fling. Before escorting the 70-plus bloggers to tour her backyard, Sarah reminded us that small as it may be, hers is a working farm. Indeed it is. Equipped with a potting table, a small shed with grow lights and a yard that is nearly fully void of turf, My Luscious Backyard is an urban farm where she employs a manual no-tillage production practice to reduce soil erosion.

Sarah's backyard, which she estimates to be 1/16 of an acre.

Sarah’s backyard, which she estimates to be 1/16 of an acre.

Sarah began the business in 2001 and through a unique business model has expanded beyond her backyard by scouting area yards, contacting homeowners and turning their patch of turf into a flower bed. Currently, she is working with 10 area homeowners where she is growing a wide assortment of annuals. This is small-space gardening at its utmost. A steady rotation of seed is started and planted to meet the demand of clients who enjoy her fresh bouquets.Her clients include individuals, as well as florists who seek locally grown flowers.

Making the most of limited space.

Making the most of limited space.

All in all, her annual season consists of about 100 varieties from her perennial yard and her partners. She starts seeds in a small shed she dubs “the barn.”Those agreeing to turn their yard into a flower farm reap of the benefits of the beauty flowers provide but not the privilege of cuttings for their personal enjoyment. Also Sarah said she may ask them to purchase planting mix and help with turf removal but she does all the rest, which includes planting, watering, caring and harvesting the flowers.

I don’t know what happens when the flower season is over, however. I imagine those yards as large patches of brown dirt. Would you be willing to turn your yard into a flower garden?

A neighborhood city lot turned into a flower garden.

A neighborhood city lot turned into a flower garden.


Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling – What is a Garden?

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Private garden using natives.

Ask a Garden Flinger what turns his or her crank in the garden and you’d best be prepared for a wide variety of responses. Some like it sculpted, many like it native, there are tree lovers, beekeepers, edible erudites, professional landscapers with an eye for the truly unique, and garden hobbyists, to name a few. This palette for plants presents a pretty planning problem for the event planner. Or does it? Apparently not if you’re Helen Battersby and crew who put on a non-stop, can’t-get-enough-of-every-type-of-garden-out-there event in Toronto last weekend. Many thanks to Helen, Sarah Battersby, Lorraine Flanigan and Veronica Sliva for hosting the Fling.

As a first-time Flinger and increasingly devout garden hobbyist, the selection of tour gardens and conversation with other bloggers got my wheels turning about what a garden is and why we garden and I’m looking at my garden endeavor with fresh eyes. Gardening friends, what is your raison d’etre for digging in the dirt? Is your garden energizing? Or does it offer a respite from the day? Are you gardening on a balcony, backyard or football-sized scale? Are you inspired (or inspiring others) through plants, design or art? Is your garden an ecosystem? Does its bounty replenish? Is it up high?

Enjoy this sampling from the 2015 Garden Bloggers Fling.

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Garden at the Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Center.

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Private garden.

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A plant-loving bed in Ontario gardener Marion Jarvie’s garden.

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Rooftop garden at the Hugh Garner Coop.

Container edibles.

Container edibles.

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Asparagus piled high at the St. Lawrence Farmers Market.

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Starting flowers at Sarah’s Nixon’s backyard organic flower farm My Luscious Backyard.

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Side yard of private garden.

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Private garden.

Garden on Ward's Island.

Garden on Ward’s Island.

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Black oak savannah at High Park.

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The restored quarry at Evergreen Brick Works.

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Hugh Garner Coop rooftop provides all-day views of the city.

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Container gardens at Evergreen Brick Works.

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Private garden.

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Private garden.

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Private garden.


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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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?


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.”