The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


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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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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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A Stroll Through the Columbus Rose Park

cbus roses and fountain

Roses bloom in the Heritage Rose Garden in Whetstone Park, Clintonville, OH

I do believe in the world of flora and fauna timing is everything. Last Sunday I had the pleasure to leisurely stroll through the rose gardens in Whetstone Park in Clintonville, OH, with dear Dave. Our timing was not the best as most of the blooms on the roses were a tad past their prime. Not that I am complaining; indeed, I am not. Strolling in a garden on a beautiful day and observing the other taking in the beauty of a lovely landscape is one of the great pleasures of leisure time. I spend most of my time planning, planting and observing my own garden. Relaxing in the bounty of another garden is just what the doctor ordered.

The rose park, which is made up of three rose gardens within 13 acres, is a manageable size to maneuver if you are pressed for time (I had a flight to catch). But that’s not to say there wasn’t lots to watch. On Sunday–which was beautiful in Ohio–Dave and I lingered in the garden beds, watched families enjoying the day and spied on plein air painters as they captured a prize rose on canvas. No one seemed to mind that the park was not in full bloom.

A plean air artist captures a yellow rose on canvas.

A plean air artist captures a yellow rose on canvas.

The Rose Park speaks to strollers, photographers, painters and garden lovers.

The Rose Park speaks to strollers, photographers, painters and garden lovers.

An Earth-Kind Garden is one of the three rose gardens in the park. This demonstration garden features commercially available roses that a hassle free–they require no pesticides, zero fertilizers, zippo deadheading and no pruning. That’s a plant that speaks to me! Seriously, Earth-Kind gardening is about sustainability and using less water, less inputs and keeping mankind’s footprint a little lighter in the landscape.

The program was developed at Texas A&M University and the park is the first one outside of the South to feature this informal rose style.  Though most of the roses had already bloomed but there were several varieties in the garden. Bee in rose Unfortunately, I did not capture any photos worth posting.


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Volunteer Gardening Easter Weekend

I have been busy as a bee in the backyard and enjoying every moment I can get out there. Unfortunately, there haven’t been as many moments as I might like. Easter weekend brought with it a day to give back. I joined several beautification-minded St. Louis souls and volunteered at Castlewood State Park on Saturday morning to maintain the natural beauty of the park, help preserve the Kiefer Creek watershed and plant 800 native trees, shrubs and perennials.

The project was part of Operation Wild Lands, a project of the Open Space Council. The OWL project is a community based project that organizes volunteers to help maintain public lands throughout the St. Louis region. Wildlife habitat improvements include cleanups, trail development and maintenance, planting, educations events, etc. It was a lovely morning to get out, get some fresh air and share with like minded souls. Castlewood is a bit of a hike (no pun intended) from my house and I know it as a park that is good for mountain biking. I would go there when my son–who is now 27–would participate in mountain biking racing events as a teenager. The park also has nice hiking trails, ball fields, fishing, swimming and more. One thing I will say is true about Missouri, the state has a really wonderful park system.

But I digress.

My job was to help place the plants. Easy enough and it allowed me to spare my back for my own garden labor later that morning.

Standing ready, this is just one small collection of native plants the group of volunteers planted in Castlewood State Park

Standing ready, this is just one small collection of native plants the group of volunteers planted in Castlewood State Park

What I enjoyed about this experience is that there were volunteers of all ages who came out. There were retired professionals, volunteers from the Audubon Society, the Coalition from the Environment, Monsanto Company, area school districts, a Boy Scout troop, Truman State University and more. The saying “Many hands make light the work” could not be more true.

The volunteers' experience ranged from very little to very experienced.

The volunteers’ experience ranged from very little to very experienced. In the center, Karen, one of the leaders from the Audubon Society, explains where to place a plant to Tracy, one of the volunteers,while Herb (on the right) checks the plant list.


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Crazy for Cannas

This past weekend was perfect. There is nothing quite like enjoying a relaxing weekend with a lifelong friend. And I got to do just that! My friendship with Joan goes back to our early college days. Last weekend we enjoyed time together catching up at Joan’s lake house in the Missouri Ozarks, in southern part of the state. It was just the two of us for the weekend. There were no men, children, or other friends to sway our attention. While the lake is a hot spot during the summer, every season in the Ozarks is to be enjoyed for its natural beauty. Spring is pushing forth in the southern Missouri and the Ozarks is alive with it.

Amidst the constant conversation shared by two long-time friends who have not seen each other in months, we enjoyed watching goldfinch, pileated woodpeckers and other birds make their way to the bird feeders Joan has near her deck. And the trees seemed to be bursting forth their leaves before our very eyes during Saturday’s 80 degree temperatures.

Joan tends a lovely garden she has planted around her deck. Because the property is a weekend home, everything she plants must withstand neglect and  is drought tolerant. It must also be hardy enough to survive in the the rocky soil the Ozarks is known for. Canna meets those criteria.

In my last post I shared that I am obsessed with adding this tall tropical to my yard.  I have never grown them but between our catching up, eating and relaxing, Joan gave me a quick lesson in Cannas. She hauled out her over-wintered bulbs from last year’s garden and we commenced to cleaning them and planting them in very large pots she has on her deck.

The bulbs were over-wintered in soil in a plastic bag in the basement.

The bulbs were over-wintered in soil in a plastic bag in the basement.

Joan inspects the bulbs to see what condition they are in. She is looking for larger bulbs such as those shown here. She gently pulls the bulbs from the soil as she prepares to plant them.

This is what the bulbs look like after much of the soil is removed

This is what the bulbs look like after much of the soil is removed.

We then began to trim the dead roots off the bulb as well as any spongy, dead plant material so that we are left with a clean bulb for planting

We then began to trim the dead roots off the bulb as well as any spongy, dead plant material so that we are left with a clean bulb for planting.

We trimmed off lots of spongy, dead material. The decayed stuff is easily identifiable because it is a dark and soft matter, as opposed to a healthy bulb which is firm and white.

We trimmed off lots of spongy, dead material. The decayed stuff is easily identifiable because it is a dark and soft matter, as opposed to a healthy bulb which is firm and white.

We soaked the bulbs in water to further clean them and  re-hydrate them after a long winter in the basement

We soaked the bulbs in water to further clean them and re-hydrate them after a long winter in the basement.

It’s always fun at the lake and a spring weekend in April is not exception. Thanks Joan! Keep on smiling.

After adding potting soil, we placed a couple of the bulbs into the pot, covered with remaining soil and will look forward to seeing the canna's progress on the next visit to the lake

After adding potting soil, we placed a couple of the bulbs into the pot, covered with remaining soil and will look forward to seeing the canna’s progress on the next visit to the lake