The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond

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Wordless Wednesday: Ferns

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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.



Lettuce Season is for Sharing

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Rows of lettuce in Stevan’s backyard garden.

“People don’t know where their food comes from.” You’ve heard this, right? As generations become farther removed from the farm, their experience with with food is, shall we say, less direct. Fortunately there’s a resurgence in backyard gardening to close the widening gap from the farm gate to plate. As more gardeners get their hands dirty they not only produce delicious tasting produce, they learn about the risks/rewards associated with growing food…weather, insects, squirrels and rabbits (in my case), fungus, and much more.

Patio tomatoes thrive 15 stories up. Small space gardening is becoming more common.

Salad fixins’ 15 stories up! The balcony of this city apartment provides enough space to grow lettuce, tomatoes and an assortment of herbs.

Society may have moved further from the farm, but today’s gardeners are successfully growing lettuce, tomatoes and other produce in small spaces. My dear friend Chris takes advantage of small-space living and is growing lettuce and tomatoes growing on her apartment balcony 15 stories up.

Stevan, a friend of mine at work, has a backyard garden. And every year he sends me pictures of his lettuce like the one at the start of this post. This year, I joked that he could feed his entire community with the bounty in his backyard. To my surprise the next day Stevan hand-delivered to my desk a delicious Ceasar salad featuring Romaine lettuce picked from his garden that morning. Apparently he and other colleagues have a Ceasar salad lunch day every spring with the bounty from his garden.

I am not the only one he’s sharing his lettuce with however. A nearby child center is also benefitting from Stevan’s love of gardening. What I learned when returning his empty salad bowl is that he and others at work share their love of growing food by helping children at a nearby child center plant their own garden. Stevan may have provided the seed and the know-how, but he’ll be first to tell you this more than just lettuce-sharing. He’ll say he’s the one who benefitted by enjoying the kids’ happy faces and the connections they are making to growing food from seed. Lettuce season may be nearing an end here in St. Louis but I’m sure this is just the beginning of their garden delights.

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Planted from seed, the vegetable garden at the University City Children’s Center.

I’m inspired by my friends’ vegetable gardens. Truthfully, growing vegetables intimidates me a bit. Stevan (who grew up on a farm) tells me that you start simply with an easy-to-grow plant. This year I have patio tomatoes that the squirrels seem to be enjoying, as they have been plucked from the vine at just the opportune time. I have grown peppers and I always have some herbs planted. But next year I may have to visit Stevan’s backyard and get some first-hand pointers.

Do you grow vegetables?


Lovely, Lovely Art In Bloom

One of my very favorite things to do is attend Art in Bloom, a weekend-only event at the St. Louis Art Museum in which patrons tour the museum to view floral interpretations of various pieces of the museum’s collection. What a brilliant idea! The displays are created by local garden clubs and professional florists. Pieces are scattered throughout the museum so that museum goers may take in the wonderful sampling of the collections. I think there were nearly 60 displays this year.

Docents are on hand to explain both the artwork and the display. In some instances the floral designer was on hand sharing his or her personal story of inspiration. There are three types of judging for various categories–a panel of professional judges, the art museum staff and the visitors to the museum. It’s fun to see how the People Choice awards stack up against the pros and the staff.  For years my sister Nancy and I–and now my daughters–have spent the day carefully judging the designs on our self-guided tour. We like to score the pieces based on interpretation. Some years when we have lots of time we include color and composition.

This year there were so many truly splendid designs it was difficult to pick a favorite. We write our scores in the program booklet and then when the whole thing is over, our feet are aching and backs hurting, we head to Nancy’s house for a glass of wine, put our feet up and go through the booklet defending our votes. We inadvertently left the booklet in one of the restaurants at the museum so I am unfortunately unable to identify all of the artists–floral designer, sculptor, painter, potter, furniture maker. The inspiring artwork is in the background of the photo. I hope you enjoy this armchair tour.

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White lilies were a central theme to many of the religious works. I loved the vase in this interpretation of the stained glass window. This was one of my very favorites.

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The scrolled panel on the left is ironwork from Chicago.

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That’s Jane Fonda in the background. The painting also includes her brother and father. There was a docent on hand describing how the gerbera daisies are indicative of the 70s. The docents were fun the listen to.


The stone arches in the background provided inspiration for this piece and lots of conversation among the family judges.

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This was one of my very favorites. To me, the containers are an important element of the display and the red fluted bowl in this design really made an impact.


When I saw this display, I said it made me happy. Nancy laughed and said, “That’s appropriate because that is the name of the painting.”

Yellow Square

Very cool. A docent was on hand for this piece and explained the tones of the painting coinciding with the various shades of yellow to orange in the flowers. I liked the square containers which matched the silver frame.

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An Urban Garden Oasis

St louis brick (480x640)My sister Nancy lives in the midst of music, mayhem and madness in the shadows of the vibrant Loop in St. Louis city. Yet her yard is a true get away in the midst of city living. Yes, you can hear the drum circle at the Shell gas station a block away. Police and firetruck sirens blare down Delmar Avenue at a fairly regular pace. A rotating “moon” atop the Moonrise Hotel can be glimpsed from the deck. But all that is just a sideshow. The main event is the oasis she has created on a small city backyard lot. Center stage is a large pond full with fish and surrounded by lots of ground cover such as carpet phlox, creeping Jenny and vinca; trees and shrubs such as Japanese maple, lemon thread cypress, Mary Jane magnolia,and oakleaf hydrangea; perennials such as hosta, grasses, salvia and liriope; and annuals to fill in. Large rocks give structure to the pond shape and provide a platform to gaze at the fish and maneuver around the pond.

Urban Oasis 2 (1280x960)If you’ve ever wondered if pond water is good for the garden, wonder no more! Her oakleaf and roses appear to be on steroids!

pond lettuceOf course the pond has aquatic plant species such as water lily, water hyacinth, water lettuce and bog plants. What Nancy lacks in plant knowledge “I don”t know that plant is,” she makes up with an unerring eye for color combination and layout. There’s a balanced interplay between citrus hues (lemon thread cypress), cool tones (a blue dwarf weeping cypress) and shocks of color (the pink Knockout roses). Touches of whimsy, such as this painted frog, let you know the garden is for enjoyment. This frog is an example of her talent in  painting.

 A painted frog adorns the rocks on the edge of the pond.

A painted frog adorns the rocks on the edge of the pond.

I think ponds provide a sense of serenity and the shade cast on the pond from the trees lends a sense of calm in an urban setting. I am always struck by the fact that the yard is small–a typical St. Louis city lot–and there is lots of city noises around, yet the environment feels set apart from the hustle and bustle.

Original St. Louis accents also lend an authentic city touch to this escape and sets the yard apart from other gardens. The home is in Parkview, an historic St. Louis neighborhood dated back to the early 1900s. Above the bed in front of the garage is a light from one of the old streetlamps in the neighborhood. And the first picture in this post is of an old “St. Louis” brick.

Looking back toward the garage.

Looking back toward the garage. Note the dwarf cypress in the back. Behind this is another planting area that hides the power line and the fence leading to the alley.

IMG_0553Between the garden beds, the deck and the pond, you kind of lose sight that this is really a narrow yard that is not all too deep. That is because the design draws your eye down along the space. A brick path along the side bed with the roses help to pull your eye lengthwise. Still developing is a shade garden in front the garage. As with all gardens, trial and error occurs with plant selection, soil and light. This area receives a good bit of shade and Nancy has struggled a bit to get the right plants to take off. Carefree, foliaged perennials are the name of the game, although color contrast is at the forefront. Hostas thrive in the St. Louis climate. Nancy is planting a variety of hostas, and the bed is beginning to take off. I know, however, that in a year or two she’ll introduce an artistic element to heighten the enjoyment of this bed.

What I have not shown you are the window boxes and containers that overlook the deck. And of course there are the lounges and the hand-painted table umbrella. I  hope you have enjoyed this virtual garden tour. I look forward to sharing other small garden spaces in the near future.

How are you making the most of your small spaces?