The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


The unfurling, unfolding, uncurling of spring

This is my favorite time to marvel at the emerging plant growth in my gardens. The grass is greener, birds are nesting and all around nature is doing her thing.

Perhaps my favorite is the unfurling of ferns fronds. In a matter of days they go from brown stumps to tightly wound circles of green to soft graceful beauty.

The paperback maple has started its peeling of cinnamon bark. There are no leaves on its branches but I think that’s the point. The main attraction is its paper-thin bark curling away.

Also in a mere matter of days, the Japanese maple shed its leaves and its new leaves are unfolding. I’d been watching the tree for some time, wondering if there was something wrong with it. I didn’t recall it retaining its brown, shriveled leaves for so long.

A few leaves remain on the branches of the Japanese maple.

While I’m at it, here are a few more shots from the garden. I hope your garden treasures are as delightful to watch. Thanks for reading.


Spring blooms

I planted tulip bulbs last fall and love seeing them come up. Tulips are one of my favorite flowers. In addition to planting them under this tree, I have tried them in a pot. We’ll see how they do. They’re a little slower to bloom. I know Jason over at Garden in a City has had lots of luck with potted tulips. Fingers crossed I do too.

A real show-stopper (as usual) is the rhododendron under the eaves of the house. There are two more fat with flower buds ready to open. And the azaleas aren’t far behind. One advantage of working from home is I can sit out among all the spring time blooms during endless hours of conference calls. How is your garden a refuge during COVD-19?


Feeling the plant love during Coronavirus

I don’t know about you, but I’ve received coronavirus emails from just about every business I frequent. But I was mildly surprised to receive emails from one of the nurseries I frequent.

And I was especially pleased with their down to earth tone. So far I’ve gotten 3. The first was sort of a keep- calm-and-garden-on type of note. Calming and reassuring, not corporate sounding, just a nice note to their customers reminding them of the joy plants and gardening brings. So true.

The second one offered free delivery with a $25 purchase and the offer of curbside service. Today, they informed they are cancelling all events until May at the earliest.

What are your local nurseries doing?

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What happened to the southern magnolia’s this year?


A southern magnolia is the lone man standing among leafy green trees and shrubbery.

In my last house a graceful southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) filled the back corner of the yard and I’d look forward to its June bloom of large, white saucer flowers against the dark green waxy looking leaves. One year, we held a surprise birthday party for my mom and I filled bowls on the table with the creamy flowers. So pretty.

I don’t have a showy southern magnolia in my yard but the trees are a quite common in the St. Louis area. Unfortunately this year, tree after tree seems to be the victim of what I am not sure. We had a drought over the winter and a cold, wet spring with a late winter blast when things began to bloom early in the spring.


I don’t think this evergreen will make a comeback.

On a recent visit to my favorite nursery, I overheard one of the women who work there talking about how hard hit trees were by the drought.  She said area homeowners have lost lots of Japanese maples and was expecting to hear from lots more homeowners now that winter was long in the rear view mirror. It’s not until winter is long gone that the impact of a drought will become apparent.

20180529_192829There are some magnolias that look like they had a winter scorch; not all their leaves look like the photo at the top of this post. But until I overheard the comment in the garden shop, I really had not taken notice of the number of trees that have perished. It really becomes apparent when the temperatures rise and healthy trees leaf out. And my drive to and from work late spring found gardeners busy taking trees down, mostly the southern magnolias.

I never watered that magnolia at the old house. It never occurred to me that I should be watering a tree in the winter. Let me amend that. It never occurred to me until the pine next to the magnolia died one year and the nursery said it was due to a winter drought. Now, I’m more careful. Every year in late fall I begin watering the trees in preparation for winter. And one warm day this winter I watered a couple of my younger trees and the blue spruce that we have affectionately dubbed Spruce Springsteen.

Even though the calendar tells us we just began summer, here in St. Louis spring left town in early to mid May, and we went deep into a hot, hot summer with temperatures up in the 90s along with high humidity. And those southern magnolias that were lucky enough to survive, are not putting on the annual show they usually do. The blooms are rather paltry and pathetic.




Filling in with Groundcovers

20180525_150859In my gardens, groundcovers probably feel like Rodney Dangerfield. They get no respect. That may be partially true given their carefree nature and they are something I’ve put off adding to the garden. My garden “methodology” was to get in the big stuff–trees, shrubs–then fill in with perennials and annuals for their color and punch. Perennial groundcovers weren’t the stars of the garden I so desired. But I’m all about groundcovers now.

They are exceptional plants to fill in the nooks and crannies, provide a lovely carpet of green and crowd out the advancing weeds that seem to want to take over. I kept putting off the ground cover purchase, except for happy accidents like the cranesbill Biokova Karmina (geranium x cantabrigiense) pictured above.  I thought it was a perennial. But it’s also a groundcover.

One of the first plants I added to the edge of a bed, this hardy plant has shoots of pretty pale pinkish-purple flowers in spring. Looking at its serrated, lobed leaves, you see it’s related to the geranium (Geraniaceae family). It is in just the right spot and gets just the right amount of sun and is carefree and seemingly happy when neglected. That makes low maintenance cranesbill a winner in my book.

I hadn’t considered cranesbill is a groundcover until it started slowly advancing a couple of years ago. In my untrained mind I just thought it was filling in. No, it’s creating a lovely carpet.

20180525_150939Creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) is another favorite. Chartreuse and seemingly indestructible, I have moved this groundcover from the front yard where it got too much sun to my shade bed where is it beginning to spread and mingle nicely with ferns, heuchera, hosta, and astilbe. I like the bright green contrast of this versatile plant and have seen it in hanging baskets. In too much sun, however, it loses its green gets too yellow. Its roots are very shallow; division is easy because you scratch the surface of the soil and pop the plant right in.

20180525_164304In the front yard I planted three small containers of sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) beneath a tree. I had struggled to find plants suitable to this rooty space, and although I had planted a flat and a half of impatiens for a few years, they became hard to find due to downy mildew and I really wanted something perennial in this space. This spring (it’s 3rd year) we’ve had plenty of rain and it’s runners have really gone to town.

Like cranesbill, this is a mat-forming perennial that has taken off in no time. You can see that it still needs to fill in a bit, but I have no doubt this circle will be unbroken by the end of this season. Sweet woodruff gets lovely small white flowers in spring–in fact, it just finished blooming–and is well suited for the shade.

20180525_151241And, then there is wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei). I am not sure I would call this my favorite ground cover but it is worth mentioning here. Is it a ground cover, a vine or a shrub? Maybe all three. In my last home, I spent a long hot summer pulling it out of a garden bed it took over. It was in abundance in a raised bed when I moved in this home and while it doesn’t look like it now, I trim it religiously. In the last year, I decided that the fence would be much prettier covered in green and have stopped cutting it back. You can see the result, which I really like, but I keep a watchful eye and shears and pruners nearby.

The Missouri Botanical garden warns  that wintercreeper has been identified by a task force of the Missouri Botanical Garden as one of the top 20 plants known to be spreading into native plant areas and crowding out native species in our region. Naturalists recommend against planting this plant.

20180512_200438And finally, not in my garden but certainly admired is baby tears (Soleirolia soleirolii). An alternative to a lawn, baby tears carpeted the courtyard of the Airbnb I stayed at in Rome recently. I have read that it is somewhat invasive and needs to be consistenly watered, but I have no first-hand experience with this plant.

What are your favorite groundcovers?

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A Gardener’s Dilemma

I awoke Saturday morning and sent a 10-character text, “Let’s dig!” A few hours later my walking buddy Mary rolled up in her Ford Explorer. We’d thought of everything. Mary laid old towels in the back so we wouldn’t mess up the car; the spade rested on top. I brought the gloves. We had bags. We were ready.

Under the cover of gray skies threatening rain, at high noon, we commenced our work: digging up what at one time would no doubt have been someone’s prized peonies, shade-loving trillium and Virginia bluebells. A woodland spring delight.


DSCN5924DSCN5927I kept watch while Mary went to work with her short-handled spade and dug and dug and dug. The plants gave way easily in the soft, wet ground, and we quickly filled our bags until their handles nearly gave way from the weight of our treasure. We almost got away with the deed, when I looked up and saw a man standing in the barren lot at the top of the slope looking curiously at us.

Uh-oh. We’d been caught.

Before I go further, let me provide some context. For years, Mary and I have walked the many graceful streets of St. Louis County. For several months we have commented on the empty white Century home with the For Sale sign in the yard. The lot next door is barren and recently cordoned off with a developer’s sign promising to build a new home. A parcel of the main property? We aren’t sure.

A couple of months ago we ventured onto the property to look around. The house, red outbuilding and pool need repair. The surrounding yard is large and wooded and overgrown with understory brush and lots of bamboo. The grounds meander down to a ravine. It is graceful, shady and quiet. A far cry from suburbia in which it is located. We were surprised there was so much land behind the house.

Like anything that’s been around for more than 135 years, there are stories to tell. In a twist of odd luck, I was talking about this house at my book club and one of my friends mentioned that her home was once occupied by the man who built the white house in the late 1800s. She sent me a write up describing its history and sad demise of its builder (he set fire to the home and original barn and committed suicide on the property). According to the history, he relocated the light above the front porch from an antebellum plantation in southern Missouri.

A couple of weeks ago we ventured back for another look around. Why, I don’t really know. We wended our way past the bamboo to a clearing. Overgrown and neglected, the ground slopes down to a ravine and traces of a garden can be seen. We had missed this on our mid-winter walk through when there was no trace of any emerging plants. We’d also missed the remnants of plant stakes and markers littering the ground, their type faded, the metal ones bent and corroded. Black plastic garden edging has been pulled up and thrown in a heap. All that remains of a small round pond is its faded molded plastic form.

DSCN5941This time everywhere we looked something is growing. Peonies are emerging from the grass everywhere. Daffodils in shades of creamy yellow and white. Muscari. Wild geranium. Iris. Variegated trillium. Clumps of blue and pink Virginia bluebells. A rock garden covered by overgrowth edges the pond and makes a path down the slope to the edge of the yard by the ravine. A mass of flowering yellow ground cover carpets much of the area.

This is someone’s forgotten love.

And by the looks of it, it is soon to be turned under by a bulldozer. The property, which is slightly less than an acre, is staked with bright orange flags marking its borders. On the walk home we talked about how sad it would be if it all got bulldozed under. The garden gone with the history of the house and all the stories of this lovely ground.

To be sure, this was a premeditated act. We had no permission to be on the property. And you can be sure that no one gave us permission to dig up any plants. Mary’s sister, who is a realtor said it would definately be a no-no to take any of the plants.


Make no mistake, I would not–never have–go to a property that is for sale and just dig up their garden. I will vouch that I am a law-abiding citizen who obeys the rules. I am not a plant theif. (Am I?) But this felt different. This property feels abandoned. On borrowed time until it is turned over to start a new story.

We dug quietly and I urged Mary to hurry up. “This is the last one,” I said three or four times. I did not want to explain to the neighbors what we were doing. We filled several bags with tender plants but many, many more remain.

DSCN5947Then I saw him. Up the slope in the foreground of the yellow house. I felt certain our unexpected visitor would have a few questions.

“Mary, look up. There’s a man up there and he’s watching us.” We stopped digging the trillium and headed up the hill. He did not look angry. Just curious.

Turns out he was looking through the lot, past the ravine and over to the next street to see if he could see a house he is interested in. He knows a developer interested in tearing the property down for him and builing anew. We talked for about 15 minutes and shared the origins of the white house with him and told him it has been empty for so long that we wanted to rescue some of the lovely plants before they were turned under by heavy equipment. He seemed to understand.

As we loaded the back of the Explorer, Mary said she felt certain the gardener who planted this woodland garden would thank us. I don’t know.

Was it theft or was it a rescue?