The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


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Flight of the Blue Morpho

blue morphoThere’s nothing like a tropical vacation. Needing a little heat and humidity, I dashed off to west St. Louis County on  Saturday–two grandchildren in tow–to take in the fluttering wonder of the Blue Morpho butterfly in the tropical environs of the Sophie M. Sachs Butterfly House.

DSCN5789The morpho is a brilliant blue butterfly who lives in the tropical rainforests of Latin America. And the Butterfly House is involved in conservation efforts of this butterfly with Costa Rica. Before entering the conservatory, the docent told us the butterflies were particularly active because it was a bright sunny day. She wasn’t kidding. Nearly 1,500 blue morphos are taking flight throughout March and they were everywhere. They are fast fliers so it was hard to capture them flying.

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We learned a few things about these colorful creatures:

  1. They can have a wingspan of up to 8 inches. We were surrounded by butterflies, but I don’t think we saw an 8 incher.
  2. Adult morphos spend their time on the forest floor with their wings folded.
  3. Their iridescent blue color comes from microscopic scales on the back of their wings, which reflect light.
  4. They drink their dinner. Their diet consists of sap and fruit juices.
  5. Best yet, the morpho symbolizes joy…the feeling I had on Saturday.


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Why I Love Paperbark Maple (or the Simple Pleasures of an Early Sunday Morning)

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I’ve been on a bit of a bender about my mid-winter ennui. But that is changing now.

I awoke early Sunday and shuffled my way to the kitchen for my slog of coffee–no doubt a scenario many of you are personally familiar with. Awaiting the coffee pot to finish brewing, I gazed out the window into the backyard.

Five years ago the view would have been barren except for the exceptionally large and looming sycamore on the other side of the fence. Today I can keep watch on the row of leatherleaf viburnum planted to shield a low-lying, deeply shaded corner of the yard where nothing grows. Grasses, rose shrubs, and perennials line the edge of the patio. Last spring I replanted (for at least the 5th time) to the edge of the patio two azaleas that I hadn’t yet managed to kill. I’ve got my fingers crossed that they will thank me with fuscia-colored blooms this spring.

And then there’s the paperbark maple (acer griseum), planted in spring 2016, and chosen for its peeling bark feature. From the window she was ablaze from the backlighting of the early morning sun. I mean she was glowing cherry red around the edges of her peeling branches. Beautiful.DSCN5744When I bought the tree, the guy at the nursery told me they are slow growers and that it might take a few years for the tree to really exhibit the peeling bark feature. Paperbark a0218This is a view of the bark facing west with the sun at its back As you can see there is lots of peeling going on. What a cool tree.

And yes, dear reader, there is winter interest…in my own backyard!

 


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Winter Attractions

I know I’ve mentioned this a time or two, but I am not a fan of the St. Louis winter. I’ve said it, you’ve read it and as my dear sister–and thousands of others–is fond of saying, “It is what it is.”

That’s why I seek color in the winter landscape. Yes, I’ve planted winterberry…it gives a paltry yield on its berries (more on that later). And I leave my grasses in place for “winter interest,” even though they aren’t very colorful. I delight at the bright red cardinals that frolic throughout the cold landscape.

Outside, I hang a lovely holiday wreath chock full of pretty ornaments, pine cones, seed pods and a colorful ribbon.

And I love my pot with the red-twig dogwood and birch branches. I fill it with winter greens from my yard and Christmas tree. My friend and walking buddy Mary invites me to her yard to cut holly, boxwood and other greens to fill in the container. As the winter wears on, I remove the brown sprigs.

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Soon, I will empty the container which will remain bare until spring. The dogwood twigs and birch come from a farmers market in Kirkwood and are a pricey, so I keep the birch and the dogwood twigs in the garage and will reuse them next year if they are in good shape.

Inside, I turn to winter bulbs such as amaryllis and paper whites. I am not a fan of the overpowering scent of paper whites so I try to buy the ones with less scent to them, but I’m a sucker for their flowers. And I don’t mind the flopping over; a pretty ribbon can help keep them in place.

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My friend Chris is not a fan of our winters either. Her solution is to head to Mexico for the winter. This year as she was dashing out of town, she gave me an amaryllis bulb a friend gave to her. I gladly took it. And I am grateful for its lovely flowers. I took picture and sent them to her during its growing cycle.

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I love the way a plant unfurls from its bud. It evokes a sense of anticipation within me and I find myself checking back regularly.

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Before you know it, the plant has a cluster of bright red blooms.

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How do you get through the winter doldrums?

 


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A Cure for the Winter Blues

Orchid 7 2018I’ve got the winter doldrums. I’ve had enough of our gray, damp and chilly St. Louis winter. There’s really no snow to speak of during a St. Louis winter. We might get an occasional ice storm to make our pulses race a bit and remind us that we are alive, but mostly winter here is just a whole lot of blah. This year’s has been punctuated by some extremely cold temperatures so I’ve spent much of it more housebound than usual.

But there is a cure.

In late February when you’re just about bored to death, the Missouri Botanical Garden hosts its annual orchid show. And what a lovely sight it is. MoBot is home to one of the largest orchid collections out there and they do love to trot them out in late winter.

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Aren’t they lovely? Such a heavenly combination of colors.

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The garden’s founder Henry Shaw received his first orchids in 1876. Today the collection is nearly 6,500 strong with more than 2,000 species, nearly 1,500 cultivars and more than 686 unique taxa. Orchids come in all sorts of shapes, size and colors. The ones above look whimsical, like they have little fluttering wings.

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Dark, waxy looking leaves, bright green buds and pale freckled purple petals are worth a picture or two.

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With March around the corner, we’ve still got a few weeks of the mid-winter drearies left, but the good souls at the St. Louis Art Museum know us flower lovers want more. And they will deliver with their annual Art In Bloom event in early March.

Until then, I will bide my time, continue my walks through the lovely cities that make up St. Louis County and be on the look out for early signs of spring.


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Frozen Assets

A winter ice storm–the first of the season–put a frozen crystal glaze on the grasses, trees and shrubs. Melting now, forecasters warn of a second and possibly third wave of freezing ice this weekend.

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Graceful grasses look like spun brown sugar.

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Crystal branches from my neighbor’s shrub.

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Japanese forest grass

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Splayed out by the weight of the ice, the oakleaf hydrangea’s branches arch toward the patio.

 

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Yard objects are frozen in time.

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The birdbath transformed to an ice skating rink.

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