The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


The Understory Story

Larson park (1280x960)Understory trees, shrubs and flowers may play a supporting role to the landscape most of the year but not in spring. For a few brief weeks each year, they put on show as their flora awakens a sleeping landscape. And you don’t want to miss this show. Here in St. Louis the understory has come alive and is bursting forth with magnificent color.

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Street view spring (960x1280)

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White daffodil (960x1280)

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Tulip buds (960x1280)


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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.

Bulb starter kits (1280x960)

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.

Hortus display (1280x960)

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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The Morning Garden After a Rain

Raindrops cling to gracefully arching spears of green and white ribbon grass.

Raindrops cling to gracefully arching spears of green and white ribbon grass.

Rain-soaked petals, leaves and grasses were inspirational during this morning’s coffee stroll.

One of the few patio tomatoes the squirrels have not yet found.

One of the few patio tomatoes the squirrels have not yet found.

I love how raindrops cling to plants. Or is it the other way around? Either way, morning light is my favorite time to take pictures. It’s a challenge to get the lighting right and I am more often disappointed with my photos than I am pleased.

Rose leaves are especially photogenic after a rain.

Rose leaves are especially photogenic after a rain.

Everything appears refreshed after a nice soaking rain. Don’t be fooled, though, the humidity is unbearably high and I had to repeatedly wipe off the foggy lens. In fact, the outsides of the windows were also foggy this morning. Nothing refreshing about that at all.

The roses seem to be thriving in the hot temperatures and humidity.

The roses seem to be thriving in the hot temperatures and humidity.

I have to add one more rose picture…

Clinging rain drops enhance the beauty of this fading rose.

Clinging rain drops enhance the beauty of this fading rose.

The succulents look wonderful rain soaked as well. I have been enjoying my first succulent container and the variety of colors, shapes and textures.


The grayish blue succulent (graptopetalum paraguayense) is known as ghost plant. I call it wonderful.

The jade plant in this container has received a lot of moisture this summer but does not seem not be suffering from it.

The jade plant in this container has received a lot of moisture this summer but does not seem not be suffering from it.

The “Little Lamb” and “Little Lime” hydrangeas are in full bloom. Their heavy blooms have been weighed down by all the heavy rains. But they are lovely nonetheless.hydrangea leavesThis summer marks my first go around with Euphorbia; this “Ascot Rainbow” is sharing space in a large, bright blue pot with deep purple coleus and hot pink vinca and will find a permanent place in the garden this fall.

Spurge Ascot Rainbow

Euphorbia x martinii. Aren’t the variegated leaves interesting? I look forward to writing more about this plant.


Up and Coming in the Garden


The garden changes nearly daily now. We have had some healthy doses of rain in St. Louis followed by sunny, warm days. I expect both the humidity and temperatures will warm up significantly in the next couple of weeks, encouraging lots of blooming! And while I absolutely live for the flowers, I love the continuous change that is occurring along with all the green, green, green. Mounds of budding plants make my morning and evening inspections (along with weekend weeding and planting) that much more enjoyable. I am continually delighted when something I planted last year resolves to return this year.

GBBD 7 May

Buds Stella De Oro Buds coreopsis

Up and coming are the yellows. Until now, the display has been mainly purples and pinks. The yellow and chartreuse blooms of Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), Stella de Oro and other daylilies (hemerocallis), both moonbeam and tickseed and coreopsis are just days away from joining the the salvia, baptisia, cranesbill and roses that are in bloom.

Buds Butterfly Milkweed Buds Shasta DaisyAlso on the way are other sunny blooming perennials including a few of my favorites–shasta daisy (Leucanthemum) with their happy yellow “eyes,” butterfly milkweed (Asclepia tuberosa) and gayfeather (Liatris spicata).

There are lots of pinks in the works too. The Chinese astilbe that I moved to the new shade bed has started its flower tall feathery pink spikes and the delicate coral bell (Heuchera) blooms are just about to open. These will provide a nice color to the mainly green garden. I am waiting for caladium to arrive any day now and they will be placed in this bed.

How does your garden grow?
Chinese astilbe



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The (Bare) Gardening Facts

Image courtesy of World Naked Gardening Day.

I’m not being cheeky here when I say you probably didn’t know that gardening in the buff is second only to swimming as family-friendly activities people are most ready to consider doing nude. I won’t beat around the bush about safety exposure associated with gardening au natural; you best be careful with those pruners, and watch what you’re doing with those loppers.

Yessiree readers, today is is World Naked Gardening Day!

If you’re joining the like-minded gardeners determined to free themselves of the encumberment of clothing while you garden today, please don’t forget the sunscreen.

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Is spirea growing in your garden landscape? Have you noticed its chameleon-like nature?

I have heard spirea described as a “workhorse” plant. It is hardy, drought tolerant and versatile. There are scads and scads of both spring and summer blooming varieties in more than 80 species. This deciduous, fast-growing shrub and available in just about any growing zone.

I suspected the two woody shrubs by the front door might be spirea and an illustrated article in one of my garden magazines and a little research confirmed it. I don’t know the species or variety but I am enjoying its chameleon-like nature as it moves through spring. Just a couple of weeks ago ago its foliage was orange, quickly changing to orangish yellow. Next it changed over to chartreuse. Soon enough I will be enjoying its pink blooms atop dark green leaves.spirea spring (640x480)



Fiddledee Dee, Fabulous Ferns

fern unfurling2Right now, spring garden watching in Arch City finds young fern fiddleheads gracefully unfurling, soon to become lovely fronds. Last year I bought 3 ferns, Sensitive (Onoclea sensibilis) and  Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) from my local nursery and planted them beneath a tree along the fence. I am happy to see they have returned for Season 2 in my gardens.

I have always liked ferns. My mother had a large fern bed on the shady side of her house. Over the years the fern overtook the ivy. They were prolific, so I figured I would start small and buy just a few to see how they did under the shade of the tree. The “Big Idea” though is to have fern running the 15-foot length of the new bed that is along the south fence. (More about that in a later post.)

A few weeks after planting,  I was back at the nursery asking about what appeared to be their failure to thrive. They seemed to be withering and not doing well. Was it too hot for them? No. Perhaps I planted them too deep, the woman at the nursery asked. Hmmmmm. Maybe so. They do like moisture and I was out of town for a bit and they did not get watered. Don’t worry, she assured me, they are a lot tougher than they look. I replanted them but they never really seemed to take. I had also come across a neighbor who was dividing her ferns and added three more to the yard, this time in the bed near the garage. Ah yes, the right spot! They did wonderfully.

But as I said, the fern are back and the all look spectacular. Soon I will placing them in the new bed. My first nursery purchase this season was three more Ostrich fern. The rain has stopped–for now, as there is more in the forecast–so things may dry out enough that I could begin planting.

Did you know these Fun Facts About Ferns?

1. Like the cockroach, they are survivors. Ferns have been around since nearly the dawn of time (they predate the Mesozoic era) and are older than land animals and dinosaurs. At one time, they were the dominant plant on earth.

2. They may be strong but they are sensitive and particular about their habitat, mostly preferring moisture and protection from too much sun, too much wind and freezing temps.

3. Ferns are a vascular plant and reproduce sexually using spores. They need moisture to reproduce, one of the reasons they are often seen in profusion around ponds and streams.

4. The fiddlehead is the unfurled frond of the young fern, and many consider them a culinary delicacy.  I had my first taste of fiddleheads in Portland, ME last spring. They were very tender and reminded me of young asparagus. But before you start harvesting your unfurled fronds, beware! Only a few species’ fiddleheads are edible.