The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


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It’s 41 Degrees F and Gray

We’ve been in a bit of a holding pattern with average temperatures around 41 degrees F and the skies gray. Day after day after day after day. Yesterday we had a couple of hours of sunshine but it was colder, finally getting up to 41 around 3 in the afternoon. I took advantange of the weather to rake out a couple of beds.

The rhodos want to bloom, something they typically accomplish in March. Their buds are still tight and just beginning to give a peek at their pink and purple hues. But I yearn for this:

Rhodo in bloom March 20 (1024x768)

Yawn. I am trying to get motivated for the season but, well, it’s gray and wet. And tonight after it plunges below freezing it may snow. Sigh.

I tell myself, it will be here soon enough and I will relax and enjoy this:

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Green is coming through the gray

If this were a Facebook status update I might write, “I’m feeling…sunny and dry.” St. Louis has received 13.2 inches of rain this month and a walk in my backyard now has a sound track: Squish, squish, squish. The lower end of the yard has a bit of ponding. Leaves still cover most of the beds. And accompanying all this rain has been cooler than normal temperatures. On a sunny day, we won’t discuss the gray, drab skies that are predicted to be back tomorrow.

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Even though I cannot get in the garden today, I am celebrating for a couple of reasons. First, and the most obvious, is that it is sunny and dry. Yes! This condition is not expected to last, as our forecast calls for rain for the next 10 days. Second (really first) is that I am off work today! Woo hoo! Third (but truly first) is I will spend the afternoon with my eldest daughter.

Before the day gets away from me, here’s an Arch City Gardener pictoral status update of my plants and beds at the end of March. Oh! And thanks for reading.

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In the front yard spirea begins to leaf out.

DSCN5872Penstemon’s lettucy looking red leaves. I love this plant, which has been happy in this spot for five years.DSCN5873Karl Foerster grass is coming upspring clean up18Just a couple of gumballs to deal with. This is Round 3 of the rake up.

DSCN5887Cranesbill Biokova Karmina (geranium x cantabrigiense). What a wonderful groundcover. And talk about easy care!DSCN5870The oakleaf hydrangea “Alice” looks deceptively docile. My pet name for her is “Godzilla.” The blooms are incredible.DSCN5886Planted about six years ago, this low-growing juniper (Juniper horizontalis) is a slow creeper and provides lovely texture with a green-yellow tint. Behind her are stella d’oro day lilies.DSCN5864The fiddleheads of Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) begin their graceful unfurling. Ferns are my favorite plants to observe.

DSCN5863Peonies–Eden’s Perfume, Shirley Temple, and Sarah Bernhardt–peek through the leaves. The peonies were a new additions last year to the bed below the paperbark maple.

DSCN5861Creeping jenny groundcover is vigorous and advancing. It had better dry up so I can get out there and rake.


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Clever or Clueless?

DSCN5738Saving time, energy and resources are important to me, as I have a finite amount of each. And I like to try clever tips in the garden to help me achieve this. But I’m not sure any of these tips are actually worthwhile. For example, I bundle up my acid-loving azaleas in the winter with trimmings from the Christmas tree. I like to think this lovely stole of greenery protects them when winter temps drop and that maybe they even benefit from the acid in the boughs. Clever or clueless? I’ve done this for a few years now and I have really have no idea if this is a waste of time. My soil is relatively acidic and I feed the the azalea each year, so I’m thinking that perhaps I could be clueless. On the other hand, they are not protected from wind and leaves I rake beneath them in the fall blow away, so the boughs could be a clever idea.DSCN5834To help save time when cutting back grasses such as my variegated maiden grass (miscanthus sinensis variegatus) I tie them to keep them upright while I saw them back chunk by chunk. That way they aren’t flopping all over the place while I’m cutting them. Clever or clueless? I think I’ll score this one as clever. DSCN5838I use diluted solution of bleach water to wipe my clipper blades when pruning rose bushes. I wipe the blades clean between each rose bush so that I don’t transfer any pathogen to another shrub. In fact, I generally clean my tools after I use them. Clever or clueless? I think clever.

Of course there are a host of other time and money saving tricks I haven’t tried but consider such as smashing up eggs shells and incorporating them in the garden soil. I’ve read that buring a banana peel in the soil is good for roses. And of course, many swear by adding spent coffee grounds to the soil as well. Really? Are these clever or would it be better to incorporate them into a compost? I’m thinking these might be clueless manuevers.

What do you think? What are your clever tricks?

 


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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!