The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


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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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2016 Garden Hits and Misses, Part II

Joys and victories are always so much more enjoyable to share and savor. But the losses–painful as they can be–are learning opportunities. My 2016 garden was not without its challenges, some of which I have not resolved. I’ve been on a true learning curve since I began gardening and the lessons aren’t always easy. Below are my “Misses” for 2016.

The Misses!

dscn4865Containers. I knew when I bought this adorable galvanized can planted with playful petunias that those plants were going to fry on my south facing fence in St. Louis’ hot summer. And I was right.

While this lesson only set me back $10, it’s a valuable reminder about trusting my gut. Imagine a $200 tree biting the dust because it’s in the wrong spot. That means leading with your head and not your heart. I can be a sucker for a nursery and its well tended plants and vignettes that say “buy me, buy me, take me home.” I mean, how cute is the container below?

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dscn4649I love petunias for their enduring blooming nature (minus the example I just gave). But I let them get leggy because I don’t take the time to pinch them back. The end result was containers that looked leggy. I had to show this because these are volunteer petunias and volunteer milkweed. They were beautiful in June, not so much in August.DSCN4578Voles. I’d like to declare war but I’m not sure what weapons of mass destruction I would use. My vole problem is affecting multiple garden beds. I called a mole company and they said they did not handle voles but I also hear that the traps really don’t work. I called a yar fertilizer type company and met with the same response as the first call. What works is chemical warfare but that’s not friendly to owls who eat the voles. And as I mentioned in my last post, owls hang out in the neighborhood.

DSCN4589These guys creep me out. I’ve stumbled across two or three of them and all I can say is yuck. I have not located all their tunnels but they seem to be in the front yard, back yard and side yard. But something has to give: I won’t abide by daisies, coreopsis, penstemon, phlox and more falling over and splayed out because their tasty roots are being devoured. Truly a continuing dilemma for 2017.

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egg carton growing (960x1280)Growing from Seed. I admire those stalwart gardeners who begin their veggies from seed. But as I discovered in 2016, I’m not one of them. I tried it and realized I was in the wrong league. This route comes with no short cuts here (and I love a short cut)–a grow light is essential for success or your plants get leggy. I did manage to coax one very small lettuce head from two cartons of egg shell-filled seeds. That was a salad worth enjoying.

DSCN4483Instead, I will satisfy my fresh garden delight habit with small plants acquired at the nursery. Last year, peppers and spinach plants did well. The only caveat to this story is that I did scatter zinnia seeds with success.

dscn4642Tomatoes. Have you seen the number of articles, books and web posts out there on growing tomatoes? Who could fail with all these resources? I’m trying. Honestly I am. I like a great tomato as much as the next gal. But I think tomato growing is best left to someone else. I thought I had learned my lessons from 2015; I had that pot secured with netting like Ft. Knox and the @!##**!@ squirrels still invaded and took off with the ripening fruit. And the plant was l-o-a-d-e-d with tomatoes. I got one green tomato. No more. Produce stand here I come.

Garden Bloggers Fling. I attended my one and only Fling in 2015 but missed the fun in Minneapolis in 2016. This event is for gardeners who blog (what a great fit!) and the 2017 Garden Bloggers Fling will be hosted in the Washington, DC region beginning June 22. It’s a great way to put a face to the bloggers you’ve been reading and connect even further on this great joy we all share.

Happy 2017 everyone!

 


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2016 Garden Hits and Misses, Part 1

Happy New Year everyone. Due to extremely frustrating issues with my computer and WordPress, I have not been posting. Hoping that I have finally resolved these roadblocks, I am back to blogging.

Given it is now 2017, I see no reason to bring you up to speed on a relatively uneventful fall garden season. But a look back at the year is due. Due to length, this will be a two-parter, starting with the hits. Here are my ArchCity hits for 2016. (Drum roll please.)

The Hits!

DSCN4499paperbark by patioPaperbark Maple (Acer griseum). When I embarked on my backyard gardening journey in 2012, I was intent on only planting shrubs and perennials with the rationale that I didn’t want to get into pruning trees. Don’t ask why. The gardens were going to be easy, carefree and filled with shrubs and perennials, even though the first specimen I planted was a Japanese maple–like I said, don’t ask. In 2014, I amended my rule further and planted a dwarf Colorado blue spruce and rationalized that by the fact that it is a dwarf specimen. Dwarf is the operative here and it explains my justification for planting a paperbark maple in 2016. This beauty will top out at 20 feet and I can live with that. What I don’t want is a towering tree. I love this tree for its cinnamon-hued peeling bark, multi-stemmed trunk and vibrant trifoliate leaves in autumn.

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dscn5299More hardscaping. The garden beds soften the patio and the hardscaping provides structure to the garden. At least I think that’s the principle. My flagstone path is small but it draws the eye through the garden bed and in a couple of years, I hope to be able to walk on it. I know I am relying on the Japanese maple to grow, but I have faith. For now, crawling down the path suits me fine. Most of the time I’m down low digging out weeds anyway.  On the left of the photo, you’ll notice I added a bird bath. I like the structure it provides to the softly flowing hydrangeas. And it’s a nice to provide birds a place where they can frolic.

img_2389Rain barrels were on the top of my list when I started gardening. Now I have two in the back and two in the front (delivered and installed by surprise in December–more on that in another post). I am happy with the rain barrels but they did come with a bit of an adjustment. The hose from the house spigot is a much faster way to water, but I enjoy being out and I have a system for filling up my watering cans. Each rain barrel in the back has two spigots so I can maximize the fill. I was amazed at how quickly a 50-gallon rain barrel will fill up. One good gusher and they are full. There is not enough pressure in the rain barrel to run a long hose from it and soak a garden and there are times when a good long soak from the hose is required, so a rain barrel is not a solution for everything.

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DSCN4562Birds, butterflies and beesFor a new point of view, look no further than a garden. I’ve had a true attitude adjustment when it comes to gardening. I went into it for the flowers with nary a thought to the side benefits of providing shelter and food for insects, birds, butterflies and other critters. 2016 was a good year butterflies, birds and insects. DSCN5073dscn5172Sometimes I am repelled (crawly things can freak me out) but mostly I’m fascinated by what’s moving around the foliage. Is it a friend or foe? My new discoveries take me to a Google search to learn more. A garden gives you a real sense for the symbiosis of nature. To my delight, a tree in my neighbor’s backyard is home to a bard owl, which I have enjoyed watching hunt at dusk. I have several voles I would gladly offer to its diet. More about that in Part II.

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Late October in the Garden

dscn5211It’s hurry up time in my St. Louis garden–the last-gasp of nice-weather season before winter’s chill firmly camps out at the door. At least that is what the October calendar here usually means; this year, I am not so certain. Our temperatures have been very, very warm. Today we are just below 80 F.  My sweaters are mostly tucked away, coats still in the closet and my garden flowers still abloom. Not to mention the frenzy of peppers tirelessly produced from one “Sweet Sunset” plant.

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I’ve been busy moving plants around such as my zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’), ground covers and some perennials. This is the second time this year I moved the zebra grass. The first time I moved it from the back of the garden bed to the front in the spring because it was not getting enough sun. Problem solved, maybe too much as the plant seemed to triple in size and I no longer liked the visual balance in the bed. The grass became too overwhelming in its front-and-center spot.

As I planned undertaking the endeavor to move it a second time, I remembered Jason’s Garden in a City post and the resulting comments about the major chore dividing grasses and moving grasses can be. I must say, the comments gave me pause. So I made sure to water the grass thoroughly a few days before to get the soil good and moist.

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The grass in the front is actually in the center of this bed.

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The zebra grass, now at the end of the bed, has better visual balance and still gets plenty of sun. The grass had been in the foreground to the left of the pavers that bisect this bed.

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Removal was not nearly as bad as I had imagined, probably because the grass had only been in place one season. Ensuring the soil was moist also really helped. Fortunately the rain gods have been generous and provided a little more than 1 inch of rain last week to help quench the thirsty beds–my rain barrels were depleted–and keep moist the newly relocated plants.

I’ve also taken advantage of our mild weather to fill in bare spots in several areas with with creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) and relocate a “Karl Foerster” feather reed grass (calamagrostis x acutiflora) from my raised bed in the back to a spot front by the garage. I’m hopeful the grass will artfully cover the downspout it sits in front of.

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A mound of creeping jenny (with some thyme interspersed) is plenty to redistribute throughout my beds for ground cover.

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Individual stems and their roots are gently planted into the soil and kept moist.

I was really hoping the Karl Foerster grass would take off in the raised bed. It is was of two plants I put that bed along the fence, with the hopes of providing height to cover the fence. One took off and the other, well, not so much. Turns out the shade from a nearby tree was stunting its growth.

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The full effect of the ground cover and reed grass.

I have pulled out the scraggly petunias, cut the blooms from the zinnias (a tireless bloomer), pulled out the peppers and done some general clean up. Before long the trees will change their colors, drop their leaves, and I’ll be longing for spring again. Until then, I will enjoy nature’s autumnal palette.

 

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