The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


3 Comments

Time off for the garden

Friday turned out to be a perfect day to take off from the clattering at my keyboard and spend some time digging in the garden.

When I last wrote, we’d had some nice rain. That was followed by some heavy rain with about 2 inches over a couple of days. Which was followed by some dry, but cool, weather. Which brought us to Friday which was perfect for getting outside–sunny skies, temperatures in the 70s and the ground soft and easy to work.

As I began dividing the astilbe, I was thinking of how much I enjoy working in the garden and quickly amended that thought to playing in the garden. For there are days like last Friday that are so enjoyable they feel like play.

On a delightful day such as it was, even the weeding felt fine. I spent quite some time plucking violets from their unwelcome place amid the yarrow.

It was a day for spreading mulch. My mulch man places it throughout the beds and I spread it about. Tbis job takes a few days if I take my time with it.

And it was perfect for trimming the vines (Virginia creeper?) Climbing the fence and creating a wall of greenery.

It was a pleasant day for plucking up wayward black eyed Susan’s and dividing ostrich fern for friends and neighbors, trimming the Russian sage and watching with anticipation the beauty yet to bloom.

I savor days like these because I know that days like these are fleeting. As May advances toward Memorial Day it brings with it increasing heat and humidity. And that’s when play day chores like Friday’s begin to feel like work.


Leave a comment

Building Garden Interest with Texture

DSCN4963The elements of texture and form, shape and garden occupy my thoughts more and more as I add plants and the garden matures. I really like the textures of plants in the shade bed, but the main bed along my patio is starting to look a bit messy. I’m not sure if it’s because the dwarf blue spruce is so slow to grow unlike the grasses, which are getting very big and therefore the balance is off, or because there are so many spillers in the garden and that’s creating some visual chaos. Either way, I’m exploring the themes of texture, balance and color as I consider moving things around next year.WWW Cacophony3I never thought much about texture until I started gardening. Texture creates interest and interplay among plants. In the world of texture, contrast seems to be key, and there are a couple of ways to achieve texture in garden design.

  1. Placing plants with contrasting leaf shapes near each other.
  2. Placing plants with contrasting bloom shapes near each other.

Properly combine fine, medium and coarsely textured plants in the garden and you’ll get visual interest. Too much texture and you can end up with visual chaos. And there’s both tactile and visual textures to consider.Yikes. (When I initially started planning my gardens, this overwhelmed me, not to mention other considerations of size, shape and color.)DSCN4968Most plants have medium texture. I typically use coarse and fine textured plants as a great way to achieve accents.Then I try and spice things up through complementary or contrasting colors of plants. The finely textured leaves from Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) complement the medium-textured leaves of rudbeckia. The bloom shapes from all three are small, medium and large. And the grayish-green Russian sage also provides a color contrast to the green of the other plants. DSCN4976Proper texture pairings provide lots of interest and result in pleasing vignettes. This is not as simple as you might imagine. It’s probably one reason why gardeners move plants around year after year.

Balance combines with texture and creates unity. I like the balance in my shade bed, achieved by repeating astilbe, hosta, fern and Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa) throughout its linear shape. The  astilbe’s bottle brush-shaped bloom lends coarse texture in contrast to the smooth leaves of the Japanese forest grass. Visual interest if further achieved through contrasts in color and leaf shape.

In the combination below a trifecta of color, shape and texture unite to create a pleasing vignette at the Missouri Botanical Garden. The coarse brown center of the yellow rudbeckia and the soft, finely textured brown plume from an ornamental millet pair up, as do the daisy-like petal shape and the contrasting shape of the brown plume. And last but not least, brown and yellow make a complementing color contrast. bes and milletWith so many varieties, succulents are a great way to add texture to a container. Soft rosette shapes combine with coarse texture, and the grayish hues of all the plants create color harmony in a succulent display at the Toronto Botanical Garden last summer. I love the fuzzy texture of the echeveria next to the crassula princess pine.DSCN2996 (1280x960)How important is texture in your garden? And what plants are you incorporating for textural variety?

 

 


Leave a comment

Hot for Hostas

DSCN4664Hostas have so many of the elements I look for in a plant. Easy to care for. Can be divided. Comes in lots of varieties, both big and small. But truth be told, I’ve not always been a big fan of them–even though they have been in every garden I have planted. You’d be hard pressed to find St. Louis garden that doesn’t incorporate hostas into its design. These are workhorse plants in this part of the Midwest and they go well in many applications.

hosta by rosesMy fondness for hostas is growing. This plant is an essential element to my shade garden and I enjoy looking at them every day. I love the hosta in the photo above (taken in May) but will probably move it next year. Even though it is encased by the oakleave hydrangea, which filters the sunlight, it gets too much sun and by July it looks like its about to burn up. There are “sun loving” hostas but don’t be fooled, this is plant really a shade lover.

DSCN0734

Too much sun? Not enough water? Both I’m afraid. I got wise and moved any hosta in this area and, yes, upped the water.

So why the growing affection for this hardy perennial? As they say in real estate parlance: Location, location, location. That’s right, I think I have finally found the right spot for them. And, I like the mix of perennials they’re planted with. Shape and texture, the keys to any garden, really stand out in a shade garden. Some have larger leaves than others and they are mingling in the bed with the tall, delicate shapes of fern, deeped lobed leaves of heuchera, spikey and brightly colored Japanese forest grass and the serrated leaves of astilbe, whose plume is to die for.

DSCN4401

The blue hue of “Frances Williams” (center left) stands out against all the other green in the garden bed. This variety is a welcome contrast to the bright green Japanese forest grass (hakonechloa).

 

frances william

Hostas like water and Frances Williams is no exception.Its leaves become wider as it matures.

Moisture is another important consideration when placing hostas. I have learned the hard way that they do not do well in dry shade. Mine are mostly planted in a bed with a bunch of other moisture lovers, mainly fern and astilbe. They also like slightly acidic soil which is in abundance in my garden.

Hosta’s flower is nothing to speak of so its appeal is its foliage. I’ve planted hostas whose foliage have a spectrum of hues from citron with greenish/blue streaking to blue with creamy yellow edging and deeper green with white edging.

 

DSCN4602

I’d like to share with you the names of the hosta varieties I have in the yard, but I don’t know them. Many of the plants in my garden are from the local area garden club sales, friends gardens, or were in the yard when I moved in, and they didn’t come with a tag describing their variety. Because they grow so well in our USDA Zone 6a climate, I am a big fan of dividing hostas and placing them throughout the garden beds.

DSCN4426

Surrounded by flowers in garden beds edging the patio, the cool shade bed is a welcome sight.

 


3 Comments

April Progress Report

Flagstone finished (960x1280)I’ve embarked on a garden improvement plan, but then what gardener hasn’t? Tired of struggling with the slow fill in of the big bed that runs the length of the patio, I decided it needed some help filling in and plants weren’t going to do it.

Rabbits have gotten fat off of hearty helpings of the liriope planted in a ring around the Japanese maple. And not just this year. They’ve been munching on the liriope since they discovered them in 2013. Enough! No longer an enabler, I dug them up and gave them to a friend. They don’t bother the liriope planted up near the house but I think they’re too afraid to get near the door.

The growing maple cast too much shade on the zebra grass planted in the back of the bed. It is now positioned in front of the tree where there’s more sun throughout the day. Haphazardly planted daylilies (a gift from my neighbor) have been moved together for a more cohesive look.

flagstone I (960x1280)Suddenly I was left with lots of space around the tree. And I discovered two flagstone castoffs in the back of the yard. Well, you know the rest of the story. A quick trip to the nearby materials supply store and I was off to the races. Fortunately the ground is still soft and the soil is pretty good–not the rock hard, compacted clay I encountered when I started this bed in 2012.

“Walkers Low” catmint (Nepeta recemosa), “Maggie Daley” astilbe and “Amethyst” astilbe x arendsii, and lady’s mantle (alchemilla mollis) will find a home in the bed alongside roses, coneflower (echinacea), liatris, coreoposis, dianthus, “Little Joe” pye weed (eupatorium) and black eyed susans (rudbeckia) that are planted among the Little Lamb and Little Lime hydrangea.

Here’s a picture of the path before the flagstone was dug into place. (As a side note, I can’t believe how much the maple has leafed out in the past week. I love its dark maroon leaves.)

flagstone II (960x1280).jpg

I moved those suckers into several arrangements before deciding on this layout. Their heft is deceptive; the materials guy told me in total they weighed more than 225 pounds.

The addition of a couple of rain barrels, my great vegetable experiment and–coming soon!–the addition of a paperbark maple have also filled my weekends. Stay tuned for upcoming posts on these adventures.

As always, thanks for reading.

 


2 Comments

In the Swing of Spring

Here’s a quick peek at the goings on in my Arch City backyard. So happy it’s spring!

Japanese Maple April (2) (960x1280)

Bloodgood Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) starts to leaf.

Tulips April (1280x960)

Pretty pink tulips in bloom. Fond reminders of a family trip to the Netherlands last fall.

Clematis April (960x1280)

Clematis begins its winding growth. Transplanted in the fall from a container, it seems to like its new spot. This is the second year for this plant and I think I’m falling in love! 🙂

Japanese Forest Grass (1280x960)

Bright chartreuse and green leaves of Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra) after a rain.

Rain barrel and rhodos (960x1280)

Pretty pink and purple rhododendron in full bloom. Note the rain barrel in the back. More about that in a coming post.

Penstemon April (960x1280)

Husker Red penstemon (Penstemon digitalis) bursting forth. This is one of my favorites. I love the purple/green leaves with red veining. Before too long it will be in bloom.

Astilbe April (1280x960)

Hairy stemmed astilbe (Astilbe chinensis) are planted near the Japanese forest grass. But there are other signs of life in my shade garden: pointy tips of hosta emerging, curly coral bell (heuchera) leaves, rosy colored  tips of Solomon seal (polygonatum biflorum), lemon-lime creeping Jenny (lysimachia nummularia), and soon, ferns, glorious elegant ferns.

VegTrug April 1 (1280x960)

The great seed planting experiment shows signs of life: cool season greens and brocolli.

Rain Gauge April (960x1280)

Spring rainfall, cool night time temperatures and warmer days make possible all of the above.