The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


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5 Container Favorites

I don’t talk about annuals much, preferring to invest in perennials and shrubs. But I do a bit of container planting each year to keep the color going. I’m anxious–but not too–for this cool, rainy spring to turn over to summer where the containers really take off. Every year I like to experiment with something new but I do have some tried and trues that I can’t live without. Here are five of my recent favorites.

 

2015 nicotianaNicotiana. I plant this near a window so I can enjoy its evening fragrance. A fast grower, nicotiana attracts bees and likes sun. Nicotiana comes in pink, a limey green and white. I like the white but have planted all three. I don’t usually combine this in a container because it likes as much room as it can get.

Trailing begonia 2Begonia. Not just any begonia. It’s gotta be dragon wing begonia. The light my window boxes receive suits this plant just right, and dragon wing has become a staple. I usually pair them with a spiller because these plants are all the thriller I need! Here I’ve paired it with purple spiderwort, another easy grower. I’m partial to the coral blooms that gently cascade on a delicate stem. As you can see, they take over, but I’m not complaining.

DSCN1945 (960x1280)Angelonia. I’m fairly new to this gem of a plant and I find the white cultivars are a bit more vigorous than the purple. However, I’ve only planted these in containers for two seasons and last season my containers (which had the purple variety) really didn’t perform well. This container had both white and purple varieties. I adored the yellow accent of calibrachoa, but it only bloomed once and looked pretty shabby.

Gerbera pot (600x800)\

Gerbera Daisy. Happy, hardy, colorful. A friend brought this over one day. I popped this sunny flower into a sunny yellow pot and enjoyed the heck out of it all summer. This is an easy care perennial that performed best in a container. It did not take well to being transplanted.

Gomphrena containerGomphrena.  I wish I had a better photo but you’ll get the idea. This is a real workhouse annual, providing bloom after tireless bloom all summer. Its cute pom-pom shaped spheres on long thin stems make for a great fill-in. I planted this last summer for the first time and combined it with sweet potato vine and petunias. I’d categorize this plant as fun, if there is such a plant category. The nearly neon purple bloom is a lot of fun too.

 

 

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Whistle While You Work

This blog title pretty well describes my day yesterday. First, it was Friday. No explanation needed there. Even better, it was planting day.

A group of us at work have come together to plant a container garden outside the patio of one of the buildings. We’ve been planning this for quite some time and have had several meetings to discuss what we’d plant–veggies; when we’d plant–Earth Day; steps needed to take to get this done–get seeds, containers, soil, signs, building approval, watering schedule, weeding volunteers, etc.

As these things tend to go, one thing led to another. I’ve mentioned before that I work with seed and plant experts, so at sometime along the way (like Meeting One) we decided we needed their, ahem, “engagement” in this project. And by that I mean we went begging, asking for quality seed, assistance to grow out the seed and maybe even a little bit of agronomic support. We’d do the rest! Honest. Especially the planting on a Friday part.

“Engagement” wasn’t an issue. This small project taps right to the roots of the joys of gardening. Lots of us love to get our hands dirty; and are as passionate about home gardening as we are about farming. Even one volunteer brought everyone rosemary plants he started at home from seed. Kind of a party favor, if you will. And Nick, a marketing manager for Seminis Vegetable Seeds, was more than happy to provide seeds and supplies so we could showcase the products he is so proud of on campus.

Planting site (1280x960)Here’s the lineup of what we’ve got going on. Many are AAS selections. Maybe you’ve planted some of these seeds in your own vegetable gardens:

  • Lettuce: Amanda
  • Spinach: Green Beret
  • Brocolli:” Artwork (AAS)
  • Peppers: Flaming Flare Fresno (AAS), Emerald Fire Jalapeno (AAS), Hot Sunset Banana (AAS), Sweet Sunset Banana (AAS), Flaming Jade Serrano (AAS)
  • Squash: Bossa Nova (AAS)
  • Tomatoes: Better Boy, Rugged Boy SV0056TD, Dixie Red
  • Cucumber: Gateway
  • Custard Beans

Eric, one of our planting experts, explained over lunch that our patio garden will have some challenges. The garden’s location gets lots of sun, which is good. It also will give off lots of heat retained by the patio. Fruiting plants like tomatoes will require lots of watering–even on weekends. And we’ll need to be coordinated in our watering schedule. We don’t want to drown the plants and we don’t want to overwater them either.

M Building Before (1280x960)

This is the patio bed before the plants were removed. It’s the perfect size for a container garden. Bonus: It gets tons of sun.

Full serpentine planters (960x1280)

The cool season crops like broccoli, lettuce and spinach will soon be replaced by more peppers, zucchini and other warm season vegetables.

I did learn this tidbit: Water deeply to encourage the roots to reach down to the water. I’m guilty of watering too lightly. That encourages shallow root growth. I’ll be more mindful of that in my garden this summer.

And he explained that we’ll need to be on the watch out for leaf molds and fungus, as well as critters who enjoy the fruits of our labor. You’ve heard me complain about squirrels and rabbits. This garden will in all likelihood also include deer.

What started as lots of gardending enthusiasts thinking “Wouldn’t it be neat to have a garden at work?” has become a reality that turned into a really neat way to meet and know new colleagues. We have more in common than where we work. We all love to garden. I’m thinking we could have a plant swap down the road.

Does your office or company gardening opportunities?


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Upside/Downside in the Garden This Week

DSCN3054 (480x640)I don’t need my new rain gauge to tell me we’ve had a lot of rain in St. Louis. The “tap” has been running since last Sunday, and this morning the rain gauge was filled to the brim, indicating we’ve had nearly six inches of rain. Needless to say, all this moisture has had upsides and some downsides. Without further adieu, here’s a quick recap of my Arch City garden:

I was gone for the first part of the week so the upside is I did not need to water; the downside is ponding in parts of the yard, plants soaked to the bone and weeds, weeds, weeds. It finally stopped raining today and I spent an enjoyable few hours this morning tidying things up. You can translate that to mean trimming back spent blooms from the penstemon, lilies, lady’s mantle and roses, as well as the annuals. I have noticed lots of spots and white stuff on some of the plants, including the penstemon, echinacea and rudbeckia, so I cut back quite a bit. The roses have been food for some insect and now are displaying lacy leaves. Not a good sign.

By noon the sun was out in full force, the humidity unbearable and yours truly headed back inside.

DSCN3089 (1024x768)DSCN3058 (1024x768) (2) There are some bright spots to the garden as well. The daylilies my neighbor generously gave me last summer are starting to bloom and they are lovely, although the liriope nearby have been heartily munched upon (I suspect rabbits) and the more than one dozen tomatoes on my patio plant are g-o-n-e. That would be squirrels. In fact, they left half-eaten tomatoes scattered upon the lawn. Ingrates.

DSCN3077 (1024x768)

DSCN3073 (1024x768) DSCN3087 (1280x960)The “Berry Chiffon” tickseed I planted before I left for the Fling has begun to bloom and is quite showy with deep pink petals whose tips appear to be painted white. Yet some of the liatris nearby has been trampled just as it is beginning to bloom. It is now cut back and in a vase in the family room.DSCN3060 (1024x768)

The astilbe in the newly installed south bed were stunning and I could not be happier with the plants in this shady part of the yard–fern, Japanese forest grass, hosta, Solomon seal, coral bells. As the raspberry plumes on the astilbe begin to fade, the caladium are starting to emerge, although some critter seems to have had a nibble or two on them as well. Rabbits? I suspect so but am not sure. I’ve never grown caladium in the ground. Readers, any tips for critter control?

The true test of the garden will be when the heat really kicks up. I guess that test will be tomorrow, as we expect temperatures in the mid 90s.DSCN3063 (1280x960)


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Lettuce Season is for Sharing

Stevan lettuce2

Rows of lettuce in Stevan’s backyard garden.

“People don’t know where their food comes from.” You’ve heard this, right? As generations become farther removed from the farm, their experience with with food is, shall we say, less direct. Fortunately there’s a resurgence in backyard gardening to close the widening gap from the farm gate to plate. As more gardeners get their hands dirty they not only produce delicious tasting produce, they learn about the risks/rewards associated with growing food…weather, insects, squirrels and rabbits (in my case), fungus, and much more.

Patio tomatoes thrive 15 stories up. Small space gardening is becoming more common.

Salad fixins’ 15 stories up! The balcony of this city apartment provides enough space to grow lettuce, tomatoes and an assortment of herbs.

Society may have moved further from the farm, but today’s gardeners are successfully growing lettuce, tomatoes and other produce in small spaces. My dear friend Chris takes advantage of small-space living and is growing lettuce and tomatoes growing on her apartment balcony 15 stories up.

Stevan, a friend of mine at work, has a backyard garden. And every year he sends me pictures of his lettuce like the one at the start of this post. This year, I joked that he could feed his entire community with the bounty in his backyard. To my surprise the next day Stevan hand-delivered to my desk a delicious Ceasar salad featuring Romaine lettuce picked from his garden that morning. Apparently he and other colleagues have a Ceasar salad lunch day every spring with the bounty from his garden.

I am not the only one he’s sharing his lettuce with however. A nearby child center is also benefitting from Stevan’s love of gardening. What I learned when returning his empty salad bowl is that he and others at work share their love of growing food by helping children at a nearby child center plant their own garden. Stevan may have provided the seed and the know-how, but he’ll be first to tell you this more than just lettuce-sharing. He’ll say he’s the one who benefitted by enjoying the kids’ happy faces and the connections they are making to growing food from seed. Lettuce season may be nearing an end here in St. Louis but I’m sure this is just the beginning of their garden delights.

Stevan UCCC

Planted from seed, the vegetable garden at the University City Children’s Center.

I’m inspired by my friends’ vegetable gardens. Truthfully, growing vegetables intimidates me a bit. Stevan (who grew up on a farm) tells me that you start simply with an easy-to-grow plant. This year I have patio tomatoes that the squirrels seem to be enjoying, as they have been plucked from the vine at just the opportune time. I have grown peppers and I always have some herbs planted. But next year I may have to visit Stevan’s backyard and get some first-hand pointers.

Do you grow vegetables?


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Cutting Back Ornamental Grasses

Use a serrated bread knife to cut back ornamental grasses. To make the process easier, first tie a string around the grass to hold it in place.

Use a serrated bread knife to cut back ornamental grasses. To make the process easier, first tie a string around the grass to hold it in place.

Like so many of you out there, I am itching to get in the garden. And there is lots to be done. I’ve started to cut back my ornamental grasses. I let my ornamental grasses die back and leave them in place for winter interest.  True confession, sometimes I just don’t get to the annual grasses I use in my pots and struggled getting them out of the pot in spring replanting season. But I digress. After years of using my garden shears, pruners, or kitchen scissors to cut back these ornamental beauties, I turned to the kitchen bread knife. It works like a charm and couldn’t be easier.

Here’s another handy tip. First tie the floppy wintered-over grass with a string to contain it like a ponytail, then cut back the grass with the bread knife.

Do you have a tried and true gardening quick tip?