The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


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Filling in with Groundcovers

20180525_150859In my gardens, groundcovers probably feel like Rodney Dangerfield. They get no respect. That may be partially true given their carefree nature and they are something I’ve put off adding to the garden. My garden “methodology” was to get in the big stuff–trees, shrubs–then fill in with perennials and annuals for their color and punch. Perennial groundcovers weren’t the stars of the garden I so desired. But I’m all about groundcovers now.

They are exceptional plants to fill in the nooks and crannies, provide a lovely carpet of green and crowd out the advancing weeds that seem to want to take over. I kept putting off the ground cover purchase, except for happy accidents like the cranesbill Biokova Karmina (geranium x cantabrigiense) pictured above.  I thought it was a perennial. But it’s also a groundcover.

One of the first plants I added to the edge of a bed, this hardy plant has shoots of pretty pale pinkish-purple flowers in spring. Looking at its serrated, lobed leaves, you see it’s related to the geranium (Geraniaceae family). It is in just the right spot and gets just the right amount of sun and is carefree and seemingly happy when neglected. That makes low maintenance cranesbill a winner in my book.

I hadn’t considered cranesbill is a groundcover until it started slowly advancing a couple of years ago. In my untrained mind I just thought it was filling in. No, it’s creating a lovely carpet.

20180525_150939Creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) is another favorite. Chartreuse and seemingly indestructible, I have moved this groundcover from the front yard where it got too much sun to my shade bed where is it beginning to spread and mingle nicely with ferns, heuchera, hosta, and astilbe. I like the bright green contrast of this versatile plant and have seen it in hanging baskets. In too much sun, however, it loses its green gets too yellow. Its roots are very shallow; division is easy because you scratch the surface of the soil and pop the plant right in.

20180525_164304In the front yard I planted three small containers of sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) beneath a tree. I had struggled to find plants suitable to this rooty space, and although I had planted a flat and a half of impatiens for a few years, they became hard to find due to downy mildew and I really wanted something perennial in this space. This spring (it’s 3rd year) we’ve had plenty of rain and it’s runners have really gone to town.

Like cranesbill, this is a mat-forming perennial that has taken off in no time. You can see that it still needs to fill in a bit, but I have no doubt this circle will be unbroken by the end of this season. Sweet woodruff gets lovely small white flowers in spring–in fact, it just finished blooming–and is well suited for the shade.

20180525_151241And, then there is wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei). I am not sure I would call this my favorite ground cover but it is worth mentioning here. Is it a ground cover, a vine or a shrub? Maybe all three. In my last home, I spent a long hot summer pulling it out of a garden bed it took over. It was in abundance in a raised bed when I moved in this home and while it doesn’t look like it now, I trim it religiously. In the last year, I decided that the fence would be much prettier covered in green and have stopped cutting it back. You can see the result, which I really like, but I keep a watchful eye and shears and pruners nearby.

The Missouri Botanical garden warns  that wintercreeper has been identified by a task force of the Missouri Botanical Garden as one of the top 20 plants known to be spreading into native plant areas and crowding out native species in our region. Naturalists recommend against planting this plant.

20180512_200438And finally, not in my garden but certainly admired is baby tears (Soleirolia soleirolii). An alternative to a lawn, baby tears carpeted the courtyard of the Airbnb I stayed at in Rome recently. I have read that it is somewhat invasive and needs to be consistenly watered, but I have no first-hand experience with this plant.

What are your favorite groundcovers?

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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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The Garden in Late May

I love the delicate pink and white blooms on the deeply hued stems of penstemon.

I love the delicate pink and white blooms on the deeply hued stems of penstemon.

At the end of April, I posted photos showing how much progress had been made from the start of the month to the beginning of May. Of course, Mother Nature was just getting tuned up. To lean on the old, tired adage “April Showers Bring May Flowers,” I know why Mother’s day, weddings and graduations fill the weekends of May–because it’s so doggone beautiful.

I have not yet mulched. Shame on me but my gutter man has not shown up! And while I know the mulch will make the beds look that much better and be beneficial to the beds, all the rain and nice spring temperatures have really brought on the blooms. The only bed that really looks shabby is along the fence line where the Cannas are starting to emerge. It could use some mulch. And the bed in the corner of the backyard looks terrible, but more about that deliberately neglected space later.

This post isn’t to dive into the rough spots of the yard, but to celebrate how lovely May is.

Let’s take a look at how things are coming along, shall we?

I under-estimated just how many plants I will need and how long it will take to fill in this bed.

I under-estimated just how many plants I will need and how long it will take to fill in this bed.

Not shy on ambition, I envisioned a plant-packed bed, spilling forth with flowers throughout spring, summer and fall when I started this project three years ago. And it is taking a lot longer than I thought. I am trying to be patient and let the shrubs fill in, the Japanese maple put some height on and the dwarf Colorado blue spruce fill out, but I am like a kid–I want it now. May was spent dividing hosta, coreopsis, shasta daisy, black eye Susan and other perennials in the beds. They payback is that I save money on plants and have some much-needed repetition, which provides some continuity to this project.

The “May Night” salvia are attracting lots of bees as are the cranesbill. I really like this combination. This must be the perfect spot for the cranesbill because it was the first thing I planted in my new garden in the summer of 2011. The salvia tends to get a bit leggy and last year–its first summer–I cut it back quite a bit. Clearly that didn’t both it!

What a lovely combination of color. Hot pink roses, not shown here, dial up the intensity.

What a lovely combination of color. Hot pink roses, not shown here, dial up the intensity.

Pink and purple plants took center stage in early May but now the yellows are starting to show. The coreopsis are balancing atop their delicate stems, and the stella de oro are blooming. Later this summer, the black eye Susans will be out in force.

This variety of coreopsis blooms all summer but requires a bit of maintenance trimming off the spent blooms.

This variety of coreopsis blooms all summer but requires a bit of maintenance trimming off the spent blooms.

I have been looking forward to watching gayfeather (liatris spicata) come through this year. I planted three of them last year. One did not make it but these two look terrific. It looks like they will bloom soon.

True to their promise, the Knockout roses are providing a profusion of blooms. I am really enjoying this pink shrub. It was mislabeled as a deep pink but it turns out it was a happy accident. It’s also encouraging to see how quickly these guys grow.

Ribbon grass grows behind this pink rose.

Ribbon grass grows behind this pink rose.

Right now the Kobold does not need staking. This is the second summer for it in the garden.

Right now the Kobold does not need staking. This is the second summer for it in the garden.

Nothing seems to have grown as quickly as the Oakleaf hydrangea! This bad boy either a) loves this spot on the north side of the house; b) is a vigorous grower; or c) all of the above. I think the answer is c) all of the above. This specimen is actually in the middle of this particular bed. When sitting on the patio, it towers above the rose. Behind it, where there is more shade from the eaves of the roofline, I have put in shade lovers such as coral bells, astilbe, hosta and fern. Originally, I had intended the oakleaf to screen the trash cans. This year I decided to move them to the other side of the house and expand this bed. That’s the gardening way, right?

Until May, I had not given much thought on which month I really enjoy in the yard. While early spring provides much-needed anticipation and relief from being inside all winter, the temperatures this May have been good (not too hot or humid). The humidity and temps are starting to climb but it has been a great month to enjoy the yard.

Spring and summer means cut flowers.

Spring and summer means cut flowers.

Having something blooming each month throughout the summer is one of the key benefits to gardening. You can bring the outdoors inside with vases of cut flowers, a joyful reminder of the garderner’s hard work paying off.

I like to I look forward to providing an end-of-June report and watching what’s growing in your yard, fellow bloggers.

Thanks for reading.

The Oakleaf hydrangea "Alice" begins to bloom.

The Oakleaf hydrangea “Alice” begins to bloom.

The black eye Susan here in front of the yellow coreopsis, love this location. Other sun lovers include monarda, tall garden phlox, lily and Russian sage.

The black eye Susan here in front of the yellow coreopsis, love this location. Other sun lovers include monarda, tall garden phlox, lily and Russian sage. On the left is a  blue false indigo (baptisia australis), a new addition to the bed this year.

The soft velvety texture of artemisia, seen here creeping on the edge of the patio almost cries out to be touched.

The soft velvety texture of artemesia, seen here creeping on the edge of the patio almost cries out to be touched. What really took off this month, though, is the Oakleaf hydrangea in the back of this photo.

I have concentrated on planting in the sunny spots in the yard but have found a few shady areas to fil lin.

I have concentrated on planting in the sunny spots in the yard but have found a few shady areas to fill in. Contrasting shapes and color provide visual interest.