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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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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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.

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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.

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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).

 

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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.

 

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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.

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

 


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In the Swing of Spring

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

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Bloodgood Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) starts to leaf.

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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! 🙂

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

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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.

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

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

 

 


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Progress Report: Turning Dreams into Reality

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Astilbe circle the base of the concrete stand. I placed the armillary sphere on top as a last-minute gesture. My original plan is to put a container oozing with plant atop the stand. But I do kind of like this look.

It’s just after 6 p.m. My fingernails are filthy, my shoes are muddied (and in the garage), I have hat hair, my lower back is talking to me, and the shade garden bed that I dreamed about all winter has begun to take shape.

It was a very good day in the garden.

The long view of the bed, looking toward the top of the bed.

The long view of the bed, looking toward the top of the bed. There’s plenty of room remaining for the caladium bulbs on order and Japanese forest grass. And as time goes by, I think I will add more heuchera to the front.

This was a day of moving plants from one bed to another, checking the layout I painstakingly mapped out in the midst of winter–desperate for a spring day like today–and making modifications on the fly. My daughter Louise and I hoisted a concrete plant stand and moved it to the middle of the bed, which could have something to do with the backache. Here is what has gone into this fence-line shade bed that is anchored at the top by a maple tree and curves at the bottom into the wet “problem zone” of the yard:

  • Astilbe Chinensis “Visions,” featuring a raspberry red plum.
  • Ostrich fern (Matteuccia Matteuccia). Placed in the back of the bed in front of the fence because they can grow five and a half feet tall.
  • Hosta “Frances William.” This is one forgiving plant because I have moved it three times in three years and it seems unfazed.
  • Heuchera “Plum Royal” and “Marvelous Marble.” The Ruffled Lime I planted last year have not reappeared.
  • Several variegated Solomon’s seal (polygonatum biflorum). My friend Mary generously allowed me
  • to dig up several transplants from her yard early in the week and I was able to get it in before the torrential rain this past week. It has doubled in height in the one week it has been in the bed.

Still to come: Caladium “White Queen,” Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra) “Aureola”, creeping jenny. And mulch, lots of mulch.

Dear readers, how does your garden grow?


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An Urban Garden Oasis

St louis brick (480x640)My sister Nancy lives in the midst of music, mayhem and madness in the shadows of the vibrant Loop in St. Louis city. Yet her yard is a true get away in the midst of city living. Yes, you can hear the drum circle at the Shell gas station a block away. Police and firetruck sirens blare down Delmar Avenue at a fairly regular pace. A rotating “moon” atop the Moonrise Hotel can be glimpsed from the deck. But all that is just a sideshow. The main event is the oasis she has created on a small city backyard lot. Center stage is a large pond full with fish and surrounded by lots of ground cover such as carpet phlox, creeping Jenny and vinca; trees and shrubs such as Japanese maple, lemon thread cypress, Mary Jane magnolia,and oakleaf hydrangea; perennials such as hosta, grasses, salvia and liriope; and annuals to fill in. Large rocks give structure to the pond shape and provide a platform to gaze at the fish and maneuver around the pond.

Urban Oasis 2 (1280x960)If you’ve ever wondered if pond water is good for the garden, wonder no more! Her oakleaf and roses appear to be on steroids!

pond lettuceOf course the pond has aquatic plant species such as water lily, water hyacinth, water lettuce and bog plants. What Nancy lacks in plant knowledge “I don”t know that plant is,” she makes up with an unerring eye for color combination and layout. There’s a balanced interplay between citrus hues (lemon thread cypress), cool tones (a blue dwarf weeping cypress) and shocks of color (the pink Knockout roses). Touches of whimsy, such as this painted frog, let you know the garden is for enjoyment. This frog is an example of her talent in  painting.

 A painted frog adorns the rocks on the edge of the pond.

A painted frog adorns the rocks on the edge of the pond.

I think ponds provide a sense of serenity and the shade cast on the pond from the trees lends a sense of calm in an urban setting. I am always struck by the fact that the yard is small–a typical St. Louis city lot–and there is lots of city noises around, yet the environment feels set apart from the hustle and bustle.

Original St. Louis accents also lend an authentic city touch to this escape and sets the yard apart from other gardens. The home is in Parkview, an historic St. Louis neighborhood dated back to the early 1900s. Above the bed in front of the garage is a light from one of the old streetlamps in the neighborhood. And the first picture in this post is of an old “St. Louis” brick.

Looking back toward the garage.

Looking back toward the garage. Note the dwarf cypress in the back. Behind this is another planting area that hides the power line and the fence leading to the alley.

IMG_0553Between the garden beds, the deck and the pond, you kind of lose sight that this is really a narrow yard that is not all too deep. That is because the design draws your eye down along the space. A brick path along the side bed with the roses help to pull your eye lengthwise. Still developing is a shade garden in front the garage. As with all gardens, trial and error occurs with plant selection, soil and light. This area receives a good bit of shade and Nancy has struggled a bit to get the right plants to take off. Carefree, foliaged perennials are the name of the game, although color contrast is at the forefront. Hostas thrive in the St. Louis climate. Nancy is planting a variety of hostas, and the bed is beginning to take off. I know, however, that in a year or two she’ll introduce an artistic element to heighten the enjoyment of this bed.

What I have not shown you are the window boxes and containers that overlook the deck. And of course there are the lounges and the hand-painted table umbrella. I  hope you have enjoyed this virtual garden tour. I look forward to sharing other small garden spaces in the near future.

How are you making the most of your small spaces?