The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


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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?

 

 

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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!

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.

 

 


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Ah Yes Moments in 2015

DSCN3119 (768x1024)If you’re like me, it’s easy to look in the rear view mirror and lament what went wrong during the previous season and think about all the “could ofs,” “should ofs” and “only ifs” as I plan for the next.

Last year was not the best year for my back yard garden. The tremendous amount of rain we had in June took a toll on the way the plants performed, and it seemed like there was never enough time to accomplish what needed to be done. But, there were plenty of highlights to year 4 in my gardens. Here are few:

1. Improving the Entrance into the Yard. Visitors who came through the gate in 2014 were met with a raised bed supported by rotting railroad ties whose 5-inch nail spikes stuck out. The step down into the yard was deep, making it awkward and potentially dangerous. I said goodbye to the ties and installed interlocking stone that coordinates with the stamped concrete patio. An added step provides a more natural distance down into the yard.

The addition of a step off of the raised area, makes stepping into the yard easier.

The addition of a step off of the raised area, makes stepping into the yard easier. The shasta daisies are transplants from a friend, as are the cannas.

The entrance to the backyard.

Goodbye rotted railroad ties. The  previous entrance to the backyard.

2. Attending the Garden Bloggers Fling in Toronto. Okay, this is technically not in my garden, but I’ll extol the virtues of expanding your network to anyone who enjoys gardening. First, who doesn’t like a garden tour? The Fling was a 3-day-plus extravaganza of garden tours. This experience allowed me to learn first-hand from other gardeners–hobbyists to the pros–what they are doing in their gardens and public spaces. It was an outstanding way to expand my thoughts on gardening and meet many of the people behind the blogs I so enjoy. The Fling has me thinking more seriously about natural resources conservation, starting a vegetable garden, composting and the joys of connecting with those who share a common passion.

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A rooftop garden overlooking the Toronto city skyline. The Garden Fling provided multiple venues to learn about gardening, sustainability, conservation and plant selection.

Claire Jones near Cabbagetown

Claire Jones, author of the Garden Diaries blog, takes time to appreciate the offerings at a city nursery in Toronto.

3. Installing a new bed along the south fence. Outside of raising children, nothing teaches patience like gardening. I may be planning and planting for four-season beauty, but each garden season (spring/summer/fall) is just one cycle and it took me several cycles to finally get to the south fence. I enjoyed sitting on the patio looking at this lovely, lovely shade garden.

September south garden

The caladium take center stage in the bed in September. The honeysuckle trailing over the fence from my neighbor’s yard was a welcome guest.

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Freshly mulched, the south fence bed in June. Japanese forest grass, heuchera various fern, hosta, creeping Jenny, solomon seal and astilbe provided lots to look at all season.

4. Edging the Beds. What a difference a seemingly small task makes in giving a garden bed a finished look. I considered installing metal edging, but instead opted for the back labor (someone else’s, as I hired this job out) to cut a nice edge around my main garden beds.

 

Replanted azaleas 2 (768x1024)


3. Plant division. Want to save a little money? Get more of a plant you just love, love, love? Fill in a space in the garden bed? Share with a good friend? Improve your garden design and color balance? Two words: Plant division.

 

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First purchased from the Webster Groves Women’s Garden Club plant sale, these purple coneflower have been divided and added throughout the gardens. Self-seeders, they quickly and easily multiply. 

patio containers by perennial bed

The black-eyed Susans in the foreground have three homes in my yard. Profusive in Zone 6, I gladly divide them to share with friends. 

 


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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.