The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond

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.


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.


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.



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.


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



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.



1 Comment

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.

DSCN2761 (1280x960)

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.


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.



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. 


Leave a comment

In Search of the Elusive Super-Blooming Garden Plant

I don’t know my diploids from my haploids or my tetraploids. But I do appreciate a perennial that blooms like crazy. And when it comes to garden favorites such as clematis, lavender, hosta, tall garden phlox and oh, so more it’s all about the tetraploid. That’s breeder speak for hybridizing plants that Super Bloom. And while long-lasting, seemingly never-ending blooming plants at one time were elusive, thanks to the smarts of breeders gardeners are able to sit on their patios and enjoy their favorite hydrangea in bloom all that much longer.

Abby Elliott

Sugar Creek Gardens Nursery owner Abby Lapides Elliott offers a show and tell of some of her favorite Super Plants.

I learned about this and more on a warm, clear-skied Thursday evening when I attended my first after-work (actually after- dentist) gardening talk at one of my local nurseries. I receive e-newsletters from a few of my favorite local plant purveyors. They are usually quite informative, including information on the local weather conditions and its impact on plant diseases and planting times, the specialty plants they are carrying and educational sessions they are hosting on a variety of topics of interest to the home gardener–everything from pollinators to planting under trees to natives to today’s talk on Super Plants. It’s smart marketing for local garden centers to differentiate themselves from the big box stores by inviting special guest speakers to host fun/educational events that bring their customers together. I had not been to one of these special events before because the nurseries I visit most often host their events either during the day when I am at work or at 5:30, when, foremost in my mind is getting home or completing post-work errands. Today was different. After a less than enjoyable dental procedure I decided to stop in at Sugar Creek Gardens Nursery to treat myself. Lo and behold they were about to begin a session on Super Blooms, hosted by Sugar Creek’s owner Abby Lapides Elliott. Abby didn’t go into too much scientific depth but did illustrate her informative talk by explaining that modern breeding using tetraploids (four times the haploid number of chromosomes in the cell nucleus) means that gardeners now have access to plants that boast not just a long-lasting blooms, but plants with beneficial and favorite traits combined that, for example, come in an amazing color, can tolerate geographic conditions, resist diseases, have larger or smaller blooms or foliage, and more.  Think hydrangeas that can be incorporated into a mixed garden more easily because they grow only 2 to 3 feet tall versus the more traditional size of 6-plus feet; agastache that is resistant to deer, rabbits and drought; bubblegum pink phlox with giant blooms and resistant to powdery mildew; or native heuchera crossed with traits that result in a variety that is more tolerant to heat and humidity. Of course, there is no free lunch. I came away from this short, 30-minute session armed not just with more knowledge but several plants for the garden beds. And given their improved traits, I’m not complaining. Purchases


Progress Report: Turning Dreams into Reality

concrete planter

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?

Leave a comment

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.


Attack of the Killer Sweet-Gum

What a cute looking pollen...until it covers the  yard.

What a cute looking pollen…until it covers the yard.

I’m lucky. I don’t really suffer too terribly from seasonal allergies. I notice the car or patio table lightly dusted in a shade of green, but really haven’t given it much thought. There is something in the air in July that makes my nose itch like the dickens but besides that, I really don’t have any problems. And, really, I have not been all that sympathetic to those who do suffer. My daughters will testify to that.

Until now. Wow.

Take a look at the pollen in my yard and on the patio. I came home from work yesterday and–as is my evening habit–went outside to survey the garden beds. Are the astilbe, hosta, heuchera and black eyed Susans I transplanted over the weekend holding up under the nearly 90 degree heat? Are the new ferns I planted adapting to their place beneath the tree? But wait, before I could even begin to answer these compelling questions, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the plethora—and I do mean plethora—of Christmas-tree shaped pollen grains from my neighbor’s sweet-gum (Liquidambar) tree littering my lawn and patio.

swept up pollenThose who know and love me know that I am not a fan of the sweet-gum tree. And Arch City is full of them. The sweet-gum is the tree of choice in my neighborhood. No doubt a builder’s special in the 1950s because they are everywhere in my mid-century-built subdivision. In fact, my backyard neighbors’ has a towering sweet-gum in their yard right next to a 100-foot sycamore. A sweet-gum will grow up to 100 feet and by the looks of it, my neighbor’s tree has accomplished this height. By the way, both trees drop fruit, a spikey gumball in the case of the sweet-gum and one-inch balls in the case of the sycamore.

Sweet-gum trees abound in my neighborhood. This one towers over my yard. At maturity, they can be 100 feet tall. I think this one is mature.

Sweet-gum trees abound in my neighborhood. This one towers over my yard. At maturity, they can be 100 feet tall. I think this one is mature.

I commenced sweeping the Christmas tree pollens up from the patio. And as I did, they began to break down and the patio looked as if it were littered with yeast. I decided to do a little research and visited (who knew?) where they describe this yard menace as a mild allergenic.

To add insult to injury, the two smallish maples in my yard and in the yard of my neighbor to the south, have released a profusion—and I do mean profusion—of winged beans. I know you know what I’m talking about. Don’t ask me what kind of maple these are, because I have no idea. And these winged beans are a moderate allergen.

Winged beans from the nearby maples fill the gutters. Oh joy!

The forecasters warned that we would have a robust pollen season. Clearly they had this forecast spot on. Now that I’m becoming more sensitive to my friends and family with allergies, I can’t help but think I might have the sniffles. Oh, and a little cough too.

How’s your spring shaping up?


5 Plants I’m Obsessed With

Stealing a line from Bravo TV host and hometown son Andy Cohen, I am obsessed with these five plants for the garden:

Embed from Getty Images

1. Tall garden phlox. The color range available and the lovely “eyes” of  tall garden phlox make my heart skip a beat. These tall wonders are first on my list for an after-work garden stroll. They are fragrant and mingle delightfully among the Russian sage, bee balm and Stella de Oro daylily. While I enjoy them most in the garden, they hold up well in a cut arrangement gracing the dining table.

dorothy benedict


















2. Hosta, “Dorothy Benedict”. This beauty seems to have it all. It looks like a painting with streaks of bright green-yellow, blue-green and green-green interspersed with white. Leaves are textured, edges are smooth. Pop it into the shade garden and gaze away. What’s not to love? Oh yeah, the price (I’ve seen Dorothy Benedict quoted at $200-$500).

Embed from Getty Images

3. Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis). Chartreuse-hued plants work well in a wide range of applications in the garden. Contrast this plant with cool blue-tinged foliage or the deep purples of “Mainacht” salvia. Or complement lady’s mantle with bursting colors such as bright pink Knockout roses. The old-fashioned girl will make its way into the garden this year.

Embed from Getty Images

4. Kobold Gayfeather (Liatris spicata). I like spikes, and this plant delivers. Commonly known as blazing star, it pushes forth a stalk that really is a bunch of rounded flower heads that are fun to watch unfold from the top down. It attracts butterflies and works well in clay soil. Kobold is a compact version of liatris, and I am told this plant does not need staking, another bonus.

Embed from Getty Images

5. Foxglove (Digitalis). The tubular bells on this biennual are nothing short of amazing. The freckles on the inside if the bloom spill forward on these charming flower spikes will be the perfect addition to my cottage garden. I grew them years ago in my backyard garden in Palatine, IL. Why I haven’t introduced them to my St. Louis landscapes escapes me. But that’s about to change.