The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


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What happened to the southern magnolia’s this year?

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A southern magnolia is the lone man standing among leafy green trees and shrubbery.

In my last house a graceful southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) filled the back corner of the yard and I’d look forward to its June bloom of large, white saucer flowers against the dark green waxy looking leaves. One year, we held a surprise birthday party for my mom and I filled bowls on the table with the creamy flowers. So pretty.

I don’t have a showy southern magnolia in my yard but the trees are a quite common in the St. Louis area. Unfortunately this year, tree after tree seems to be the victim of what I am not sure. We had a drought over the winter and a cold, wet spring with a late winter blast when things began to bloom early in the spring.

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I don’t think this evergreen will make a comeback.

On a recent visit to my favorite nursery, I overheard one of the women who work there talking about how hard hit trees were by the drought.  She said area homeowners have lost lots of Japanese maples and was expecting to hear from lots more homeowners now that winter was long in the rear view mirror. It’s not until winter is long gone that the impact of a drought will become apparent.

20180529_192829There are some magnolias that look like they had a winter scorch; not all their leaves look like the photo at the top of this post. But until I overheard the comment in the garden shop, I really had not taken notice of the number of trees that have perished. It really becomes apparent when the temperatures rise and healthy trees leaf out. And my drive to and from work late spring found gardeners busy taking trees down, mostly the southern magnolias.

I never watered that magnolia at the old house. It never occurred to me that I should be watering a tree in the winter. Let me amend that. It never occurred to me until the pine next to the magnolia died one year and the nursery said it was due to a winter drought. Now, I’m more careful. Every year in late fall I begin watering the trees in preparation for winter. And one warm day this winter I watered a couple of my younger trees and the blue spruce that we have affectionately dubbed Spruce Springsteen.

Even though the calendar tells us we just began summer, here in St. Louis spring left town in early to mid May, and we went deep into a hot, hot summer with temperatures up in the 90s along with high humidity. And those southern magnolias that were lucky enough to survive, are not putting on the annual show they usually do. The blooms are rather paltry and pathetic.

 

 

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April Progress Report

Flagstone finished (960x1280)I’ve embarked on a garden improvement plan, but then what gardener hasn’t? Tired of struggling with the slow fill in of the big bed that runs the length of the patio, I decided it needed some help filling in and plants weren’t going to do it.

Rabbits have gotten fat off of hearty helpings of the liriope planted in a ring around the Japanese maple. And not just this year. They’ve been munching on the liriope since they discovered them in 2013. Enough! No longer an enabler, I dug them up and gave them to a friend. They don’t bother the liriope planted up near the house but I think they’re too afraid to get near the door.

The growing maple cast too much shade on the zebra grass planted in the back of the bed. It is now positioned in front of the tree where there’s more sun throughout the day. Haphazardly planted daylilies (a gift from my neighbor) have been moved together for a more cohesive look.

flagstone I (960x1280)Suddenly I was left with lots of space around the tree. And I discovered two flagstone castoffs in the back of the yard. Well, you know the rest of the story. A quick trip to the nearby materials supply store and I was off to the races. Fortunately the ground is still soft and the soil is pretty good–not the rock hard, compacted clay I encountered when I started this bed in 2012.

“Walkers Low” catmint (Nepeta recemosa), “Maggie Daley” astilbe and “Amethyst” astilbe x arendsii, and lady’s mantle (alchemilla mollis) will find a home in the bed alongside roses, coneflower (echinacea), liatris, coreoposis, dianthus, “Little Joe” pye weed (eupatorium) and black eyed susans (rudbeckia) that are planted among the Little Lamb and Little Lime hydrangea.

Here’s a picture of the path before the flagstone was dug into place. (As a side note, I can’t believe how much the maple has leafed out in the past week. I love its dark maroon leaves.)

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I moved those suckers into several arrangements before deciding on this layout. Their heft is deceptive; the materials guy told me in total they weighed more than 225 pounds.

The addition of a couple of rain barrels, my great vegetable experiment and–coming soon!–the addition of a paperbark maple have also filled my weekends. Stay tuned for upcoming posts on these adventures.

As always, thanks for reading.

 


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The Garden in Time

One of the benefits of a Midwest garden is the beauty each season brings. Here’s a look back at one garden bed as it appeared throughout 2014.

Late winter 2013 and spring can't get here soon enough.

Late winter 2013 and spring can’t get here soon enough.

The newly planted foxglove provided lots to look at as the garden got under way in spring. I love the maroon shades of the maple with the blue of the spruce

The newly planted foxglove provided lots to look at as the garden got under way in spring. I love the maroon shades of the maple with the blue of the spruce

Happy summer hydrangea. Little Lamb and Little Lime wind throughout the bed.

Happy summer hydrangea. Little Lamb and Little Lime wind throughout the bed.

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

I underestimated just how many plants I will need and how long it will take to fill in this bed.  I also miscalculated on how large this penstemon would get. I moved her to the back in the fall.

The gayfeather returned this year...I still never really believe the stuff I put in the year before will come back.

The gayfeather returned this year…I still never really believe the stuff I put in the year before will come back.

A close up of texture and shapes. To keep in the garden or snip to add to a vase?

A close up of texture and shapes. To keep in the garden or snip to add to a vase?

Anchoring the south edge of the patio bed, the rudbeckia is a profusion of blooms in the hottest month of the summer.

Anchoring the south edge of the patio bed, the rudbeckia is a profusion of blooms in the hottest month of the summer.

As summer give way to autumn, the rusty brown plumes on this perennial grass contrast well with the blue spruce

As summer give way to autumn, the rusty brown plumes on this perennial grass contrast well with the blue spruce

The grasses plumes drape gracefully under the weight of a wet snow.

The grasses plumes drape gracefully under the weight of a wet snow.

The muted tones of fall beneath a blanket of snow: Harvest brown foliage and faded hydrangea blooms and the tall maple at the top of the bed; maroon leaves on the Japanese maple; and the tall pine in my neighbor's yard.

The muted tones of fall beneath a blanket of snow: Harvest brown foliage and faded hydrangea blooms and the tall maple at the top of the bed; maroon leaves on the Japanese maple; and the tall pine in my neighbor’s yard.


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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?


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Landscape Fabric, A Gardening Do or Don’t?

Making a garden bed in St. Louis requires one to dig in hard, dense, clay soil. Not really my idea of a good time, if you know what I mean.  (And if you have clay soil you know what I’m talking about.)  In fact, the idea of digging up the lawn on a large space running the length of the patio, left me less than motivated. As I have shared, when I began my adventure in backyard gardening, I was not one to really enjoy getting dirt beneath my nails, much less the back pain associated with lots of digging. I wanted quick gratification so I could enjoy my chardonnay while basking at the delights of my hard work.

I know, I know, as the saying goes, no pain, no gain. I am learning.

Installing a Japanese maple.

Installing a Japanese maple.

But I did look for a shortcut … in the form of landscape fabric. I simply covered the space in the stuff, cut into the areas where I placed my foundation plants, amended the soil where plants were put in and covered the whole thing with lots of mulch.

The bed is doing beautifully. This photo was taken last summer,  the second season the garden was in place. I continue to add to it each year.

The bed is doing beautifully. This photo was taken last summer, the second season the garden was in place. I continue to add to it each year.

I am not sure I would take that shortcut again. Yes, the garden bed is doing beautifully, but I am weighing my options as I consider installing more gardens into the yard.

The pros: I have had very few weeds; it was easy to install; it saved my back the aches and pains of all that digging; I avoided using chemical application to kill the grass, which I was contemplating. And, the bed is doing beautifully. Each year I add to it with the vision of a cottage garden spilling forth with flowering plants and shrubs. I hand weed, mulch and this spring  amended the soil with a bit of compost.

The cons: I don’t think I have done my soiI any great favors (should have probably put a hefty layer of compost down along the whole bed–rookie mistake peppered with a healthy dose of inpatience);  every time I add to the bed, I am having to cut into the fabric and then dig into the hard, hard clay; my senses are awakening to the concept of “sustainability” and I am not sure these types of fabrics are a good idea. Also, I wonder if the fabric will inhibit growth of the plant. Does anyone have any knowledge of that?

I will be getting out the ibuprofen as I plan to start on a bed along one of the fence lines this spring and will avoid some of the shortcuts I took. What’s your take on landscape fabric? Any advice on starting a garden bed from scratch?


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Surprise! When Impulse Purchases Reward

Asiatic LiliesHave one of your impulsive, surprise purchases given you more pleasure than you imagined?  Who knew a four-inch potted Asiatic lily picked off of a clearance table for under $2 could provide such pleasure. This plant certainly lives up to its reputation as easy care. I did not plant it in the garden or even repot it; I just ignored it.

By late summer the pathetic looking lily was drooping and devoid of any bloom.  We had suffered through a miserable summer with temperatures pushing beyond 100 degrees F for several days and several weeks of temperatures in the 90s. I was spending my time moving the soaker hoses around to make sure my newly planted Japanese maple, hyrdrangeas and roses would be adequately quenched. Cast off to the side, I was not faithful in watering the lily and had read nothing about how to care for this plant. Finally, early fall came and thinking the poor thing was pretty much a goner, I planted it my garden bed as a last act of salvation. And, of course, I forgot about it.

Last spring, lo and behold, this little wonder pushed up several stalks, their spikey leaves giving no doubt they not only survived the winter-over in the bed but multiplied! Who knew? I waited, anticipating its color, which the label did not include. (That’s one of the risks when you buy off the clearance rack). While, I would probably have not selected this maroonish color, that’s the chance I took. And given my mistreatment of it, I could not bring myself to rip it out of the garden bed. It complements the purple barberry in the corner and contrasts nicely with the yellow coreopsis nearby.

As I look forward to spring, I keep checking to see how lily is doing.