The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


A Cure for the Winter Blues

Orchid 7 2018I’ve got the winter doldrums. I’ve had enough of our gray, damp and chilly St. Louis winter. There’s really no snow to speak of during a St. Louis winter. We might get an occasional ice storm to make our pulses race a bit and remind us that we are alive, but mostly winter here is just a whole lot of blah. This year’s has been punctuated by some extremely cold temperatures so I’ve spent much of it more housebound than usual.

But there is a cure.

In late February when you’re just about bored to death, the Missouri Botanical Garden hosts its annual orchid show. And what a lovely sight it is. MoBot is home to one of the largest orchid collections out there and they do love to trot them out in late winter.

Orchid 2 2018

Aren’t they lovely? Such a heavenly combination of colors.

Orchid 5 2018

The garden’s founder Henry Shaw received his first orchids in 1876. Today the collection is nearly 6,500 strong with more than 2,000 species, nearly 1,500 cultivars and more than 686 unique taxa. Orchids come in all sorts of shapes, size and colors. The ones above look whimsical, like they have little fluttering wings.

Orchid 4 2018Orchid 10 2018

Dark, waxy looking leaves, bright green buds and pale freckled purple petals are worth a picture or two.

Orchid 11

Orchid 12 2018

With March around the corner, we’ve still got a few weeks of the mid-winter drearies left, but the good souls at the St. Louis Art Museum know us flower lovers want more. And they will deliver with their annual Art In Bloom event in early March.

Until then, I will bide my time, continue my walks through the lovely cities that make up St. Louis County and be on the look out for early signs of spring.



Veggie Connections

VegTrug (1280x960)

My VegTrug looks empty now, but lettuce, spinach and broccoli should pop up soon.

Some of my posts have mentioned visits to the Missouri Botanical Garden, which happens to be in my backyard, figuratively speaking. MoBot, locals call it, is the place I go with friends to stroll through its many gardens, listen to summer concerts and enjoy multiple annual events.

My backyard is also home to seed company Monsanto. This controversial company also happens to be my employer. As regular readers know, that’s not what blog is about. I only bring it up in this post because working at a seed company has its advantages. I’m not sure I’d be interested in backyard gardening if I didn’t work in agriculture.

Yet, my gardening hobby has not been about my experiences in growing fruits or vegetables. I’m more focused on shrubs and flowers. There’s no doubt, however, that working in agriculture has focused my thoughts on food and the very necessary dialogue taking place around what goes into the foods we eat.

But that’s not what this post is about either.

Actually, it’s about a conversation with a woman named Sue whom I sat next to on a bus during the 2015 Garden Bloggers Fling in Toronto last summer. Sue’s company, Bonnie’s Plants, is an herb and vegetable plant company as well as one of the sponsors of the Fling. Sue shared with me the joy she gets from vegetable gardening. I told her vegetable gardening pretty well terrifies me. I had tried growing veggies here and there over the years with little success. In fact, last year’s patio tomatoes resulted in nothing more than half-eaten orbs chomped on by squirrels.  Sue assured me that I needed to start with the right vegetable, something easy to grow like lettuce or spinach or other cold season crops. Coincidentally, weeks later I was given some vegetable seeds to try. It was too late to do anything with them so I hung on to them.

Seed packets (960x1280)Throughout the winter, I revisited the Fling in my mind, sorted through the hundreds of photos and I took and recalled the people I met as I contemplated my garden and what to do in it this year. I don’t think I will try tomatoes any time soon, but I am taking the plunge this year and planting a few cold season veggies. And I plan to follow those with some peppers.

Last week my red felt Lee Valley VegTrug was delivered. (Lee Valley was another sponsor of this fine event and I have really enjoyed using the garden tools they gave the bloggers.) Into this elevated planter on legs went lettuce, spinach and broccoli seeds. I was told I could sow them directly into the soil, so fingers crossed.  I’ll report back on my progress.

VegTrug parts and pieces (960x1280)

The VegTrug from Lee Valley was easy to assemble. I love the poppy red.

In come the benefits of working for a seed company.  On a regular basis, I am in contact with experts in agronomy, soil sciences, weeds, insects and plants. Passionate people who know a thing or two about growing things. A couple of colleagues who are aware of this blog invited me to volunteer to help plant a Seminis vegetable garden on campus. Planning is well under way for 20 large vegetable containers. The “team” is made up of all sorts of talent from agronomists to marketers to administrative assistants, and we share a common love of growing things. We’ll face many of the same challenges as my backyard—squirrels, rabbits, deer and watering. Along the way, I’m hoping to meet new colleagues and get some expert advice on my own vegetable gardening experiment.


Do you grow vegetables?

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A Sunday Stroll Through the Missouri Botanical Garden in July

Gomphrena and grassesGardener or not, a visit to the Missouri Botanical Garden is a pleasant way to while away an afternoon. Today’s overcast skies were perfect for viewing all the vibrant blooms.

Right now my favorite area is the Kemper Home Gardening Center and its associated demonstration gardens. Here you can see all sorts of containers, butterfly gardens, kitchen gardens and the All American Selections demonstration. It’s a great place for inspiration and ideas.

If there’s one theme I’d give the garden this summer it would be lush and high-contrast. Plantings with hot shades of purple, green, yellow and orange that contrast with dark hues of black like the giant grass below are common. I don’t know the name of this tall purple grass paired with vinca but it’s spectacular.

Tall purple grass

Green and black elephant ears surround a mass bed of lipstick pink vinca. As you can see, vinca grows quite well in our summer heat. So do the elephant ears.Elephant ears and vincaKeeping to the purple and black theme, how about these tomatoes? They’re called Indigo Rose tomatoes. I’d never seen an artichoke growing until today.

Indigo Rose tomatos


I’ve seen lots of posts on Pinterest for pallet gardens. This one is on steroids.

Pallet gardening

Coleus is predominant in many groupings. Here maroon coleus–accented with chartreuse coleus–rises above coral toned vinca. This is one side of the entrance to the children’s playground and you pass it on the Kemper Center. The large haybasket probably weighs a lot and such a structure would most likely pull down my fence. Here it has plenty of support.
Entrance to Children's Garden

All is not pink, purple and black in the garden. The garden designers are far more versatile. This collection of black eye Susans and ornamental millet is an interesting combination of form and texture. I like the cat-tail bloom on the millet. I’ve not seen this in a nursery here but would try it in a container next year.

bes and millet

Of course, there are lots of black eyed Susan cultivars in the cutting garden.

Black eyed susans at Kemper

The Japanese garden with its tranquil lake and gently sloping hills lies beyond the demonstration gardens in the further reaches of the garden. It’s a nice place to sit and relax or feed the carp. In spring, blooming azaleas and dogwoods make this section of the garden a popular destination. Here you can enjoy a large selection of pines, dogwoods, barberries and maples.

Japanese Garden bridge

Japanese garden

Winding my way back to main entrance, and continuing on the tranquil vibe, I made a leisurely stop at the Bakewell Ottoman Garden, a small walled garden planted in the gardening tradition of the Ottomans. Istanbul, which was home to the Imperial capital of the Ottoman Empire, and St. Louis lie on the roughly the same latitude, which means we can grow a lot of the same plants.

Ottoman Garden

Apparently there are no surviving types of this style garden, which was developed between the 16th and  19th centuries. The plantings here are primarily naturalized or native to Turkey. Hard fruits such as pomegranate and Meyer lemons are planted in pots throughout the garden. Currently, alternating pink and white beds of dianthus are bordered by germander but the garden is well known for its Turkish tulip and bulb display in the spring.

Ottoman garden pond

Oleander and columbine line one wall of the garden. The fountain is inviting and looks refreshing on a hot summer day.


A mass of shasta daisies sway in the breeze. Ottoman Shasta daisy

Although I live just 15 minutes from this city jewel, I don’t get there near enough. Today, I am glad I took the time

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Ewwww! What is that Smell?

It’s not often you hear gardeners decry the aromas of a garden’s flora. One whiff of the titan arum Amorphophallus titanum arum–a.k.a. Corpse Flower–and you’ll find yourself spewing forth colorful adjectives to describe its memorable odor. Here a few that quickly come to mind: rotting meat, rotting flesh, an overflowing outhouse on a hot summer’s day. Certainly something to avoid.

Well, not so fast. Like the dung beetle it attracts, Amorphophallus titanum arum drew my daughter and I and about 2,000 other inquisitive St. Louisans to the Missouri Botanical Garden for a rare glimpse and a sniff. In fact, you could not avoid the smell if you wanted to. “Izzy” as the staff at the garden affectionately donned the titan arum, began its bloom late yesterday afternoon. This is a short lived wonder lasting about 24 hours. Midnight was the bewitching hour for the peak its bloom and its attracting stench. And we were there to take it in.

Known as the Corpse Flower and affectionately named Izzy by the Missouri Botanical Garden Staff, this arum's bloom is short lived and its fragrance is memorable.

Amorphophallus titanum arum, known as the Corpse Flower and affectionately named “Izzy” by the Missouri Botanical Garden Staff. It’s bloom may be short but its memorable fragrance lingers.

MOBOT has 10 of these rain forest arums yet only three are growing at this time. Its bloom is a rare sight that lasts only briefly. This one was planted in 2003 and until last night bloomed for the first and last time in 2012. There can be variation in when a titan arum blooms, and you could feel the excitement and giddiness among the MOBOT workers. (Of course, many of them had been on duty since early that morning, which could contribute to the giddiness.) They typically begin their bloom in mid to late afternoon and it  peaks late at night. MOBOT kept its doors open until 2 a.m. and invited the whole town to the party.

The titan arum was at peak bloom at midnight.

The titan arum was at peak bloom at midnight.

We did not mind standing in line to see the titan. There was a festive atmosphere among the gathering crowd and we could smell titan before we saw it. The windows to the Linnean House were open, emitting a foul odor.

As we entered the Linnean House, a woman was measuring its petal structure across, which was holding at 34 inches. The tall phallic-looking protuberance is called the spadix and the green-burgundy leafy structure is called the spathe. Hidden down inside the spathe are two ringlets of flowers around the spadix. The top one bears the male flowers. The male and female flowers open and pollinate at different times.

So where does that beetle attracting stench come from? If I have this right, the spadix heats up to be as warm as a human, apparently, and this temperature vaporizes its fragrance, attracting the beetles and insects that pollinate this giant plant. I mistakenly thought the spathe was the flower. No, its juicy red color and texture serves to just look like a meat-like petal. And its leafy structure protects the flowers that are around the base of the spadix. The friendly guide describing the action before us shared that they hand pollinate the plant. No such luck for the lowly dung beetle.