The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


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Time off for the garden

Friday turned out to be a perfect day to take off from the clattering at my keyboard and spend some time digging in the garden.

When I last wrote, we’d had some nice rain. That was followed by some heavy rain with about 2 inches over a couple of days. Which was followed by some dry, but cool, weather. Which brought us to Friday which was perfect for getting outside–sunny skies, temperatures in the 70s and the ground soft and easy to work.

As I began dividing the astilbe, I was thinking of how much I enjoy working in the garden and quickly amended that thought to playing in the garden. For there are days like last Friday that are so enjoyable they feel like play.

On a delightful day such as it was, even the weeding felt fine. I spent quite some time plucking violets from their unwelcome place amid the yarrow.

It was a day for spreading mulch. My mulch man places it throughout the beds and I spread it about. Tbis job takes a few days if I take my time with it.

And it was perfect for trimming the vines (Virginia creeper?) Climbing the fence and creating a wall of greenery.

It was a pleasant day for plucking up wayward black eyed Susan’s and dividing ostrich fern for friends and neighbors, trimming the Russian sage and watching with anticipation the beauty yet to bloom.

I savor days like these because I know that days like these are fleeting. As May advances toward Memorial Day it brings with it increasing heat and humidity. And that’s when play day chores like Friday’s begin to feel like work.


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Timely rain

Farmers often talk about getting a timely rain, that much needed moisture that comes at just the right time for their thirsty crops.

My little patch of ground has recently received some timely rain. The sweet woodruff ringing the catalpa tree in the front yard dries out pretty quickly. It’s clearly grateful.

With temperatures warming–but still quite variable–plants just come alive. The ostrich fern have grown 4 or 5 inches. So graceful and pretty. And the rain barrels are replenished and filled to the brim.

And the peonies are filled with buds. I can’t wait for them to bloom. This is the third year I’ve had them in the garden and they have never looked so good.

And the azaleas just burst forth in all their awesome fuchsia glory. Mother Nature is amazing at this time of year.


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The spring parade marches on

I don’t know about you, but this spring feels luxuriously long. Yes, it’s only April 20. And yes, we have just passed our estimated final frost date. But when every day feels like, well, yesterday, this lovely season feels like it has been around a while.

And to completely butcher a Martha Stewart phrase, that’s NOT a bad thing.

Cranesbill will bloom soon, right behind the azaleas.

That’s because I get to linger longer in the garden to watch the magic happen. I’m not running home for a quick bite at lunch while I enjoy my private oasis. I’m taking a conference call on the patio…all day! Who would have thought?

The ferns are one of my favorites to watch in spring…and I get to do this every day!

I get to see the secretive trillium tucked away in the deep shady recesses of my corner woodland bed before they disappear.

Of course, there is always the hazard of being distracted while on a call. Sometimes I find my thoughts wandering. For example, 2 of my leatherleaf viburnum struggled through a fungus of some sort last year. My Extension agent advised me to cut it back late this winter, which I did. But honesty, I worry about the poor things. They look pathetic! And I find myself staring at them during the endless line up of conference calls. Naturally I am distracted.

The hazards of working from home.

Healthy viburnum


There are signs of hope this viburnum will come back.

I had no intention of being all doom and gloom when I began this post, so I will end on a more upbeat note. The dogwoods are glorious in this corner of the world, and the azaleas are ecstatic as they burst into bloom.

The season may feel protracted but that’s just fine by me. How’s your corner of the earth?


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The unfurling, unfolding, uncurling of spring

This is my favorite time to marvel at the emerging plant growth in my gardens. The grass is greener, birds are nesting and all around nature is doing her thing.

Perhaps my favorite is the unfurling of ferns fronds. In a matter of days they go from brown stumps to tightly wound circles of green to soft graceful beauty.

The paperback maple has started its peeling of cinnamon bark. There are no leaves on its branches but I think that’s the point. The main attraction is its paper-thin bark curling away.

Also in a mere matter of days, the Japanese maple shed its leaves and its new leaves are unfolding. I’d been watching the tree for some time, wondering if there was something wrong with it. I didn’t recall it retaining its brown, shriveled leaves for so long.

A few leaves remain on the branches of the Japanese maple.

While I’m at it, here are a few more shots from the garden. I hope your garden treasures are as delightful to watch. Thanks for reading.


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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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More About Ferns

Ostrich fern fertile frondI love ferns. Growing up we always had fern as a houseplant or in a garden bed. A graceful Boston fern hung from the window in the kitchen. My mom would mist it regularly, occasionally split it when it outgrew its pot, and adorn it with a red cardinal to show her support for our beloved basedball team, the St. Louis Cardinals. When she died, a lovely Boston fern was sent to the funeral home and I tended it for many years.

While I no longer grow houseplant ferns, ostrich fern (matteuccia struthiopteris) and senstive fern (onoclea sensibilis) have prominence as a backdrop in my shade garden along my south fence. At first, I was a bit apprehensive about growing ferns. I thought they were finnicky and had to have just the right conditions. While that is true in part (isn’t that true for most plants?), I’ve overcome that apprehension and clearly ferns and I have found garden joy. With nearly 12,000 species of ferns worldwide, there’s probably a fern or two that could work in your environment.fernIIIA couple of years before I put in the shade bed, I bought a couple of ostrich ferns and put them in to see how they would do. One quickly withered and turned brown while the other barely clung to  life. I visited the nursery, asked what was up and was told I probably planted them too deep. They like to be planted very shallow and I was instructed to dig up the fern and replant it. “I’m pretty sure it’s dead,” I told nursery pro. Don’t worry about it, she reassured, this type of fern is really hardy.

She was right.

Year after year, the arrival of pansies at the nursery signaled to me the onset of spring. Not any more. The emergence of a tightly wound fiddlehead tells me spring is on its way. The fiddlehead grows as a response to light.Fern tight fiddleheadEarly spring mornings find me running out before work, coffee in hand, to inspect the progress of the fiddleheads. Throughout the growing season, my ferns send out new fiddleheads, which gracefully become a frond supported on a stipe.frond to fernA frond is made up of several leaflets, or pinna and the stipe. And a pinnule is a subleaflet of a pinna. Then there is the blade, which is the expanded leafy part of the frond. The roots of the fern grow on the stipe, which is below the blade. Looking at the photo above you can get the general gist of a fern’s anatomy.

fernII (1280x960)Ferns reproduce through spores; their fronds are sterile. As summer nears its exit spores grow on the ferns. This is as detailed as I am going to get on the reproductive cycle of the fern. This is a G-rated site, after all. However, you might notice that the underside of a frond has brown dots along the pinna, or leaf. These spore-filled dots are called sori and contain thousands of spores. Neither the sensitive nor the ostrich fern grow spores on the underside of their blades. Instead, they produce what is known as a fertile frond. DSCN5016The beaded fertile fronds will eventually turn a cinnamon brown on the senstive fern. I think these dense clusters that make up a fertile frond look somewhat prehistoric. Just like the unfurling fiddlehead, the fertile frond begins to change color in a matter of days. The pictures below were taken about 10 days apart.DSCN5019fern fertile frond close upI’m no longer concerned about the viability of ferns in my gardens. I now have them planted in three areas in the yard and they are very happy. The fern nearest the rain barrel probably gets too much sun but is vigorous nonetheless. DSCN5036Fern by rainbarrelFerns like moisture and humidity. One end of the shade bed sits in a low spot where rain may pool. I regularly mist the fronds with the garden hose and put soaker hoses in the shade bed. In a normal summer, I would water the bed deeply at least once a week. Fortunately this summer we have had plenty of both.

To learn more about ferns and their fascinating anatomy, Cornell University has an easy-to-read section on its web site.