The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


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Why I Love Paperbark Maple (or the Simple Pleasures of an Early Sunday Morning)

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I’ve been on a bit of a bender about my mid-winter ennui. But that is changing now.

I awoke early Sunday and shuffled my way to the kitchen for my slog of coffee–no doubt a scenario many of you are personally familiar with. Awaiting the coffee pot to finish brewing, I gazed out the window into the backyard.

Five years ago the view would have been barren except for the exceptionally large and looming sycamore on the other side of the fence. Today I can keep watch on the row of leatherleaf viburnum planted to shield a low-lying, deeply shaded corner of the yard where nothing grows. Grasses, rose shrubs, and perennials line the edge of the patio. Last spring I replanted (for at least the 5th time) to the edge of the patio two azaleas that I hadn’t yet managed to kill. I’ve got my fingers crossed that they will thank me with fuscia-colored blooms this spring.

And then there’s the paperbark maple (acer griseum), planted in spring 2016, and chosen for its peeling bark feature. From the window she was ablaze from the backlighting of the early morning sun. I mean she was glowing cherry red around the edges of her peeling branches. Beautiful.DSCN5744When I bought the tree, the guy at the nursery told me they are slow growers and that it might take a few years for the tree to really exhibit the peeling bark feature. Paperbark a0218This is a view of the bark facing west with the sun at its back As you can see there is lots of peeling going on. What a cool tree.

And yes, dear reader, there is winter interest…in my own backyard!

 

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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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Some Like It Hot

In celebration of week-long temperatures above 90 degrees F., here’s a short list of plants that are sumptuous in a St. Louis swelter:

Echinacea purpurea "PowWow Wild Berry" coneflower.

Echinacea purpurea “PowWow Wild Berry” coneflower.

1. Echinacea purpurea. Like black-eye Susan, coneflower is a hardy soul. And breeders have developed an assortment of colors for us choosy gardeners. This year I added a very pretty pink variety called “PowWow Wild Berry.”

 

Blanket flower is a summer-long bloomer.

Blanket flower is a summer-long bloomer.

2. Gaillardia “Arizona Red Shades.” New to the garden this season, this blanket flower seems very happy and has put out bloom after bloom. It is a short, compact plant that rewards with blooms all season long–from early summer to early fall. And talk about carefee. It performs best in poor, well drained soil (check!), without fertilizer (check!) and in the sun (check!).

The young beebalm "Pardon My Pink" is dwarfed by black-eyed Susan on the left and tall garden phlox on the right.

The young beebalm “Pardon My Pink” is dwarfed by black-eyed Susan on the left and tall garden phlox on the right.

3. Rudbeckia “Black-eye Susan.” I have divided the two plants I purchased three years ago at the Webster Groves Women’s Garden Club plant sale and increased the stands of “Susans” in the yard. This is one tough native that likes it hot and loves, loves, loves the sun. Not yet blooming, I look forward to vases full of these sunny flowers.

A nice color combination of yellow coreopsis and orange butterfly milkweed. Growing behind the milkweed is canna, a new addition this year  to the fence garden bed.

A nice color combination of yellow coreopsis and orange butterfly milkweed. Growing behind the milkweed is canna, a new addition this year to the fence garden bed.

4. Butterfly milkweed. Another native, the orange blooms on this plant attract butterflies, which are fun to watch flit about the garden. I have it placed next to coreopsis and in front of canna (new to the garden this year).

The Russian sage nearly glows in the afternoon sun.

The Russian sage nearly glows in the afternoon sun. And the Shasta daisy seems to be well adapted to this spot which receives lots of sun.

5. Perovskia atriplicifolia.The wispy, powdery-hued wands of Russian sage cool off the heat but hold up well. The tall Russian sage is on the verge of blooming. The specimen shown above anchors the corner of this bed which faces South and East. The East view is what is showing here. Planted nearby are tall garden phlox and hot pink roses.

A pretty combination of sunny "Amelia" Shasta daisy, a rugged sun lover.

A pretty combination of sunny “Amelia” Shasta daisy, a rugged sun lover, and Russian sage.

 


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Wading In, Part I

I knew from the first moment I sat on a plastic chair in the backyard of what was to become my new home four years ago, that the 32 or so 12” x 12” concrete pavers from the big box store down the road had to go. There we were, four of us crowded together, knees nearly touching, on that postage stamp- sized patio, immersed in conversation on the pluses and minuses of the mid-century ranch. I had no doubt that the house was for me, but the backyard?

The yard featured the so-called patio, a two-shrub Knock Out rose bed under the den window and a shade garden, freshly mulched, in the back corner. Along the side fence by the garage ran a 25-foot long raised bed, bare in February.

Also facing the backyard next to the a/c unit stood three young PJM rhododendrons under the eaves protected from harsh winds and elements.

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In the corner where the family room juts out of the long expanse of the ranch sits a purple barberry, also protected. Ugh, I thought, I hate that prickly barberry bush.

In the corner where the family room juts out of the long expanse of the ranch sits a purple barberry, also protected. Ugh, I thought, I hate that prickly barberry bush.

In the corner where the family room juts out of the long expanse of the ranch sits a purple barberry, also protected. Ugh, I thought, I hate that prickly barberry bush.

The yard itself is a typical tract housing suburban lot, with dimensions of about 40 x 75 feet. It is rectangular, gently sloped, fenced on three sides, with small trees randomly along the perimeter. Not a tree, shrub or flower disrupted the expanse of weedy grass (except of course, the so-called patio).
Did I mention that that the sell sheet advertised the property as landscaped?

“This is not landscaped,” was what my realtor said several times as we weighed the merits of the property.

Which, as it turns out, was a good thing.