The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond

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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?




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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.



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:

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ladies & Gentlemen, Start Your Engines: It’s Spring!

Early leaves of tall garden phlox push their way through.

Early leaves of tall garden phlox push their way through.

Gardener’s grab your rakes, hoes and clippers. The vernal equinox has arrived and the calendar declares it’s officially Spring. Scanning the blogosphere, U.S. gardeners have been more than ready to put behind them a winter punctuated by either colder than normal temperatures or lots of snow and ice. Here in Arch City, we had both.

Artemisia begins to show its finely textured silvery foliage at the garden's edge.

Artemisia begins to show its finely textured silvery foliage at the garden’s edge.

And it’s been a fight for more spring-like temperatures. In early March I started wandering into the backyard on warmer days, giving a peek under the layers of leaves protecting my shrubs and perennials from the harshness of winter. Around the neighborhood crocus and snowdrops are blooming, true signs spring does exist.

The "Oertel's Rose" yarrow is starting to creep.

The “Oertel’s Rose” yarrow is starting to creep.

It’s clean up time. I’ve cut back the ornamental grasses, cut back the Russian sage, removed the dried blooms from the hydrangeas, pulled early weeds from the bed to stop their spread, and started visualizing my plans. The Knockout roses need a trim and the beds and the yard will soon get a good raking.

But it’s still early. April 13 marks our last frost date.

What are you doing in the garden now?