The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


Small Space Vegetable Gardening

20180517_200357I’m not a vegetable gardener. I think I have made the clear in the three or four years I have been blogging. I’m into flowers and shrubs.

But that’s not to say I don’t appreciate vegetable gardening or gardens. I’ve tried my hand at tomatoes, lettuce, spinach and peppers and have had a few good results and a fair amount of bad results. The truth is vegetable gardening intimidates me. I’d like to say that I don’t have the right space for a vegetable garden but a recent visit to Italy dispelled that notion. Small space gardening isn’t just for flowers.

20180517_200419I stayed in an apartment in suburban Perugia. One day I locked myself out of the apartment but thought my sister might be in the apartment and could open the door. However, she didn’t answer her cell phone. But I was sure she was in there. So, I walked around to the back of the building to call up to her window and that is when I discovered the garden behind the apartment building next door.


20180517_200524And as luck would have it I got to meet the gentleman who created this lovely space. We had a lively conversation even though he did not speak a word of English and I do not speak Italian. But that did not stop us from discussing his garden.

What immediately struck me was the confined space for this garden and his joy and pride for this small space. It literally butts up to an athletic court. Fennel, table grapes, sage and rosemary grow up against the fence. It is long and narrow, running the length of the apartment building and is terraced. Its depth is probably no more than 10 or 12 feet. And it is abundant with vegetables.

20180517_200349He invited me around the fence where he was proud to show me his insalata, pomadoro, artichokes, beans and, yes, they are for his family only. A cherry tree sits on the edge of the garden. 20180517_20033520180517_200545He pointed out that the garden that abuts his is his neighbor’s. Its small space includes an olive tree. Making the most of his space, the garden extends into the backyard next to the play set for his grandchildren. Or maybe it’s the other way around–the garden extending beyond his yard into the common space by the athletic courts.

Either way, the garden speaks to the ability to grow vegetables in small spaces. And its tidy appearance speaks to the owner’s deep pride in this space.





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Say Ciao to Carciofo

20180511_101541Discovering local foods is one of the joys of traveling. Just ask Anthony Bourdain. He makes his living bringing the joys of local foods to viewers from around the world in his program “Parts Unknown.”

Well, I didn’t check in with Tony but I did put a visit to the Mercato Trionfale, a subterranean fresh market in Rome, to the top of my “must do” places to visit on a recent trip to Italy. And I am glad I did because it’s artichoke season in Italy. These wonderful vegetables can be found on menus, in markets and gardens.

20180511_103611Now, the outside of the market doesn’t look all that appealing but that view quickly changes when you enter. Stall after stall is filled with colorful fruits and vegetables and our visit at 9 in the morning found the market abuzz with shoppers.



But it was the artichokes, or carciofo in Italian, that really drew my interest. Canned, steamed, marinated, fried or fresh, I have always enjoyed artichokes but I’ve never seen them in the market or grocery store in St. Louis unless they are in a can or jar, no doubt because our climate is not ideal for growing this Mediterranean native. And I was surprised to see that they were purple, as I the only fresh artichokes I have every seen were green.

My research tells me that Italy, Spain and France are the top artichoke producing countries and here in the U.S., California is king for producing this perennial. In some areas, artichokes are a biennial. One plant can produce up to 20 artichokes per year.

It’s one thing to eat them and then to see them in the market, but I had the full experience of seeing them on the plant. On a walk around the neighborhood where I stayed, I spied a garden in the back of the apartment next door. And yes, there were artichokes growing! You can see looking at the plant that it is a thistle.

Perugia artichoke 1

20180517_200428On the plane to Rome, I sat by a young woman who had lived in Italy for a six months and she told me it was the tail end of artichoke season and truffle season and to be sure and not miss these local delicacies. I’m glad to have seen and enjoyed them.

Buon appetito!

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2016 Garden Hits and Misses, Part II

Joys and victories are always so much more enjoyable to share and savor. But the losses–painful as they can be–are learning opportunities. My 2016 garden was not without its challenges, some of which I have not resolved. I’ve been on a true learning curve since I began gardening and the lessons aren’t always easy. Below are my “Misses” for 2016.

The Misses!

dscn4865Containers. I knew when I bought this adorable galvanized can planted with playful petunias that those plants were going to fry on my south facing fence in St. Louis’ hot summer. And I was right.

While this lesson only set me back $10, it’s a valuable reminder about trusting my gut. Imagine a $200 tree biting the dust because it’s in the wrong spot. That means leading with your head and not your heart. I can be a sucker for a nursery and its well tended plants and vignettes that say “buy me, buy me, take me home.” I mean, how cute is the container below?


dscn4649I love petunias for their enduring blooming nature (minus the example I just gave). But I let them get leggy because I don’t take the time to pinch them back. The end result was containers that looked leggy. I had to show this because these are volunteer petunias and volunteer milkweed. They were beautiful in June, not so much in August.DSCN4578Voles. I’d like to declare war but I’m not sure what weapons of mass destruction I would use. My vole problem is affecting multiple garden beds. I called a mole company and they said they did not handle voles but I also hear that the traps really don’t work. I called a yar fertilizer type company and met with the same response as the first call. What works is chemical warfare but that’s not friendly to owls who eat the voles. And as I mentioned in my last post, owls hang out in the neighborhood.

DSCN4589These guys creep me out. I’ve stumbled across two or three of them and all I can say is yuck. I have not located all their tunnels but they seem to be in the front yard, back yard and side yard. But something has to give: I won’t abide by daisies, coreopsis, penstemon, phlox and more falling over and splayed out because their tasty roots are being devoured. Truly a continuing dilemma for 2017.


egg carton growing (960x1280)Growing from Seed. I admire those stalwart gardeners who begin their veggies from seed. But as I discovered in 2016, I’m not one of them. I tried it and realized I was in the wrong league. This route comes with no short cuts here (and I love a short cut)–a grow light is essential for success or your plants get leggy. I did manage to coax one very small lettuce head from two cartons of egg shell-filled seeds. That was a salad worth enjoying.

DSCN4483Instead, I will satisfy my fresh garden delight habit with small plants acquired at the nursery. Last year, peppers and spinach plants did well. The only caveat to this story is that I did scatter zinnia seeds with success.

dscn4642Tomatoes. Have you seen the number of articles, books and web posts out there on growing tomatoes? Who could fail with all these resources? I’m trying. Honestly I am. I like a great tomato as much as the next gal. But I think tomato growing is best left to someone else. I thought I had learned my lessons from 2015; I had that pot secured with netting like Ft. Knox and the @!##**!@ squirrels still invaded and took off with the ripening fruit. And the plant was l-o-a-d-e-d with tomatoes. I got one green tomato. No more. Produce stand here I come.

Garden Bloggers Fling. I attended my one and only Fling in 2015 but missed the fun in Minneapolis in 2016. This event is for gardeners who blog (what a great fit!) and the 2017 Garden Bloggers Fling will be hosted in the Washington, DC region beginning June 22. It’s a great way to put a face to the bloggers you’ve been reading and connect even further on this great joy we all share.

Happy 2017 everyone!



Salad Gardening Experiment Update

Salad fixins

Lettuce, spinach and broccoli grow from seed in my veg trug.

I’ve enjoyed my first home grown salad of the season. Tender lettuce and spinach leaves gingerly harvested from the veg trug. Truly a satisfying feeling. A salad that was fresh, delicious and grown from seed in my own backyard.

Yet I seriously doubt I will grow vegetables from seed again.


Freshly picked, washed and ready for tossing.

It’s not that I didn’t derive a great sense of accomplishment from harvesting my own salad fixins. I did! Honestly, though, I did not enjoy the growing-from-seed experience. I did two experiments: Starting seeds in eggshells (what I affectionately call The Pinterest Salad) and direct sowing seeds into my veg trug (what I call the No-Fuss-No-Muss Salad). And if I had to choose one over the other, I prefer the latter.

Daily I misted the eggshells and the seeds quickly began to sprout. Joyous, I envisioned gently positioning my eggshell seedlings into the trug beside the No-Fuss-No-Muss experiment. The race would be on! But wait, what’s this? My eggshell seedlings became…leggy. Apparently my bright sunny window was not enough. I actually needed a grow light which would provide the appropriate light so that that lettuce would grow bushier.


egg carton growing (960x1280)

Leggy lettuce, broccoli and pelargonium get their start in eggs shells.

Meanwhile, the seeds in the trug were, well, trugging along. They were very slow to get going. Day after day little progress greeted my pre- and apres-work inspections. Was I watering enough? Too much? Not enough sun? Too cold? I moved that trug from sun to shade to partial sun/partial shade. Time would soon tell. Wouldn’t it? The broccoli plant looks wonderful but has yet to bear broccoli.

Veg Trug April (960x1280)

Direct sown into the veg trug, spinach and lettuce begin to sprout.


I decided this was too much anxiety for a salad. But patience saved the day and eventually the lettuce and spinach produced lovely leaves worthy of picking and drenching with salad dressing. It occurred to me that I should have written down the date I planted the seeds so that I could generally expect when they would mature. (I think I was looking out the window during science class.) The brocolli has yet to produce.

I continued to mist the Pinterest Salad. I had read that blowing a small fan near the seedlings would strengthen their stems. Whose got time for that! It’s no wonder I prefer the No-Muss-No Fuss method to salad gardening. I eventually took my Pinterest Salad outside and attempted to plant the eggshells in a small pot. That did not work. The shell fell apart and the seedling root structure was far to fragile.

Next year, I will fill my trug with salad fixins, but I plan to buy small starter plants from the nursery, which I expect will be equally satisfying.

Do you grow vegetables from seed?


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Gardening the Pinterest Way

I don’t know about you, but Pinterest has opened up my world. Many a winter evening was spent scanning through pin after colorful garden pin in search of inspiration for DIY ideas on garden beds, specific plants, pots, potting benches, fences, fertilizer, seed starting and more. The list goes on.  With “Piddling Season” quickly coming to an end and the garden beginning to emerge, I thought, what the heck, let’s give one or two of them a try.

I’ve always shied away from starting seed indoors. Mostly, I don’t have a lot of indoor space and second, I don’t really have any equipment, such as a grow light. But every year after my fourth or fifth visit to the garden nursery, I tell myself that I’m going to save some money by starting seeds. But I never do.

This year is different. I was given some seed packets…

And so it begins. A carton of eggshells fits my space limitations. My family room has lots of windows so I think I have plenty of light. By starting small, I may just get a taste of success.

Egg carton garden 3 (1280x960)While I have direct sewn lettuce, broccoli and spinach outside, I’m using eggshells indoors to start spinach, broccoli, basil and geranium seed. Apparently, you can plant the whole kit and caboodle; no need to discard the shell.  Using a Sharpee, I marked each shell with the type of seed planted. Doing this experiment takes me back in time to 4th grade science experiments.  Clearly, I’ve matured because I didn’t hate doing this.

Here’s the recipe for success:

boiling eggs

Boil the eggshells to clean and sterilize. This only take a few minue. Then, punch a small hole in the bottom of the shell for dranage.

Egg carton garden 1Next, fill with seed starting material. I used potting soil.

Basil seeds (1280x960)Add seed and cover with more soil. Here, I’m planting basil.

egg carton garden 4 (1280x960)Mist to thoroughly moisten the material. I mist daily.

Sunny window (1280x960)Place in a sunny window.

My Pinterest experiments won’t stop at eggshell seed starting. There’s a plethora of pins on using Epsom salts to boost plant growth. I need to research which plants like magnesium and sulfate, which, apparently is what Epsom salts are.  And then there’s coffee grounds. My research on coffee grounds tells me not to put them directly into the garden as is sometimes extolled on Pinterest. They should be put into the compost pile because alone they are too acidic. And although I have seen lots and lots of pins extolling the virtues of burying banana peels in the garden by the roses, I’m not sure I’ll try that one either.

What Pinterest tricks have you tried in your garden?


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?