The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


1 Comment

A Gardener’s Dilemma

I awoke Saturday morning and sent a 10-character text, “Let’s dig!” A few hours later my walking buddy Mary rolled up in her Ford Explorer. We’d thought of everything. Mary laid old towels in the back so we wouldn’t mess up the car; the spade rested on top. I brought the gloves. We had bags. We were ready.

Under the cover of gray skies threatening rain, at high noon, we commenced our work: digging up what at one time would no doubt have been someone’s prized peonies, shade-loving trillium and Virginia bluebells. A woodland spring delight.

DSCN5932

DSCN5924DSCN5927I kept watch while Mary went to work with her short-handled spade and dug and dug and dug. The plants gave way easily in the soft, wet ground, and we quickly filled our bags until their handles nearly gave way from the weight of our treasure. We almost got away with the deed, when I looked up and saw a man standing in the barren lot at the top of the slope looking curiously at us.

Uh-oh. We’d been caught.

Before I go further, let me provide some context. For years, Mary and I have walked the many graceful streets of St. Louis County. For several months we have commented on the empty white Century home with the For Sale sign in the yard. The lot next door is barren and recently cordoned off with a developer’s sign promising to build a new home. A parcel of the main property? We aren’t sure.

A couple of months ago we ventured onto the property to look around. The house, red outbuilding and pool need repair. The surrounding yard is large and wooded and overgrown with understory brush and lots of bamboo. The grounds meander down to a ravine. It is graceful, shady and quiet. A far cry from suburbia in which it is located. We were surprised there was so much land behind the house.

Like anything that’s been around for more than 135 years, there are stories to tell. In a twist of odd luck, I was talking about this house at my book club and one of my friends mentioned that her home was once occupied by the man who built the white house in the late 1800s. She sent me a write up describing its history and sad demise of its builder (he set fire to the home and original barn and committed suicide on the property). According to the history, he relocated the light above the front porch from an antebellum plantation in southern Missouri.

A couple of weeks ago we ventured back for another look around. Why, I don’t really know. We wended our way past the bamboo to a clearing. Overgrown and neglected, the ground slopes down to a ravine and traces of a garden can be seen. We had missed this on our mid-winter walk through when there was no trace of any emerging plants. We’d also missed the remnants of plant stakes and markers littering the ground, their type faded, the metal ones bent and corroded. Black plastic garden edging has been pulled up and thrown in a heap. All that remains of a small round pond is its faded molded plastic form.

DSCN5941This time everywhere we looked something is growing. Peonies are emerging from the grass everywhere. Daffodils in shades of creamy yellow and white. Muscari. Wild geranium. Iris. Variegated trillium. Clumps of blue and pink Virginia bluebells. A rock garden covered by overgrowth edges the pond and makes a path down the slope to the edge of the yard by the ravine. A mass of flowering yellow ground cover carpets much of the area.

This is someone’s forgotten love.

And by the looks of it, it is soon to be turned under by a bulldozer. The property, which is slightly less than an acre, is staked with bright orange flags marking its borders. On the walk home we talked about how sad it would be if it all got bulldozed under. The garden gone with the history of the house and all the stories of this lovely ground.

To be sure, this was a premeditated act. We had no permission to be on the property. And you can be sure that no one gave us permission to dig up any plants. Mary’s sister, who is a realtor said it would definately be a no-no to take any of the plants.

Hmmmm.

Make no mistake, I would not–never have–go to a property that is for sale and just dig up their garden. I will vouch that I am a law-abiding citizen who obeys the rules. I am not a plant theif. (Am I?) But this felt different. This property feels abandoned. On borrowed time until it is turned over to start a new story.

We dug quietly and I urged Mary to hurry up. “This is the last one,” I said three or four times. I did not want to explain to the neighbors what we were doing. We filled several bags with tender plants but many, many more remain.

DSCN5947Then I saw him. Up the slope in the foreground of the yellow house. I felt certain our unexpected visitor would have a few questions.

“Mary, look up. There’s a man up there and he’s watching us.” We stopped digging the trillium and headed up the hill. He did not look angry. Just curious.

Turns out he was looking through the lot, past the ravine and over to the next street to see if he could see a house he is interested in. He knows a developer interested in tearing the property down for him and builing anew. We talked for about 15 minutes and shared the origins of the white house with him and told him it has been empty for so long that we wanted to rescue some of the lovely plants before they were turned under by heavy equipment. He seemed to understand.

As we loaded the back of the Explorer, Mary said she felt certain the gardener who planted this woodland garden would thank us. I don’t know.

Was it theft or was it a rescue?

DSCN5960

 

Advertisements


Leave a comment

The Garden in Late May

I love the delicate pink and white blooms on the deeply hued stems of penstemon.

I love the delicate pink and white blooms on the deeply hued stems of penstemon.

At the end of April, I posted photos showing how much progress had been made from the start of the month to the beginning of May. Of course, Mother Nature was just getting tuned up. To lean on the old, tired adage “April Showers Bring May Flowers,” I know why Mother’s day, weddings and graduations fill the weekends of May–because it’s so doggone beautiful.

I have not yet mulched. Shame on me but my gutter man has not shown up! And while I know the mulch will make the beds look that much better and be beneficial to the beds, all the rain and nice spring temperatures have really brought on the blooms. The only bed that really looks shabby is along the fence line where the Cannas are starting to emerge. It could use some mulch. And the bed in the corner of the backyard looks terrible, but more about that deliberately neglected space later.

This post isn’t to dive into the rough spots of the yard, but to celebrate how lovely May is.

Let’s take a look at how things are coming along, shall we?

I under-estimated just how many plants I will need and how long it will take to fill in this bed.

I under-estimated just how many plants I will need and how long it will take to fill in this bed.

Not shy on ambition, I envisioned a plant-packed bed, spilling forth with flowers throughout spring, summer and fall when I started this project three years ago. And it is taking a lot longer than I thought. I am trying to be patient and let the shrubs fill in, the Japanese maple put some height on and the dwarf Colorado blue spruce fill out, but I am like a kid–I want it now. May was spent dividing hosta, coreopsis, shasta daisy, black eye Susan and other perennials in the beds. They payback is that I save money on plants and have some much-needed repetition, which provides some continuity to this project.

The “May Night” salvia are attracting lots of bees as are the cranesbill. I really like this combination. This must be the perfect spot for the cranesbill because it was the first thing I planted in my new garden in the summer of 2011. The salvia tends to get a bit leggy and last year–its first summer–I cut it back quite a bit. Clearly that didn’t both it!

What a lovely combination of color. Hot pink roses, not shown here, dial up the intensity.

What a lovely combination of color. Hot pink roses, not shown here, dial up the intensity.

Pink and purple plants took center stage in early May but now the yellows are starting to show. The coreopsis are balancing atop their delicate stems, and the stella de oro are blooming. Later this summer, the black eye Susans will be out in force.

This variety of coreopsis blooms all summer but requires a bit of maintenance trimming off the spent blooms.

This variety of coreopsis blooms all summer but requires a bit of maintenance trimming off the spent blooms.

I have been looking forward to watching gayfeather (liatris spicata) come through this year. I planted three of them last year. One did not make it but these two look terrific. It looks like they will bloom soon.

True to their promise, the Knockout roses are providing a profusion of blooms. I am really enjoying this pink shrub. It was mislabeled as a deep pink but it turns out it was a happy accident. It’s also encouraging to see how quickly these guys grow.

Ribbon grass grows behind this pink rose.

Ribbon grass grows behind this pink rose.

Right now the Kobold does not need staking. This is the second summer for it in the garden.

Right now the Kobold does not need staking. This is the second summer for it in the garden.

Nothing seems to have grown as quickly as the Oakleaf hydrangea! This bad boy either a) loves this spot on the north side of the house; b) is a vigorous grower; or c) all of the above. I think the answer is c) all of the above. This specimen is actually in the middle of this particular bed. When sitting on the patio, it towers above the rose. Behind it, where there is more shade from the eaves of the roofline, I have put in shade lovers such as coral bells, astilbe, hosta and fern. Originally, I had intended the oakleaf to screen the trash cans. This year I decided to move them to the other side of the house and expand this bed. That’s the gardening way, right?

Until May, I had not given much thought on which month I really enjoy in the yard. While early spring provides much-needed anticipation and relief from being inside all winter, the temperatures this May have been good (not too hot or humid). The humidity and temps are starting to climb but it has been a great month to enjoy the yard.

Spring and summer means cut flowers.

Spring and summer means cut flowers.

Having something blooming each month throughout the summer is one of the key benefits to gardening. You can bring the outdoors inside with vases of cut flowers, a joyful reminder of the garderner’s hard work paying off.

I like to I look forward to providing an end-of-June report and watching what’s growing in your yard, fellow bloggers.

Thanks for reading.

The Oakleaf hydrangea "Alice" begins to bloom.

The Oakleaf hydrangea “Alice” begins to bloom.

The black eye Susan here in front of the yellow coreopsis, love this location. Other sun lovers include monarda, tall garden phlox, lily and Russian sage.

The black eye Susan here in front of the yellow coreopsis, love this location. Other sun lovers include monarda, tall garden phlox, lily and Russian sage. On the left is a  blue false indigo (baptisia australis), a new addition to the bed this year.

The soft velvety texture of artemisia, seen here creeping on the edge of the patio almost cries out to be touched.

The soft velvety texture of artemesia, seen here creeping on the edge of the patio almost cries out to be touched. What really took off this month, though, is the Oakleaf hydrangea in the back of this photo.

I have concentrated on planting in the sunny spots in the yard but have found a few shady areas to fil lin.

I have concentrated on planting in the sunny spots in the yard but have found a few shady areas to fill in. Contrasting shapes and color provide visual interest.