Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Strangely Warm November Ends Tonight

Hello again strangers! It's been more than two months (!) since I posted here. In fact, this whole summer and autumn I've been terrible, posting only a few times. I think it's because my gardens haven't looked very good for most of the summer, plus I've been trying to work seriously every day on a new writing project since July.

I'll probably take a little hiatus from blogging over the winter, although I might post a few shots of what's growing in my new sunroom from time to time. It's stuffed full of plants already, as you can see in the photo above, and I've only had the room since August (although I've been collecting houseplants and exotic patio plants for more than a year now.

Some big changes are planned for my gardens next spring, mostly downsizing some beds and eliminating others that are farther from my house or harder to take care of. I'll post about those changes when I start making them next spring.

But here are a few photos from the past few weeks in the better-looking areas of my gardens. We've been enjoying a strangely warm fall. We had a very light frost about a month ago which only killed our basil, and then didn't have another until last week. So we've had lovely flowers until mid-November, which is unusual for Iowa.

Here are a few shots from last week:

Roses 'Seminole Wind' and self-seeded snapdragons around our front gate.

Reblooming iris and cosmos in the Iris Bed. I'll never get used to seeing these bloom in autumn!

Morning Glories on the west side of our house.

'Golden Celebration' roses near our kitchen.
Annual salvias in the Front Border still going strong.

The Yellow Garden in sunlight. I'm planning to reduce the size of this area and make it nicer next year.

Oh, we've finally gotten some projects done around our house: we finally bit the bullet and had the house painted, so it looks a lot brighter now (as can be seen in the first photo). Also, we had our ancient cellar excavated and sealed because it was leaking. So now we have a big mound of exposed dirt behind our house waiting for grass seed in spring.

We also had our handyman fix our front steps, which were sagging and rotting underneath (like everything in an old house seems to do...).

Before: (Back in 2014) You can see how the front steps met in a point at the corner. They were sagging and rotten, and there weren't enough hand rails to make the steps safe.

Our handyman cut out the corner of the steps, shored up the remaining stairs with additional risers, and built two new hand rails, which we will paint in spring, after the treated wood has dried a bit. Both my husband's and my own elderly parents will doubtless be happy at the extra hand rails. There are some broken concrete slabs in the exposed area, but I plan to fill the area with a display of pots during the warmer months.

Since the frost cleared out some room, I've been cutting a few areas back and finally planting the bulbs I bought more than two months ago. Thursday I planted about 600 of the 800 bulbs that I purchased -- only 200 left! (I was pretty sore and tired afterwards, I must admit.)

The temperature is forecast to drop down to the low 20s tonight, so we may not have too many more flowers for the rest of winter. But it's time for the holidays and if all goes according to design, my new Winter Garden will allow me to have some green foliage and lovely flowers all winter indoors.

I hope you are still enjoying a few more blooms outdoors, and that you and your families enjoy a wonderful holiday season. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Back to the Garden

It's hard to see in this photo, but these zinnias are covered with butterflies flitting about in the sunshine. :-)

It's been ages since I posted anything about my gardens. I've been so preoccupied about my sunroom project (it can be seen behind the zinnias in the photo above), plus it's been so hot, the weeds had taken over, and several areas need major changes. For all those reasons, I haven't posted any garden photos since June....

But now that the weather has been cooling off a bit, I've been able to resume battling the weeds and tackling a few projects outside, as well as to enjoy being outside among the many pretty annual flowers that I have planted this year. This is truly the time for annuals to shine in the garden.

Here are a few photos from the past few weeks:

Our East Patio, with humongous coleus in front. I had no idea they got so big, as it's the first time I've ever planted these. They were such baby things in their six-packs in May, but now the bigger ones are crowding out the ones that didn't grow as quickly. I like the colors in this mix, and I think I''ll use these in other garden areas in the future (those limey-yellow ones would look great in my Yellow Garden...).

Another annual I had never planted before were these Star Gladiolus. I found the corms at
Lowe's this spring and I'll definitely be digging and saving these over winter. They have a lovely
scent and a delicate habit unlike the more common kind of gladiolus (which I also have
grown with success for magnificent cutting flowers this summer ).

Here's the cutting garden in mid-summer, with the bed I made for growing the normal sort of gladiolus for cutting. I wired a piece of hog panel to some stakes to keep them from flopping over like they did last year and it worked quite well. I think I'll plant even more of these next year, perhaps a whole other bed of them, as they were truly magnificent inside the house.

The Yellow Garden gets more gold as summer progresses. Earlier in the year the yellows tend to be a bit lighter in color. I think I'm going to make a few changes in this garden area next spring.

The North Border, with Zinnias, cosmos and phlox, plus some short dahlias
that I started from seed this spring (which I had never done before). 

Water lilies in the pond. They've bloomed quite a bit this summer.

It's been a good year for impatiens, unlike some years lately with the impatiens blight going around. These seem pretty happy in the window box on my garage.

Another annual that I tried for the first time this year were these Gomphrena, which I started from seed. I love their little ball-shaped heads. I think I'll use more of these next year. 

And one more new annual for me this year were these Balsam, which are related to impatiens, but much taller (you can't tell in this photo, but they are about three feet tall). Apparently these used to be very popular in Victorian times, but fell out of favor during the 20th century. I like them and will certainly save seeds to plant them again next year.

One resolution for this year was to try more annuals that I hadn't planted before, especially ones that are less common. I'm so glad that I did -- many of them have been wonderful flowers. Next year I think I'll try growing even more new annuals. I'm sure there are so many I'll never run out of new kinds to try!

Hope your own gardens are still flowering strongly as we go into autumn. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sunroom Final Progress Report: Plants and Furnishings

Hello! I've spent the past week doing the fun part of making my new sunroom: beginning to fill it with plants and furnishings.

As you may recall from my earlier posts, it's long been my dream to have a conservatory or sunroom, a sunny room filled with lush, green plants in which I can try to forget that it's winter here in Iowa. In June, after much planning, my builder began work enclosing the front porch of my 1924 four-square farmhouse. The project was done by the end of the first week in August, when I had finished painting the interior and the floor. Here are the earlier posts about the sunroom planning and construction, if you missed them:

Winter Sunroom Dreams (last November)
Sunroom Progress Report #1 (June 29)
Sunroom Progress Report (Construction Finished!) (my last post)

I've moved some initial furnishings and plants into the space, although there will be more of both as we get closer to our first frost. I had most of the plants, furniture and plant stands already, so I didn't have to get much more, with the exception of the wicker sofa.

A tour of the (somewhat) finished project, starting at the sliding glass door end of the room:

Looking in the other direction from the first photo. At forefront is circular plant staging steps, with a small breakfast/tea table behind, and a shady corner next to the sliding glass door at the end of the room.

A closeup of the shady corner. I moved the Smurf terrarium that I made last winter to this
corner, so that it won't overheat, although I think I might look for a taller side table to put it on.
I found the tiered plant stand for $5 at the local Master Garden plant sale in May, and it looks
spiffed up after three coats of white paint.

In the middle of the room, on the other side of the small breakfast/tea table, are four quarter-round plant steps that I found at Aldi (my Absolute Favorite Store!) this spring for about a quarter of the price they're sold for online. I had long lusted over the Victorian wrought-iron versions of these found in decrepit English conservatories, but this new version is just fine. Note the Pineapple Plant with a baby pineapple fruit on top -- I found it at Walmart (of all places!) last week and simply had to have it after reading last winter about how it was to grow pineapples and citrus that conservatories (and indoor stove heating) were developed, and how exorbitantly expensive it was to raise them in Victorian England. Yet Walmart can now sell them to the masses (including lucky me!). What an amazing age we live in.

My favorite area of our new room: the comfy new sofa surrounded by larger plants. I had most of the plants already, but found the oversize Cat Palm and huge Macho Fern ($4!) that are behind the sofa for half off at Lowe's last week. And one of the things I miss most during our months of brown and straw-colored winter is green grass, so I found some putting green, indoor/outdoor carpet that's like a thick felt. It's washable and very soft underfoot -- both our son and our cat fell asleep on it the first evening that I rolled it out. :-)

As the weather starts to cool off next month, I'll begin bringing in some more of the many tropical and temperate potted plants like jasmine, hibiscus, pelargoniums, etc. that are outside on our patio (minus insects, with luck). Some of them I'll store in the basement under florescent lights like I do each winter, but some might look nice in here.

Also, I'll bring in a couple of the wicker chairs and the green porcelain garden stool that are currently outdoors, so that we can use the chairs at the breakfast/tea table and/or in the seating area. Even though it's been pretty warm in the room during the past week or so, I can't tell you how lovely it is to sit or lie on the sofa in there, surrounded by green, growing plants -- my Winter Garden. We're thinking of putting our Christmas tree in here this year -- won't it look lovely from outside, lit up by strands of twinkling lights through the windows?

I hope the room will stay warm enough for plants during the frigid temperatures of January and February -- the baseboard heater manufacturer assured me that the three units should be more than enough, even with all the windows, and we did have closed-cell foam insulation blown in to seal and insulate the floor, ceiling and walls under the windows. I guess we'll just have to wait and see....

Anyway, hope you are enjoying your late summer gardens in your part of the world. Thanks for reading! -Beth