Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year 2017!

Cats always know the best places for naps. Tigger and I have spent a lot of time snoozing together here in the sun during the past month.

Happy New Year! We're now in 2017, and I hope we all enjoy a happy and prosperous year, filled with gardening and other life success.

My gardens have been pretty quiet for the past month or so since I last posted -- we enjoyed a warm November, but the temperatures dropped to below-zero in Mid-December, with the lowest being about -15°F (-26°C). While nothing much grows outside in such temperatures, my new sunroom has been lovely and filled with foliage and flowers.

The low temps gave me a chance to see how well the insulation and heating units work in the room, and I've been pleasantly surprised. I set the thermostat to 60°F, and have left the door to our living room open, and the electric baseboard heaters have only come on a handful of times for brief periods overnight, as the more efficient central heater from our house has been nearly sufficient to keep the room warm enough for tropical plants. The temps in the far corners of the room never drop below the upper 50s, even on the coldest nights.

And on sunny days (probably half the days in wintertime are at least partly sunny in Iowa), the room can get quite warm. One morning at 9am, it was still -10°F outside, but because the sun was shining, it was already nearly 80° in the sunroom -- and my 18-year-old cat Tigger was already in his customary spot, warming his ancient bones.

It has been so lovely to spend time reading, napping, conversing with others, and puttering among the plants in my new room, which is now my favorite room in my house. Here are a few scenes from my new Winter Garden:

I bought this Bouganvilla in summer, but it didn't do very well outside and looked mostly
dead and leafless when I  brought it inside this fall and repotted it.
Obviously, it prefers this environment.

My tower of African violets has enjoyed the east exposure in the sunroom. Outside it was
snowy, but inside there were lovely flowers.

Some pansies and a snapdragon that self-seeded themselves in a pot outside in fall -- they seem happy enough indoors.

The last flower on my Mandevilla. In order to flower, it definitely requires more hours of sun than we have at
the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere.

The Arabian jasmine (Jasmine sambac) flowers smell so wonderful. One of my very favorite plants!

Some Christmas plants: a red begonia, Poinsettia and variegated holly. The berries on the holly are not real, but came wired on the plants for holiday effect. However, I bought a couple plain green holly plants a year ago and they have not only survived indoors in my east kitchen window (they're not hardy here in Iowa), but have also flowered and set berries, although the berries are still green.

I started some sweet peas from leftover seeds in mid-December as
an experiment... 

...and potted them up with a trellis a week ago. They've already doubled in height...

...and I've able to observe the twining effect up close, which is really pretty interesting. I don't know if there will be enough light indoors for the sweet peas to flower later in winter -- but even if they don't, they'll have a big head start on ones I plant from seed outdoors. We'll see what the experiment yields. 

Lots of snow outside, but warmth enough in here even on cloudy days. The tall plant at left is an orange tree that I got for free from someone who offered it on Facebook because she was downsizing. It hasn't flowered yet, as it hadn't been fertilized for a long time, but I repotted and fertilized it and hope for fragrant flowers at some point. I hung icicle holiday lights across the front windows, which can be seen outside to cozy effect (I like them so much I think I'll leave them up for the rest of the winter).
In the dark of midwinter, the icicle lights make the house look cozy from the outside, and also light up the inside of the sunroom in a pleasant glow, which makes the room more enjoyable to be in at night.

A lush and verdant view from the couch.

Back to my favorite spot for a good read (and perhaps a little nap too).

All my gardening is indoors these days, and I hardly miss the warmer seasons this winter, in contrast to the feelings of desperation that I usually experience even by the beginning of January. We'll see if I'm able to continue to fool myself that it's not really winter as it drags on through January, February and most of March, but I feel hopeful.

Hope you enjoyed the holidays, and best wishes for the New Year! Thanks for reading, -Beth

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