Saturday, May 23, 2020

Tropical Madness

A closeup from my Paradise Garden: pansies and finally one bloom from the Ranunculus or Persian buttercups that I started in my basement. They sure are beautiful flowers, but I might need to buy plants in spring instead of starting a couple dozen from corms I buy in the fall, because mine never look anywhere as good as the greenhouse-raised plants.

Greetings! It's been a cloudy week here in Iowa, and it looks like it will be followed by a rainy one this coming week. But it's a warm rain, and it's starting to feel almost tropical here -- humid with highs in the mid-70s and lows around 60°F.

I've been moving some of my houseplants outside in anticipation of making a new tropical garden around my east patio. Temperatures have been warm enough for nearly every plant to come outside now, with the exception of the banana plant that I bought a few weeks ago -- apparently if the nighttime temperature drops below 57°F, the plant's growth is stunted. Who knew?

My new banana plant: it's called a blood banana (Musa acuminata
  var. zebrina) because of the dark red variegated pattern on the leaves.

Yesterday, the soil was finally just dry enough to work over (just in time before last night's rain). So I could plant my tropical garden, and many of the plants are now in the ground. Here's a few pictures of the process:

BEFORE: I had moved several shrubs from the four beds around the patio back in March, so I just needed to weed -- especially those invasive star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalium umbellatum) at front! -- and then prepare the soil for planting.

After a light weeding to remove large weeds, I used a garden fork to turn over and chop up the soil. Then I added a garden fertilizer -- you can see it sprinkled on top.

Next I put a 4" layer of compost on top of the soil and fertilizer. Our local landfill finally opened to residential traffic after being closed for two months due to the coronavirus. It re-opened Monday morning -- and I was there in the long line of pickup trucks when it opened at 7 a.m. to get the leaf compost I needed for this project.

Good, thick, rich, dark compost -- this and the fertilizer should make the soil good for fast growing tropical plants. I'll use a liquid fertilizer later in the season. 

Then, I finally got to plant the many annuals and houseplants that have been sitting on my front porch, acclimating themselves to outdoor temperatures. I planted several dozen plants and then watered them in just before dusk last night.

It rained this morning, and the air was soft and warm -- just right for tropical plants. Everything looks pretty small right now, but in six weeks, this should be looking a lot more tropical -- especially the castor oil plant that's flopping over from the rain at front left, which will become ginormous by summer's end. 

The back bed is looking the most developed, as it contains several large houseplants, including a Ctenanthe lubbersiana, at left, a couple of small leftover poinsettias, a Philodendron bipinnatifidum in the center of the bed, a small Colocasia that I bought on closeout last fall, two cat palms (Chamaedorea cataractarum) that I found a deal on back in February, and a Chinese fan palm (Livistona chinensis). 

A closeup of the Philodendron, the Colocasia and the three palms. There are also a few coleus plants spotted about for color, which should get bigger.

There are still a few plants that I ordered and are taking longer to receive because of the slowdowns, which I've left room for: a Colocasia 'Sumo' (I'm looking forward to seeing how big something named 'Sumo' will get), a variegated ginger and three stripey cannas 'Pretoria', as well as the aforementioned banana plant waiting in my sunroom.

The other beds have coleus, tropical hibiscus, castor oil plants I started from seed, and various orange flowered annuals such as begonias, snapdragons, impatiens and celosia.

And there were already clematis and a wisteria planted near the posts (which I still haven't gotten around to painting to match the white top of the pergola), plus the two boxwoods and a patio-sized peach tree that I like the look of -- those leaves look pretty tropical to me

And I'll put a few potted plants on the patio too, especially when they're blooming -- there's nothing like a gardenia, star jasmine or Stephanotis floribunda in bloom, all of which I have in pots.

The dwarf-size peach tree at right looks tropical enough to someone in Iowa....

Now it's just a matter of waiting until the plants put on some size. Plus, I'm looking forward to finding a few fun tropical decorative accessories, like a tablecloth for meals out here, and maybe some patio cushions. I already found a fun tropical cushion at Walmart the other day:

This new patio cushion in my sunroom will definitely be moving out to my
new tropical garden soon!

I hope you are all enjoying warmer days and nights in your gardens too -- or will be soon, if not already. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Friday, May 8, 2020

Tulip Time!

Greetings! We've enjoyed some beautiful days here recently: last week was warm, with temperatures in the 70s, although this week has been chillier, and there's a chance of frost tonight. But I had a chance to work outside most days the week before, so I've been able to do a few things that I've been hoping to do, and the gardens are starting to look a bit more orderly.

But I won't show any projects, just some beautiful moments -- because the beginning of May is one of the most beautiful times of the year:

These lily-flowering tulips 'Purple Dream' have bloomed for two years now -- the other lily-flowering tulips I planted in Fall 2018 have not come back. I'll have to remember the name of this variety when I'm buying bulbs this fall. 

The tulip 'Carnival de Nice' tulips are flowering in all their stripey glory next to a 'Red Charm' peony that I moved here this spring. These are pretty fabulous.

These 'Tete a Tete' narcissus are pretty tiny -- they started blooming a couple of weeks ago when they were barely out of the ground, looking ridiculously stunted in growth. But they've continued to get taller over the past week, and now they're a normal 6-8 inches in height (still miniature, but very cute).

These pink Darwin hybrid tulips are leftover from last year -- only a few left this year -- but they still look beautiful with the grape hyacinths in my front border.

The line of six crabapples planted across our yard have never flowered so beautifully as they're doing this year -- the scent can be smelled from yards away! And the four L-shaped flower beds around the pond are better-maintained this year, after I cleared them of all but the boxwoods and the roses in the corners. The back right boxwood shrub (the small one) has finally been put back after I removed it a couple years ago to get the nasty runner grass infesting that bed under control, and it has some catching up to do with its brother boxwoods. I intend to plant annual dahlias and petunias in the four beds this year, as the perennial dianthus and garden phlox that I had here before didn't work too well, due to the invasive grass problem. I hope annuals will be easier to maintain in these beds.

I'm hoping there won't actually be real frost tonight, but I've brought in all the numerous potted shrubs and plants that I re-potted and took outside from the basement last week when it was so warm, and I'll cover some of the annual flowers I planted out with sheets, just to be safe.

I hope you have been enjoying some warm spring days in your gardens recently -- there is snow forecast in the eastern United States this weekend, so I don't feel so bad about our possible light frost... we'll see what happens.

Thanks for reading! -Beth

Monday, April 20, 2020

The warmth returns

This magnolia has a wonderful scent

Hi Everyone -- I hope you have been enjoying warm days in your gardens so far this spring. It was quite nice here until this past week. We had enjoyed temperatures as warm as 80°F in previous weeks, but this past week has been terribly cold, with frost nearly every evening until now, blustery cold days of high winds, and even snow.

Easter morning was beautifully warm and sunny, and our teenage children enjoyed hunting for Easter eggs that they dyed and my husband hid in our yard -- something they have been "too old" to do for many years now, but which during our stay-at-home time seemed like a good activity, in between watching the local church service online and eating Easter dinner together. Familiar things bring comfort.

There's a hidden Easter egg peeking out behind these tulips on Easter morning.

I had been bringing plants outside to my front porch for the past several weeks to harden off and get better light during the many sunny days we had in prior weeks.

My potted exotic fruit trees (olive, pomegranate and fig) that had spent the winter
in the basement were outside acclimating themselves to the outdoors again, as were the
snapdragons, sweet peas and ranunculus plants I started inside, together with the
store-bought snapdragons and pansies at left. (I have to cover the seed flat with
chicken wire to prevent cats and dogs from regarding the tray as a soft bed and
totally smashing the seedlings, in case you were wondering...).

Needless to say, this past week my husband and I have needed to haul all these big pots and trays inside every evening before frost settles in, and I've put them all back out the following day. This has been rather a lot of work.

And then we even got 3+ inches of snow -- twice! This is pretty unusual for this late in April for us.

The white stuff, just when you're thinking it's done for the year.

But the warmth has returned again and it doesn't look like the lows should be much below 40°F during the next ten nights, with highs in the 50s and 60s.

So yesterday I worked outside for the first time in a whole week: I was able to cut back, rake out and weed the herb garden, which is shown in the snowy picture above.

The Herb Garden last month.

And yesterday after tidying it up -- it was a beautiful time to take a little break on the bench at back. It made me wonder why I don't sit there more often (a common thought among gardeners, I believe).

More bulbs are blooming:

Grape hyacinths and basket-of-gold (Aurinia saxatilis) in my front border.

The bulbs always look so beautiful in spring, although I didn't plant very many last year and I can see that I will need to add more this fall. It seems like I always make this note to myself in April, but my intentions often fade by October.

I hope you are able to enjoy sunny, warmer days as spring unfolds in your gardens this year, and that you and your families are well as we slowly return to normal over the next months.

Thanks for reading! -Beth