Friday, July 28, 2017

July Flowers

The North Border has been a riot of flowers.

Hello everyone! July has been a very hot, and very busy month for me here in Iowa. Weeds seem to spring up and grow to chin height in just a few weeks during this time of year -- they are a constant challenge to gardeners, as is the muggy heat index that makes us want to avoid all work outside.

But there have been some moments of beauty in our hot summer gardens, and I've been able to take a few photos of them, usually in the somewhat cooler evenings. Here are a few scenes:

The new Scented Garden around our patio has been a lovely place to sit in the evenings.

A closeup of scented sweet peas, petunias and

Black-Eyed Susans in the Yellow Garden.

And some with green eyes as well.

The latest pot display near my front porch: Papyrus,
a Mediterranean Fan Palm, Agapanthus, white petunias
and blue-flowered Plumbago.

The White Garden, with 'David' phlox, Casablanca lilies and white coneflowers.

This is the first time I've been able to get Crocosmia to flower here. I planted bulbs one year, but they never even came up. I found three plants locally this spring, and they have put out flowers! I hope the relative warmth and good drainage in front of our south-facing house will allow these marginally-hardy plants to come back next year.

This flowering tobacco is monstrously HUGE in the Scented Garden. It smells wonderful,
but it sure does take over -- this photo was taken after I cut back many of the leaves and tied
it to the fence, to rescue the plants around it from being completely smothered.

As you can see in the last photo, the corn is getting tall around us -- summer is more than half over. I'm already making plans for changes to my gardens in fall, and thinking about fall bulbs, which will appear in stores in a week or two. Not long until school starts again too....

Hope you have been making the most of summer in your own gardens too. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Monday, July 3, 2017

Happy 4th of July!

My patriotically-colored flower pot display in front of our porch. This is the first year these Agapanthus, which I have been overwintering for two years, have bloomed! I thought that they and the Cyperus papyrus looked like fireworks, and the red-white-and-blue pinwheels were fun to add to their pots. They compliment the white Petunias, red Alstroemeria and blue Plumbago. Festive fun!

Happy Fourth of July! I hope you are enjoying high summer in your gardens. There are many things blooming here, and the extreme heat of a few weeks ago has moderated a bit, so it's been nice to spend some time outside again enjoying summertime.

In my last post, I showed some Before and After photos that showed some pretty weedy, unkempt garden areas, before I eliminated them. I promised I'd only show nice, flower-filled areas in this next post, so here are a few flowery scenes:

Volunteer hollyhocks in the Front Border, with farm fields in the distance.

Bachelor buttons in our front yard.

The North Border at sunset.

Asiatic lilies in the North Border a couple weeks ago.

Orienpet lilies the other day, with Achillea and self-seeded cosmos.

Phlox, yarrow and lilies.

The Yellow Garden, newly downsized and improved.

The Yellow Garden bathed in golden sunlight.

Lilies and coneflowers in the Rainbow Border.

Little Kitty in the new Scented Garden around the East Patio. It's lovely to sit outside with a cup of tea and enjoy the fragrant flowers. I'll post more about this new area soon. 

A beautiful evening looking across the Herb Garden to the view that sold us this house. 

Hope you are enjoying flower-filled summer days in your own gardens, and that you enjoy the holiday (for those living in the U.S.).

Tomorrow we will attend the local parade and potluck picnic in the tiny unincorporated town a mile from us. It's not even actually a town, just a four-way stop with a dozen houses, and the event is organized each year by the residents themselves and funded by donations in a can. It's become well-attended over the years, by hundreds of people, a retired-folks brass band, and dozens of parade entries, mostly spiffed-up classic tractors, nearby farm businesses and, of course, led off by area fire trucks and an anthem. It's truly America at its best and most independent, and I love to go every year. Now what potluck dish to bring....?

Happy Independence Day!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Before & After

Hi everyone! Before you read any further, I have to warn you that some of the photos in this post aren't pretty. I'm showing garden areas that were such failures that I got rid of them. My hope is that the "After" photos will make up for the ugly "Before" pictures.


I'm sure all gardeners must do it: make too many garden areas to take care of, get totally overwhelmed, and need to reduce some that aren't working. I've been reducing this year, as I've showed in some of my last posts.

A couple of posts ago, I included a list of my 37 (!) garden areas, ranked from best to worst in terms of their beauty and ease of maintenance. Those that scored the worst were generally those farthest from my house, and this spring I eliminated or reduced a number of those areas.

Those downsized areas are shown below on a map of my gardens, marked with large numbers on the map:

I drew this map in 2014 (so it doesn't show two newer garden areas at the top of the map: the redesigned North Border, and the new Iris Border). I'll have to draw another map later this year, because the following areas have now been eliminated:

1. The bed around the gazebo 
2. Parts of the bed around the garden shed
3. The ends of the Rainbow Border
4. The bed around the LP tank
5. The large area behind my house next to the Yellow Garden
6. A bed we made around a Forsythia shrub next to our driveway.

Here are a few Before & After photos of five of the areas to show my progress (I'm still working on number six):

1. The planting bed around the Gazebo 

I almost never go out to the gazebo at the far south end of our property except when I'm mowing near it -- it's more of a feature to look at and only occasionally sit in. So grass and weeds crept in and took over the beds. I recently removed the plants and shrubs and moved them to other areas that needed more plants.

WAY BEFORE: It looked so nice and so easy to maintain back in 2014....
BEFORE: Aagh! By last August it was in shameful condition. The floor needed to be repainted and weeds and grass were taking over the planting bed.
AFTER: Much better. Gazebo floor painted and all the plants removed, except a honeysuckle
vine on the back side. The grass has continued to creep in from the lawn -- which is now a good
thing -- but we'll remove any weeds and seed more grass seed this fall. 

2. The bed around the Garden Shed

This bed was just too large. I made the bed in order to make it easier to mow around the shed and under the two trees next to the shed, and to dress up the rather plain shed with plantings. BUT, because I rarely saw the back side of the shed, weeds and tree seedlings took over back there.

WAY BEFORE: Nice and tidy back in early 2014, right? What could go wrong?

BEFORE: By August 2016 the hostas had filled in pretty well, but so had a fair number of weeds and volunteer trees. Also, the old pear tree has been ailing for a few years now and several limbs have died or fallen.

BEFORE: This disgraceful view of the other end of the shed shows just how bad the weeds became last year, especially at left, in the mulched area behind the shed.
AFTER: Last month I dug out the weeds from either side of the shed door and outlined more manageable small beds with edging strips. I'll leave them empty this year to spray any remaining Creeping Charlie that I didn't get, and plant the beds with a dense planting of perennials and annuals next spring. To the left of the shed, I dug out the tree seedlings from under the large tree and mowed off the weeds -- in early autumn we'll till and seed grass there.

The view from the other side of the garden shed shows how the shape of the bed has changed. From our house (from left), this bed doesn't look any smaller than before, but it will be much easier to maintain now that I have consolidated the hostas in the remaining bed.

3. The Rainbow Border

This border was too long and not densely planted enough. It was 70 feet long, too long to weed all in one session, so I usually gave up three-quarters of the way through. The far end was therefore a total mess of grass and weeds. I put the last 15 feet back to grass, and also eliminated another ten feet from the beginning end (the left).

BEFORE: This photo, also taken in 2014, shows the entire length of the Rainbow Border. 

AFTER: A long-distance view of the new, shortened Rainbow Border, with the ends removed. It's now probably only 50 feet long, instead of 70 feet -- a more manageable size. (There are a few gaps in the border due to problems last year with invasive perennials; I'll fill in those gaps this year and next spring.)

AFTER: The far end of the border, showing the large section seeded back to grass. This end is at least 15 feet shorter.

AFTER: Much more manageable.

4. The LP tank area

WAY BEFORE: In spring 2016, the magnolia and flowering almond looked pretty nice planted in this mulched area.  Our LP tank and a large willow shrub are to the right. I thought about planting a few patches of dark pink tulips to bloom here at the same time.

BEFORE: Aagh!! Because the bed is on a slope and the wood chip mulch washed off when it rained, it was hard to keep weeds from growing here later in the season, as shown last August. It may not look like it, but I weeded this area a number of times last year and my husband sprayed the area repeatedly, all to no avail. Too much work; it was time to go back to grass.

AFTER: After I dug out the flowering almond shrub, my husband sprayed, tilled and seeded grass here. Much better.

5. The bed behind the house

This is the largest area that I eliminated. I made this area into a garden bed in 2014 because the ground was settling over the old cellar that is beneath the square part of the bed and I scalped the grass every time I mowed it before. But I never really figured out what to plant there, besides hostas and daylilies, and, of course, weeds took over.

By last year, the cellar below the bed was leaking was leaking pretty badly and looked like it might collapse. Last fall we had someone with a backhoe scrape all the dirt off the top of it, seal it with flashing and tar, and re-cover it with soil. They leveled the soil, and I hope it will be easier and less scalp-ey to mow now that we have grassed it over again.

BEFORE: I wasn't sure what I should do with the back of my house -- the area is so ugly, with the A/C unit and at least seven vents of various sorts jutting out from the back wall. I tried to make it prettier with daylilies and hostas, but they only bloom for a short period, and then weeds took over. Back to grass. 
BEFORE: Another view, further down toward the Yellow Garden, at far right. Uggh.
AFTER: This spring, I dug out all the daylilies and hostas, and my husband seeded the area back to grass. I planted a narrow strip of hostas along the house to make mowing easier. This area is never going to be attractive, what with the AC unit and seven vents coming out of the wall -- maybe some day I'll think of something more attractive to plant against the house, but for now, the hostas will do.

(BTW, those hostas are practically indestructible: I dug them out last fall, but didn't know where to plant them, and I ended up leaving the clumps sitting by the side of my garage ALL WINTER -- we had -10°F in December -- and they sprouted this spring and look great a month after planting them. Now that's a tough plant!)

AFTER: Much easier to maintain. 

I feel much better now that I have mostly finished these downsizing projects -- I'm thinking I might eliminate one more area this autumn, but otherwise I will see how much work it is to maintain my remaining gardens for the next year or so. Next summer I can decide whether there are any additional garden areas that I would be better off without.

It's so easy to bite off more than we can chew, but having reduced some areas is allowing me to focus more on the areas that are successful, and make them even better.

Thanks for reading -- I know the photos were hideous and the stories of failure and laziness were hardly inspiring. I appreciate that you read it!

Next time I'll show some pretty flowers and some of my most successful areas, I promise! -Beth