Thursday, May 9, 2019

Spring Garden Improvements

Greetings! Hard to believe we're in May now, after waiting for spring for so long -- we've had a few warmer days, but this has been a relatively cool spring overall, and I now understand why our British gardening friends love tulips and spring ephemerals so much -- they are wonderful when they can be enjoyed for more than two days before hot blasts of wind shrivel them up and blow them away!

This English weather is preparing me for the trip to England that my family and I are taking next month -- I'm excited to finally be able to see a few famous gardens like Sissinghurst and Great Dixter that I have read about for so many years. Our 2&1/2-week trip to London, Kent, Bath, Oxford and the Cotswolds won't be all gardens (sadly), as my family wants to see the historical sights too -- but I'll do my best to sneak away to sit in a few local gardens when I get the chance.

But before I leave, I've been working on a few small improvements in my garden areas:

Delphinium Bed

The delphinium bed back in 2016. The nasty runner grass that infested this bed can be spotted. :-(
In the past I had a lovely display of delphiniums that looked great for nearly five years. But the bed was slowly taken over by nasty runner grass that I just couldn't dig out, no matter how many times I tried. I not only had to clear the entire bed itself, but it wasn't until I made the Paradise Garden right behind this bed last year, eliminating the lawn that was the continuing source of the runner grass, that I have been able to get things under control.

I've kept the bed clear for two years now, and finally I judged that it was safe to start a packet of delphinium seeds this spring. But first I had some repair work to do:

We had so much snow this past winter that we had to call a neighbor with a snow plow to clear our driveway several times. He must have backed into the edge of the border and I needed to fix it before I could plant anything here.
With the edging restored to an orderly state, I planted the delphinium seedlings under white metal mesh baskets that I found at the dollar store for $1 apiece. I planted a couple seedlings not under baskets and they went MIA by the next morning.... Grrr. Rabbits!

I also planted three Veronica 'Royal Candles' there, as I think they will look nice with the spikes of blue delphiniums. I really hope that I will be able to enjoy delphiniums again, as I really miss their impressive display. I hope to be able to remove the baskets when the plants get a bit larger (and when there is more for rabbits to eat elsewhere -- delphiniums are listed as deer- and rabbit-resistant plants, but perhaps the tiny seedlings are irresistible).

New Bench Area in Paradise Garden

The "Stairway to Nowhere" could be seen at right, back in March.
In my last post, I discussed how last month I removed the stairs that had formerly led to my front porch before we had it enclosed into a sunroom two years ago. I wanted to put a bench in that sunny, south-facing location, for enjoying the garden on sunny, cool days.

This is what I found under the wooden steps: one concrete step that was probably original to my 1924 house. Rather than try to remove such a huge piece of concrete, I decided to cover it.
I filled the area behind the step with gravel, added leveling sand on top, and laid pavers on the sand.

I still need to have my handyman cut a piece of siding board to match the white pieces above the lattice panels on each side. I might paint the concrete behind the bench too, I haven't decided yet. But it's nice to have a sunny spot to sit in on cooler days -- the bench is much more comfortable than sitting on the decaying steps.

A Few Flowers

There have been a few things flowering recently, such as the bulbs I planted last fall in the Paradise Garden. I planted mostly things that had associations with Turkish gardens, such as lily-flowering tulips, hyacinths and narcissus.

'Purple Dream' Lily-flowering tulips, mixed hyacinths, grape hyacinths and 'Tete-a-Tete' narcissus made a brilliant display.

The 'Purple Dream' tulips from above, showing their interesting star pattern.

'Woodstock' purple hyacinths with orange wallflowers. Zowie!

Stripey 'Marilyn' lily-flowering tulips. The dianthus on the right edge of the bed mostly survived the winter, but the 12 lavender 'Ellagance Blue' plants that I planted last spring have not made it. Time to dig out my receipts....

Anyway, I'm finishing a few last improvements, moving plants around before it gets hot and before I leave for 2&1/2 weeks in June -- does the thought of leaving your gardens for such a long stretch make you nervous? It sure makes me feel that way! I probably need to get out more....

I hope you are enjoying lovely warm days in your gardens, with many flowers to brighten your days and good weather for finishing garden projects. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Danged Wabbits!

Danged Wabbits!

The rabbits around here have caused more damage to trees this winter than I can remember ever having before. The Bruns weeping Serbian spruce shown above is disfigured beyond saving.

So much for this apple tree -- and not a small one either!

And this weeping Norway spruce was just starting to
look good last year. Grrr!

Numerous other shrubs and trees have been chawed too, but some of them might recover -- we'll just wait and see about those. But we'll be re-thinking some whole garden areas because of the removals.

We had wrapped chicken wire around the trunks of some of our trees in previous years, in order to protect them from our outdoor cat, Little Kitty, who liked to sharpen her claws on tree trunks (she actually killed a magnolia tree that way). That protective wire was still in place, and it protected those trees. We'll wrap more tree trunks this year, to protect them from future rabbit damage.

Most of the tulip foliage that has emerged from the ground has also been gnawed by the rabbits. To protect my flowers, I'm trying to make an off-limits area inside our white picket fence. Last year, I started stapling chicken wire to the bottom of the picket fence that encloses the little yard in front of my house, in order to protect my new Paradise Garden from rabbits, but this year I'm finishing the job around the entire perimeter, creating a Bunny Fort Knox:

The white picket fence that surrounds my house outlines the area that will be protected against rabbits. My Paradise Garden is at far left.

Bunny Fort Knox: The chicken wire I have stapled to the bottom of the entire perimeter fence is visible up close, but not from far away. The rabbits are mostly repelled by the wire fencing. 

With any luck, the wire fencing will keep out most of the rabbits, so I can enjoy flowers at least within my fenced area.

Another project I started this weekend:

Here's my Paradise Garden in front of my house last month. I have mentioned here that I've been thinking of removing the "Stairway to Nowhere" that used to lead to the front porch before I had it enclosed into a sunroom.
Yesterday seemed like a nice day for working outside, and I made fairly short work of the stairs using a crowbar, hammer and hand saw. (I'm pretty sore and tired today after this work, so I'm taking it easy at the computer.)
I had been wondering exactly what lay beneath those stairs, and now I know: a leftover concrete bottom stair from the original staircase on my 1924 house.
Here's a photo taken in the 1920s of those stairs. I'm
not sure who the man is -- I got the photo from a
104-year-old man, a cousin of the original
homeowners, who used to live nearby when I was
 researching the history of my house.

I've removed a few inches of the soil behind the step, and I plan to fill it with gravel, then sand, and then lay paving stones matching those I used for the paths in the PG, on top of the sand and covering the leftover step. Then I'll put another bench there, so there will be two places to sit in the PG, a shady place and a sunny place.

I'll show you the finished project next time.

A few cute spring bulbs to end this post:

One of the first blooms of spring -- next to tulip foliage that has also been nipped off....

And the winter aconites are shining cheerily in the sunshine, attracting bees already.
They're such darling, cheery things!
Puschkinia sciolliodes var. libanotica

Aren't these hyacincths beautifully colored? The bees were swarming around them, even this early in the year.

It's been wonderfully warm this weekend -- in the 70s, and it feels good to get outside and plant a few pansies in the window boxes, and clear out some borders of leaves and debris. Springtime is a lovely, busy time of year!

Hope you have been enjoying some lovely warm days in your own gardens and getting a few projects done. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Sunday, March 17, 2019

A St. Patrick's Day Surprise!

This was the scene last week: heaps of snow... not very interesting -- or very spring-like!

Hello! Spring is progressing here in Iowa, more or less. In order to get rid of winter and usher in springtime, there are specific steps that need to happen:

  1. Temperatures above freezing (sunshine nice too)
  2. Get rid of snow
  3. Warm the soil
  4. Life stirs within the soil, and plant growth begins!
We've finally been making some progress in these steps, after a long, cold winter in which we still had the same snow on the ground for at least six weeks. Temperatures just never got warm enough to melt it entirely, so we still had large piles of snow everywhere, like the pile in the first picture.

This past week was finally warm and sunny, and also very windy for a few days, which really helped melt the snow and dry up the soggy ground. 

Time lapse photography:

Friday, March 8 (this is how my Paradise Garden has looked pretty much all winter).

Monday, March 11 (Things are looking promising!)
Tuesday, March 12 (A good day's progress...)
Wednesday March 13 (Almost there...)
Thursday, March 14 (Yay!)

Friday, March 15 (The wind has even dried things off.)

It was lovely to watch the daily progress of getting rid of the snow and ice, after living with them for so long. We all sat on the sunny front porch yesterday in our bare feet (a literal rite of spring that we look forward to every winter), and talked about how much we loved a St. Patrick's Day that was warm, sunny and NOT snowy. The 10-day forecast called for NO snow in the next week and a half.

But what greeted me this morning??


Back to the drawing board..... (The sidewalks were too warm already for the snow to stick, though.)
Yes, it's beautiful.
In fact, it doesn't even look like real snow, but more like Hollywood studio snow. The phrase "magic snow" came to my mind as I walked around seeing how it coated everything with such picturesque clumps.

The new snow is already melting as soon as the sun shines on it. It'll probably be gone by tomorrow or the next day, as the temps are forecast to be in the mid-forties today and the fifties for the rest of the week. And sunny every day! (We'll see if those weathermen redeem themselves with some accurate forecasts....)

Spring is coming, despite our brief, and quite picturesque, setback. The bulbs are poking up in a few warmest spots. I hear birds chirping once again. And the sunshine is so lovely and warm. I'm so enjoying this beginning of springtime.

I hope you also are enjoying the unfolding of spring in your own gardens. Thanks for reading! -Beth