Sunday, February 12, 2017

February Report

The sunroom has been sunny a few days recently, which has been lovely. I installed a new shelf on the wall at right, on which my orchids are now growing.

Greetings from winter in Iowa! It has been a strangely warm, overcast winter this year -- after several very cold nights (nearly -15°F) in December, we've hardly gotten colder than 20° at night and days in the 30s, which is very strange for what is usually a much colder time of year in this part of the country. And this past week we've had several days in the upper 50s. Those have been very enjoyable.

But with the comparative warmth has come, of course, cloudy skies, which has been unfortunate from the standpoint of spending time lolling in the sunshine in my sunroom. Perhaps only one or two days each week were sunny during most of January. But that did mean that I got a lot more work done on my book I'm writing about historic Iowa gardens -- I would really like to finish that project this year. 

At any rate, I have been able to enjoy a few days among my plants. Other than dealing with a fungal problem on my orange tree (which involved spraying a copper fungicide and trying not to breathe it or get any on my skin), puttering among my many plants has been quite enjoyable over winter. Here are a few scenes:

My sweet peas are gaining height.

I potted on my stocks (Matthiola) seedlings into a window seed starting tray.

I know many people cannot stand the scent of paperwhite narcissus, but I like them, and they
have made my sunroom smell very nice. The jasmine plant at left also has been blooming
with wonderfully scented flowers.

I used the gift certificate my husband gave me for Christmas from Logee's, and the weather was miraculously warm enough for several days for them to ship my order of tropical plants! Here are some of them potted up: Clerodendrum (Chains of Glory), Jasminum polyanthum (Winter Jasmine), Murraya paniculata (Orange Jasmine), Plumeria obtusa 'Dwarf Singapore Pink', Osmanthus fragrans 'Fudingzhu" (Sweet Olive -- which already has wonderfully scented tiny flowers), and a 'True Rose' Pelargonium. I can't wait for them to grow and flower!

My kitchen window, with the many brightly colored primroses that I found at Aldi for $0.99 each last month. They're still blooming their cute little faces off after several weeks! Have I mentioned how much I love Aldi?

I never knew that Sansevieria bloomed. The tiny flowers, to my surprise, were strongly
scented and smelled wonderful. I found this plant almost ready to bloom at (where else) Aldi, 
and bought one even though I always thought Sansevrieia were such a boring plant that I never 
intended to buy one. (Except for the 'African Spear' cylindrical kind, which is pretty cool.)

So that's it for inside. Usually at this time of year there's not much to say about outside, but it's been so warm that I walked around last weekend and took a few photos:

My east patio area, which I'm planning to redesign the planting of this spring.

I know my patio area doesn't look like much right now, but I've been planning to re-do it this spring, to make a Scented Garden. I'll move the plants that are currently here to other beds and plant only plants with nicely scented flowers or leaves: a couple of new highly scented roses, and a number of annuals from seeds that I have ordered. I'll also add several shrubs such as an extra mock orange that I have elsewhere, a small reblooming lilac and some peonies I need to move. Plus some tender bulbs for summer. And in fall I'll add some scented bulbs for spring. I've been reading a number of books about scented plants this winter to research what I will plant.

Here's the area last June. 

I'll move most of the rose bushes that are in the above photo to the beds in front of my sunroom, and move the other things to other beds that need more plants. (The hollyhocks in the photo above are completely self-seeded biennials, and I'll move any that spring up to other beds too.)

Along the east side of my house, the daffodils are already up.

As I walked around last weekend, I noticed that the daffodils next to the east side of my house are already up, and look like they've been up for several weeks already. This is unusually early.

But it's OK with me if spring holds off for another six weeks. I still have lots of work to do on my book before spring arrives, when I will need to spend all my time outside working nearly every day. My plant-filled sunroom has made winter so much more bearable -- even if I haven't been able to enjoy so many sunny days in it as I might have wished. But this next week's forecast calls for mostly sunny days, so I might not get much done....  :-)

Hope your winter is progressing well and that you are enjoying making plans for your own gardens this spring. Thanks for reading! -Beth

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