Saturday, July 21, 2018

Rain and glorious roses -- and Japanese Beetles!

A deep pink rose (possibly Buck rose 'Hi Neighbor') planted with dianthus in my Paradise Garden.

Hello! The good news this week is that we've finally gotten some significant rain, after a month of zero rainfall. Thursday we got more than two inches, which, with the 3/4" we got a few days before, means we're back to normal precipitation for this time of year. A great relief -- I don't even have to water my numerous potted plants for a couple of days!

Everything looks fresh and green after the rain, and we've been enjoying lovely roses, lilies and other flowers the past few weeks. Here's a selection:

'The Fawn' rose and pink flowering tobacco against my front porch, on the edge of the Paradise Garden.

Another rose. I've moved my roses around so many times that I'm afraid I can't identify this one, despite efforts to keep track of them when moving them. This is probably a a Griffith Buck rose though.

The bubbling fountain with orange marigolds in the Paradise Garden.

But all is not perfect in my Paradise Garden.... we've been INVADED! Yes, by the same Japanese Beetles that have been wreaking increasing havoc in the Midwest in recent years. They've been observed in the United States for more than a century, but have been present in Iowa for only the past decade -- and last year was the worst infestation of them on record. I don't know how this year compares scientifically yet, but by my own observation and the many news stories appearing across the Midwest such as "The bug that ate Omaha," I'd say that they're pretty prevalent this summer.

They've clustered on my roses, devouring the flowers and leaving the leaves as skeletonized webs. They've done the same to our lovely hollyhocks, and even chawed down on marigold flowers and foliage (I'm quite surprised any insect likes such strongly-scented foliage).

Six or eight years ago, I treated our lawn with milky spore powder (a bacterium that is toxic to JB grubs), but I'm not sure that it has done much to help, since I still see plenty of grubs (one of the stages of Japanese Beetle life) under our turf in the areas I treated. But other than that effort, I've done little to battle them, mostly trying to ignore them and the damage they leave in their wake.

Until now.

This is only one Japanese Beetle -- usually a rose is covered in a large cluster of the buggers.
Puppy knows there are moles under our lawn, and the moles are there because they like to eat the JB grubs. This part of our lawn isn't too chewed up yet, compared to some other areas that I'll spare you from seeing.

Until now I've mostly tried to ignore the JBs, but last week I decided that, now that most of my two dozen or so rose plants have been moved to my Paradise Garden right next to the house and I can see how much damage the Japanese Beetles are causing, that it's just not acceptable if I can do something about it. It's not just the ugly clusters of beetles covering my rose flowers, but the unsightly skeletonized leaves of the roses bushes and hollyhocks. Enough.

My strategy is a four-pronged one:

1. Every evening when the JBs have settled down on my plants and are less likely to buzz around, I walk around with a container of warm soapy water and a butter knife. I use the knife to knock off as many JBs into the container as I can find (some evenings I've done away with 100+ of them). I've been doing this for about a week now, and I'm certainly seeing a lot fewer of them than when I started. It could be that their active phase, usually only 6-8 weeks, is nearly at an end, or perhaps the big rain we got the other day knocked them all to the ground (where they are busy laying their dastardly eggs...), or because of the cooler weather we're enjoying after the rain. Removing them by hand does help though, because when feeding on plants the JBs emit a pheromone that attracts even more beetles to the plant -- each one you remove prevents several more from being attracted to the same plant. It's important not to squish them though, because that releases even more pheromones. (And it would have been better if I'd started doing this as soon as they first started appearing -- but it wasn't until last week that I'd had enough of them.)

2. I sprayed an organic pyrethrin-based insecticide on my roses, hollyhocks and marigolds. I did this at dusk, after the bees go to sleep, to avoid harming them (there is no residual effect on bees, but it can harm them if they visit just-sprayed plants, so late dusk is the safest time to do this).

3. I am planning to treat my lawn for grubs in the next month, to try to knock back the future numbers of JBs, as well as reduce the mole (and dog) damage to our lawn. Because there are no neighboring lawns near me (my property is surrounded by corn fields) this may be more effective than for gardens in cities or towns.

4. I may try another milky spore treatment of my lawn, for the same reason.

Next summer, I will keep my eye out and start the soapy water treatment as soon as I see the first JBs, to get a good start on them before they attract large numbers. 

I may be fooling myself into thinking that I can do anything to eliminate this serious pest, but even if I can reduce their damage by 50% or so, that's still something, especially in my Paradise Garden, in which roses are one of the starring plants.

But enough about the Japanese Beetle scourge -- luckily, they don't seem to have developed a taste for many other flowers (yet...). Here are a few others:

We haven't yet had to deal with the dreaded Lily Beetles that have ruined these amazing plants for our British gardening friends (and I pray that we won't have to for some time yet). They sure are looking nice this time of year, and smell wonderful.

After my potted jasmine plant (Jasminum sambac) died this spring, I was on the lookout for a replacement. I found two -- a regular single-flowered form like I had, as well as this new double-flowered one, 'Summer Soul." A wonderful scent....

I'm never failed to be amazed by the size of the flowers on hardy hibiscus plants -- they really do look tropical!

A pelargonium I ordered for the first time this year called Geranium 'Appleblossom Rosebud,' an older heirloom variety, c1870, that is said to have been Queen Victoria's favorite geranium. If the story's true, I can see why.

It looks like we'll be enjoying cooler weather here for the next week or so, which is a relief after our usual summer heat. It's been pleasant to work outside, and I've actually been able to keep reasonably on top of the weeds this week, which is a great improvement over last year's weed-fest, and makes me feel a lot better about my gardens in general.

Hope you are enjoying beautiful weather and adequate rain, and that your gardens are not too terribly plagued by pests of any sort. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Mid-July Scenes

An unidentified (but beautiful) pink rose in the Paradise Garden.

Greetings from the peak of summer! We finally got a bit rain last night after nearly a month without any at all -- which is strange, because other parts of Iowa have had so much rain that they have suffered serious floods. The forecast calls for a few more rainy days next week, so I hope we're getting back to normal amounts of precipitation and not heading into a drought.

It's been a couple of weeks since I have been able to post, mostly because I bought a new computer last weekend (the old one was making ominous grinding noises that I don't think were merely coming from a clogged fan). It's taken nearly a week to get my files transferred and software installed -- and I still haven't been able to successfully install Photoshop, which I used to edit my photos, despite a number of tries and much time wasted chatting with Adobe help.

But apparently Microsoft's photo editor can do basic editing (and is quite easy and quick to use as well), so that's what I've used for this post. I hope the photos will look OK.

Anyway, I wanted to share a few pictures of what's been looking nice around here, especially an update of what's been happening in my new Paradise Garden:

The Paradise Garden at dusk, when this garden is most beautiful and inviting.

The plants are starting to fill in a bit, especially the annuals and dahlias.

Vibrant colors of Wave petunias, marigolds and dahlias.

I've been impressed by the growth rate and rapid bloom of this bush-type dahlia 'Jaipur'. 

The Persian carpet colors of the annuals were a big part of my design for this exotic garden.

Exotic fruits are another key feature of this garden. I'm so excited that there are figs on my new fig tree! (Chicago Hardy)

Orien-pet lilies and pink flowering tobacco, each one vying with the other to release the most intoxicating scents in the evenings. These are planted against the front porch/sunroom, on the edge of the Paradise Garden.

Yellow orien-pet lilies in my front border, on the outside of the fence. I moved these here in May, which I worried wasn't a good time to do so, but they don't seem to have minded in the least, except for being a bit shorter than last year.

Around the corner on yet another side of the fence is this Rose of Sharon
that I planted about six years ago. It's never looked as good as it does this year.
One of my favorite self-seeding annuals, snapdragons -- I'm never sorry to see these popping up anywhere
in my gardens!

Every year, I usually experience a period of blahs during July, probably due to the days starting to become shorter -- I know I'm not the only gardener to feel this. Also, most of my planned garden projects are usually wrapped up by this time, and often it's too hot and muggy outside to do much of anything anyway (and weeds tend to take over during such periods, which is discouraging too).

But we're predicted to have a few cooler days this coming week, and I still have some small projects that I want to get done this year, so maybe I'll be able to work on a few this week.

And I feel pretty good about the improvements that I've made to my gardens this year, so this July seems like it's OK. Hard to believe back-to-school is just around the corner already, but that happens every summer (and undoubtedly feels much worse for kids!).

Hope you are enjoying a few cool days during the height of summer, and that your own gardens are filled with beautiful flowers and foliage. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Friday, June 29, 2018

Our new pergola!

Greetings! I hope you are all enjoying the official first week of summer and that it's not too hot either -- it reached 96°F here today, but until today it's been actually quite pleasant, with temperatures in the 80s.

My big news is that my final major improvement project of this year in my gardens is finished: A new pergola covering our east patio!

For at least five years, I've thought about having a pergola built over the patio -- it almost seems like the patio was designed specifically for one, the way it's laid out with beds all around it. But we never got around to it.

Then two years ago, enclosing our front porch into a sunroom eliminated our only shady outdoor place to sit. Last summer I tried solving the shade problem by buying a patio umbrella, but it never seemed to cast shade in the right place when we needed it, and it was pretty ugly, held down by sandbags to keep it from blowing over.

The patio umbrella was not very useful or attractive.... 

In early May this year, my husband's family came to our place for a visit. Most of his relatives wanted to walk around our gardens, but his elderly mother was too tired to accompany us. Sadly, there was no place for her to sit and rest in the shade, so she had to stay inside our house while we walked around. Time to finally do something about this unsatisfactory arrangement!

My husband and I had just built a very small pergola for my new Paradise Garden together, so I felt confident that I could design and build (with my handyman's help) a larger, more complex version over the patio.

The much smaller pergola in my Paradise Garden, which gave me the confidence to build a larger version.

Step 1: Design the pergola on paper (based on standard designs), estimate and buy lumber, and have it delivered.

Step 2: Prime, paint, and paint again.

Step 3: Dig four 4-foot-deep post holes, using an ancient manual auger I borrowed from our neighbor -- actually, I made my kids dig these holes, even though the 3-foot holes I dug for the smaller pergola were fairly easy to dig.

Then I had to wait for my handyman to schedule a couple of free days to help me. He finally came over last week:

  1. First he used a jigsaw to cut the ends of the lumber the way I wanted.
  2. Then together we carried the 12-foot-long, 6x6 posts (about 170 pounds each!) from the garage to the patio and put them into the post holes.
  3. He mixed up concrete in our wheelbarrow and dumped it into the four holes.
  4. We carried the four, 20-foot-long main support beams and each climbed up on a ladder and rested them on temporary support nails that he had driven in at a level height, and he attached the beams on either side of the posts.
  5. I carried all the rest of the lumber from the garage and handed it up to him piece by piece to install on top.
  6. Finally, I primed and re-painted the cut ends of the boards, and replaced some of the topsoil back into the post holes.

The Finished Project! (Except for the treated wood posts, which need to wait until fall for paint.)

The table and chairs I got last year now look more sheltered.

I planted a wisteria 'Amethyst Falls' on the southeast post, and will plant clematis
on the other posts.

I think the pergola balances the house within the fence, and will look even better after I paint the posts.

A good addition, all in all.

I will need to re-do the formerly full-sun beds around the pergola as they become shady in the next few years when the wisteria does what wisterias do, but I think I'll wait until next spring to move things around. I did find three 'Twist-and-Shout' hydrangeas on final closeout last weekend, and planted them next to the fence, under the pergola -- I hope they'll be happy there, as I've never had any luck getting hydrangeas to overwinter....

Anyway, that's my final big project of this year, and I hope we will soon have a nice, shady spot for our family and guests to relax.

Hope your own projects are winding up, and that you are enjoying your gardens from comfortable, shady spots. Thanks for reading! -Beth