Sunday, September 11, 2016

Back to the Garden

It's hard to see in this photo, but these zinnias are covered with butterflies flitting about in the sunshine. :-)


It's been ages since I posted anything about my gardens. I've been so preoccupied about my sunroom project (it can be seen behind the zinnias in the photo above), plus it's been so hot, the weeds had taken over, and several areas need major changes. For all those reasons, I haven't posted any garden photos since June....

But now that the weather has been cooling off a bit, I've been able to resume battling the weeds and tackling a few projects outside, as well as to enjoy being outside among the many pretty annual flowers that I have planted this year. This is truly the time for annuals to shine in the garden.

Here are a few photos from the past few weeks:

Our East Patio, with humongous coleus in front. I had no idea they got so big, as it's the first time I've ever planted these. They were such baby things in their six-packs in May, but now the bigger ones are crowding out the ones that didn't grow as quickly. I like the colors in this mix, and I think I''ll use these in other garden areas in the future (those limey-yellow ones would look great in my Yellow Garden...).

Another annual I had never planted before were these Star Gladiolus. I found the corms at
Lowe's this spring and I'll definitely be digging and saving these over winter. They have a lovely
scent and a delicate habit unlike the more common kind of gladiolus (which I also have
grown with success for magnificent cutting flowers this summer ).

Here's the cutting garden in mid-summer, with the bed I made for growing the normal sort of gladiolus for cutting. I wired a piece of hog panel to some stakes to keep them from flopping over like they did last year and it worked quite well. I think I'll plant even more of these next year, perhaps a whole other bed of them, as they were truly magnificent inside the house.


The Yellow Garden gets more gold as summer progresses. Earlier in the year the yellows tend to be a bit lighter in color. I think I'm going to make a few changes in this garden area next spring.

The North Border, with Zinnias, cosmos and phlox, plus some short dahlias
that I started from seed this spring (which I had never done before). 

Water lilies in the pond. They've bloomed quite a bit this summer.

It's been a good year for impatiens, unlike some years lately with the impatiens blight going around. These seem pretty happy in the window box on my garage.

Another annual that I tried for the first time this year were these Gomphrena, which I started from seed. I love their little ball-shaped heads. I think I'll use more of these next year. 

And one more new annual for me this year were these Balsam, which are related to impatiens, but much taller (you can't tell in this photo, but they are about three feet tall). Apparently these used to be very popular in Victorian times, but fell out of favor during the 20th century. I like them and will certainly save seeds to plant them again next year.

One resolution for this year was to try more annuals that I hadn't planted before, especially ones that are less common. I'm so glad that I did -- many of them have been wonderful flowers. Next year I think I'll try growing even more new annuals. I'm sure there are so many I'll never run out of new kinds to try!

Hope your own gardens are still flowering strongly as we go into autumn. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sunroom Final Progress Report: Plants and Furnishings




Hello! I've spent the past week doing the fun part of making my new sunroom: beginning to fill it with plants and furnishings.

As you may recall from my earlier posts, it's long been my dream to have a conservatory or sunroom, a sunny room filled with lush, green plants in which I can try to forget that it's winter here in Iowa. In June, after much planning, my builder began work enclosing the front porch of my 1924 four-square farmhouse. The project was done by the end of the first week in August, when I had finished painting the interior and the floor. Here are the earlier posts about the sunroom planning and construction, if you missed them:

Winter Sunroom Dreams (last November)
Sunroom Progress Report #1 (June 29)
Sunroom Progress Report (Construction Finished!) (my last post)

I've moved some initial furnishings and plants into the space, although there will be more of both as we get closer to our first frost. I had most of the plants, furniture and plant stands already, so I didn't have to get much more, with the exception of the wicker sofa.

A tour of the (somewhat) finished project, starting at the sliding glass door end of the room:

Looking in the other direction from the first photo. At forefront is circular plant staging steps, with a small breakfast/tea table behind, and a shady corner next to the sliding glass door at the end of the room.


A closeup of the shady corner. I moved the Smurf terrarium that I made last winter to this
corner, so that it won't overheat, although I think I might look for a taller side table to put it on.
I found the tiered plant stand for $5 at the local Master Garden plant sale in May, and it looks
spiffed up after three coats of white paint.

In the middle of the room, on the other side of the small breakfast/tea table, are four quarter-round plant steps that I found at Aldi (my Absolute Favorite Store!) this spring for about a quarter of the price they're sold for online. I had long lusted over the Victorian wrought-iron versions of these found in decrepit English conservatories, but this new version is just fine. Note the Pineapple Plant with a baby pineapple fruit on top -- I found it at Walmart (of all places!) last week and simply had to have it after reading last winter about how it was to grow pineapples and citrus that conservatories (and indoor stove heating) were developed, and how exorbitantly expensive it was to raise them in Victorian England. Yet Walmart can now sell them to the masses (including lucky me!). What an amazing age we live in.

My favorite area of our new room: the comfy new sofa surrounded by larger plants. I had most of the plants already, but found the oversize Cat Palm and huge Macho Fern ($4!) that are behind the sofa for half off at Lowe's last week. And one of the things I miss most during our months of brown and straw-colored winter is green grass, so I found some putting green, indoor/outdoor carpet that's like a thick felt. It's washable and very soft underfoot -- both our son and our cat fell asleep on it the first evening that I rolled it out. :-)


As the weather starts to cool off next month, I'll begin bringing in some more of the many tropical and temperate potted plants like jasmine, hibiscus, pelargoniums, etc. that are outside on our patio (minus insects, with luck). Some of them I'll store in the basement under florescent lights like I do each winter, but some might look nice in here.

Also, I'll bring in a couple of the wicker chairs and the green porcelain garden stool that are currently outdoors, so that we can use the chairs at the breakfast/tea table and/or in the seating area. Even though it's been pretty warm in the room during the past week or so, I can't tell you how lovely it is to sit or lie on the sofa in there, surrounded by green, growing plants -- my Winter Garden. We're thinking of putting our Christmas tree in here this year -- won't it look lovely from outside, lit up by strands of twinkling lights through the windows?

I hope the room will stay warm enough for plants during the frigid temperatures of January and February -- the baseboard heater manufacturer assured me that the three units should be more than enough, even with all the windows, and we did have closed-cell foam insulation blown in to seal and insulate the floor, ceiling and walls under the windows. I guess we'll just have to wait and see....

Anyway, hope you are enjoying your late summer gardens in your part of the world. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Sunroom Progress Report (Construction Finished!)



Aaggh! I can't believe I haven't posted since the end of June. Six weeks! It's back to school time already (we started our new homeschooling year this week). Where has the summer gone?

The big news is that my sunroom project is finished being constructed! The photo above shows the finished project.

If you read my first Sunroom Progress Report that I posted at the end of June, you might remember that my front porch was open, and that big changes had been made since the start of construction in mid-June. Here's a brief recap:

BEFORE: June 13th.

June 21st. Walls and ceiling framed

June 28th. This is what it looked like at the end of June, when I last posted. The ceiling and walls were insulated and sealed with spray foam, and the windows had been installed. The sliding glass door was put in a few days later.

In any construction project, as most of you undoubtedly know, the changes come quickly and are very exciting in the first few weeks of construction. Then the detail and finishing work has to be done, and it seems like the pace slows to almost a standstill (and sometimes does come to a standstill if any temporary issues come up). We were lucky that we didn't have any big issues, but a few minor ones occurred that took a bit of extra time to deal with.

But things did keep moving. here are a few highlights of the continuing progress since my last post:


By July 12, the ceiling had been covered with beadboard, the small areas of wall had been drywalled and the windows were being framed in. I asked my builder for extra-deep window sills that I could put plants on.
By July 27th, the interior was largely finished and the builder moved outside to finish the exterior.

While the builder was working outside, I painted the interior during the last week of July and the first week of August.

Finally, the electrician came back last Friday, August 5, to install the lights, fan, baseboard heaters and thermostat. I then painted a couple coats of light gray paint on the floor on this past weekend. Look at all that sunlight!
The finished exterior. We desperately need to have the rest of our house exterior painted, and I need to re-paint the front steps, but at least the new sunroom has good paint coverage.

We decided to leave the front steps and railings that now lead to nowhere because we thought it might look boring without them. I'm thinking I can put plants on them next spring and summer -- I've always wanted one of the fancy "auricula theatres" that are making a comeback in Britain, although it's too hot for primroses to grow very well here, so I think perhaps I might try a few pelargoniums (non-hardy geraniums) in pots arranged on those front steps. And perhaps I'll grow clematis on the rails, and maybe on the front porch columns too.

Now all that remains is furnishing my new sunroom -- the fun part! I've been waiting for the floor paint to thoroughly dry, but in the next few days I'll begin filling the room with my many plants that are stuffed throughout the house and outside, and perhaps I'll buy a few more -- I think I need a big palm tree....

As for furniture, I've ordered a wicker sofa that I need to pick up, and I can add a few wicker chairs that I already have, plus some colorful tropical cushions and a carpet of some sort. I'll also put a small table and chairs at the end near the sliding door, so we can have breakfast or tea in there on sunny days.

I have wanted a sunroom or conservatory for many years, and now I'm almost looking forward to this winter! :-)  Well, perhaps I won't dread the idea so much as usual. Seriously, it's been so hot here in Iowa this summer that we haven't turned off our air conditioner since mid-June. It's been so unpleasant outside that I've scarcely been able to keep the grass mowed, let alone keep my too many garden beds weeded. (I'm thinking I need to reduce the number of gardens areas that I maintain -- but that's the subject for another post). I certainly am looking forward to the weather cooling down as we get closer to September.

I guess that's why I haven't posted in so long, because not many of my garden areas have looked that great this summer -- but there were a few exceptions, and I'll post again in the next week or so with some updates on those.

And I look forward to catching up with your posts too. Thanks for reading! -Beth