It's good to be back! After a month away to focus on other things -- taking a mental break from gardening, working on my new research/writing project (a book about Iowa garden history), and the last two weeks of preparing for Christmas -- I'm glad to be back writing this blog, thinking about gardening and catching up on what others have been doing.
It's hard to believe that another Christmas is over -- the last of the family staying with us left our house this afternoon, and the weather was so warm, I actually worked outside in the gardens for a little while today -- not something I ever remember doing in late December before. After an unusually cold November, most of December has been quite mild, and the last few days have seen temperatures in the 50s, with no snow on the totally non-frozen ground. It's like we have English weather this month. We had not a white Christmas, but a brown one this year -- and I liked it!
Yesterday when I was outside, I noticed a disconcertingly large amount of grass growing into my front border, and it was so nice outside today that I got out the gardening clothes that I had put away for the year and worked outside, pulling out most of the grass. I feel better now, knowing that it won't be taunting me every time I walk past it during the whole winter (which still lies ahead....).
I also cleared out a spot right next to our house on the east side of it, and prepared the ground for planting early cool-season annuals like sweet peas there. I was inspired to do this by reading my new book that I received as a Christmas present:
|This was my most useful Christmas present!|
"Cool Flowers" was published in October by Lisa Mason Ziegler, a cut-flower gardener in Virginia. Even though she gardens in a warmer zone (Zone 7) than I do (Zone 5), she has included advice for colder-winter gardeners in her book, and I think her advice might be sound for Iowa. The book describes how to grow annuals that like cooler weather, like sweet peas, which I've never had any luck with in the past.
After reading "Cool Flowers," I realize that the problem was that I never planted them early enough. Unlike in England and the west coast, Iowa spring weather moves from frozen ground to summer heat in a relatively short period, so the cool weather period that sweet peas thrive in is limited.
Gardeners in mild winter areas can plant sweet peas in fall, but that won't work here. The trick in cold-winter areas (like Iowa) is to plant earlier in spring than we're used to planting things. When midwesterners think of annuals, we think of petunias, zinnias and other warm-season annuals, which cannot be planted until after the last expected frost date, (about May 10 here). But cool season annuals are different.
To be able grow sweet peas, I now know that I must start them in February (inside) or March (sowed outside), protect them a bit near the house until April, and shelter them from the hot western sun of early summer. With any luck, by doing this I will have them blooming in April, May and possibly June.
"Cool Flowers" also describes other flowers that tolerate light frost, about 30 different varieties in all, and relates how to grow each kind. These include flowers that I would like to try such as Canterbury Bells, godetia, lisianthus and Iceland poppies, as well as ones I've grown with success like snapdragons (one of my favorite flowers, and gloriously pictured on the book's cover), bachelor buttons and Bells of Ireland.
I'm looking forward to having something to do in late winter and early spring, and I'm curious to see if this method works.
Anyway, it's nice to be back, and I'll try to post and read your own blogs at least once a week until spring, when I will again aim for posting twice a week.
Hope you too had a wonderful holiday with family and friends. Thanks for reading! -Beth