Sunday, April 23, 2017

Mid-April: The gardening season begins!

Cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C.

Greetings! After returning from a wonderful trip with my family to Washington, D.C. and Colonial Williamsburg, I'm back in my gardens, starting to make some of the many changes that I have been planning since last fall. While in D.C. and Virginia, I was able to visit many beautiful gardens:

  • Williamsburg's numerous Colonial-style formal gardens
  • several Smithsonian Museum gardens
  • the iconic cherry blossoms planted around the tidal pool in D.C.
  • the U.S. Botanic Garden's magnificent conservatory
  • the reconstructed gardens of George Washington at Mount Vernon
  • and the stylish gardens designed by Beatrix Farrand at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown. 
I took many photos and got a number of ideas, and have returned inspired to work in my own gardens.

Being away for the first ten days of April, I could really see a difference in my gardens when I returned -- spring had sprung while we were gone! I'll share a few scenes from what's been happening around here in the last couple of weeks in this post, and show some of the areas I'm working on.

One area that has looked good is the early spring bulb border I planted a couple of years ago in front of our house:

Tulips, daffodils, and grape hyacinths in the early spring bulb border.

From the other direction, showing the crown imperial fritillaria and basket-of-gold. For some reason my fritillaria are only about two feet tall, when I know they're supposed to be 3-4 feet in height. Does anyone else have this issue?

Fritillaria michailovskyi, a much shorter fritillaria.

Tulips, hyacinths, grape hyacinths and alliums coming up in my front border. I completely re-did this border last year, after problems with invasive (so-called) obedient plant. I'll mostly plant bulbs and annuals here for a while.

There are a number of nice things blooming in other areas of my gardens now, but there are also some areas that don't look so great because I've been digging and transplanting things in them, as well as downsizing several areas.

I'm redoing my east patio garden beds. I plan to make a scented garden area, with mostly plants that smell nice (and hopefully look good too). 

A few days later, after everything has been sprayed and then cleared out of the left two beds. I'll wait a couple of weeks, have my husband spray any weeds that come up once more (we have a real problem with runner grass and creeping charlie in many of our beds that I'm trying to get a handle on -- I'm thinking of installing deep metal edging around the beds to try to keep it out). Then I'll start planting the many scented shrubs, perennials, annuals and bulbs that I have been planning for this area.

I reduced the length of my Rainbow Border, to make it easier to maintain, and I've been moving the plants around to fill in the space more closely so that weeds have less room to get started.

Another view of the end of the Rainbow Border, showing the removed area. I'll install the edging bricks properly in the next week or two.

I did the same thing with the Yellow Garden, reducing the size to make it easier to care for and planting more densely. The extra stepping stones have since been moved to another area.

Another view of the back (north) side of our house, showing the large area that has been removed and seeding with grass. I'll leave a narrow bed against the house to make mowing easier.

The past two weeks since we returned from our trip has been an orgy of digging and moving plants around for me. It's hard work but it's also very satisfying, because I've been planning these changes since last year and thinking about them all winter, so it's great to finally be able to start doing them. There are still numerous projects I want to do, but I just need to keep working on them little by little before it gets too hot to move plants (or to move myself, for that matter).

Hope you are enjoying a lovely spring and getting a good start on your own gardening projects this year. Thanks for reading!  -Beth

Friday, March 17, 2017

March: Both Spring and Winter at the Same Time

Hello, everyone! It's Mid-March now, and spring seems tantalizingly near. This March has been a mix of early spring and winter returning. February was unusually warm, as was the first week of March. A number of early spring flowers bloomed ahead of schedule in my gardens:

These rock garden iris on the south side of my house were the earliest thing to bloom here, in the last week of February.

These daffodils against the east side of my house
are always the first daffs to bloom.

Winter aconites are popping out near a large tree in my back yard.

But in the last week or so, we had one day where the temperature reached the low 70s, followed by an intense hailstorm, with 1&1/2-inch hail stones. This was followed a few days later by high winds that blew several shingles off of our garage roof. The insurance adjuster was out here yesterday, and said the roofs of our house, garage, two sheds and gazebo were all damaged.


After a few more days of nice weather, snow arrived on Monday, followed by cold temps as low as 12°F, which cut short a few blooms outside:

The white stuff....

But the snow mostly melted by Friday (today). I even worked outside in today's sunny 60° temps.

Here's a project I wanted to get done, adding edging bricks to this bed in front of my garage. Grass keeps creeping in, and I'm hoping this will help.

Seed Starting

But mostly I've been working with starting flower seeds indoors (where the weather extremes don't make much difference), and taking care of the many tropical plants growing in my sunroom:

First I start the seeds on this shelf, on a heat mat.

Then the seedlings get a spot right in front of the south-facing sunny windows in my sunroom. The large pot at right, and the five square pots at left, are sweet peas in various stages of growing indoors.

My orange tree, which was attacked by some sort of fungal problem in January, seems recovered enough to flower with heavenly-scented tiny flowers, which I take to be a good sign. I've just been trying to keep it alive until I can put it outside in May, so this is encouraging.
Having a Winter Garden keeps me happy, even when snow, hail and high winds wreak havoc outside.

Warm weather followed by cold isn't just ruining a few of my own flowers: We're headed to Washington, D.C. in a couple of weeks, a trip which I scheduled for this time of year specifically in order to see the famed Cherry Blossom Festival trees. Alas, most of the cherry trees bloomed several weeks ahead of schedule, and now they have been ruined by the ice storm that hit the Northeast this past week. But some of the trees may still be blooming when we go though, just not the well-known Yoshino trees. I'm sure there will be other beautiful things to see in Washington's many gardens: Mount Vernon, Dumbarton Oaks, the Smithsonian Gardens, the US Botanic Garden and also in Colonial Williamsburg's many small gardens, which I am hoping to see.

I hope your own gardens are weathering the... weather, and that spring will henceforth come in more like a lamb than a lion, in all our gardens. Thanks for reading! -Beth

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