Monday, July 3, 2017

Happy 4th of July!

My patriotically-colored flower pot display in front of our porch. This is the first year these Agapanthus, which I have been overwintering for two years, have bloomed! I thought that they and the Cyperus papyrus looked like fireworks, and the red-white-and-blue pinwheels were fun to add to their pots. They compliment the white Petunias, red Alstroemeria and blue Plumbago. Festive fun!

Happy Fourth of July! I hope you are enjoying high summer in your gardens. There are many things blooming here, and the extreme heat of a few weeks ago has moderated a bit, so it's been nice to spend some time outside again enjoying summertime.

In my last post, I showed some Before and After photos that showed some pretty weedy, unkempt garden areas, before I eliminated them. I promised I'd only show nice, flower-filled areas in this next post, so here are a few flowery scenes:

Volunteer hollyhocks in the Front Border, with farm fields in the distance.

Bachelor buttons in our front yard.

The North Border at sunset.

Asiatic lilies in the North Border a couple weeks ago.

Orienpet lilies the other day, with Achillea and self-seeded cosmos.

Phlox, yarrow and lilies.

The Yellow Garden, newly downsized and improved.

The Yellow Garden bathed in golden sunlight.

Lilies and coneflowers in the Rainbow Border.

Little Kitty in the new Scented Garden around the East Patio. It's lovely to sit outside with a cup of tea and enjoy the fragrant flowers. I'll post more about this new area soon. 

A beautiful evening looking across the Herb Garden to the view that sold us this house. 

Hope you are enjoying flower-filled summer days in your own gardens, and that you enjoy the holiday (for those living in the U.S.).

Tomorrow we will attend the local parade and potluck picnic in the tiny unincorporated town a mile from us. It's not even actually a town, just a four-way stop with a dozen houses, and the event is organized each year by the residents themselves and funded by donations in a can. It's become well-attended over the years, by hundreds of people, a retired-folks brass band, and dozens of parade entries, mostly spiffed-up classic tractors, nearby farm businesses and, of course, led off by area fire trucks and an anthem. It's truly America at its best and most independent, and I love to go every year. Now what potluck dish to bring....?

Happy Independence Day!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Before & After

Hi everyone! Before you read any further, I have to warn you that some of the photos in this post aren't pretty. I'm showing garden areas that were such failures that I got rid of them. My hope is that the "After" photos will make up for the ugly "Before" pictures.


I'm sure all gardeners must do it: make too many garden areas to take care of, get totally overwhelmed, and need to reduce some that aren't working. I've been reducing this year, as I've showed in some of my last posts.

A couple of posts ago, I included a list of my 37 (!) garden areas, ranked from best to worst in terms of their beauty and ease of maintenance. Those that scored the worst were generally those farthest from my house, and this spring I eliminated or reduced a number of those areas.

Those downsized areas are shown below on a map of my gardens, marked with large numbers on the map:

I drew this map in 2014 (so it doesn't show two newer garden areas at the top of the map: the redesigned North Border, and the new Iris Border). I'll have to draw another map later this year, because the following areas have now been eliminated:

1. The bed around the gazebo 
2. Parts of the bed around the garden shed
3. The ends of the Rainbow Border
4. The bed around the LP tank
5. The large area behind my house next to the Yellow Garden
6. A bed we made around a Forsythia shrub next to our driveway.

Here are a few Before & After photos of five of the areas to show my progress (I'm still working on number six):

1. The planting bed around the Gazebo 

I almost never go out to the gazebo at the far south end of our property except when I'm mowing near it -- it's more of a feature to look at and only occasionally sit in. So grass and weeds crept in and took over the beds. I recently removed the plants and shrubs and moved them to other areas that needed more plants.

WAY BEFORE: It looked so nice and so easy to maintain back in 2014....
BEFORE: Aagh! By last August it was in shameful condition. The floor needed to be repainted and weeds and grass were taking over the planting bed.
AFTER: Much better. Gazebo floor painted and all the plants removed, except a honeysuckle
vine on the back side. The grass has continued to creep in from the lawn -- which is now a good
thing -- but we'll remove any weeds and seed more grass seed this fall. 

2. The bed around the Garden Shed

This bed was just too large. I made the bed in order to make it easier to mow around the shed and under the two trees next to the shed, and to dress up the rather plain shed with plantings. BUT, because I rarely saw the back side of the shed, weeds and tree seedlings took over back there.

WAY BEFORE: Nice and tidy back in early 2014, right? What could go wrong?

BEFORE: By August 2016 the hostas had filled in pretty well, but so had a fair number of weeds and volunteer trees. Also, the old pear tree has been ailing for a few years now and several limbs have died or fallen.

BEFORE: This disgraceful view of the other end of the shed shows just how bad the weeds became last year, especially at left, in the mulched area behind the shed.
AFTER: Last month I dug out the weeds from either side of the shed door and outlined more manageable small beds with edging strips. I'll leave them empty this year to spray any remaining Creeping Charlie that I didn't get, and plant the beds with a dense planting of perennials and annuals next spring. To the left of the shed, I dug out the tree seedlings from under the large tree and mowed off the weeds -- in early autumn we'll till and seed grass there.

The view from the other side of the garden shed shows how the shape of the bed has changed. From our house (from left), this bed doesn't look any smaller than before, but it will be much easier to maintain now that I have consolidated the hostas in the remaining bed.

3. The Rainbow Border

This border was too long and not densely planted enough. It was 70 feet long, too long to weed all in one session, so I usually gave up three-quarters of the way through. The far end was therefore a total mess of grass and weeds. I put the last 15 feet back to grass, and also eliminated another ten feet from the beginning end (the left).

BEFORE: This photo, also taken in 2014, shows the entire length of the Rainbow Border. 

AFTER: A long-distance view of the new, shortened Rainbow Border, with the ends removed. It's now probably only 50 feet long, instead of 70 feet -- a more manageable size. (There are a few gaps in the border due to problems last year with invasive perennials; I'll fill in those gaps this year and next spring.)

AFTER: The far end of the border, showing the large section seeded back to grass. This end is at least 15 feet shorter.

AFTER: Much more manageable.

4. The LP tank area

WAY BEFORE: In spring 2016, the magnolia and flowering almond looked pretty nice planted in this mulched area.  Our LP tank and a large willow shrub are to the right. I thought about planting a few patches of dark pink tulips to bloom here at the same time.

BEFORE: Aagh!! Because the bed is on a slope and the wood chip mulch washed off when it rained, it was hard to keep weeds from growing here later in the season, as shown last August. It may not look like it, but I weeded this area a number of times last year and my husband sprayed the area repeatedly, all to no avail. Too much work; it was time to go back to grass.

AFTER: After I dug out the flowering almond shrub, my husband sprayed, tilled and seeded grass here. Much better.

5. The bed behind the house

This is the largest area that I eliminated. I made this area into a garden bed in 2014 because the ground was settling over the old cellar that is beneath the square part of the bed and I scalped the grass every time I mowed it before. But I never really figured out what to plant there, besides hostas and daylilies, and, of course, weeds took over.

By last year, the cellar below the bed was leaking was leaking pretty badly and looked like it might collapse. Last fall we had someone with a backhoe scrape all the dirt off the top of it, seal it with flashing and tar, and re-cover it with soil. They leveled the soil, and I hope it will be easier and less scalp-ey to mow now that we have grassed it over again.

BEFORE: I wasn't sure what I should do with the back of my house -- the area is so ugly, with the A/C unit and at least seven vents of various sorts jutting out from the back wall. I tried to make it prettier with daylilies and hostas, but they only bloom for a short period, and then weeds took over. Back to grass. 
BEFORE: Another view, further down toward the Yellow Garden, at far right. Uggh.
AFTER: This spring, I dug out all the daylilies and hostas, and my husband seeded the area back to grass. I planted a narrow strip of hostas along the house to make mowing easier. This area is never going to be attractive, what with the AC unit and seven vents coming out of the wall -- maybe some day I'll think of something more attractive to plant against the house, but for now, the hostas will do.

(BTW, those hostas are practically indestructible: I dug them out last fall, but didn't know where to plant them, and I ended up leaving the clumps sitting by the side of my garage ALL WINTER -- we had -10°F in December -- and they sprouted this spring and look great a month after planting them. Now that's a tough plant!)

AFTER: Much easier to maintain. 

I feel much better now that I have mostly finished these downsizing projects -- I'm thinking I might eliminate one more area this autumn, but otherwise I will see how much work it is to maintain my remaining gardens for the next year or so. Next summer I can decide whether there are any additional garden areas that I would be better off without.

It's so easy to bite off more than we can chew, but having reduced some areas is allowing me to focus more on the areas that are successful, and make them even better.

Thanks for reading -- I know the photos were hideous and the stories of failure and laziness were hardly inspiring. I appreciate that you read it!

Next time I'll show some pretty flowers and some of my most successful areas, I promise! -Beth

Friday, June 9, 2017

Early June Flowers

The Pond Gardens.

Hello! Early June is such a lovely time in Iowa gardens, and we've been having some nice weather for the past several days, after a few very hot days last weekend -- around 95°F / 35°C -- and more of the same heat predicted for the entire next week. Time to turn on the air conditioner for the first time this year.

I'm continuing to work on the many garden improvements that I've been doing this year, but I'm also trying to take time to enjoy some of the nice moments in my gardens, now that the peonies and iris are finished, and the time of roses is in full swing.

I was able to take a few shots of my gardens:

I finished trimming the boxwood hedges in the Herb Garden with my new cordless battery-powered hedge trimmer. Last year I cut through an extension cord, despite my constant efforts to avoid doing so, and that was the last straw for me. My new trimmer is lightweight, much easier to use, and runs for quite a while before needing to be recharged.

'Blaze' on my garden shed. This is the best it's looked yet since I planted it a few years ago.

'Blueberry Hill' rose and lupines against the tractor shed.

Clematis and Ornithogalum magnum in the White Garden.

Kniphofia, Achillea, Salvia and lilies (plus a hidden garden ornament) in the Addition Front Border.

Mock Orange (with a wonderful scent), with the Kitchen Garden, chicken shed and farm fields beyond.

Hope your own gardens are brimming with flowers as High Summer begins. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Friday, May 26, 2017

Late May Consolidation and Improvement

The Pond Gardens, with 'Prairie Breeze' Buck roses, 'Sweetness' dianthus and water lilies not quite open in the pond.

Greetings from late May! We've had some cool, rainy days, which has been great for the grass we've seeded to reduce the size of some our garden beds, but there have still been enough nicer days that I've been able to continue with my progress on downsizing and improving our gardens.

Last year, a number of my gardens were weedy and horrible looking -- I won't torture you with photos... This year I've been trying to get things under control. The first part of doing so has been to reduce the number and size of our garden areas.

Being a former financial analyst, last week I made a spreadsheet to evaluate all the garden areas that we have on our property (we quant nerds feel better when we do things like this). I came up with 37 garden areas -- not just individual beds, but areas -- like the Pond Gardens above are one area. Clearly that is too many for non-retired people like us to maintain.

I then rated each area on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being best, 1 worst), in terms of:

  1. beauty
  2. importance to the overall design of our property and gardens
  3. ease of maintenance
  4. current state of maintenance

I then averaged the scores to an Overall Satisfaction score and ranked them from best to worst.

My Garden Areas spreadsheet, listing our 37 garden areas, rated from best to worst. The areas farthest from our house generally fared the worst, as those are easiest to forget about and allow weeds to take over. The closer areas have been more closely looked after and improved each year.

The scores show that the areas that I had already decided to reduce or eliminate should indeed be reduced or eliminated. In fact, I've already gotten rid of, downsized, or re-designed (or am in the process of doing so) nearly all of the red-letter, worst areas at the bottom of the chart.

The second part of getting the garden under control has been to consolidate and more densely plant the remaining areas. The problem with some of the worst areas was that there weren't enough desirable plants planted closely enough, so weeds were able to take over. I have been moving plants from eliminated areas to the reduced areas, to plant more densely.

The third step has been to try to reduce the encroaching of weeds and grass, through border edging barriers and mulch. This makes for less work every year.

Here's a few of the newly re-designed areas:

The downsized and consolidated Yellow Garden, with new grass filling in the eliminated area. It is planted much more densely now, particularly in the shadier part near the house. I have added many plants this year and last year, and most clumps have increased in size to fill in. I think I will replace the yellow irises that have flopped over with shorter varieties after they are done flowering. I  will also install a metal edge around the garden to keep grass from growing into the bed.

The shortened Rainbow Border, with the colors mixed up and no longer in a strict rainbow progression, and more densely planted with generous clumps that will fill in to crowd out weeds.

This is the west side of our garage, which last year was a mess of daylilies and numerous weeds,
growing in a heavy clay soil. I dug out the daylilies and sprayed the weeds, then put a thick layer
of compost on top to make weeding easier and improve the soil. Then I planted about 50 boxwoods
that were planted around our garden shed, which is another area I'm reducing and consolidating.
I had bought these as extras in case I ever needed more boxwoods, as I'm worried about future
boxwood blight. The disease hasn't  yet reached Iowa, but I have no doubt it will before long,
and I don't want to order any more because it has been found in a number of other states.
At some point I might trim these randomly spaced boxwoods into shapes such as balls or cones
as they grow in size, and perhaps add a few clumps of ornamental grass for contrast in texture.

So the garden areas are slowly improving, and will, with any luck, be easier to maintain in future. Enough with hard work -- here are a few scenes from around the gardens:

My new iris garden has been flowering for the past few weeks:

With farmey scenery....

Showing the painted daisies, allums and peonies I planted with the irises.

Poppies in the center of the bed aren't blooming here quite yet. I will move some of the taller irises that flopped outward to the middle and move some shorter ones to the edges, to make the views better.

The water lilies are really blooming well this year, perhaps the best ever yet.

I close-up of the poppies just starting to bloom in the Rainbow Border.

Some pots in bloom in my new Scented Garden area around the East Patio. The large pots in back are jasmine and star jasmine just beginning to bloom, and lemon verbena.  The purple petunia on the table is a highly scented Wave petunia (only that color is so strongly scented, I've found.
And speaking of pots, I potted up these two pots of agapanthus at least two years ago, and yet they had never bloomed despite my wintering them in my basement during two winters. I had just decided last week to chuck them out and use the pots for something productive, and this week (of course!) I noticed that they had Finally sent up bloom stalks! I know these are grown in England and California quite commonly, but I've never seen anyone around here grow them, so I thought I'd give them a try when I saw the bulbs sold in a local big box store. Finally, the results I've been waiting for! Who says gardeners aren't patient?

And one more potted success: I didn't grow these beautiful pansies myself, but I did start the stocks (Matthiola) from seed back in mid-December in my sunroom, and they have finally begun to flower! (These "ten-week stocks" didn't exactly live up to their name, but then again I probably didn't provide optimal light and growing conditions either.) Stocks are one of my favorite flowers with their wonderful scent, and I feel quite happy that I was able to grow them myself.

Hope you are enjoying some successes and progress in your own gardens this month, and that you will enjoy lovely weather and plants flowering madly during the month of June. Thanks for reading! -Beth