Sunday, May 14, 2017

Early May -- Making Progress!

My new Scented Garden around the east patio.

Does anyone else notice that early May has a shortage of blooms? At least in my gardens, the spring bulb excitement is usually done by the first week of May, but most of the irises and the peonies aren't open yet and the crescendo of roses and other summer flowers is still weeks away. And everything that does bloom in early May seems to be purple -- alliums, the early purple iris that were here when I moved here and the Dame's Rocket that has seeded around so obligingly. I probably need to plant some late tulips and some more early irises in a range of colors.

It's been pretty hot here in Iowa, with temperatures in the 80s recently (spring? what's that? Iowa has late winter followed by early summer), but it feels nice to be done with winter and work outside in the evenings. I've been slowly making some progress on the changes I've planned for my gardens this year. Here are a few scenes from what I've been working on, and a few (mostly purple) flowers too:

The big project for this year is the new Scented Garden around my east patio. I've removed everything from this area except one rose and a couple of boxwoods, and planted many plants with scented flowers. On the east side (the left bed in this photo) are a mock orange from another location in my gardens, a re-blooming 'Bloomerang' lilac, a scented clematis, some Oriental lilies, a couple of irises with light scent, flowering tobacco Nicotiana alata that I started from seed and and some star gladiolus.  On the west side (the right bed) is a metal obelisk  with 'Jude the Obscure' David Austen rose planted underneath, and two sweet peas on the sides of it, as well as scented old-fashioned petunias, stocks and snapdragons I started from seeds. The far bed contains a peony, a "Golden Celebration' rose, some dianthus started from seeds and several chocolate cosmos. The close bed has 'Sharifa Asma' rose, some dianthus and snapdragons from seed, fragrant tuberoses and hymenocallis bulbs. I hope none of the scents is too overpowering or that they clash with each other. (Note: The large box on the porch contains something I've long been wishing for that just arrived yesterday....)

Last weekend I spent a whole day painting our front porch and steps (with help from my 13-year-old daughter who painted the railings white), as well as another set of steps on the west side of our house and the floor of our gazebo, shown in the next photos. Last fall, we had our handyman cut out the corner section of steps, which were rotting, and build this new center section of railing, and now it's finally painted and makes our whole entrance area look better. I'll put more pots in the cut-out area as I bring the last overwintering tender plants outside and buy a few new ones that I can't resist this summer.

BEFORE: Last year, the gazebo looked pretty horrible -- the floor was desperately in need of re-painting and the beds I had planted around them were disgracefully infested with weeds and grass. Since the gazebo is so far from my house, I rarely remembered to maintain the beds. I am re-seeding the beds back to grass so that they are easier to maintain, part of my downsizing of gardens. I'm trying to eliminate or make smaller a number of areas that are farther from my house and consolidate the closer beds.

AFTER: The newly spruced-up gazebo. I'm still working on re-seeding the beds with grass,
but it looks MUCH better now.

I've downsized the areas directly behind my house as well. The area to the left has been planted with grass, which is beginning to fill in, and the Yellow Garden, slightly reduced in size, is on the right, still a work in progress.

Here's another part of the Yellow Garden, which I've planted with shady plants of green and golden foliage. This garden is on the north side of my house, so the part closest to the foundation is shady, but there are sunny areas farther from the house, to the left of this photo. I hope the hostas will fill in and cover this tricky area.

I've made this bed next to my front porch/sunroom a bit narrower and easier to maintain, and have installed a plastic edging inside the edger bricks. The bed was completely taken over by nasty runner grass of some kind, and I'm hoping the edging, which comes in three-foot by six-inch interlocking sections, will keep it out in future. I'll leave this bed empty this year to make sure the grass is gone before re-planting it next year (I'll remove the clump of iris when it's done flowering too, as it is also infested with grass runners). Sadly, my delphinium bed was also absolutely taken over by this nasty runner grass, and no amount of digging has been sufficient to control it, so I'm invoking the nuclear option for it too -- I've moved out the delphiniums and will dig out everything, install edging plastic, and leave it empty this year, spraying any surviving grass. Grrr! That nasty grass is making gardening much less fun. Must keep it out!

OK, enough with the projects and challenging problems. Here are a few nice scenes from my gardens:

OK, to my English garden blog friends, this may not seem like much in the way of primroses, but I've tried to grow them unsuccessfully for years, planting dozens of them and coveting their flowers without any luck. Last year I noticed that one kind had survived and actually came back and bloomed for several years! The common Primula vulgaris with the crinkly leaves are expensive, short-flowering annuals here in my gardens. It's the smooth-leaved Primula auricula pubescens that will survive, and our local nurseries carry them! I bought ten more plants this spring and planted them on the north side of my garage, where two had already survived from last year. With any luck, the new ones will come back and flower for me next year. Yay -- finally I can grow primroses too!

A closeup of the lovely primrose flowers.

'Renkaku' tree peony in the North Island, with the deep red 'Hoki' peeking out behind.

'Pink Poppet' weigela on the east side of the tractor shed. I have planted four clematis to grow up the trellises I installed last year, and can't wait to see them in a few years. Last year, the dark pink lupines bloomed at the same time as the weigela, which looked really nice, but no such luck this year.
The North Border in early morning light, with alliums and a few perennials blooming.

What's in the mystery box on the porch in the 2nd photo?
My new lean-to greenhouse kit! It's quite small, 4'x6' base,
but I think it will help  me start seeds in spring. My sunroom
was nice in late winter, but by mid-March the sun angle
 was too high to provide much direct sunlight.
This keeps the sunroom cool in summer, but wasn't ideal for seedlings.
 I saw this half off at (about $350) and decided to splurge.
I'll put it on the south side of my garage, and use it next
spring, moving seedlings there in March after starting
them in the sunroom. I feel like a real gardener now!

Hope you are enjoying your mid-spring days and making progress on your own gardening projects. And Happy Mother's Day to everyone who has embarked on the most worthwhile of "projects." :-)

Thanks for reading!  -Beth


  1. Hello Beth. Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment about my walk in the woods to see the wild native English bluebells In my reading list I saw that you had an update on your gardening and so I've returned the visit. You have been busy working on your garden, garden maintenance and nurturing seedlings over the last few months. Getting the ground prepared is a big job. Those grass runners must be frustratingly difficult to get rid of. You've done a good job with that. So glad you've found plants that do well such as some varieties of primula. The north garden is looking good. I've always liked the way the trees form a backdrop to the long flower bed and provide shelter from the wind so that you can grow plants there that have some height. I like your tractor shed with the ferns growing around it at one side and flowering shrubs on another. The four clematis will look lovely when they start to grow up the trellises. I would love to have more ferns as I like the natural look in some areas, but our English garden is small and there's not much room for them. My plan is to lift some of the peonies in the back end of the year and give them to our local daughter. Peonies don't like being moved, but we'll have a try as they take up a lot of room. We have only one variety. They're pretty and just beginning to open their flower heads, but they're soon over. I haven't shared what's going on in our English garden lately so I might do a blog post if I have time. The tulips and Spring bulbs are mostly over now, so the photos will be rather out-of-date. I haven't mentioned your scented garden project or your new greenhouse. You'll get a lot of satisfaction and enjoyment from both. Happy gardening!

    1. Hi Linda, Thanks so much for reading and for kind comments -- it sounds like you have plenty of projects in your own gardens this spring. I hope you will share them in your blog when they are finished or while you are working on them. I think you're right about peonies -- they are gorgeous for a couple of weeks and take up a lot of space. If I had a small garden, I would find room for only one or two really beautiful cultivars. I think they will be fine if you dig them in autumn. Good luck! Thanks for stopping by. Best Regards, -Beth

  2. You are really pulling things together and making very wise decisions...the property looks wonderful. I remember when we first talked and you had ideas of expanding that were great, but that said... gardening to that level can take over one's life... I should know... LOL... I'm ok with my decisions but have paid a price in terms of giving up many other things to nurture this two acres... still hope to stop by sometime if we make it to Iowa this summer... Larry

    1. Hi Larry, I certainly hope you will be able to stop by this summer -- we'd love to see you and Sarah again. You're absolutely right about keeping gardens to a manageable size. It feels such a relief to get rid of areas that weren't working and consolidate the remaining areas. Hope you are enjoying lovely days in your beautiful gardens -- thanks for reading! -Beth

  3. Love your north garden and your east patio, which would be a nice area to sit and have lunch. I think your downsizing ideas are very reasonable. You will still have LOTS of garden space. I like your primroses. I have had some luck with Primula sieboldii here. Your weigela are so pretty! I enjoyed visiting your garden today.

    1. Hi Beth, Thanks for the tip about the sieboldii -- I've read of them; now I'll have to find a few to try them and see how they fare over winter. Hope you are enjoying all the beautiful flowers in your lovely May gardens -- thanks for visiting mine! -Beth

  4. Lovely post, thank you Beth. The Iowa sunshine suits your beautiful Hostas down to the ground. I can't see a snail tooth mark in them - what's your secret please? Primroses suit English weather; lots of rain and a minimum of sunshine. Well done for your perseverance. The gazebo and front porch look especially crisp. I love the way that you re-arrange your architecture, the better to show off your garden.

    1. Hello Bodger, Thanks for your kind words. Primroses are hard to grow here (along with sweet peas, that other quintessential English flower, and delphiniums), but Hostas are the most common shade plant grown here, and are truly the easiest thing to grow. We simply don't have many slugs -- perhaps it's the burning hot sun that keeps them in check, even in shadier areas. I'm sorry you have such difficulties with them; they sound truly disgusting :-). I suppose regional differences are what make gardening interesting, and of course we all covet what is difficult to grow in our own regions. Thanks for reading! Best, -Beth

  5. Congratulations on flowering primroses!
    You have done so much work around your garden and the idea of being surrounded by scented flowers is the one I like the most!
    Love scented flowers!
    Have you thought about Night Scented Stock? The smell is amazing and it comes up after the sunset.
    Happy gardening!

    1. Aga, Thanks for for your encouraging words, and for your suggestion about the Night Scented Stocks -- I haven't planted any this year (although I have started 10-week Stocks Matthiola incana from seed). I'll add those next year -- I appreciate the idea! Thanks for reading, -Beth

  6. weathers are being dramatic around the world .
    after late and short winters we are having extremely hot summers almost 50 c .
    i loved your patio and garden.they are lovely.
    i think flower will progress by time and you will be able to see more smiles of spring around you my friend

    1. Hi Baili, You must live somewhere incredibly hot -- 50°C! Thanks for visiting my blog and for your kind words. Do you have your own garden blog? I'd love to visit it. Best Regards, -Beth