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


  1. Oh the Irises, the poppies, the pond. The lilies are utterly beautiful; I have duckweed, which smatters the water like green zits. Hoicking it out with a net is a cooling, happy job for a hot day and the fish may always be scandalised with a little paddling. You've done an incredible amount of work and it's all there in view. I love the idea of your logical approach to what needs improvement but I'm a fly by the seat of my pants kind of girl and work almost entirely by instinct, which explains some odd results. best regards.

    1. Hi Bodger, glad you could stop by and thanks for all your complimentary words. Logic and instinct work well together, and it's best to have some of both. I decided which areas to get rid of before I justified my choices with the logical analysis, which made me feel better. This is actually how most analysis works, which means you should be highly suspicious of the info analysts pedal.... Best Regards, -Beth

  2. That is a lot of gardens to maintain! I think as gardeners we are just so ambitious as we have so many visions for what could be that it is hard to scale back. What a good idea to quantify your gardens and take a more objective look at things. Then you can focus more on the gardens closer to your house, which are so gorgeous. I love those irises! And the water feature with the water lilies is beautiful!

    1. Hi Indie, It's so true: I still constantly get ideas for new gardens, even as I'm trying to downsize. What to do? Thanks for reading, and for your nice comments. Best, -Beth

  3. Wow your garden is not only large but so beautiful! I can only imagine the time and effort you put in every week. We live on 1/3 acre in town and in the spring we spend countless hours cleaning, pruning and planting. I have started planting more and more shurbs and perennials and only planting annuals in a few very visible beds. As I've gotten older I am doing more plantings in pots too. I love your analysis of your garden!! We enjoyed Williamsburg and how fun that you visited the same exact garden. Hope you enjoy the holiday weekend!

    1. Hi Sonia, I'm so glad you had such a lovely time in Williamsburg -- I also really enjoyed our visit and thought the gardens there were magical. I agree that shrubs and perennials (especially the slow-growing clump sort) make gardening easier, even if annuals are exciting, and I'm sure as time goes on, I will do what you have been doing. thanks so much for reading! -Beth

  4. Your gardens are looking good. You are making some good decisions and it's paying off. I think that we have too much garden as well, but it's staying. I don't have the heart to get rid of any of it! Love your iris and the pond looks so pretty. How do you keep your pond water so clean when you don't have a pump going (or maybe you do?), and no fish? We always had a lot of algae problems. We actually removed our water feature this spring - no regrets. I have in its place a heavily composted area that should eventually be amongst the best soil in the whole garden and new opportunities to plant more things.

    1. Hi Beth, I'm sorry to hear that you had trouble with your pond and decided to remove it -- I remember that it was very beautiful. But if something's too much work, it's not fun to have it. We have had some algae problems in the past and used an organic chemical to reduce it and also I threw a barley bale in the pond, which may have helped. We also have a covering of stones on the bottom of the pond, which I've read encourages the growth of bacteria that eat algae, plus we have many frogs and tadpoles, which eat algae. And the water lilies shade the water, which helps prevent algae. For whatever reason, we don't have too much of it. I'm so glad you stopped by and look forward to seeing pictures of your lovely gardens this spring. Best, -Beth

  5. O my gosh, look at the mathematical approach to gardening! But yes, I can see why you had to do that. With such a big area to maintain you need to compromise, and make decisions.
    The water lilies are stunning. Do you propagate them or they just grow new plants themselves?

    1. Hi Aga, Glad you understand my mathematical approach -- it is pretty nerdy... :-) I planted the two water lilies about five years ago and they come back each year without me doing anything -- I wish all plants were so obliging. Thanks for reading! -Beth

    2. Thanks Beth for the advice on water lily, I guess I will leave it in the water too and hoping for it to grow bigger and bigger. Thinking about it: it had two flowers last year and only one in the first one. Maybe this year it will be three, hihi :)

  6. Hi Beth! Im over here catching up! I seem to have a hard time keeping up in blogland as I seem to be permanently gardening! Its been lovely seeing your garden again. I was actually looking at your gazebo on your earlier post and thinking how I must paint the floor of mine white as you have done as it looks so much nicer! You have definitely inspired me to take a more organized approach to gardening as you have done here. I tend to get way to ambitious in the cooler months and then wonder what on earth I was thinking when it gets too hot to look after it all! Your garden areas are really lovely though and you have so many beautiful flowers that I can only dream of - particularly love those gorgeous poppies and iris...heavenly! Wishing you a great summer - hopefully not too hot!
    - Kate x

  7. I am impressed by your mathematical approach to rationalising your garden. Lovely to see how your garden is coming on. Your irises are heavenly. And those gorgeous water lilies.