Friday, June 14, 2024

2024 is half over... Post #1


Greetings! I cannot believe that it's already mid-June in 2024--where has the year gone? I took pictures of my gardens intending to write a post in spring, but I got distracted finishing some writing projects and then working in the gardens, and ended up putting off posting until now.

I'll show a few highlights from this year in two posts: this one will show some scenes from winter and spring. Then I'll make another post for summer to date.

Heap Big Snow

This past winter really wasn't bad as far as Iowa winters go--with the exception of one horrendously big snow and unusually cold temperatures in January. But December and February were exceptionally mild months, and spring arrived early this year.

We got nearly two feet of snow in a few days during mid-January (several days before the Iowa political caucuses, when it would maximally inconvenience and even threaten the safety of the unprepared candidates and journalists traveling here).

Unfortunately, my neighbor who has plowed our driveway for the past 15 years retired from his snowplowing work last fall. He assured me back in November that he would be happy to still plow our driveway because he lives so close and we're never in a hurry to need it done--but then he suddenly decided the 24" was just too much, leaving us in the lurch because we hadn't arranged anyone else in advance.

I desperately asked him for a recommendation for someone else and happened to get hold of the guy he knew on his cell phone while he was plowing the church parking lot near our property. He agreed to plow it the one time (very sadly, as he had been in his truck plowing for about 16 hrs straight at that point), but he told me he couldn't accept any new clients going forward, despite my generous payment out of gratitude.

He was able to plow most of our driveway--except the highest-drifted part between our front fence and our windmill, which was too big for his truck plow. It had drifted up to my chin, and because my husband was away, I had to shovel most of it myself by hand.

Here are a few photos from our Heap Big Snow in January:

A view from our front porch right after the storm. I was pretty worried about the yew tree against the garage wall, which is usually an upright V-shaped tree nearly as tall as the garage roof. I waded through 30" of snowdrift to use a broom to laboriously knock off most of the snow, but it was bowed down like this for several days. Thankfully it returned to its usual shape within a few weeks. 

You can see the chin-high drift outside the fence. That was a lot of work to shovel....

Brrr! And the wind chill factor was even colder than what our thermometer read. Those poor journalists visiting Iowa had a pretty hard time of it.

But there was a cool solar halo due to the snow crystals in the air.

An Early Springtime

Thankfully, the snow didn't last long. It mostly melted within a week or so, and then the temperatures were marvelously warm. I sat outside on our porch numerous times during February, and the winter aconites bloomed nearly a month earlier than usual:

The winter aconites bloomed by the 10th of February this year.

We had some tree work done in February, on an Ash tree that is slowly succumbing the Emerald Ash Borer and will likely need to be completely removed in a few years, and also for some evergreen trees in our windbreak that have listed against other trees. This work is too dangerous for my husband to do, so we called a pro:

You can see the dead limbs on the ash tree on this 2022 photo.

Our ash tree is now limbed up quite a bit. I had removed the collection of tree peonies behind that tree last fall, and moved them to our west terrace, so the falling limbs didn't damage anything there.

Another interesting incident involved the white pergola that had been on the west terrace for more than a decade. Last spring, we removed it and the two supposedly white-blooming wisteria that were growing on it, because they never once bloomed and made the area dark and gloomy by mid-summer every year.

I also cut down and moved some of the boxwoods on the west terrace (this rather looked like total carnage last spring).

The west terrace now has fewer boxwoods outlining only the outer edge, and features the tree peonies from behind the ash tree. I think it looks much tidier now, and I can enjoy the peony blooms close-up, followed by some annual blue salvias.

We also had the small side steps to our house replaced because they were completely rotten, and I had my son use some leftover pavers from a project last year to make a small paved area for a bench on either side of the steps. We sit here much more often now and can enjoy the view to the west--and it's no longer gloomy!

We moved the white pergola to the edge of the driveway last year because I thought I might sell it on Craigslist, but then I realized it would exactly fit inside the entrance to the pond garden area. This is the only photo I could find of it there last fall. I was just getting used to seeing it there this spring, when Something Happened....

Big Wind

On April 16 of this year, Iowa experienced a major severe weather event: there were tornadoes near Des Moines, and we had 50-60 mph winds here. I was home when the worst of it hit, and even though I usually ignore most weather warnings, the wind became so intense for a few minutes, with the rain driven sideways from west to east so furiously, that even I went down to our basement for a couple of minutes, until it lessened. The fierce intensity of that wind was pretty scary, I have to say.

I looked outside afterwards and didn't see too many limbs down, so I thought we'd mostly escaped. But when my husband got home from work he noticed this:

This is the windbreak shown behind the windmill at left in the last photo, on the east edge of our property. Apparently the wind was so fierce that it picked up the entire pergola and hurled it into the windbreak, crumpling it irreparably. I didn't stake it down because I thought it might be safe from wind because there was no fabric canopy or anything on the top to act as a sail, and the bottom was much heavier than the top. But I was wrong.

(I did have the gazebo at the end of yard shown in the last picture tethered down by having pressure-treated lumber posts sunk into the ground and bolting the frame to the lumber--precisely to avoid the roof catching the wind like an umbrella and sadly finding pieces shattered over the next three fields.)

Here's a closeup of some of the tender new growth on a herbaceous peony in our west yard. The wind hacked off the growth like a machete. I've never seen anything like this before.

I guess I was right to seek cover in the basement during that storm....

There goes the pergola to the landfill. Our old pickup truck
looks like something from "Sanford & Son." :-)

Pretty Springtime

Lest you think that Iowa is just one weather catastrophe after another, I'll end by showing a few pictures taken on the usual calmer, nicer days:

Grape hyacinths (muscari) and Basket-of-gold (Aurinia saxatilis) in the front border along the driveway and fence (pre-weeding).

Some early pink tulips, more grape hyacinths and some bachelor button or cornflower foliage (Centaurea cyanus) that have seeded all around my garden and look great now that they're blooming.

These grape hyacinths show a gradation of color from deep blue to pale blue. I don't remember planting this different kind, but I must have done so.

Stripey "Carnaval de Rio" tulips.

That's some pictures from winter and spring that I meant to post back in April. I'll post again with more recent photos of the progress I've made in getting my gardens ready for a group visiting later this summer.

I hope you are enjoying lovely days in your own gardens. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Three Projects


Our new front porch!

Greetings! It's been a busy fall and I'm only now able to post about the three projects I've been working on this autumn (now that winter is pretty much here!). 

But I wanted to post one last time before winter. Here's what I've been doing:

1. Plant Moving

In September I did my first project: moving plants out of my long Rainbow Border, which I'm eliminating, as I mentioned in my post earlier this year. I planted many of these in front of the addition on the west side of our house.

Going, going.... The Rainbow Border didn't look too bad this year at the end of May, its peak moment, but it's gotten pretty weedy, and many plants don't grow very well so close to the red cedar windbreak behind it. I moved many plants to a bed in front of my house. (That bed doesn't look like much at this point, so I won't show it -- I hope it will start to look good next year.)

2. New Front Porch

The biggest (or at least most expensive) project of this year was the new front porch that we've been hoping to have for several years now.

Here it was back in 2021, when it still looked OK. But I had to paint it every year or it looked terrible because the paint wouldn't STICK to the wood. 

You can see what it looked like if I skipped a year of painting it. Plus some of the supports had become rotten, so the front steps sagged a bit when people walked up them. Not good.

And even worse was the big HOLE that I had
to cover with a paving stone so no one would 
put their foot through it!

My builder and his son goofing off for the camera as they start demolition back in early October.

Two days later: this utter demolishment wasn't really an "improvement" but it was a necessary phase. My husband remarked that every time he got home from work that week, things looked worse than when he had left in the morning. You can see that the old concrete steps under the porch had listed a lot as they settled.

After two weeks, we had functioning steps again, in a new layout. We had the steps moved to the right, in front of the basement door, and extended the deck out farther toward the front. Now there's more usable space for sitting on our front porch.

We also replaced the cracked old sidewalk around the porch.

It's much nicer with a white metal railing and matching lattice, and I left a small planting bed under the deck overhang, where flowers will be set off nicely in front of the lattice.

3. West Terrace

I also did a lot of work this fall on the other end of our house. In 2011 we had an addition built onto the side of house, and because the ground sloped up so much to it, we had a retaining wall built there.

Here you can see the fairly new retaining wall back in 2013.

I planted tiny boxwoods around the two beds on either side of the white pergola, and planted all-white flowers in both beds, as well as white-flowering wisteria on the pergola. On either side of the steps up to the addition (seen at far right), I planted mostly blue-flowering plants. This looked pretty orderly for about five years.

But by last year it was pretty out of control. I did trim the boxwoods, but I had planted them too closely together (like in my Herb Garden) when they were tiny starts. Then in 2020 I became worried I might transfer the Volutella blight which afflicted the Herb Garden to these boxwoods, so I didn't trim them for a couple of years. Also, the wisteria never once bloomed in the ten years they grew (rampantly) there--maybe it wasn't sunny enough? But they were a lot of work to keep trimmed back, and they made the pergola area dark and creepy-looking. And the beds were getting weedy too....


So in March I asked my son to use the weed wacker (with steel blade attachment) to saw all the boxwoods down to six inches in height. 

The sheer carnage of the area was pretty impressive.

By September, only six months later, the boxwoods had regrown about eight inches of fresh, healthy-looking foliage. I was surprised how quickly they regrew, as boxwoods are slow-growing shrubs. But I've realized that they're only slow to establish and once they've established roots, they are actually quite fast-growing.

Double-Uggh. You can see how badly the nasty runner grass has invaded this bed. I had my husband spray these weeds....

Then we got to work:
  1. My husband cut the wisteria off near the ground and sprayed the stumps with tree killer. Then I painstakingly cut all the twining branches off the pergola, using a hand saw and loppers, and asked my son to haul them to our burn pile
  2. We moved the pergola to another area
  3. My son and I dug out the front row of the boxwoods, as well as every other one in the back row. I donated these to a local group to plant in a public garden. 
  4. Then I had my husband spray the remaining weeds again, I dug over the entire area to loosen the soil, and removed some viney weeds with big root systems.

Still a bit weedy, but much better, with properly spaced boxwoods. You can see that the steps here really need to be replaced too.

Then I moved about fifteen or so tree peonies and intersectional peonies from another area close by, into the two beds on either side of the central area where the pergola had been. I mulched them before winter, and I hope they'll survive....

The tree peonies were in my North Island (located to the right in the prior photo). They are very beautiful plants and were expensive, but this area is so large that it's difficult to maintain. So I moved them closer to the house so I'd be able to take better care of them and enjoy them when they bloom. I'll also plant some annuals for later interest in those terrace beds.

These were definitely worth saving!

Then my very helpful son laid pavers on sand and gravel on either side of the rotting steps. Before, there had been a few more boxwoods in these two beds, but I moved them to the place where the pergola had been before in front of the steps, making an "X" shape, like a parterre. Most of these pavers and materials were leftover from my new Diagonal Garden project of this spring, plus a few from under the pergola, so these paved areas cost hardly anything.

Now we have a nicer place to sit on the two benches that were in a different garden area. My builder wasn't able to replace these steps before it got too cold to work, but the materials are stacked here and in my garage, for whenever we get a warm week.

A sunny, sheltered spot, even in December.

So that's the changes I made this fall in my gardens and other areas -- changes I've been hoping to make for some time.

I moved all my houseplants inside in early October, and I've been enjoying sitting among them on sunny days. I finally just got the last of my spring bulbs planted the other day, and now it's time for the holidays already.

Thanks for reading, and I wish you the very best for the holidays and rest of winter, until it's springtime again! -Beth

Wednesday, October 4, 2023


Greetings to my fellow gardeners. I just don't know where the summer went! Apparently the last time I posted here was back in May.... But I recently had a chance to take a few snapshots of my gardens right before dusk (which arrives much earlier now).

In May, I was working on my new garden area, which I've been calling the Triangle Garden, or sometimes the Diagonal Garden:

The Triangle/Diagonal Garden back in May before planting

As you can see in the top photo, the new garden has come along well since then. I planted three groups of stripey cannas in each bed, as well as a couple of orange dahlias, a packet of zinnia seeds, a few marigolds along the sidewalk, and a purple celosia that became impressively large and has flowered all summer.

And I was surprised that a number of flowering tobacco and climbing petunias have already seeded themselves in the new garden. They have generally reseeded themselves in a neighboring bed, but I thought it might take longer for them to move to a new bed. Nope, by July you could hardly see the things I deliberately planted there because the "free plants" were so big -- I've had to hack them back several times!

It's really been a beautiful annual flower garden, immediately visible to people coming to our front door. (I think the mailman and the Amazon drivers have enjoyed it!)

Here's another view from outside the fence. You can see the stripey cannas and zinnias here.

Moving further down the fence, there's a red hardy hibiscus and one of the many
red dahlias that I have planted in many of my garden areas.
The tall corn in the fields is almost ready to harvest.

More of those red Dahlia 'Jaipur'. I bought a tuber from Brent & Becky's Bulbs 
about five years ago, and it has been the most amazing plant -- I've divided them
numerous times and have at least 20 in several garden areas.

Here's the Paradise Garden, in which I also have several 'Jaipur' dahlias, as well as lots of self-seeded flowering tobacco and petunias, which, unlike the dahlias, have the most heavenly scent, especially at night. This is a wonderful place to sit after dark.

Another view of the Paradise Garden. A few roses are still blooming here -- I've been trying to fertilize them this year , and they've looked pretty nice since May (the Japanese beetles aren't as bad this year, perhaps because of the drought we had for about six weeks).

Here's another place to sit, under the pergola we built about five years ago. I grow tropical plants, in pots and in the ground around this patio next to our house. My houseplants seem to be very happy in the partial shade under the pergola. (And more self-seeded petunias and flowering tobacco.)

Anyway, that's what's been happening in my gardens. I've recently been working on removing a long border, as discussed in my last post, and moving plants around on the west side of my house. I still have a number of projects that I hope to finish, moving more plants, building a couple of small patios for benches using paving stones leftover from the Triangle Garden, and others. I hope I'll be able to finish those and post one more time with some photos before winter settles in.

Hope your own garden projects are going well for you, as we finish out another gardening season this year. Thanks for reading! -Beth