Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Wildflower Strip: Year Two

This is Year Two for my Wildflower Strip. It's a 150-foot-long (perhaps 15-foot-wide) narrow strip next to the ditch running along our road. A year ago in spring, my husband sprayed and used his 1940 9N tractor to till up and smooth out the strip, and then used a walk-behind broadcast spreader to sow the wildflower seed that I bought online:

The seed mix I used was Eden Brothers "Burst of Bloom" wildflower
seed mix. It has performed beautifully. (Photo from Eden Bros site.)

The "Burst of Bloom" wildflower mix is certainly appropriately named: it contains the following 20 kinds of flowers:
  • Baby's Breath Gypsophila elegans Annual
  • Dwarf Cornflower/Bachelor Button Centaurea cyanus Annual
  • Tall Cornflower/Bachelor Button Centaurea cyanus Annual
  • Red Corn Poppy (Legion Poppy) Papaver rhoeas Annual
  • Lance Leaf Coreopsis Coreopsis lanceolata Annual
  • Mixed Red Poppy (Shirley Poppy) Papaver rhoeas Annual
  • Wild Cosmos Cosmos bipinnatus Annual
  • California Poppy Eschscholzia californica Annual/Perennial
  • Blanketflower Gaillardia aristata Perennial
  • Black Eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta Biennial
  • Wild Perennial Lupine Lupinus perennis Perennial
  • Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea Perennial
  • Russel Lupine Lupinus polyphyllus Perennial
  • Plains Coreopsis Coreopsis tinctoria Annual
  • Siberian Wallflower Cheirianthus allionii Biennial
  • Blue Flax Linum usitatissimum Annual
  • Scarlet Flax Linum grandiflorum rubrum Annual
  • Drummond Phlox Phlox drummondii Annual
  • Sulphur/Orange Cosmos Cosmos sulphureus Annual
  • Gloriosa Daisy Rudbeckia gloriosa Perennial

This photo, taken at the end of July 2013, shows mostly cosmos,
bachelor buttons, annual coreopsis and annual poppies.

Last year, there was a brief show of annuals, as seen in the photo above, but unfortunately the 2013 drought cut short what could have been a much more beautiful and long-lasting display (and no hoses will reach all the way down to that end of our property to allow us to water it).

This spring, there was a glorious orange blaze of Siberian Wallflowers in early June (which I didn't get a photo of, sadly), followed by the current bonanza of biennial Black-Eyed Susans, Blanketflowers and Gloriosa Daisies:

I'm waiting to see what else will bloom: Will we get some stately lupines? Red corn poppies (appropriate for this centennial anniversary of the beginning of the First World War)? Coneflowers, phlox or flax?

And the other question: Will I have to replant the seeds next year, or will the annuals and biennials reseed and the perennials come back? Or will grass and weeds take over?

This is fun, waiting to see what the show will bring us next. Stay tuned for updates! Thanks for reading.

P.S. I have increased the width of my blog in order to be able to post larger photos. Please let me know in the comments section if you have trouble viewing this width on your monitor or other device. Thanks again!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My New Yellow Garden

'Mesa Yellow' blanket flower gaillardia in my new Yellow Garden

Back in April, I wrote a post that described the garden I was thinking of making in the spot where we had a tree removed behind our house. I wrote:
"I plan to expand the narrow planting strip along the back of the house to enclose the spot where the tree stood, in a generous curving garden bed along the whole length of the house. My plan is to plant mostly gold-foliage and yellow-flowering plants in these beds to light up this north side of the house. The part of the bed right next to the house is in shade, but the rest will be mostly sunny."
I'm happy to say that my plans for a cheery Yellow Garden are starting to take shape. Here are a few photos: before, during, and still during:

The back yard on the north side of my house, in March. The two trees are ash trees, and we decided to remove the one on the left because it was too close to the house, and because we wished to open up the yard.

By mid-April, the tree had been removed. Already the yard looked more  open and the remaining ash tree was receiving more light. With luck, it will be healthier and resist the ash borer disease that is sweeping through the Midwest.
This is the map I drew of my plans for new beds (see two posts ago for what I did in the two island beds, #1 and #2).
Bed #3 is the one here behind the house.

The first thing I needed to do was mark out the area I wanted to make into a border and have my husband spray the grass with Round-Up to kill it, which he had to do twice. Then I dug out the edging bricks that lined the old, narrow planting strip along the back of the house. I then added compost to that area and began planting shade-loving, mostly gold-foliage plants, including (all were bought locally, unless noted):

  • 'Gold Heart' bleeding hearts
  • 'Golden Lotus' hellebores (I got these from Bluestone Perennials, ordered during an early-spring online special) I planted these under the window, so I'd have something to look at in spring when I long for color.
  • 'Garden Glow' dogwoods
  • 'Gold Mops' Sawara false cypress
  • 'All Gold' Japanese forest grass
  • 'Gold Standard' hostas

The first gold-foliage plantings, at the end of April.

Additionally, further away from the house I planted a Laburnum watereri Vossii Goldenchain Tree that I ordered from Forest Farm, plus an Itoh peony 'Bartzella' that I happened across for a decent price at Lowes. I've wanted to have a laburnum tree since I read Rosemary Verey's books about her garden at Barnsley House and its iconic Laburnum Walk, but I didn't think they were hardy here. I was surprised to find out that there are a couple of varieties that can be grown in Zone 5.

Isn't this incredible? Laburnum racemes dripping down in golden chains over alliums. I tried to find a creative commons photo of Rosemary Verey's beautiful Laburnum Walk at Barnsley House in England, but couldn't find one. Instead here's a beautiful photo of the Laburnum Walk at Vandusen Botanical Garden in British Columbia. I hope I can have
even a fraction of this golden gloriousness in my own yard! (Flickr, Wendy Cutler

It was at this time that I got the idea to put a stepping stone path through the area, since it was so large. I found these round pavers at Menards, and liked that they had a touch of yellow in them:

I have also been toying with the idea of placing a bench there, although I would find a smaller, more delicate-looking one than the wood bench I temporarily put there to see what it would look like.

More perennials. The laburnum tree is planted on the far side of the path, toward the center of the photo
(it looks like a tiny stick).

Next, I spread compost on a larger area and began planting more perennial plants: partial-shade plants nearer the house and full-sun plants farther from the house, including (mostly in groups of three plants each -- luckily, I know a place with cheap perennials!):

  • yellow foxgloves
  • 'Spring Magic' yellow columbine
  • yellow cinquefoil potentilla
  • 'Butter & Sugar' Siberian iris
  • 'Aurea' lysimachia
  • some 'Aurea' lamiums that I moved from another section of the border
  • Iceland poppies
  • Basket of Gold
  • 'Little Lemon' solidago
  • 'Sylvester' threadleaf coreopsis
  • Missouri evening primrose
  • 'Sunset Yellow' hyssop
  • 'Mesa Yellow' blanket flower 
  • yellow coneflower ratibida
  • 'Sunburst' heliopsis
  • buddleia 'Golden Glow'
  • 'Moonshine' yarrow
  • 'Stella de Oro' daylilies
  • black-eyed susans (a large group of ten)
  • 'Gold Strike' lady's mantle
  • 'Yellow Pixie' Asiatic lilies (a package of ten bulbs)

I've continued to work on this area, planting a few yellow flowering annuals like marigolds and snapdragons that I transplanted from other beds, and I think it's looking OK for a first year planting:

Mostly mulched and neatly edged, most of the perennials have been planted in this area, although the area to the left is still under construction.

I still need to finish the area to the left in the last photo -- I'm not sure what I will plant there, but I can at least get mulch down so it looks orderly while I make up my mind.

Also, I will plant yellow-flowering bulbs this fall: winter aconite for early spring interest, daffodils, yellow tulips, perhaps some tall bearded iris divided from ones I have already, maybe some little yellow alliums.

I can't wait to see how it looks next year! I'm looking forward to having some spring cheer outside my windows. I'll be sure to post photos to share my progress.

Thanks for reading! -Beth

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

They Live!!

Little Kitty checks out a hollyhock -- one that has seeded where it wanted to be: not in the border, but in our driveway.
Nature does as it likes.

So in my post from mid-May, "Winter Losses," that enumerated all the plants that died over our especially hard winter, I related that my most devastating loss was that of the two 'Zephirine Drouhin' climbing roses in my Front Border. They were the first roses I ever purchased, nearly ten years ago, and I brought them with me when we moved to our current house. They had grown happily on the front of our white picket fence for five years, and they were tough, own-root roses. I just couldn't believe they were gone.

The ZD roses last summer. What a glorious show they made!

I finally accepted the loss and ordered replacements for them (and for the two 'Blaze' climbers that I had planted on the garden shed last year) from the same company I originally purchased them from, Heirloom Roses in Oregon. Before I called them to order on June 10, I went outside and carefully inspected the two ZD rose skeletons one last time to make sure they really were dead. I paid particular attention to the base of the plants, looking in vain for any signs of re-growth from the roots.

This photo was taken on June 8, two days before I carefully inspected the ZDs for any signs of life, and sadly, finding none, ordered replacements for them. The two dead-looking skeletons can be seen on the front of the fence.

Having verified that they indeed looked utterly dead, I called Heirloom Roses and re-ordered them. (I even got a 10% discount for telling such a sad story of loss to the customer service person.) Sigh. Time to move on.

So yesterday I was pulling some weeds and grass out of the Front Border, and thinking about how I was going to dig out the two roses with their established root systems without killing any of the other plants in the border, when what did I see? Two-foot-high growth on both of the ZDs.

I feel certain that calling to reorder them must have kickstarted the roses back into life, the indignity of being replaced just being too much for their pride to bear. 

I called Heirloom Roses immediately, and they were in the process of packing the box at that very moment, and the nice customer service lady was able to go over to the packing building and cancel that part of my order, sending only the 'Blaze' instead.

Yesterday evening I painstakingly pruned away all the many dead canes, carefully trying not to damage or cut the new growth, spending over an hour pruning. (The work was made easier by ZD being a nearly thornless rose.) But what's left is a respectable amount of rose.

A closeup of the ZD on the right.

I still don't understand how I could have missed the growth when I carefully inspected them only six days before -- that certainly doesn't look like six days growth in the above photo. I guess the new growth is a dark red color and perhaps I was looking more for green leaves. And the roses are surrounded by the foliage of the many phlox, obedient plant, irises and other plants around them. I just must have missed it -- either that or my other theory about calling for replacements offending the roses back into life isn't as silly as it sounds. After all, who really understands the mysteries and vagaries of Nature?

This is such a cute photo that I just had to post it again. The ZD rose on the right can be seen above Little Kitty's tail, and the left one is the tallest growth furthest to the left.

However this happened -- a rose not showing signs of life until June (!) -- I'm happy to have been fooled.

Thanks for reading! -Beth

Monday, June 16, 2014

My New Island Beds

This is something like what I hope my new garden beds resemble:
Breathtaking magnolias and evergreen trees at Hillier Gardens
at Jermyn House in Hampshire, England.

In my posts, here and here from back in April, I related my plans for making some new island beds in my west and north yards (and I wrote another post about the interesting history of island beds too). I believe that I have nearly finished laying out my new beds, planting them with the trees and shrubs that I will plant this year, and edging and mulching them.

They're still not too much to look at, as they're basically just large areas of mulch dotted with tiny green blobs, but perhaps you can use your imagination to see what they might look like in five to ten years (plus I've included a few photos of gardens that inspired me, to help you see what I hope it will look like in future):

First, here is a map of the two island beds, plus the new border against the north side of the house (more about that border in a later post). Island Bed #1 or what I now call the West Island is a crescent-shaped bed about 75 feet in length, and Island Bed #2 (now the North Island) is an elongated kidney-shaped bed about 55 feet long.

The West Island, as seen from the south end.

In the West Island, I have planted, starting roughly from the south end, where the above photo was taken from:

  • 'Soft Serve' false cypress (the tree at forefront in the photo) This is the 2nd one I've planted here, as the 1st died almost immediately after I planted it, and this one also look pretty sickly -- I think Earl May just has some bad stock. I may have to re-think this choice. It occupies a very prominent spot on the front corner of the bed, and I need something that won't always be dying...
  • Magnolia 'Ann'
  • 'Mary Rose' David Austin rose (transplanted from my 'William and Mary Bed' which is being entirely re-done
  • Japanese Maple 'Bloodgood'
  • Sarah Bernhardt peony (transplanted from another part of my gardens)
  • Flowering cherry 'Kwanzan'
  • Boxwood 'Green Velvet' (transplanted from my nursery beds)
  • Magnolia 'Betty'
  • 'Robusta Green' juniper
  • 'Nearly Wild' rose
  • Yoshino flowering cherry
  • Eastern redbud "Hearts of Gold'
  • Apricot (fruiting) 'Moorpark' dwarf
  • Black Hills spruce
  • 'Mary Rose'
  • Magnolia 'Butterflies'
  • Flowering cherry 'Kwanzan'
  • Boxwood 'Green Velvet' (transplanted from my nursery beds)
  • 'Mary Rose'
  • 'Nearly Wild' rose
  • Deutzia 'Nikko' (After planting the very small plant, I forgot it was there when I mulched the area -- I should have flagged it -- and I buried it in a thick layer of mulch for several weeks, so it now appears dead. I have pulled back the mulch and watered it, and hope it will spring back to life somehow....)
  • 'Emerald Green' arborvitae, on the other corner on the north end of the West Island

The North Island. Lots of tiny green dots on a mulch field, I know.... I hope the trees and shrubs will grow up to hide the play equipment before too many years.

In the smaller North Island Bed, I have planted, from west to east (left to right in the above photo):

  • 'Green Velvet' Boxwood (pyramidal shaped)
  • Flowering cherry 'Kwanzan'
  • "Nearly Wild' rose
  • Magnolia 'White Rose'
  • 'Green Velvet' Boxwood (transplanted from my nursery beds)
  • Magnolia 'Royal Star'
  • Japanese maple 'Red Select'
  • Pink flowering dogwood
  • Unnamed purple rhododendron
  • 'Pleasant White' azalea
  • 'Girard Rose' azaleas (2, transplanted from the east side of the tractor shed -- I was pretty certain these were dead because they didn't leaf out until early June, but they now look pretty good - yay!)
  • I have also ordered Winterberries 'Berry Nice' and male 'Jim Dandy' along with evergreen holly shrubs 'Castle Spire' and male "Castle Wall' (I have been wanting these for Christmas flower arrangements for several years now). I'll plant these where there is still room in either island bed, probably mostly in the North Island.

Next year, I will plant more shrubs, especially tree peonies and perhaps some more rhododendrons and azaleas. (The tree peonies are so expensive that I thought I should wait until next year, so as not to give my husband a heart attack.) But I have most of the major trees and evergreen shrubs in place, and if I can keep them from dying over the summer or during the winter, they should have a good start.

In five to ten years, I hope they will look less like tiny green blobs in mulch and more like the gorgeous, tree-filled gardens that have inspired me to make these beds, a few of which are shown below:

Bressingham Gardens, Alan and Adrian Bloom's lovely gardens
in Norfolk, England. (Flickr, taken by Nick, Puritani35)

The Butchart Gardens in British Columbia, Canada.
(Flickr, taken by Jeffrey Beall)

I probably won't plant this many bulbs in my new areas, but the
combination of bulbs and flowering trees is a beautiful one that I will
try to capture some of. (

And last but certainly not least, Larry Conrad's magnificent gardens in Wisconsin have demonstrated to me the beauty of trees and shrubs (particularly conifers) in island beds -- and Larry has generously offered me advice concerning the layout and installation of my beds, as well as plant suggestions. Many thanks again to him.

Thanks for reading! -Beth

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Most Beautiful Time of Year (is this wonderful or depressing...?)

This is truly the most beautiful time of the year in midwestern gardens and in my garden in particular, in my opinion. The period from mid-May until mid-June covers the time from the end of tulips until the finish of the first big flush of roses, including the iris, peony, delphinium, ox-eye daisy, lupine and dianthus bloom periods. Everything is freshly green and lushly filled out, with none of the brownness or tattered foliage yet that mid-summer heat and drought often brings. If this time were a human age, it would be the mid-twenties, the peak of our physical strength. There are certainly things to recommend other seasons (and human ages), but this really is my favorite time of year.

Here are a few photos showing the best of this most beautiful of times (click on each one for more detail):

The Pond Gardens are bursting with bloom: Dianthus 'Sweetness' and
'Prairie Breeze' roses (Buck), plus boxwoods, phlox for later, and
light pink petunias that are still small. You can smell the highly fragrant
Dianthus at twenty paces.

The view from the other direction, with the Rainbow Border
in the background. (Click for a close-up of the Rainbow Border.)

'William Baffin' roses on the windmill, "pink snow"
covering the ground beneath.

Painted daisies in the Front Border.

Delphiniums coming out further down in the Front Border.

The mock orange hedge I planted only two years ago to screen the
farm implements stored behind it. The shrubs should become 8 feet
tall and wide and the hedge is at least 80 feet long. And the flowers
smell heavenly: Philadelphus 'Innocence' is known as possibly
the most fragrant mock orange cultivar, with a scent like jasmine.

A line of large, mature peonies that might be 50 years old or even older.
'Golden Celebration' David Austin English roses.

Poppies in the Red Section of the Rainbow Border.

Little Kitty among the roses and peonies.

As wonderful as this time of year is, however, when I think about this being the peak of my gardens, I begin to feel the same depression that I get around the fourth of July at the height of summer, when we know that the days are already beginning to shorten. Not being an autumn person, everything feels like it's going downhill for me after June, and thinking about the coming of the long winter is almost too much to bear. 

This leads to the most depressing thought: If this is as good as it's going to get in my gardens, is there anything to look forward to after this? (And again, the decline of aging comes to mind.)

But then I remember three things: First, there are great pleasures to be had from the harvest season: fresh warm tomatoes from the garden, basil pesto, sweet corn, apples eaten straight off the tree and other seasonal delights. Second, the cooling of autumn is often a relief after the searing heat of summer, and the mild warmth of autumn can sometimes go on for some time before the onset of winter. 

And third (and best of all), my gardens may be at their peak for this year, but next year's gardens will likely be even more beautiful, after all the hard work and planning I've done this spring. I've planted several new areas and re-done some others, and I'm exceedingly curious how they will look next year, after two years, after ten (in the case of my new trees and shrubs). I have much to look forward to, and I'll have lots to share with you. Here's to an even more beautiful future!

Thanks for reading. -Beth

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Brucemore Gardens

For our 16th anniversary on Friday evening, my husband and I drove a half hour or so to the city of Cedar Rapids, IA and spent some time walking through the 26-acre gardens of the historic Brucemore mansion estate.

Since we lived in Cedar Rapids right after we were married, it seems appropriate to return to that city for our anniversary. We drove past our old house (a cute little 1930s yellow-brick house on a curvy street), saw a few other places we remembered, and then went out for dinner after visiting Brucemore (not to a restaurant in Cedar Rapids, however, because sadly, most of the independently owned restaurants we remembered have closed in the 14 years since we left...).

But the Brucemore gardens were lovely. The mansion was built in 1884 for Caroline Sinclair, the widow of the owner of a large meatpacking facility, and was (and is still) the most prominent house in Cedar Rapids. It was acquired in 1906 by George Douglas, a partner in what would become the Quaker Oats Company. The Douglas family expanded the grounds and hired landscape architect O.C. Simonds to lay out the grounds in a naturalistic manner. The property was inherited by daughter Margaret (Douglas) Hall in 1937. The Halls were childless and Mrs. Hall left the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1981. A detailed history of the Brucemore gardens can be found here.

Brucemore House, a Queen Anne style mansion built in 1884.

'Blue Moon' wisteria growing on the portico. We once took a guided tour of the gardens and the head gardener told us that she had made sure every other gardener working at the estate understood that the wisteria must be kept in check by annual pruning, in case she was hit by a bus or suffered some other untimely end, so that the plant wouldn't overtake and destroy the historic structure on which it is planted. Its beauty makes it worth the risk, in my humble opinion.
The park-like setting along the curving drive to the house.
A huge Red Oak tree that apparently dates from before the Civil War.
These mature trees were what my husband was most impressed with -- which is
unfortunate, because these are what we are least able to replicate in our own gardens....
The Formal Garden, designed in 1910, is reached through a beautiful white arbor and fence.
The Formal Garden contains beds of peonies, ox-eye daisies, lupines and larkspur, among other perennials and annuals, buttressed by boxwood cones.

A half-circle of irises and daisies.
This is a photo I took in 2010, which shows a much better view of the Formal Garden (the light was not good on this year's visit). Absolutely lovely....
The Cutting Garden. Mine can't even compare to this....
The 1915 Lord & Burnham greenhouse gave rise to serious feelings of dark envy in me. My husband may have coveted the century-old trees in this estate, but this is what I want most....
16 years with a husband who indulges my fondness for
garden visits, as well as helps me with my harder garden tasks.
I hope we have many more years together.
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Garden Shed Envy

I want this.
(Houzz, Bradley M. Jones)

Yes, I want a garden shed something like the one above in the Houzz photo (a dangerous site, because it gives you expensive ideas...). But I have this instead:

The problem: how to transform my filthy, bird poop-covered, dark, dreary shed that doesn't have electricity or running water into a beautiful, useful space for storing pots, garden tools and paraphernalia.

It could be worse, I guess.

I've been trying to fix up my garden shed for several years now, but the first big problem was the birds. There is a gap between the metal roof and the shed walls that they could get into at will, and they roosted in there for years. I hired a handyman to try to fix the problem twice, but he was completely incompetent.

  1. His first brilliant idea was to stuff insulation into each hole between the rafters. The birds just used it to feather their nests.
  2. He next tried to cut small pieces of wire chicken fence and put them in each hole between the rafters. The birds just managed to push them out of the way.
  3. I finally hired a different, less-incompetent handyman to run chicken wire along the entire outside of the eaves (what I thought the other guy would do in #2). This finally solved the problem. No more birds inside the shed.
It's really not so unattractive on the outside, now that I've painted it, shown in this photo from early spring this year. I've bought some lattice that I will paint white and attach on either side of the door, to grow 'Blaze' climbing roses up. (I planted one on each side of the door last year, although they died over the winter. I will probably replace them and plant some other things on this east side too.)

I'm working on planting things on the other sides of the shed as well, as this photo from a few weeks ago shows.
Little by little it improves....

I also had the competent handyman fix the door and add a sill under it, so that water didn't run in every time it rained. And I had him replace the section of floor that had rotted away inside the door from the water, and that had a large, foot-sized hole (don't even ask) in it. Additionally, he fixed the windows, adding a larger one that I found on Ebay on the side that faces the house, and making the other windows not leak.

So now the shed is finally bird free and not rotting. That's something, I guess.

But still filthy.

But it's still covered with bird poop and is dark, filthy and disorganized -- I went in there the other day to look for my new curly-Q plant stakes, and had to spend about 20 minutes searching before I found them. Grrrr.

It's not like I need a super-cute garden shed that I can enjoy drinking cozy cups of tea in, like you see in magazines. Nor will I want this to be the nexus of seeds and flats of plants, since there's no light, water or heat (the electric fixtures in the photos no longer work because the power line to the shed was removed years ago). I just need a clean place to store pots, garden furniture in winter, and some garden tools and equipment (I keep the tools I use most in the garage, which is closer to the house and hence more convenient).

This is actually the improved state.

So I've made some plans for this summer, after all the spring planting is finished.

  1. During a hot, windy week, I will remove everything from the shed. I'll then remove all birds' nests and sweep the shed out thoroughly.
  2. Next, I'll use a garden hose with spray attachment and a long-handled scrub brush to scrub out the entire inside, including the rafters above that are covered in bird poop. I will have to wear some version of a haz-mat suit for this work, including a mask.
  3. Then I'll let the shed dry out for a week or so in the hot wind.
  4. Next I'll spray the inside walls with white paint. I'll paint the floor in brown porch paint, and perhaps the counters will be dark green.
  5. Then I'll put up shelves made of brackets and lumber, and some tool hangers. I've bought a couple metal trash cans for potting soil and compost, and I'll organize my garden supplies and pots in a useful manner.
  6. I might even get carried away and make little gingham curtains for the windows, so I can have a cute shed too...
Anyway, these are my plans, perhaps for later this month. Stay tuned for progress reports!

Thanks for reading. -Beth