Monday, July 28, 2014

My Garden Shed: Before & After

The exterior of my garden shed, with the trellises my husband and I put up a few weeks ago, on which I hope the 'Blaze' climbing roses will clamber up in future years. The outside of the shed is getting cuter, but the inside didn't match.

Now that summer is well underway and planting is mostly done with, I've turned my attention to another project that I've wanted to to do for some time: fixing up the interior of my garden shed.

I posted back in early June about my plans for transforming the inside of my shed from a dark, filthy, bird poop-covered room into a clean, bright place in which to store pots, potting soil, and garden implements. Here are several Before photos from that post:

Dark, filthy and cluttered. What a mess!


Anything I did would have been an improvement.
(Note the old wooden cubbie.)
This is what I wanted. Houzz is a dangerous site, evoking envy and expensive plans. (Houzz, Bradley M. Jones)

My garden shed, which was undoubtedly a tool shed for earlier owners of this property, was probably built before 1920, so it's approaching a century in age and definitely needed some TLC. Previous owners put a new metal roof on it, so at least it was keeping water out, but there was a space around the edge of the roof in which birds could enter at will and they made nests inside and pooped all over the place. After several attempts to keep out the birds, I finally hired a handy man to run chicken wire along the exterior edge of the roof under the eaves, and that does keep the birds out (as long as we keep the door closed).

To add even more filth, my husband was storing straw in the shed because it was the only dry storage space available before our larger tractor shed was re-roofed with a matching metal roof. So the shed was truly filthy, with years of accumulated bird poop, straw, general dust and dirt.

Something had to be done, and this is what I did over the past few weeks:

First, I took out everything that was in the shed, and stored it on the far side of the shed on the mulched area there.

Then I tackled sweeping out the interior. This photo gives you some idea of the level of foulness I had to deal with. I'm really surprised I didn't get Avian Flu from the dust that was generated when I swept this mess out.
MUCH better, but still dark and dirty. Our much-used paint sprayer stands at the ready.
Too dark and cave-like. "Do something!" Puppy implores worriedly.
After painting: This is what the place needed.... Walls sprayed white, counters painted
dark green, floors rolled brown. Much, MUCH better.

And the final result....

This is just the kind of tidy, clean garden shed that I wanted --
complete with gingham curtains to make it cute and welcoming.
What a tidy, organized area! I installed shelves above the corner counter and rehung the cubbie that that had been in the shed before, after painting it white (it now holds string, plant markers and other small garden accessories).
Plenty of storage now, so I should have a much easier time of keeping my garden things organized.

I installed more shelves in the corner to store pots on. I have hundreds of 4" purple pots on the top three shelves, with larger pots on the lower shelves and floor. The metal trash can has potting soil with a metal scoop inside.

I made the two hanging peg racks out of shaker pegs and 1x4" wood (using a spade drill bit to make the holes for the pegs and gluing them in), and then hung the two racks on the wall. This will be a good place to store my less commonly-used tools -- I store the tools I use most often in the garage, which is closer to the house and more convenient.

Just across from the tool racks is another counter that is handy for putting things on, since it's next to the door.

In the last corner is room for garden stakes and wire fence to put around newly-planted plants. I will also install hose hangers on the left wall to store our garden hoses during the winter.

It feels so nice to have this project done -- I have been hoping for several years now to have a more attractive, usable garden shed, and now it's finally finished. It's so much brighter inside, now that the walls are painted white (and clean windows make a huge difference too). In the past often it took me a long time to find what I needed, because the shed was unorganized and too dark to see what was stored there, but now I have a bright, well-organized place to store my garden things. A satisfying feeling.

Thanks for reading! -Beth

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Midsummer Days

I haven't posted anything for the past couple of weeks because I've had some internet connection problems, but I think those are resolved now. Time for a summer update.

We've had a few hot days here in Iowa this week. This is the week for our county fair and it's been pretty sultry walking around the fairgrounds. My daughter won a blue ribbon for her chickens, though, and the Master Gardeners' display garden looks fabulous this year:

The Master Gardeners display garden looks really good this year -- it was a lush, peaceful oasis in which to relax in the midst of the crowds and noise of the Fair. I took more photos, but it was after 8:30 pm and the light was beginning to fail, so they were too blurry to post here. :-( They did have some areas that had certain themes, such as a Salsa Garden, a Smoothie Garden (plants that could be added to smoothies), a Vertical Garden, and a display of common weeds that are edible. I'm thinking of applying to the MG program this fall, so perhaps I will be able to help out with this garden in future years. 

There are plenty of midsummer blooms in my own gardens too. Here are a few shots from the past couple of weeks:

My Front Border, with phlox in bloom. I saw this phlox growing alongside my road and asked my husband to dig it out when we first moved here, so I don't know what variety it is. I call it my "ditch phlox," but I think it's kind of pretty.

A closeup of the center part of the Front Border, with cosmos, hollyhocks, coneflowers, speedwell and shasta daisies.

The patio area to the East of my house, with annuals and white phlox 'David' and white hollyhock.

The East side of my house, with annual daisies, 'Golden Celebration' and
'Happy Child' yellow David Austen roses (and some things in pots that
I still need to plant).

I redid this border on the north side of my garage this spring, digging in a large amount of compost to lighten up the wet clay soil in this area and moving and adding plants, and I think it's a great improvement over last year. Ligularia 'The Rocket', hostas, 'Multi-Blue' clematis, astilbes and impatiens are starting to fill in. The Hicks yew I planted several years ago is growing taller and I hope it will provide a much-needed vertical element here eventually.

Around the corner on the back of the garage, the daylilies I moved here in fall 2102 are finally starting to bloom well and fill in. I still need to plant something else here, but I'm not sure what to add for earlier interest in this area that only gets a few hours of sun each midday.

The Herb Garden is looking lushly herbal. 

The Kitchen Garden, with cutting flowers in front (and numerous self-seeded sunflowers).

My husband's cabbages, broccoli, onions and carrots coming up in the middle. I have nothing to do with these except buying seeds and sometimes starting them inside in the spring.

I couldn't resist adding a portrait of Little Kitty among the tomatoes.

Tomatoes, peppers, basil and annual flowers.

The Pond Gardens, looking out to the gazebo. 'Bright Eyes' phlox is blooming well this year.

A closeup of the phlox and the Buck 'Prairie Breeze' roses that are nearly finished with their initial flush of bloom.

The center part of the North Border. This border is only in its second year, so there are still some large gaps that I've been trying to work on filling in, but this portion looks OK.

My new Yellow Garden, with gold-leaved plants near the house.

It's nice to finally get a chance to rest a bit after so much planting in the spring and early summer, and to have time to take a look around and see how things are growing. I have no doubt I'll think of more projects for fall (including planting bulbs, which will start showing up in stores in only a few weeks!), but I'm now enjoying a well-deserved rest.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you're enjoying your own summer days! -Beth

Monday, July 14, 2014

Larry's Garden: A Visit in Person

Garden blogs are great: those who love visiting gardens like I do can see gardens all over the world and hear their owners tell the personal stories of their creation, without the need for costly, exhausting travel. What a wonderful forum this is!

But nothing quite compares to actually standing in and physically walking through a garden, particularly one that looks fantastic and has a wide array of beautiful plants, impeccably maintained. This was brought home to me by my visit to Larry and Sarah's gardens at their home at Oak Lawn Cheese Factory, not far from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. 

Larry is generously hosting Open Garden Days, every Sunday in July from 2:00-5:00 pm, which is a great opportunity to see some of the most beautiful gardens you'll probably ever visit in person. If you live in the Midwest, I urge you to make the trip.

The beautiful conifers surrounding the cool, breezy gazebo, where Larry and Sarah spent time chatting with us after showing us around their gardens.

My husband and I made the trip of about four and a half hours on Independence Day weekend. We stayed in Madison on Friday night and visited the gardens Saturday morning. I had never met either Larry or Sarah before, although I have been following his blog since last autumn, but they both made the two of us feel very welcome, and I finally got to see in person the gardens that I'd only seen in Larry's beautiful photographs.

My snapshots are not the artistic photos that Larry takes of his gardens, but I hope they will suffice to communicate something of the beauty and peacefulness of his magical creation:

The front garden, with rock gardens, conifers and many annual flowers. You know you've found the right place just by what's in the front yard -- but wait 'till you see what's around the corner....

Some of Larry's many magnificent New Millennium delphiniums. Some of them are over six feet tall and he spends so much more effort staking them than I do (mine invariably get blown sideways by our hilltop winds, but his stand tall and look amazing).
Just a few of the numerous Asiatic lilies that were coming into bloom when we visited. 'Pink Flavour' (left) and 'Purple Heart' (right). Breathtakingly lovely!

The Orienpet lilies on the left weren't blooming quite yet, but they stood more than six feet in height, even though Larry had planted them only a year and a half before! He told me that the peony on the right was some kind of incredibly rare sort that almost no one else can obtain. (I was afraid to walk too near it, for fear I'd somehow trip and break it off at the crown and destroy it!)
On the subject of being afraid to be too near a plant, this is apparently a deadly poisonous tropical plant, 'Inca Sun' brugsmansia -- although the fragrance is lovely at night, Larry told me.
Larry built the stone wall on the left with his bare hands, and it looks really good.
The path leads up to the 'Autumn Purple' ash tree, which I also have in the following photo...
I took another photo here, because there is something about this spot that spoke to me. I believe that great gardens have "special spots" that evoke feelings of tranquility, "all is right with the world," and this is one of the places in Larry's gardens that I believe has this feeling. The perfect tree ring and shady manicured grass under the tree canopy, surrounded by conifers and perennials, all these things resulted in this spot calling to me.
Another spot not far from the last one was also very impressive. I know my camera did not capture the brilliant blue-green of these 'Moorheim' blue spruce that almost glowed in the sunshine, but this was an spectacular sight, believe me.
Some concrete pieces molded in the shape of hosta leaves, stacked on a rustic fence that Larry constructed on the stumps of a row of arborvitae trees.
Larry's newer clematis structure, which is starting to become covered with these lush blooms. I can imagine how incredible this will look when it is completely covered in another season or two.
Another clematis, 'Betty Corning,' with small bell-shaped flowers that were sweetly fragrant. Magical.
Another "special spot" was the result of an unglamorous septic tank mound. The grassy knoll reminded me of ancient Native American burial mounds, and was an arresting place from which to survey the surrounding trees. The first photograph at top was taken from this vantage point. 

Larry's gardens are probably the most beautiful gardens I've ever visited in person. His hard work, single-minded pursuit of beauty, high standards of maintenance, forty-two years of learning about and encouraging plants and trees to grow and mature, (and no small amount of cash too, I've no doubt) have all resulted in what every gardener aspires to: to replicate man's version of the Garden of Eden, a personal heaven on earth.

I believe that most institutional gardens, as impressive and well-maintained as some of them are, lack this magical quality that only a personal garden can achieve after many years of striving by its maker to improve its beauty. There aren't many gardens in the Midwest that have achieved this quality, and of those that have, the chances to visit them are few and far between.

I can't recommend highly enough that you take advantage of this chance to visit such a garden. The weather when we visited was so perfect and the gardens so breathtaking, that I found myself not wanting to leave this Eden. I hope you get the chance to visit too.

Thanks for reading! -Beth

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Lilies and the Rainbow Border

This is one of the peak times in my Rainbow Border. The Asiatic lilies are now in full bloom (and they are certainly beautiful in themselves) and even more excitingly, the rainbow effect can be seen down the length of the border: the flower colors progress through the colors of the rainbow: white, pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and back to white at the far end -- mostly May/June blooming perennials and bulbs, and some annual flowers for later in the season. I started working on this color border in 2012, so it is now in Year Three, and is starting to look more filled in than in prior years (although there are still many improvements and adjustments that need to be made).

Note: I purchased these Asiatic lilies from The Lily Garden, and I could not be more happy with them. I've purchased cheaper bulbs from garden centers in the past, and they just don't perform as well as these have. I'm now looking at their catalog again with plans for next year....

Here's a look at what's in each section (I apologize for the lengthy post -- there are nine sections).

The White Section

The White Section features "Bright Diamond' Asiatic lilies, as well as 'Galahad' delphiniums, 'Icicle White' speedwell, 'White Clips' campanula, 'Immortality' iris, 'Winchester Cathedral' rose (David Austen -- which often reverts back to the pink Mary Rose parent, so I need to cut those branches off periodically), ox-eye daisies, pearly everlasting, 'Tahoe' candytuft, a white baptisia false indigo, as well as white petunias and cosmos. The 'White Triumphator' tulips I planted two years ago never came up, so I'll try to replace them this fall.

The Pink Section

The Asiatic lilies in the Pink Section are 'Iowa Pink' (appropriate, I thought!) and are surrounded by lavatera, 'Bath's Pink' dianthus, an unnamed pink peony and pink iris, 'Visca Fire' lychnis, 'Rosenwein' salvia, 'Gallery Pink' lupine, 'The Fairy' rose, 'Vivid' obedient plant, 'Callisto Pink' mum, 'Cerise Queen yarrow, and pink petunias, cosmos and zinnias, as well as a few 'China Pink' tulips. I've tried to move from lighter to dark pink from left to right.

The Red Section


The Red Section contains 'Blackout' Asiatic lilies, along with 'Red at Night' iris, 'Red Charm' peony, 'Red Birds in a Tree' scrophularia, 'Red Fox' speedwell (which is actually very pink, NOT red, so I'm probably going to move it into the Pink Section next year), a number of red oriental poppies and annual petunias, salvias and zinnias, as well as a few 'Red Shine' tulips, which will need to be replaced. I will need to find more red-flowering plants of all sorts next year to improve this section, which is a hard section to plant, because to avoid clashing, the reds need to change from purplish reds to orangey reds from left to right.

The Orange Section

'Liberty Hyde Bailey' Asiatic lilies are standing tall in the Orange Section (although I think I might move the left ones behind the irises this fall, because they're too much in the Red Section now). Orange is one of the harder colors to find taller May/June blooming perennials in, so I'm still working on this section. Other plants currently include 'Avalon Sunset' iris, knifophia, a daylily, 'Cooky' geums, 'Tiny Double You' Asiatic lilies, both tall and short marigolds, numerous California poppies that have reseeded and 'Ballerina' tulips, which are still going strong after two years.

The Yellow Section

The Yellow Section is one of the more successful sections, as there is no shortage of early summer flowering perennials: 'Yellow Whoppers' Asiatic lilies are surrounded by 'Moonshine' achillea, "Stella de Oro' daylilies, Missouri evening primroses, 'Moonbeam' threadleaf coreopsis, 'Laura Dessert' Peony, 'Julia Child' rose (just blooming now on the right side of the photo), a mullein that I found seeded in the Pink Section and moved to the back of this section, yellow petunias, marigolds and zinnias, as well as 'Cistula' tulips and 'Moly Jeanne' alliums, both of which seem to have petered out after two years.

The Green Section

The Green Section and the rest of the sections do not have any Asiatic lilies -- there don't seem to be any June-blooming Asiatic lilies in green (although 'Ice Caves' and other July-blooming trumpet lilies are very beautiful and I might add one even if it doesn't flower with the others). And lilies do not come in blue or the kind of blueish purple that I am looking for, only reddish-mauve purples.

But in the Green Section are a green rose Rosa viridiflora (it's very small this year because it died back to the roots over the winter), lady's mantle, a huge mess of Russian tarragon (which flopped forward after our big rains so that I had to hack it back, leaving an even bigger hole than the one in this photo, which was taken earlier in June and looks much better than the last photos with the hacked-back tarragon), some 'Oriental limelight' artemisia (which I'm trying to eradicate as it tried to take over the entire Green and Yellow Sections) a 'Fine Line' buckthorn at back left and some annuals including green petunias, nicotiana, zinnias and Bells of Ireland, as well as 'Spring Green' tulips and 'Hair' alliums. I will try to find a greenish iris this fall and perhaps the aforementioned green trumpet lilies.

The Blue Section

This is also a photo from earlier in June, before the delphiniums were blown sideways by the wind and rain of last week. Included in this section are 'Blue Bird' delphiniums and 'Dark Knight' delphiniums (at far right in the Indigo transition between blue and purple), 'Johnson's Blue' hardy geraniums, 'Electric Blue' penstemons, baptisia false indigo, 'Royal Candles' speedwell, and flax, bachelor buttons and 'Victoria Blue' salvias, as well as a few remaining allium azureum. It's hard to find truly blue flowers, and many of the campanulas, pincushion flowers and low-growing delphiniums that I planted in 2012 have perished.

The Purple Section

The Purple Section contains 'Lavender Lady' lavender, dame's rocket, 'Superba' glomerata campanula, 'Shauna Ann' verbena, purple irises, 'Heirloom' rose, purple petunias, ageratum and violet giant dahlia-flowered zinnias, in addition to 'Purple Sensation' alliums.

The Ending White Section

The Rainbow Border ends in another White Section, which contains 'Immortality' irises, a white peony, white lavender, a white baptisia false indigo, 'Lyrical White' salvia, white dame's rocket, pearly white everlasting, ox-eye daisies, cleome, alyssum and petunias. I have to be careful what I plant on the very end (in the right in the photo) because deer nipped off some petunias I put there last month, although they don't seem to venture further up the border (yet).

One more look back from the end of the border:

I'll continue to work on this challenging color border in coming years, and I think it has the educational effect of making me try new plants outside the ones I'm familiar with. I hope it will continue to improve as I work on it. 

Thanks for reading! -Beth