Sunday, August 31, 2014

August Roses

The most beautiful time of year for roses is, of course, June (as every gardener knows). But if the weather is right, I've noticed that there can often be two more flushes of bloom (in addition to periodic individual flowers): one in August and one more right before frost. Here are a few photos of some roses in my gardens during August:

Light pink roses in my rose cutting bed. I've moved these around so many times that I can't remember the varieties -- although I did put tags on them and could go find out if I really needed to and could overcome my natural laziness... 

A photo of my rose cutting bed. I've interplanted the roses with four o'clocks, which I've read are poisonous to Japanese beetles, and I hope this will minimize the damage those buggers cause (and at the very least, the annuals will camouflage the defoliated, spindly legs of the roses later in the season when they look their worst).

A single red bloom, with bright yellow four o'clock
(perhaps not the best color combination, but the
mixed seed packet results in random colors, and these
roses are mainly meant for cutting and taking
inside the house.)

More red roses.

These ones look a little nicer with matching four o'clocks behind them, instead of bright yellow.

Yellow 'Happy Child' David Austen rose on the east side of my house.

'Seminole Wind' (aka 'Rosarium Uetersen'), a climbing rose in my front border. I replaced the 'New Dawn' roses that were growing up each side of the arch over my front gate a year and a half ago with these, for two reasons: first, because 'New Dawn' was too pale pink in color to look good against the white wood, and second, because it never repeated bloom for me (I've read that there is a new breeding strain of 'New Dawn' being sold widely that doesn't repeat like the original strain -- or it could just be that it didn't like the full sun, regular watering, and feeding I gave it...) I've moved the 'New Dawn' to the front of the chicken enclosure in our kitchen garden, where it doesn't occupy such a high-profile spot.      

The other side of the arch, with the other 'Seminole Wind' climber, with petunias and snapdragons. I really do like this deeper pink color much better than the pale 'New Dawn,' and I've read that it blooms generously throughout the summer and fall. I'm excited to see it flower in the second year, since many climbing roses don't bloom much at all for 2-3 years (the first year they grow roots, the second year they grow in height and the third year should be full of glorious flowers to reward our patience). 

I've been enjoying this second flush of rose flowering, and I'm also looking forward to the final, late bloom period too. In some years, I've had roses in flower as late as mid-November, even after most other annual and perennial flowers are gone (and in other years, October sees out the last of the roses). Here's to a late and warm winter this year.

Thanks for reading! -Beth

Monday, August 25, 2014

Zinnia Time!

This is a great year for zinnias, I've noticed. Something about the weather or the amount of rain and sunshine we've had during the past two months has really made them sparkle this summer. Here are a few shots of this easy-to-grow, old-fashioned favorite in my gardens:

Mixed zinnias of several different types in my cutting garden. These make lovely bouquets, and I've noticed that I actually like the smaller ones better for bringing inside, for some reason.

A single pink zinnia in the Pink Section of my Rainbow Border. I don't know why more pink ones haven't germinated from the seeds I planted in this section....

The red zinnias have done a bit better in the Red Section of the Rainbow Border. Shown here with some scarlet salvia, these have many more buds ready to flower.

Moving on to the Orange Section of the Rainbow Border, these look pretty good except for the hole-y leaves that have been bitten by some cursed insect or other, even though the red and yellow ones just a few feet on either side were left alone. Yet another of the myriad mysteries of gardening...

The Yellow Section is filled with color from these yellow zinnias. Most late-summer color in the Rainbow Border comes from annuals such as these zinnias, as well as the petunias and marigolds shown in this photo.

Green zinnias are one of my favorite colors of this flower. Green flowers are fairly rare, and these zinnias make a very important contribution to the Green Section of the Rainbow Border.

The one color that zinnias aren't available in is blue, so I'll skip to the penultimate Purple Section of the Rainbow Border. These were sold as one of the most lavender (as opposed to magenta, which has less blue and more red in it) zinnias available, but I'm not sure that these really can be called lavender, except perhaps for the fading older blooms. I don't want to sound overly picky, because they certainly are very pretty, but I'm trying to choose colors very carefully in this border, which is an exercise in color gardening (and a very good learning experience for me as a gardener). I have learned that zinnias really can't be very blue at all. (But perhaps I could mark the flowers that are slightly more blue and save those seeds, and eventually get bluer ones that way? --Though I'm sure many have tried this before.)

I would really like to find some pure white zinnias to add to the two White Sections that begin and end the Rainbow Border, but I've had trouble finding white zinnia seeds sold locally, and I've noticed that the zinnias that are sold as already-blooming annuals in packs aren't white, but are actually a cream color. Perhaps I will try to look harder next spring. Has anyone had experience with a commonly-available brand that is a truly white zinnia?

A few last mixed zinnias in neon colors in the North Border, which look nice with the petunias, sunflowers and shasta daisies, I think.

Zinnias are really one of the best flowers for adding color to borders and for cutting, especially in late summer when most perennials have finished blooming already. They are very easy to grow and also inexpensive -- I grew all of these from seed packets that cost about $1 apiece (except for the special "lavender"-colored zinnias that I bought online, which cost me quite a bit more...).

Some garden designers disdain such a "common" flower, but there's a reason why old-fashioned zinnias are so "common": they grow well and flower generously, as long as you have sufficient sun and heat for them, not something in short supply in Midwestern summers. (They originally hail from Mexico, South America and the Southwestern United States, which explains their love of strong sunlight.) They are also drought-resistant, long-blooming, and require little-to-no maintenance.

If you have a sunny spot, why not toss some zinnia seeds there in May and forget about them until you see their beautiful, cheery blooms? You'll enjoy their color continuing through autumn and they often reseed the next year. What's not to like about an easy, inexpensive, colorful and long-blooming flower like zinnas?

Thanks for reading! -Beth

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Strange and Eerie Fog

I woke up today and all was white and otherworldly outside my windows. People who live in places like the Pacific NW and England may be used to their London Fog, but this is pretty strange for out here in the middle of the prairie. Here are a few photos of my ghostly garden:

Thick as pea soup. The Herb Garden, with only the edge of the field beyond. It's like a curtain has descended.

You can just make out the gazebo across the Park, but not much beyond.

The Garden Shed and three mysterious trees beyond.

Our orchard looks downright creepy. Very sinister....

Even sunflowers look less cheerful without sun.

Beyond the Yellow Garden and the rest of my back yard, it looks like you might fall off the edge of the earth.

Past our house, the driveway appears to lead into the void....

Strangely peaceful, though, as it starts to lift.

Thanks for reading! -Beth

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Surprise! Every year I forget about these Surprise Lilies.

Every spring, the first green foliage to emerge from the earth on my property is the Surprise Lily, many of which were growing here when we moved to our property in 2008. Lycoris squamigera is the scientific name for this bulb, which has numerous common names: Surprise lily and "naked ladies" (due to the lack of foliage covering their stems) are the names I've heard around here, but it's also known as spider lily, magic lily, resurrection lily, August lily, pink flamingo flower and hurricane lily, among other common names.

But by any name, they are a beautiful flower with an interesting growth habit: As I mentioned, the foliage is the earliest to emerge from the ground each spring, in early March -- their green leaves truly a sight for winter eyes.

This photo from early March a few years ago shows the Surprise lily foliage poking out of the ground.
I love spring!

By the end of March, the long, strappy leaves can be more than a foot in length. Sometimes these leaves annoy me if they flop all over, so I've been known to trim them down by one-third to one-half. This doesn't seem to hurt the flowering (but if you removed all the foliage, the bulb would probably not store enough energy to flower later).

The strappy leaves in late March.

After six weeks or so, the leaves turn yellow and eventually shrivel up and disappear. "How disappointing!" one might think. All those annoying leaves and then nothing. But by this point, so much else is happening in the garden that the lilies are forgotten, lost in the mists of garden time. Tulips bloom, followed by peonies, irises, roses, delphiniums, Asiatic lilies, coneflowers, shasta daisies, phlox, Oriental lilies and of course, the numerous glories of summer annual flowers. Each has its moment, like the ages of man.

But as late summer brings us back to school, suddenly, out of a bare spot where nothing visible existed before, appears this:

Hey, that wasn't there yesterday.
Oh, yeah, I totally forgot about those!

Just when the sunflowers and zinnias and cosmos are looking great and the vegetable garden is yielding its full bounty, up pops a tall shoot, overnight! And the next day, it flowers.

They manage to take me by surprise every year, although their beauty
should be unforgettable.

With peony foliage behind, and four o'clocks and roses in the background.

Lovely and fresh, just what is needed in August.

I greatly enjoy my surprise each year when they bloom again. I'm so glad they were here when we bought this property, and I highly recommend them to you as a fun flower -- they do well in partial shade and full sun, are virtually maintenance-free, and they multiply, so you can dig them up and divide them to have more every five years or so, but only if you want to. But who wouldn't want more of these beautiful lilies?

Thanks for reading! -Beth

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Early August Blooms

Even though I feel mentally and physically pooped out at this point like I always do by mid-to-late summer, my gardens don't notice and they just keep doing their thing. This sometimes seems to me to be somewhat miraculous, until I realize that the uncontrolled and unpredictable nature of plants is what keeps them blooming even if I'm not constantly cutting back, weeding and watering everything. I may have planted them, but the plants are on autopilot.

We threw our kids' birthday party at our house and had lots of people over for that event last weekend, so we did, in fact, spend some time mowing, weeding and deadheading in anticipation of that. But this week has been spent preparing for the beginning of the new school year home schooling my kids, so I've been a bit distracted, and I confess that feel a bit surprised that there's actually all this beautiful flowering going on in spots outside my house, even though, again, I planted all of it.

Anyway, here are a few photos of nicer scenes from my gardens over the past week or so:

Obedient Plant (physostegia), purple phlox, shasta daisies 'Becky', hollyhocks, coneflowers and cosmos in the middle section of my Front Border.

The east end of the Front Border, with phlox and cosmos. Roses can be seen in the background....

...and here's a closeup of them. 'Lovely Fairy' is looking good these days, after dying back nearly to the ground last winter. This is their second flush of bloom.

The oriental lilies on my porch railing (which really needs to be painted) might be 'Stargazer'. They smell heavenly.

The Peony Bed, with roses interplanted with four o'clocks, which are supposedly poisonous to Japanese beetles. I've noticed a lot fewer of those nasty insects this year, and I read that our very cold winter killed much of their larvae. One good thing about the dreadful winter, anyway.

The Rainbow Border. The zinnias are starting to bloom, but the color effect is still a bit weak, although it can still just be perceived.

The North Border is starting to become more colorful, filling with sunflowers, zinnias, petunias and cosmos. There are still a few holes in this border, in its 2nd year, but I'm thinking about how to improve it. I think I'll add some tall Asiatic lilies this fall to start with.

A closeup of the center of the North Border. The zinnias are looking especially nice this year, I think.

And another closeup, with shasta daisies, zinnias, sunflowers, phlox in back and a lovely pink mum 'Clara Curtis' just coming into bloom at far left.

The north, shadier half of my White Garden beds, with white liatris, meadowsweet filipendula, cimicifuga, 'Crystal Peak White' obedient plant and 'Henryi' clematis on the close side of the arbor seat.

The south, sunnier half of the White Garden beds, with 'David' phlox, 'Casablanca' Oriental lilies and 'White Swan' coneflowers. White wisteria is growing on the the arbor seat pillars (which has not yet bloomed for me in two years). This area is at its peak right now and looks all right.

Flowers really are miraculous things, are they not? Such beautiful blooms despite our spotty attention. Thanks for reading! -Beth