Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Kitchen Garden: 2014

I haven't posted much this summer about our Kitchen Garden. It's largely my husband's domain, although I designed and laid out the garden, and I help him by starting seeds occasionally, replenishing the mulch in the paths and the compost in the beds, plus other random tasks. But I confess that I'm usually so much more enchanted with the state of my flowers in bloom that I've largely neglected to post photos of the vegetables that we've grown.

Here are a few photos of our vegetable bounty from the last month or two:

A photo from back in July of the "greens" section of the Kitchen Garden: onions, celery, cabbage, chard, Brussels sprouts and carrots in the center.

Okra in August. This usually grows pretty well for us (and it's delicious pan-fried in oil with onions and curry powder), but this year we allowed it to be shaded out by the numerous self-seeded sunflowers that grew up around the okra plants (so pretty!), and unfortunately the plants didn't bear much. We'll know better next year: Okra like sunshine!

Pumpkins and watermelons last month.

Potatoes harvested in late August.

When we pulled out the superfluous sunflowers, we found this hoard of old cucumbers that my son had grown and left in a pile, which we thought was funny.


Some beautiful tomatoes.

The peppers did very well this year too.

Pumpkins against a backdrop of sweet corn gone over. We'll let the corn stalks stand
over winter to provide some windbreak for the chicken pen behind (to the south).

Winter squash.

Rainbow-colored chard. Quite pretty, I think.

A photo of the overall layout of the Kitchen Garden, taken in July. The front two rows (eight beds) are for cutting flowers (my domain), although I believe that I'm going to downsize next spring, using only the first four beds on the left. I just don't need that many flowers, and I know I can grow them more efficiently (and with less work) in half the space. I'll have fun over winter re-designing these beds on paper and deciding which flowers I like best for cutting.

My husband and I are still learning much about vegetable growing, and we make mistakes all the time. But I believe that we're becoming more knowledgeable each year, and the Kitchen Garden improves each season.

Thanks for reading! -Beth

Monday, September 22, 2014

September in the Rainbow Border

The Rainbow Border, as seen from the end of the rainbow progression of colors. The effect can clearly be seen, which is encouraging, as that's what I've working toward.

My Rainbow Border is in Year Three (I planted most of the perennials in 2012), and it's starting to look a bit more filled in this year. Most of the perennials bloom in May and June: tulips, irises, Asiatic lilies, peonies, alliums and the like, but from July on, the color is carried by annuals: mostly zinnias, petunias and marigolds.

But I've been thinking that I should add some tall garden phlox toward the back of the border. Phlox is long-blooming, blooms later in the summer and is available in a number of colors:
  1. White: the two White Sections of the border seem particularly sparse and could certainly benefit from an expansive perennial like phlox), and 'David' does well in other areas of my garden
  2. Pink: phlox comes in both dark and light pinks, and more purplish as well as more salmonish pinks
  3. Red: I'm not sure if the reds are crimson/purple reds, or more like scarlet/orange reds -- I would want to see the plants in bloom before I could know where in the Red Section to plant a flower
  4. Orange: but the orange might look more pinkish salmon in color and not fit in with my true oranges in the Orange Section
  5. Green-ish: I've seen a "Green Expectations" phlox that is white with green petal tips, which I might order next spring to give it a try
  6. Blue-ish: 'Blue Paradise' and 'Blue Boy' both look like they could be pretty close to blue in color, at least in photos online
  7. Purple: I have plenty of this in my gardens already that I could easily transplant
In fact, phlox seems to be available in pretty much any color but yellow (although there might be a yellowish annual phlox that is shorter in height). But there are plenty of other yellow-flowering perennials that I could plant instead in the Yellow Section.

Next spring (how I already love the sound of that phrase!), I will add some phlox to see if it helps the rainbow effect look more pronounced in late summer. 

Seen from the other end: white, pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple and back to white again at the far end.

Here are photos of each color section of the border:

The first White Section could seriously use some white phlox about now. The ox-eye daisies have taken over and not allowed the white cosmos to fill in as I wanted, and sadly, not much else is going on here. 

The Pink Section is a bit better, with roses, a mum, petunias and a single zinnia in bloom.

The Red Section could be worse, but I think I will try to move things around and add some plants next year to add some more color in this section.

I wish there were more orange flowers that weren't marigolds, but I suppose I should be happy that they grow so well in this spot. The California poppies that took over this section earlier in the summer seem to have waned, but the Zinnias look pretty nice, in my opinion.

The Yellow Section seems to do pretty well from late spring until fall. There are so many yellow-flowering plants that love full sun, that this section rarely wants for color.

The green zinnias and Bells of Ireland are going strong. I love green flowers!

The 'Victoria Blue' salvia is looking great in the Blue Section, with a few leftover delphiniums in back and bachelor buttons in front.

The Purple and ending White Section (with reblooming white iris). Some tall garden phlox certainly wouldn't go amiss in these sections. I'll definitely plant some here next spring.

That's it for the Rainbow Border, which I will continue to work on improving each year. Thanks for reading my progress report!  -Beth

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The flowers just keep going....

I immediately identified with Casa Mariposa as she remarked in her latest blog post that she always feels surprised that her gardens continue to bloom this late in the year, even though she planted everything herself and should, of course, know what's in her own gardens. I feel exactly the same way. Even though we've had some chilly nights (and a couple days that were 25 degrees below the average temps for this time of year), my gardens continue to surprise me with many flowers:

My delphiniums have re-bloomed for the first time this year, and although this secondary flush is shorter in height than the June flowers, that means they are easier to stake than the earlier ones (nice for the lazy gardener!).

This combination of aster, mum and annuals at the corner of the border around our house addition is a study in bold colors, with orange, purples, blues and dark reddish-pink. I think I like these colors together.
These low purple asters edging my Front Border are
a lovely mix of light and darker shades.

The cosmos and zinnias are still a riot in the North Border. I want this show to go on forever.

These perennial sunflowers, helianthus 'Lemon Queen,' are just right for the sunny south side of our garage.
This is just three plants -- they like to fill in (and up).
The Yellow Garden is filling in quite nicely for being less than six months old. The yellow butterfly bush (the tallest thing on the right side of the stepping stones) is very close to blooming. I will make sure I get some photos of it when it does, as I've never had luck overwintering them here in Iowa. We'll try again this year.
The four o'clocks are in full swing here in the Peony & Rose bed. I planted these because I read that they are poisonous to Japanese beetles and I did notice that a few weeks ago when I saw the beetles, the roses not surrounded by four o'clocks were attacked, but the roses surrounded by them were mostly left alone. Wow, one of my ideas might actually have worked! I'll test my theory again next year.

A pretty pink 'Clara Curtis' mum in the North Border.

Dahlias and zinnias in the Cutting Garden. These pink dahlias might be the nicest I've ever grown.
I will definitely try to save these over the winter.

I switched out my pansies for yellow mums, marking the change from
summer to autumn. Window boxes are always so cheery, don't you think?

I'm so glad we (might) have at least another month or so to enjoy these late flowers. I still have mums that haven't quite bloomed yet, so I'll have even more to look forward to, and I'll try to post photos of them when they are at their peak autumn glory (there's a particularly impressive orange one that I refer to as being "hu-mum-gous" that never fails to knock me out with its size and color).

I'm just starting classes for my county's Master Gardener program, so I'll be busy this fall, but I hope to learn a lot of interesting things that will not only help me make my own gardens more beautiful, but also allow me to get involved in helping others make their own gardens more beautiful and productive. I'll try to occasionally post about what I'm learning as I go through the program. Wish me luck!

To a late and warm winter -- and thanks for reading! -Beth

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Garden Visit: Larry Rettig's Historic South Amana Gardens

One of the gardens that I have wanted to visit for some time is that of Larry Rettig, a gardener living in South Amana, Iowa, who I first became aware of through his columns on Dave's Garden. I was quite excited to learn that he had published a book about Amana Gardening and his own garden last year, and I immediately requested that our local public library purchase it, so that it would be available for residents to read. (I reviewed his book in one of my posts last winter.)

In his book, Larry insisted that he is happy to give tours of his garden to interested visitors upon request, so I emailed him at the address he provided in the book and I finally got to see his gardens last weekend!

Larry lives in South Amana, one of the seven villages of the Amanas, a fascinating communal order founded in 1856 that continued until the 1930s, and the villages of which are now a National Historic Landmark. He and his wife, Wilma, live in the brick house built in 1900 that Wilma was born in. 

Wilma's mother maintained a large vegetable garden that Wilma's grandfather established at least a century ago, as well as several ornamental beds that she established in the 1940s, after the communal order (which forbid ornamental gardens) was disbanded and became a for-profit corporation.

Because of its historic status, the garden is listed in the Smithsonian's Archives of American Gardens, one of only around a dozen in the state of Iowa to be included.

Larry and Wilma still maintain the large vegetable garden, which they use to save seeds for a seed bank of historical Amana/German heirloom vegetable varieties, as well as for vegetables for their own table. But they have vastly expanded the ornamental areas (and purchased an adjacent cottage and attached land to further expand the physical boundaries of the garden as well), and Larry has collected many rare species as well as common plants. 

Here are some photos I took on my visit:

The side of the brick house that Larry and Wilma live in, immediately adjacent to the driveway. There are a number of vines growing on the old-style trellis that most houses in Amana used for productively growing grapes, as well as some rare species petunias that Larry received seeds for from a plant explorer whom he knows.

The lath house that houses a bench and numerous potted tropical plants that must be moved inside during
winter. He has a total of nearly 200(!) pots that he waters, cares for and moves outdoors and indoors
in spring and autumn.

The historic ornamental garden bed that Wilma's mother laid out in the 1940s. The 'Annabelle' hydrangeas are the original plants that were planted in the 1940s and still survive and thrive in this location. I had no idea that this variety was that old (here's an interesting link to its history).

A birdbath that Larry found in a dumpster and imaginatively filled with plants
 that resemble a spouting fountain and water running over the sides. Very clever!

The adjacent cottage property that Larry and Wilma bought and restored. The cottage had originally been used as the communal child care facility (because the community women worked during the day gardening and cooking for the commune). The fence was copied to match the original fence and beds both inside and outside it are filled with cottage-style plants. 

The Little Free Library that Larry and Wilma have made out of a display cart that they owned, along a footpath that runs through the village.

A mimosa tree that is actually growing in the ground here in Iowa.
This south-facing bed is evidently protected enough to allow it to survive
even last year's terrible winter, and there is also a much larger crepe myrtle tree
a few feet away. Hoorray for micro-climates!

A long perennial bed that runs along the orchard.

The grassy lawn to the right of the last photo, where the Rettigs have hosted several weddings. Larry and his father built the trellised screen house in the corner in 1990.

The part of their vegetable garden that is devoted to seed saving for their historic
heirloom seed bank.

An apple tree of unknown variety that is apparently grown from a cutting taken from an
old apple tree that was proven to have been planted by Johnny Appleseed himself.
The one apple in the photo is the first this tree has ever borne!

A whimsical tree face, with a little tree gnome peeking out of a "window"
 in his tree house.

Larry thinks these lush-looking ferns are probably as old as the house, as it was
common to dig them out of the woods and plant them on the north sides of houses
at the time the house was built, around the year 1900.

A Chinese Seven-Son Flower tree (Heptacodium miconioides). This is Larry's second
of these trees (the base of the trunk of his first one can be seen behind this tree
-- he had to cut it down when it died of a mysterious ailment that not even
horticultural specialists could diagnose).

Larry and Wilma's gardens are planted with a mix of rarities brought back from plant-hunting expeditions and many common historic plants that would have been grown in an Amana garden a century ago. Touring his gardens was a lovely experience and I learned much about growing both the rarities and the more common plants here in Iowa. I highly recommend visiting him yourself if you are in southeast Iowa (you can contact me using the "Email Me" button at right, and I can put you in touch with him if you are interested).

Many thanks to Larry for taking the time to show us around his beautiful gardens!  -Beth