Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Review of 2014 Goals: How Did I Do?

As the year ends, this is the time to assess what was accomplished over the year. I'm going to do this in two posts.

In this post, I will assess how I measured up to a post that listed all my 2014 goals for my garden areas that I posted here on January 1st of this waning year.

I apologize that this is just a boring list. The list is pretty long, as I have numerous garden areas that needed a lot of work. Feel free to skip to the end if you're short on time or interest in the minutiae of my garden -- this list is really more for me, a self-assessment that I've posted online to keep myself honest.

Everything in normal font is from my original post; my assessment and comments are written in bold font. I will answer:

  • Yes, if I accomplished what I wanted
  • No, if didn't get it done, and I still need to do it
  • Some, if I partially accomplished what I wanted to do
  • Decided Not To, if I realized there might be better ways to handle a particular area, or I need to think more about what I want in that area

First, my general goals:

1. I would like more early flowers: bulbs, earliest perennials, flowering shrubs and small flowering trees. By March, I'm desperate to spend time outside and see any signs of life that I can, and I've decided that these early flowers give me more joy than the very last ones in October and November do. I'd like to include some early cutting flowers among these: bulbs and branches mostly. Some. I planted some winter aconite some other yellow-flowering early bulbs such as crocus, hyacinths and early daffodils in my Yellow Garden, that I will be able to see from my windows.

2. No more new garden areas this year -- only work to improve the ones I already have. HAH -- No! I only made THREE huge new island beds on the west and north sides of my house. In my defense, those areas did need something, because my other garden areas were located away from the house, which didn't seem balanced. Two of the three new beds are planted with lower-maintenance trees and shrubs, so the new beds aren't as crazy as it might seem, and the third, the Yellow Garden, gives me something bright to look at outside my dreary north window, which I really did want. But still, the answer is most assuredly No. 

3. I need to develop a higher standard of maintenance, weeding more regularly, perhaps edging beds? I'd like a neater look in the garden. Yes. I cut neat edges around nearly all of my old and new beds this year for the first time. Weeding is still an ongoing struggle, but one I did work to improve.

4. I'd like to take better garden photos -- better in quality and more often. My father very kindly gave me a nice camera for Christmas, and I resolve to spend January learning how to use it. No. I still haven't figured out how to use the new camera, and I'm ashamed to still be taking snapshots. This is still a goal of mine.

Goals for specific areas of my garden:

1. House
     I really should repaint our white picket fence, and I'd like to have some new, pretty cushions for our porch furniture. No. I'll definitely paint the fence this spring, and keep looking for fabric I like for new cushions.
2. East Patio and Gardens
     The east bed of the east patio area is overrun with grass and creeping charlie, and I should remove at least the smaller perennials and maybe even the rose bushes, spray at least twice over a week with round up to kill grass and perennial weeds, put a brick border along the back to keep grass out, and replant. We'll see what gets done this spring.... Yes. I completely re-did these beds, removing everything and spraying repeatedly, and put a brick border along the back to keep out grass.
3. Front Border
    These borders will fill out more, as I completely re-did them in Fall 2012. I'll replace any perennials that didn't make it through the winter, and try to plant or seed annuals by mid-May. Yes.
4. Mint Circle
    I'm eagerly waiting to see what the crocus and tulips I planted this fall will come to, and will plant annuals from seed in May. Yes.
5. Addition Borders
    I'd like to plant marigold plants and some seeded annuals in orange and purple colors in the front border, improve the blue beds on the west side, and especially find some attractive shade plants for the north side this year. This will require some research, as I know very little about good shade plants. Perhaps some ferns would look lush. Yes. See #2 under General Goals for the north side bed, the new Yellow Garden. I also planted more blue plants in the west beds; the annual salvias looked particularly nice there this year. Much improved.
6. White Beds and Pergola
    I'll probably have to replace the non-hardy double white anemone "White Everest" that were sold as hardy (but only to Zone 7!). More annuals. I need to find some way to allow the white clematis to attach itself to the smooth posts  on the back on the pergola. perhaps some chicken wire wrapped around the posts and spraypainted white to match the pergola post? Yes. I used chicken wire to provide a lattice for the clematis to climb up. One of the two died, however, and I must replace it this spring. Planted more white annuals which looked nice, and white bulbs for spring.
7. Kwanzan Cherry Tree Grove
    Fertilize? Trim off sucker growth. Yes. Completely re-did this area to the west of the house, moving the cherry trees and making the new West Island bed.
8. North Windbreak with tunnel to Celtic Cross Statue
    I'm getting tired making this list already, so I'll plan on leaving this area alone this year... Yes. All I did was keep it mowed under the trees.
9. North Border
    a) See how first year's planting fills in and what survives the winter (Not much survived, unfortunately.)
    b) add more perennials -- I will think about what else might look nice there Yes. I planted many new things this year.
    c) plant annuals earlier this year, by May 15. No. Around May 25th, although the ground was colder than usual this May because of the late spring. (Really, I didn't delay planting on purpose, I was just so busy I didn't get to it until later.)
10. Peony Border
    This is one of the areas that needs careful consideration and much work. I need to remove the nursery bed plants from the north end and replace them with something, perhaps starting a collection of iris. Some more bulbs planted in fall, perhaps. I will think about this some more in the coming winter months -- as this bed in in line with scenic views of fields, perhaps it would be best not to have showy flower displays, at least after spring? Yes. I moved the nursery bed plants, planted about 20 irises, mulched and edged this bed. There's still work to be done, but I made nice progress on this area this year.
11. Herb Garden
    Plant basil from seed this year as it was unsuccessful from starts the past two years due to drought. Seed by mid-May. Yes, although the seeds did poorly. Maybe I need to amend the ground to get basil to grow better.
12. East Windbreak with secret tunnel
    Again, nothing here.
13. Rainbow Border
    More annuals, planted and seeded earlier. Assess performance of perennials. Need more blooming in June, and this will require some more thought and research. See how the tulips are holding up. Yes. I planted more annuals and planted more bulbs in fall. I still need to move the Red and Pink Sections around and plant more there.
14. Windmill
    The bed under the windmill has been a disaster, because the trumpet vine planted by our predecessors has been impossible to kill. This year, after the daffodils have bloomed, I will mow them off and mulch heavily with compost. Then I will carefully spray anything that comes up, trying to avoid the two climbing roses (perhaps pruning them back on the edges to make their footprint smaller). I will need to get some kind of deadly biocide tree killer, I think, as Roundup has been unequal to the task. I must get this under control this year. Yes. not completely under control, but I did move the daylilies out of this area, mulched with six inches of compost to smother weeds and my husband sprayed repeatedly. I still need to cut back the roses to allow for spraying closer to them.
15. Pond and Four L-Shaped Garden beds
    Use algae control more regularly in spring. See if water lilies survive winter (I left them in the pond this year, as they did not flower last year, unlike their first year.) If they don't come up, I will replace them with new plants. In the beds, plant pink petunias this year (vinca was less than impressive last year). Yes. I used more algae control, and it seemed to work a bit better. The water lilies did survive the winter in the pond and I fertilized them, so they flowered. The petunias didn't do well in this area. I probably need to amend the soil to grow annuals better here -- I'll try them again next year.
16. Orchard
    Plant replacement apple and pear trees for the missing ones. See if more daffodils came up this year and take photos. I planted 500 in fall 2012, but they didn't all come up for some reason, and I bought them from a reputable bulb company. Some. Replaced one apple tree, but we still need more. Only a few daffodils bloomed, so Brian will spray the area this spring to get the weeds under control. Perhaps we'll try to plant more daffs in a few years after the new grass has established itself.
17. Flowering Tree Grove
    Buy two more flowering trees for spots we didn't fill last year, replace any trees lost over the winter. Also, I would like to plant some early-flowering shrubs that I can cut for forcing inside, so I will have more flowers for indoor arrangements. No. Still need to plant more crabapple trees. I WILL do this in spring.
18. Gazebo
    Plant border around gazebo with easy, drought-resistant, deer-resistant shrubs, perennials and annuals. Yes. However, one of the roses I moved there died.
19. Garden Shed and Surrounding Borders
    Move hostas from Peony Bed to west side under tree, also buy 'Sum and Substance' large hosta. Transplant ferns next to shed on west and south sides. Other partial sun perennials, annuals? Yes. I did all these things.
20. Tractor Shed Pavement and Mock Orange Hedge
    Clear off debris and junk from pavement. No. There is still a lot of junk in this area. I need my husband's help to remove it, because it's mostly his stuff.
21. East Tractor Shed Border and Fern Border
   I need to find a way to attach the yellow climbing rose to the side of the shed. Whether I should make a large lattice or simply tie the rose to staples is a question. Decided Not To. The yellow rose died and I completely redesigned this bed.
22. Garage Borders (North, West and South)
    All three of these borders need a lot of work and more plants. The south is blazingly sunny, the west is mostly shaded, and the north is in full shade. I will think about this over the winter.... Yes. Moved many irises to the sunny south side, added a few more daylilies to fill out the west side, and re-did the north side.
23. Forsythia Bed
    I'd like to plant some more perennials and perhaps a few annuals here, but I should plant early, since it's difficult to run a garden hose to this bed to water. I'll have to decide what might look good here with the forsythia, the two large peony bushes, the white rose and the mums I planted here in fall. Maybe some nice June-blooming perennials, so garden visitors have something to look at when arriving. Some. Although I did plant some daffodils under the forsythia, which I hope will bloom simultaneously. Still might plant more.
24. Kitchen Garden and Chicken Compound
    I need to put more compost in the beds, and perhaps some garden soil in beds I will seed for cutting flowers, since seeds don't start well in pure compost. We also need more mulch in the paths. both of these could probably wait another year, though, if I can't them done. I want to plant more flowers for cutting, ones that I love to cut but that will be not too much work. I will look into more bulbs to plant this fall, so I will have more early cut flowers in spring. Yes. Filled beds with more compost, but didn't get the paths mulched. Planted more bulbs this fall. I've decided to reduce the number of cutting beds I maintain and redesign them this spring -- this will give me something to plan over winter.
25. Upper Pasture
    I made a mown grass maze for my children here last summer, but perhaps something different would be in order for this year? Hmm.... Decided not To. I just left this area alone and let the grass grow.
26. Fenced Pasture
    I hope our young weeping willow trees survive the winter and last summer's drought. I'd like to see them grow larger in 2014. Yes. the trees survived and grew quite a bit this year, not that I was responsible for this.
27. Lower Pasture and Wildflower Strip
    This year, I will select a wildflower mix that includes some larger-flowered annuals that can be seen better from the road, such as medium-size sunflowers (tall ones might blow over if it's windy). Decided Not To. I just let the strip reseed and saw what came up. We'll need to reseed this spring.

The Grand Tally

19   Yes       
 6    No        
 3    Some
 3    Decided Not To
31   TOTAL

So I completely accomplished 61% of my January goals, accomplished "some" of 10% (we'll say half or 5%) and decided against another 10%. I'd say this adds up to a 76% success rate.

I failed to accomplish 19% of my goals, plus the other 5% for the "some," for a fail rate of 24%.

Some people might say I earned a "C" grade for my efforts, but I think accomplishing three out of four goals for a hobby in a single year is probably a respectable result. 

Additionally, as I gardened this year, I thought of and made many improvements that were not on this list, things that I thought of after January 1st. My next post will be a more positive short list (with illustrative photos) of those most important accomplishments, which should be more interesting for readers to see.

Thanks for bearing with me through this long list, and Happy New Year! -Beth

Friday, December 26, 2014

Merry Christmas!

It's good to be back! After a month away to focus on other things -- taking a mental break from gardening, working on my new research/writing project (a book about Iowa garden history), and the last two weeks of preparing for Christmas -- I'm glad to be back writing this blog, thinking about gardening and catching up on what others have been doing.

It's hard to believe that another Christmas is over -- the last of the family staying with us left our house this afternoon, and the weather was so warm, I actually worked outside in the gardens for a little while today -- not something I ever remember doing in late December before. After an unusually cold November, most of December has been quite mild, and the last few days have seen temperatures in the 50s, with no snow on the totally non-frozen ground. It's like we have English weather this month. We had not a white Christmas, but a brown one this year -- and I liked it!

Yesterday when I was outside, I noticed a disconcertingly large amount of grass growing into my front border, and it was so nice outside today that I got out the gardening clothes that I had put away for the year and worked outside, pulling out most of the grass. I feel better now, knowing that it won't be taunting me every time I walk past it during the whole winter (which still lies ahead....).

I also cleared out a spot right next to our house on the east side of it, and prepared the ground for planting early cool-season annuals like sweet peas there. I was inspired to do this by reading my new book that I received as a Christmas present:

This was my most useful Christmas present!

"Cool Flowers" was published in October by Lisa Mason Ziegler, a cut-flower gardener in Virginia. Even though she gardens in a warmer zone (Zone 7) than I do (Zone 5), she has included advice for colder-winter gardeners in her book, and I think her advice might be sound for Iowa. The book describes how to grow annuals that like cooler weather, like sweet peas, which I've never had any luck with in the past.

After reading "Cool Flowers," I realize that the problem was that I never planted them early enough. Unlike in England and the west coast, Iowa spring weather moves from frozen ground to summer heat in a relatively short period, so the cool weather period that sweet peas thrive in is limited.

Gardeners in mild winter areas can plant sweet peas in fall, but that won't work here. The trick in cold-winter areas (like Iowa) is to plant earlier in spring than we're used to planting things. When midwesterners think of annuals, we think of petunias, zinnias and other warm-season annuals, which cannot be planted until after the last expected frost date, (about May 10 here). But cool season annuals are different.

To be able grow sweet peas, I now know that I must start them in February (inside) or March (sowed outside), protect them a bit near the house until April, and shelter them from the hot western sun of early summer. With any luck, by doing this I will have them blooming in April, May and possibly June.

"Cool Flowers" also describes other flowers that tolerate light frost, about 30 different varieties in all, and relates how to grow each kind. These include flowers that I would like to try such as Canterbury Bells, godetia, lisianthus and Iceland poppies, as well as ones I've grown with success like snapdragons (one of my favorite flowers, and gloriously pictured on the book's cover), bachelor buttons and Bells of Ireland.

I'm looking forward to having something to do in late winter and early spring, and I'm curious to see if this method works.

Anyway, it's nice to be back, and I'll try to post and read your own blogs at least once a week until spring, when I will again aim for posting twice a week.

Hope you too had a wonderful holiday with family and friends. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Merry Christmas!