Sunday, March 22, 2015

My North Border: Year 2 Photos

I've been thinking about my re-designed North Border: how it looked last year and how I might improve it this year. As I was looking at last year's photos of it, I decided to do a post showing how the border looked through the 2014 bloom season, analyze any weaknesses, and identify some improvements that I have made or that I'm considering making (I apologize that this ended up being a bit long).

Background: In 2013 I enlarged (to about 60 feet long by 12 feet deep) the long border behind my house that I can see from my kitchen sink and moved the roses that were there. My goal is to have a big mixed border filled with large swathes of flowering annuals, perennials and bulbs that are easy to see from inside the house, so I've been trying to plant mostly light-colored and bright-colored flowers that will show up against the evergreen windbreak in the background. The border ranges from full sun on the east (right) end to afternoon shade on the west (left) end, so plantings cannot necessarily be symmetrical or repeated down the entire length of the border.

In Spring 2013 I planted the North Border with peonies, 'Becky' shasta daisies (which mostly died over the hard winter), ox-eye daisies, three varieties of phlox, perennial helianthus, dame's rocket, daylilies, irises, yellow Asiatic lilies and a number of oriental lilies (very few of which bloomed).

Additionally, I tried to start hollyhocks and foxgloves from seed, but none of them survived the winter. Sigh.

And in Fall 2013 I planted 600 Darwin hybrid tulips, 360 mixed daffodils, 100 'Purple Sensation' alliums, a few white eremurus foxtail lilies (none of which bloomed) and 10 crown imperial fritillaria (none of which bloomed).

Here are some photos of the season last year (Year 2):

Early May 2014:

Some tulips bloomed by the first week of May 2014, but it seemed a pretty sparse show after such a long, cold winter.
The bulbs are interspersed with depressingly large bare spots where plants died over the winter. 
Problems: 1. Too much bare soil everywhere, but particularly in the front of the border (I planted the bulbs toward the back, so their fading foliage will be hidden by later blooms.) 2. The edges of the bed were messy and uneven. 3. Few of the daffodils that I planted bloomed, and those that did were much later than I expected (I need more early color).
Already Done: I moved six or seven small boxwood shrubs and the same number of pink-flowering mums from a holding area and planted them along the front. The evergreen boxwoods will provide year-round structure once they are larger, and the mums' foliage will emerge in spring so that there will be something coming up in front. I also cut a sharp edge around the border to neaten it up. Additionally, I replaced the Shasta daisies and hollyhocks that died over the winter. In fall I planted some white grape hyacinths in the front in small groups, which should increase into small clumps that will bloom in May.
Ideas:  Some basket-of-gold (Aurinia saxatilis) would add some more early bright color in front. Maybe plant some more daffodils, early-blooming varieties?

Late May:

By the second half of May, some of the tulips were fading and the 100 alliums were making a nice show. You can see the line of tiny boxwoods planted near the front along the length of the border.

A closeup of the alliums planted with hot pink tulips. A few daffodils finally showed,
surprising me with their late (and sparse) bloom.
By the end of May, the dame's rocket complemented the purple alliums, and more foliage fills out the back two-thirds of the border. And ox-eye daisies are starting to bloom. Still, the planting is pretty sparse.
Problems: General sparseness, lack of height in the back.
Already Done: I planted some yellow yarrow (Achillea 'Moonshine') in three spots in the middle third of the border, and transplanted some Veronica 'Red Fox' from my Rainbow Border, both of which should bloom by the end of May if they survive the winter. Also I planted some lupine seeds on the far left end.
Ideas: Perhaps some more irises would look nice; the few I planted did bloom, and when the clumps get bigger they'll make more of a show. Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis)? Maybe some pink salvia or perhaps some pink hardy geraniums? Any of these would give me more foliage and flowers across the front half of the border.

Late June:

The east (right) end of the border at the end of June. More foliage, including zinnias and four o'clocks from seeds, have filled in some of the empty areas, and petunias from starts give some color, but flowers are still few and far between.
The entire border, taken from an upstairs window at the end of June. Pretty colorless, in my opinion, with only the four yellow Asiatic lilies in the center giving a (small) show, in addition to the annual petunias and some snapdragons on the left.
Problems: The self-seeded snapdragons have taken over the entire left third of the border. This was good for weed suppression, but looked pretty boring. And not much is blooming. More height is needed also.
Already Done: I seeded more hollyhocks on both ends in the back of the border, and some of them have grown up this year and should flower next year in June (if they live). I also planted about thirty taller Asiatic lilies (3-4 ft tall). They should add height to the middle third of the border and provide color in late June and early July. Also, I planted some larger 'Gladiator' alliums, which bloom later than the 'Purple Sensation' that are planted there already.
Ideas: ??


The right half of the border in mid-July. The self-seeded sunflowers are beginning to bloom and add height to the border, and the other annual (zinnias, cosmos and four o'clocks)  foliage is about a foot in height, filling in the empty spots in front, The petunias have expanded and add color in front. 

The left half of the border in mid-July. The yellow Asiatic lilies are still blooming, and there is quite a show from the self-seeded snapdragons that have taken over the far end of the border. The perennial sunflower foliage is adding height in back.
Problems: Still not a lot of color
Already Done: I transplanted some taller light purple phlox to three spots in the middle third of the border.
Ideas: Try to plant annuals earlier?


By early August, the border is starting to look like something. The self-seeded sunflowers are blooming and giving height (10 feet!) to the border, and the zinnias are in full bloom (although I forgot to plant any annuals in the center spot, which is conspicuously bare -- I'll keep better track of where I plant seeds next year).
Problems: Gaps in front, weeds taking over especially in back
Already Done: I've promised myself to seed annuals more systematically, so I don't miss spots.
Ideas: I will mulch the back two-thirds of the border early next spring to suppress weeds. I need to leave the front third unmulched so the annual seeds can germinate.


By early September, the sunflowers have started to go over (and some of them blew over in a storm too). But the 'Lemon Queen' perennial sunflowers have been blooming for weeks, and the zinnias, petunias and cosmos are in riotous abandon. Also, the pink 'Clara Curtis' mums that I added this spring are in bloom at the front.
By the second half of September, the border looks a bit tidier (and sparser) after pulling out the sunflowers that had blown over.

A closeup showing a problem: the phlox I planted last year is much shorter and later than I thought it would be, so it isn't visible behind the zinnias planted in front.
Problems:  Many of the flowers have the same shape and texture; I need some spiky or other different shapes to add variety to the border. Maybe salvia reblooming will provide this? Perhaps the tall purple phlox will look different too.
Ideas: Move short phlox to the front this spring.


By the second half of October, the border is winding down.There are still a few zinnias, cosmos and petunias, and there are numerous snapdragons at the far end that love cooler weather, but that's about it.

The last flowers of Autumn are always precious. These
zinnias and a reblooming iris were a welcome sight.
Ideas: I'm thinking of adding some later flowering mums in front. The 'Clara Curtis' ones I already have in the border bloom in early September and are done by early October, when mums are needed. I do have some later ones in my front border that I'm thinking of dividing this spring and planting in this border. Also, I planted some tall asters in the middle of the border that I hope will fill out and bloom during October.


By November 1st, frost has removed nearly all color from the border.
In mid-November, after removal of most of the annuals in order to plant more bulbs, the border once again looks sparse.
Ideas: I'm thinking of putting a few evergreens in the back section of the border. Some kind of bright green tall shrubs or small, narrow trees might look nice against the darker green of the red cedar windbreak, and provide some winter structure. I'll think about it. Also, in years in which I don't need to plant more bulbs, I could leave some annual foliage standing, which would give more to look at in winter.

Additionally, there are some general problems with the border that are not month-specific -- As I mentioned, the left side is considerably more shady than the right side, so some of the things I plant there don't do as well. I need to find perennials and annuals that like afternoon shade for that area. I've tried planting some lupine seeds, but they were mostly crowded out by the snapdragons that took over that area; perhaps some foxgloves would look nice.

All in all, the North Border improved last year, even though it still needs some work and changes. I can't wait to see what last year's improvements, as well as the effects of maturing plants, will look like this year -- I'm looking forward to the show! And I'd certainly appreciate any suggestions from readers for ideas for planting or other improvements.

Thanks for reading! -Beth

Friday, March 20, 2015

Happy 1st Day of Spring!

Species crocus mixture, together with emerging Darwin Hybrid Tulip foliage.

Crocuses are the very sign of spring, and the sun came out today after several overcast days, so mine have opened their happy little faces to welcome the official First Day of Spring!

The photo above shows the garden bed I call the Mint Circle (I'll never manage to get rid of it all!), which I planted in Fall 2013 with 500 species crocus in a mixture from John Scheepers/Van Engelen, along with 325 Darwin Hybrid tulips from my local Menard's home improvement store. I've had pretty good luck with both, which seem to be coming up quite strongly again in their second spring. The Mint Circle (see my garden map under the "My Gardens" link, above) is near the southwest corner of my house, and the ground tilts to the south there, so it's an early blooming location with decent drainage, and bulbs seem to do well there.

Here's a more macro view of the Mint Circle (which is actually somewhat triangular in shape).

Also, in Fall of 2011, I planted some Large Flowering Crocus mix near the south side of our house, and even though I think I might have dug out most of them while planting other things in that area in subsequent years, a few of them are still left. They have larger and prettier blooms than the species crocus, although they aren't supposed to bloom as early or naturalize as well as the species ones. (Mine are in a warmer spot than my species ones, however, so they bloom at about the same time.)

Large Flowering Crocus mix. The flowers are so pretty, like little Easter Eggs!

The crocus time can be such a happy time if the weather cooperates, which it seems to be doing today. I'll think I'll have to get outside and work a bit in the garden while it's still sunny and relatively warm (in the upper 50s).

I hope you too will soon enjoy your own cheery spring blooms if you haven't done so already. Happy First Day of Spring!

Thanks for reading, -Beth

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day = Happy Springtime

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Today is perhaps my favorite holiday of the whole year -- not only do I celebrate my Irishness, but St. Patrick's Day is also synonymous with the beginning of Spring to me. As a gardener, there is no more happy time than the end of winter and the coming of warmer days and growing green and flowers. The association of St. Patrick with the emerald green of the Emerald Isle makes the holiday that much more meaningful to gardeners.

We go all-out for our celebrations in our house. I'll begin simmering the corned beef this afternoon and add the potatoes and cabbage toward the end. We'll start with one or more Irish cheeses (set out with one of my St. Patrick's Day cheese spreaders from my ridiculous collection), washed down with Irish beer such as Guinness or Murphy's. And I often buy a piece of Bailey's Irish Cream cake from our local natural foods co-op for dessert (heavenly!).

I decorate the table with St. Patrick's Day items, we wear our green gear and bedeck ourselves with the "swag" I've picked up over the years including a collection of silly leprechaun hats, and listen to classic Irish-American tunes (more 1940s NYC Irish than ancient Ireland music, I admit).

I wish everyone a fun and food-filled St. Patrick's Day, whether your Irishness is inherited or assumed just for the day -- as they say, "On St. Patrick's Day, everyone is Irish!" Thanks for reading, -Beth

( Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ready, Set...

Spring! We've been having absolutely lovely weather here in Iowa. Last week, we changed from -2F one night to 40s and 50s, literally overnight. It's like the knob was suddenly switched from "Winter" to "Spring," and warmth and sunlight was turned on. Now temps are in the 50s and even upper 60s, with sunshine every day!

Of course, the warmth has meant that our snow has finally melted and is almost gone!

I took this photo last Wednesday. My son, Robbie, was amazed that he could walk on top of the snow without sinking in (in his socks, no less!) because of the thick layer of ice on top of it. The ice layer made the melting take longer, but it was eventually no match for the strong sunshine and temperatures in the 50s and 60s. Note how much snow remained in the background.

One week later and only a tiny bit of snow remains in the sunshine-covered yard. The sweet williams (Dianthus barbatus) I seeded last summer are up in the bed in front of the fence. It's fun to see some green foliage peeking through -- not just white snow!

I've been working outside for a little bit each day this week, beginning to cut back the perennial foliage that I left last fall -- I think it's so much more enjoyable to do it in the early spring, when the first few nice days make me long to be outside. I still have many beds to cut back, but there's lots of time to do it, and I think I made a good start:

All neat and tidy, with the dried foliage and stalks (shown in the first photo) cut back and carted to the compost pile.

Lots of room for perennials to come up and annuals to be seeded in front of the porch. It always looks so empty in spring, but by midsummer these beds are so crowded I can hardly get in to weed them. I still need to prune back the roses.

This annual bed is ready for planting. I'm tempted to put in a few pansies and other cool-weather annuals, but I'd have to replace them in May, so it never seems very cost effective to plant bulbs and annuals just for a few weeks' show.
Maybe just a few pansies ....
I did get some sweet peas planted along the east side of the house. I've never had any luck growing them before, so I'm hoping these will work out.

Best of all, when I went outside today, I saw that the crocus are starting to bloom! I noticed that the foliage was up the other day, but this warm weather must have kicked in their overdrive to make them bloom ASAP:

What a happy sign of spring! The first flowers of the year!

More flowers to come....

I love a warm and early spring! The weather forecast says we aren't to drop below freezing even at night for the next ten days, and no snow is predicted. Even if we do get more snow after that, the ground will be sufficiently warm that it will likely melt off right away. I sure hope we stay warm -- after last winter's horribleness, we could use a nice spring.

Hope you are enjoying warm spring weather in your gardens as well. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Garden Visit: The San Antonio Botanical Garden

Greetings from the land of perpetual snow! Our hardened layers of the white stuff got topped off with a thick layer of ice during last night's sudden sleet storm, and sidewalks and porches were treacherous neck-breaking places all day. All our south-facing windows were covered with ice this morning (I couldn't even look out my bedroom window this morning as I usually do at the beginning of each day, because it was completely covered with a thick layer). And even more fun, my children and I are all suffering from miserable colds -- there's nothing like chipping ice off the sidewalk while coughing and sneezing. Uggh! When will this winter be over?

I guess I can't complain too much though, since last week I was able to get away for five days in San Antonio, Texas, to see the sun and green grass (my last post described the Alamo gardens).

Today I will share some photos of my visit to the San Antonio Botanical Garden (SABOT -- an acronym that brings to my mind a picture of wooden clogs being thrown into machinery...). It was a wonderful, sunny day with temperatures in the 70s when my husband and I visited the gardens, and I can't tell you how lovely it was to be out among green plants, leafy trees and glorious flowers!

A map of the SABOT (from their website). I was handed a printout of one of these
 after paying the $10 admission fee (which seemed a reasonable price for being able
 to enjoy the many well-tended garden areas). The scale of the map is deceptive
 -- the gardens are MUCH larger and more complex than they are depicted
on this simplified map.

Upon entering the garden, a terraced area near the admissions house contains many lovely pots filled with annual displays,
as well as large containers of trees and shrubs. These pots were a sight for winter eyes, I probably don't have to point out. 

In the main area between the Rose Garden and the Wisteria Arbor is a grouping of large, brick, raised beds, filled with mass plantings of violas, snapdragons and other cool season annuals. 

Every time the breeze blew, the scent of these yellow pansies was wafted across the gardens -- they could be smelled from probably 100 yards away. And the beds were also occupied by groups of cute little birds industriously hunting for worms. It was an instant breath of summer, between the wonderful scent and the chirping birds.

This orange tree was bursting with fruit. These are somewhat sour tasting (my husband
couldn't resist picking up one off the ground) mandarin-sized oranges.

The Old-Fashioned Garden is filled with many cottage favorites, including irises, sweet Williams, snapdragons and poppies (which we were told would bloom in about a month), as well as numerous exotic-looking subtropical plants that I'm not familiar with.

Caught this handsome guy drinking from the birdbath in the Old-Fashioned Garden.

These Paper White Narcissus are common in the San Antonio area, as it stays warm enough for them to perennialize. San Antonio was bumped from Zone 8B to 9A when the USDA updated the hardiness zones map in 2012, so it might not be possible for gardeners to grow every kind of Narcissus there (some require more cold to chill them). These in the photo smelled absolutely divine -- even better than they do indoors.

Although most of the roses in the Rose Garden weren't blooming yet, this climbing rose was, and was just what I needed to see in February.

The Rose Garden. Most of the rose plants have been pruned back, but the ones in the back right (including the climbing rose in the previous photo) were blooming, which seemed a miracle. The fountain was running, and we sat on the edge of it for quite a while, resting, listening to the water and the birds singing, and enjoying the sunshine.

Then we moved on to the Conservatory. The inside is filled with a wealth of tropical plants.

On the other side of the Conservatory, a courtyard opens onto several other glass houses containing a Desert Pavilion and a Tropical Room, on the right, and a Palm and Cycad Pavilion straight ahead. Although the plantings were beautiful and interesting, I confess that I thought the architectural style of this heavy concrete and glass complex was hideously ugly in a futuristic dystopian way, like something from Logan's Run. I couldn't wait to escape from it -- I guess there are a variety of tastes, which also change over time (the garden was opened in 1980).

Again, plants lovely, architecture not so much.

The inside of the Desert Pavilion.

After the glass houses, we walked up the curving ramp to the top of the Overlook. All along the edges of the ramp are growing rosemary, which was gloriously in bloom when were there. The bees were busily working away on all the flowers, and the herb smelled wonderful wherever we dared to rub the foliage with our fingers. Rosemary apparently grows like a weed in the hot, dry climate of Texas. Not so in Iowa: I think I might have killed the rosemary overwintering in our basement by overwatering it :-(

The Texas Mountain Laurel was in bloom and we saw this tree everywhere we went in town. The flower clusters smell very strongly like grape juice.

I believe this is Lantana. I've only ever seen it growing in small pots, not as huge shrubs, so I was thrown off by the size. The butterflies certainly loved it, as I managed to catch in this photo.

More lovely flower-filled pots, next to a giant purple chair, perfect for photo-ops.

Our visit to the SABOT gardens on that sunny day was so lovely -- just what I was hoping for on our San Antonio trip; well, that and the nachos and margaritas... ;-)  I hope it's not too long until our own weather turns from snow and ice to sunny, warm days like those I enjoyed in Texas.

In my next post I'll write about the SABOT's Japanese Garden, which I thought was one of the most successful garden areas, and therefore deserves its own post. Thanks so much for reading! -Beth