Sunday, April 26, 2015

The First Mow of the Season

Ahhh. I finished the First Mowing of our yard the day before yesterday, and it's a satisfying feeling. I feel like we're not truly in the gardening season until the grass has greened up and I've mowed it to be all neat and trim and tidy. I had mowed the little yard inside our picket fence (where the grass greens up earlier) twice already, the first time on the day before Easter, but this was the first time I mowed everything.

Some people might view the first mow as meaning only that I'll again have a weekly chore for the next six months (barring a serious drought), but I still look forward to it each spring. It's so lovely to have green, green grass after looking at the drab non-colors of winter for four months, and if mowing is the price of a trim, tidy, emerald-green lawn, that's okay with me.

The mowing's really not so bad, even though it does take some time, probably an hour and a half to mow the almost two acres of grass that I regularly mow. I have a fast, efficient Zero Turn Radius (ZTR) mower with a 51" deck, so it could be worse. But I have managed to reduce the time I spend mowing by doing the orchard and the grass areas along our driveway only once a month or so -- and last year I let the driveway go all summer and it didn't look too bad, parts of it flowering with what I think was hairy vetch during much of the season.

I use the time on the mower to think about things, both garden-related and other things in life. I find it to be like any other mindless and not physically demanding job that you are experienced in doing -- it can be comforting and familiar. On a beautiful sunny day, it can actually be a pleasurable task.

And I love the way it renders my gardens orderly and presentable. I think of mowing like vacuuming, but outside: I always try to do it before people come over to visit, so that our property will look its best, just as I try to to tidy up the inside of our house before we have guests.

I know that my views are politically incorrect in this age of environmental guilt -- each of us can actually Save the Entire Earth by giving up our lawn! But I live in Iowa, where there's usually enough rain to keep a lawn green without effort, and a freshly-mowed lawn gives me so much pleasure that I have no intention of giving it up, even if I have reduced the areas I keep mowed (simply because I don't enjoy mowing those difficult areas).

Here are a few shots of my yard and gardens, after the First Mow:

The Big Yard, as viewed across the Pond Gardens.

The Back Yard, behind my house. The North Border is at right and the Yellow Garden can been seen at left.

The Yellow Garden and West Island, as seen from the North Island. There's a lot less area to mow in this part of the yard too, after I made these island beds last year.

The Front Yard, with the tulip display still blooming in the Mint Circle. The White Garden tulips can be seen in the center. The grass was obviously pretty long here, as you can see from the clippings.

The Kitchen Garden and Chicken Shed & Run.

The little front yard inside the picket fence. As I mentioned, this grass, which I installed as healthy new sod several years ago and which my husband fertilizes, greens up several weeks earlier than the rest of our yard, so this has been mowed three times now. I dig the weeds out of this small patch by hand (I've already gotten that dandelion you see at the forefront of the photo!).

I hope that you are enjoying the greening up and tidying up of spring where you live as well. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Monday, April 20, 2015

Tulips and Other Spring Delights

I planted these Darwin Hybrid tulips in Fall 2013, and they still bloom well in this sunny, south-sloping bed.

Spring is progressing nicely here in Iowa, and we've had some warm days in the 80s already. Today was cooler as will be the next few days, although we're not supposed to drop below freezing before it warms up again later in the week.

I was incredibly busy in the gardens over the weekend, planting numerous perennials, transplanting things that need to be moved, cutting back last year's foliage and digging out weeds that have managed to gain a foothold already. This made me pretty exhausted and sore, as it does every spring after a lazy winter inside, so today's windy, chilly weather was a welcome opportunity to rest up.

But I made sure to spend some time enjoying the lovely sunshine and also managed to snap a few photos of what's in bloom around the gardens during this "tulippy" time of year.

The Front Border, with Basket-of-Gold (Aurinia saxatilis), tulips and grape hyacinths.

More of the Front Border. The more times I see the Basket-of-Gold blooming in the spring to cheer up cloudy days, the more I grow to admire and like it. The big clump next to the sidewalk is probably ready to divide, and I know some places that could use some of this good cheer....

Red tulips and purple creeping phlox in front of my porch.

The pear tree next to my Garden Shed, in bloom and underplanted with tulips. I think I'll plant some bluebells under this tree as soon as I run across some. I've never had any in my gardens, and I think this is an oversight on my part.

Tulips and hyacinths just coming out in the White Garden.

Tulips and violets near my front steps. The little violets have such cheerful little faces!

The North Border in Year 3. It definitely has more growing in it this spring than last spring -- my post last month about this border shows how terribly sparse it was last year. (And only some of the growth is weeds, especially right on the edges; I have asked my husband to spray the edges before I mulch them....)

Another view of the North Border, from my kitchen sink window. I just transplanted the boxwood shrubs from another location in my gardens to form an "X" among the daylilies planted in this bed (the stick is to mark the middle point). This will give something more to look at during winter, I hope. I may also add some annuals, bulbs or something else in this bed that is on the north side of my house; I haven't quite decided yet. There is an old stone cellar below, and there is not more than 18" of soil depth here, so I have to stick with shallow-rooted, partial shade plants, and I might have to water supplementally during periods of drought. (It's kind of a tricky area, but I was tired of mowing it -- usually scalping it because of the uneven terrain -- when it was covered with grass, so I made a bed in this raised area. Some more thought is needed... suggestions?

The Yellow Garden, in Year 2, is starting to "yellow up" quite nicely, with tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, as well as golden foliage plants. Crocus, winter aconite and rock garden iris have already finished blooming here too.

Another view of the Yellow Garden. I'm pretty sure that the butterfly bush (the big skeleton at left) is dead, as I have never been able to overwinter them here, but I'll wait a bit more before hoicking it out -- however, its replacement is already waiting in a pot by the side of my house....

The good news is that nearly all the shrubs and trees that I planted last year have made it through the winter, with only a few exceptions. The magnolias and other flowering trees planted in my new island beds are starting to bloom, and I hope I'll be able to include a few pictures in my next post.

Hope you're not working too hard in your own gardens -- this can be a busy time of year. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Garden Visit: Bulb-tacular MOBOT

The Climatron, the MOBOT's futuristic geodesic dome greenhouse constructed in 1959, seen through the Rock Garden's display of rocky and alkaline plants.

My husband and I spent the weekend in St. Louis, about a four-hour drive south of here, visiting our good friends and meeting their new baby, and one of the most enjoyable parts of our visit was our trip to see the spring blooms at the Missouri Botanical Gardens (the MOBOT).

Even though we visit the gardens every spring, we never know exactly what will be flowering there during our visit, because there is so much planted in so many different areas of the 79-acre garden, and the variability of the weather and seasons mean that if one visited on the same date (say April 15th, which is around the time we usually go), the gardens would look completely different depending on how early the spring is in a given year, the temperatures, the amount of rain received year-to-date, etc.

So we never tire of seeing the MOBOT in spring. I took many photos during this visit, and even though we didn't visit all the areas this time, the ones we saw were magnificent. In particular, the Japanese Gardens were breathtakingly beautiful (as usual), and we also got to enjoy the Bulb Gardens at their peak, which was absolutely spectacular.

Here are just a few of the best moments we enjoyed:

The Japanese garden, with cherry trees in bloom.

The bridge over the pond in the Japanese Gardens.

It took our breath away....

Haunting, almost sinister.

The extensive displays at the Bulb Gardens.

When I saw this, I could feel my bank account draining precipitously from fall bulb orders....

Beautiful with Bluebells.

It seemed like everything was in flower.

Words fail....

A closeup of some of the tulips and hyacinths. The fragrance was entrancing.

A few Rembrandt Tulips in the Home Demonstration Gardens.

A neon display of tulips, narcissus and crown imperial Fritillaria. I really like the eye-wateringly bright colors!

More crown imperial Fritillaria and narcissus in the Ottoman Garden.

A lovely spring day. :-)

I can hardly communicate how wonderful the gardens were this weekend; these photos give a pale indication of the beauty and masterful planting that the MOBOT displays. If you live in the Midwest, I can't recommend highly enough a visit in the spring to experience the glories for yourself.

And the lesson that I take away from my visit (as I have done every spring): that a gardener cannot possibly plant too many spring-flowering bulbs. Most good things are best in moderation, but bulbs are not among them. Flowering trees are also lovely and desirable, but it's bulb plantings that are limited solely by the other thing that one really cannot have too much of: money (especially if one is a gardener!).

Thanks for reading! -Beth

Friday, April 10, 2015

A Few Spring Flowers

We're enjoying the lovely first month of spring here in Iowa; the weather has been a combination of warm sunny days (yesterday was nearly 80 degrees) and cooler windy days in the 50s and 60s, and flowers are popping out here and there.

A few tulips are starting to bloom, along with the daffodils and other early bulbs I showed in my last post, and the crocus and winter aconite are starting to fade out now. Here are a few other flowers that are blooming in my gardens now:

The first of the Darwin Hybrid Tulip in my Mint Circle bed.

A low-growing species tulip (perhaps 'Lilac Wonder'?)

Pushkinia libanotica (striped squill), scilla siberica, (wood squill) and hyacinths 'Blue Jacket' (and watch out for the fierce hunter approaching!).

Muscari botryoides album.

More Muscari with purple hyacinths in the background, in the North Border.

Violas planted with tulips about to bloom. I love their cheerful little faces!

More violas and daffodils. These bulbs among the violas are ones I tried to pull out after last spring, but I evidently didn't get them all because quite a few are coming back. Now I'm glad that I was so ineffective in removing them!

Some Fritillaria I planted a few years ago. I'm not sure, but they might be Fritillaria Michailovskyi.

The same tulips as in the first photo, but that one was taken yesterday and this one today. Right after first posting this post, I saw that the purple tulips have opened and had to post the new photo -- what a difference 24 hours makes!

I'm so happy that spring is here after the cold, gray winter. Our grass is finally green again and our skies are much more blue. After being deprived of color for four months, I'm enjoying every moment of spring's bright, happy hues.

And my husband and I are heading down to St. Louis (where spring is several weeks ahead of here) to visit our good friends and meet their little baby for the first time. I hope a visit to the Missouri Botanical Garden (the MOBOT) will be included in our weekend, and with any luck I'll have many photos of the magnificent spring flower displays there to share in my next post.

I hope that you too are enjoying the flowers that are beginning to bloom in your own gardens, now that warmer days are arriving. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Friday, April 3, 2015

Early Bulbs

The first daffodils to bloom in my gardens are always these against the east side of my house, where it's warm, sunny and protected. These started blooming on March 31st this year, at least two weeks ahead of last year. In other less protected and less sunny areas, the daffodil foliage is barely out of the ground so far. Yay for microclimates!

Early bulbs are one of the cheeriest sights of spring, and I've been trying to plant more of them in places where they'll bloom as early as possible, to be able to enjoy the glories of spring as soon as possible each year. This year we've had a fairly warm, early spring (unlike last year's interminable winter), so I've been surprised and delighted by all the bulbs that have started flowering here in the past week:

These crocus are shaded by being planted on the north side of these boxwood bushes, so they are blooming a few weeks later than those I had in a sunny bed, which were in flower by March 12 this year.

I planted 100 of these tiny winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) last fall, and I was happy that they bloomed this year, as I had read that sometimes they take several years to flower. I hope they will naturalize and increase in numbers.

These striped squill (Puschkinia libanotica) are also
very small, cute little bulbs and have bloomed every spring
since I planted them in autumn 2011.
Several of the Puschkinia in a group.

These yellow crocus (Crocus chrysanthus 'Goldilocks') are one of the first things to bloom in my new Yellow Garden, although again, they are much later than the earliest crocus to bloom elsewhere in my gardens. This area is on the north side of my house and had snow covering it for longer than nearly anywhere else in my yard.

The biggest surprise was when I discovered these hyacinths flowering already, blooming in the front of my North Border. (I didn't notice them until this evening and had to use the flash for this photo, so the color isn't very good.) I planted these several years ago, so they have decreased in vigor, but I still enjoy their flowers and for some reason these ones are already flowering when the hyacinths I planted in other areas are only half out of the ground.

These rock garden iris (Iris danfordiae) are also blooming in my Yellow Garden. This is the first time I have planted these; they are much tinier (only 4" tall) than the tall beaded iris that I am used to growing, but also much earlier (which is good!). 

I had to include a photo of these tulips, which aren't actually blooming yet. But they already have heads on them, so it probably won't be long until they flower. They are planted in a very sunny south-facing border against a wall, so they are way ahead of my other tulips which only show foliage right now.

Additionally, I just planted some Wood Squill (Scilla siberica, the Spring Beauty variety I believe) that I dug from another garden today; they are another early-flowering bulb and I have planted them in a sunny spot near the Striped squill.

These early flowering bulbs have shown me the importance of choosing sunny spots where the snow melts off first to plant them, in order to get some flowers as early as possible. This is particularly important for those of us who live in the colder growing zones. (It also helps to have a nice early spring like we have had in the Midwest this year....)

I hope you are enjoying many cheerful spring blooms in your own gardens this spring. Thanks for reading! -Beth