Friday, May 22, 2015

May Flowers and May Showers

The 'Globemaster' alliums I planted in my North Border last fall are making a good show this spring.

We're now entering the most beautiful time of the year, in my opinion: Late May and Early June. The foliage is lush and green, thanks to the rain and intermittent cooler weather we've been having here in Iowa. The alliums and iris are blooming, the peonies are gearing up and the roses are yet to come. I've planted nearly all the plants that I've bought so far, I'm nearly finished moving plants around, and I've (mostly) been staying on top of the weeds.

The weather is not so hot as to be uncomfortable yet, although we've had enough warm, sunny days that we feel we're enjoying a nice spring-to-summer transition. And it's been breezy enough that the usual May gnats aren't too annoying. In short, this has been a nice spring to enjoy being out in our gardens!

In my last post, I showed a few photos of areas I've been working on -- which don't look very pretty, I'll admit (you know, Work In Progress...). To make up for it, in this post I'll show only the beautiful flowers that I've been enjoying here in my gardens:

Pink irises and oxeye daisies in my North Border. The oxeye daisies want to take over all my borders, but they're so pretty I can't get rid of them. I'll deadhead them before they go to seed, even though I hate to remove their prettiness. 

This Verbascum 'Southern Charm' is becoming established in the North Border, after two years.

I've been planting lupine seeds in the shadier end of my North Border for two years and only have a few tiny seedlings as a result. I finally resorted to buying a dozen mature plants last month and two of them are already blooming. It's hard to be patient enough to save money in gardening....

This is my first rhododendron to ever bloom. We do not have acid soil here and I have to add soil acidifier to keep these acid-lovers alive. I just planted this last spring, and it's doing much better than the azaleas I've had for several years that never look very good and don't bloom.

My Front Border is a riot of oxeye daisies and irises, which I will definitely divide this fall.

More irises in the Front Border. I like these pink and yellow ones.

Painted daisies, more irises and oxeyes in the other end of the Front Border.

Baptisia in the Purple Section of the Rainbow Border. This plant has really established itself quite well here.

I really like orange flowers the more I see and grow them. These orange irises are looking pretty good this year.

I know most gardeners like window boxes and pots filled with assortments of flowers of different heights and growth habits (tall, trailing and fillers, etc.), but I think I might prefer simple displays of one kind of flower, like these pansies. Even this was adventurous for me, as I usually plant pure yellow pansies in this box. I'm enjoying the multicolored ones this year though -- I guess I like to live daringly.... :-)

I hope you are enjoying your late spring in your own gardens too, with rain when you need it and warm, sunny skies when you don't. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Monday, May 18, 2015

Crazy Busy...

I'm sorry I haven't posted for over a week -- this last week or so has been Crazy Busy (that's an official designation) for me and my family:

  • I've been trying to earn some hours for my Master Gardener qualification; I need 40 this year and have worked nine of the sixteen I have accrued so far just in the past week.
  • The last two Saturday mornings were spent working as a volunteer at local plant sales (and the Saturday before last we also went to the Pella, Iowa Tulip Festival in the afternoon). 
  • Plant shopping at local nurseries takes a fair amount of time at this time of year.
  • And of course every May is the height of the gardening season, when I try to spend several hours each day working outside planting all the things I've bought -- if it isn't raining or nasty cold and windy (although it's been horrendously windy that past few days and I've still worked outside...).

Here are a few of the things I've been doing in my gardens:

BEFORE: This photo was taken ten days ago. You can see how large the boxwood shrubs in my Herb Garden have gotten since I planted them in 2008. The back left bed was almost eclipsed by the shrubs, leaving little room for the basil that barely grew there last year.

AFTER: It only takes a couple of hours once a year to trim the hedges and rake up the clippings (there was a large volume of clippings to rake this year, as you can see). Much neater, and much more sunlight and room for my basil this year. I also added compost to the beds and they are now ready for planting.

My Cutting Garden has been downsized to just these nearest four beds (the other beds are for vegetables -- my husband's domain). I planted annuals from seed in the closest bed, perennials in the right-most bed and annual bulbs like dahlias, cannas and gladiolus in the other two,

I've added more perennials to my Yellow Garden, both to replace ones that died over the winter (the heavy clay soil is not agreeable to some yellow-flowering prairie plants), as well as to fill out the bed. I also planted a few annuals such as marigolds, snapdragons and petunias.
I've planted more rhododendrons, half a dozen tree and Itoh peonies, several hardy hibiscus and a few more miscellaneous shrubs in the North Island that I began last year. It's starting to fill up properly now, and all that's left to plant will be some groups of spring bulbs this fall or maybe next fall.
This bed had become unmanageable because it was too large (it was our original vegetable garden). I had planted roses in the near end of it along with four o'clocks (to disguise the Japanese beetle defoliated canes later in the summer), but I didn't have (or want) enough roses to completely fill the bed. So I moved the roses to the reduced mulched area on this side of the row of mature peonies and I'll return the remaining area to grass. What a strange thing for a gardener: to make a bed SMALLER!

I dug three rose plants out of each of the beds in front of my porch (on either side of the middle steps), and planted some non-thorny perennials in their place and moved the roses to other locations. There are still climbing roses on the pillars.
*Note the position of the porch swing and the bench cushions to get an idea of the kind of wind we've been having on our windy hilltop (the swing weighs about 40 pounds).

It's hard to work outside in fierce winds for very long -- it really saps a person's strength. However, the wind is much better than the gnats that would be swarming if it were still, so I'm not really complaining... :-)

As usual for this time of year, my disused muscles are aching, but I'm happy to be able to improve my gardens a bit at a time. I'll follow this post with some pictures of the lovely flowers that are the result of my previous years' efforts.

Thanks for reading! -Beth

Friday, May 8, 2015

Scenes of Early May

I was looking for a statue for this spot in my Yellow Garden, and then it occurred to me that this bird bath that I had in my garden shed, waiting for a spot, might serve as a focal point instead of a statue. I didn't even have to fill it, since we've had almost two inches of rain in the last few days.

These are busy days in the garden for all of us, and things look different almost every day. We've had quite a bit of rain, which we needed and which has come at the right time after we planted a lot of new shrubs, trees and perennials. And the grass is growing so incredibly fast that I desperately had to mow again today, even though the grass was still wet from our daily rains (and in fact it rained on me while I was mowing too). The tulip time is about over (although we're going to the Pella Tulip Festival tomorrow -- I hope that the Dutch immigrants there know the bloom-delaying techniques of their mother country and that there are still some tulips for the festival!) and the iris time is beginning, as well as other late spring perennials.

Here are a few scenes from my gardens in the last week:

The lilac time is always so lovely and pretty-scented.

Bleeding heart in the Yellow Garden (OK, I know the hearts are pink, but the gold foliage, which I planted with the regular green-foliaged ones that were here already, looks good before and after blooming).

This is not a terribly exciting photo, but this is the first time I have ever been able to transplant ferns successfully. Nearly all of them that I planted here last spring next to my garden shed have made it through the winter!

I grew these tulips in my cutting garden, and there were almost too many to cut and bring in. 

I have reduced my Cutting Garden beds to these four and I'm getting ready to re-design their planting. I'll post with progress reports about this area as the summer gets going.

Not much is blooming in the Rainbow Border, except in the Purple Section, which is looking very purple right now. In fact my Front Border and North Border are almost exclusively purple at the moment. I'm going to have to bring in some other colors during this transition period in those borders....

I finally got around to re-covering my front porch bench cushion, which I had to make myself to fit this long bench, and I found the green cushions at Aldi for $3.99 each and the bird pillow at Lowe's. And our porch swing is again hung up after the winter. Time for summer now!

I hope you are also enjoying the quickly-changing scenes in your own gardens during this exciting time of year. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Ordeal by Paint Sprayer

We finally got the white picket fence repainted. All clean and sparkling white again.

My husband and I finally got around to doing something that we have dreaded: repainting our white picket fence.

Background: We replaced the fence back in 2011 because the old one was rotting and falling apart (it was made of cheap wood that was unsuited to being outside, and pieces would simply break off if you pulled on them -- horrible!). The fence company installed our new fence in summer 2011 and told us to wait until the following spring to paint it, to let the resins in the fresh wood age so that the paint would adhere better.

So in March 2012, my husband and I painted it for the first time, using a paint sprayer I bought from (I researched it carefully and it had the best reviews for the price). I knew that with several outbuildings plus this fence, the investment of several hundred dollars would pay off in terms of saved labor.

The Graco Magnum X5 Stand Airless Paint Sprayer.
It doesn't have a cup attached to the spray gun, which
makes it lighter to use, but it's a complex machine,
with lots of knobs, as well as parts that can CLOG.

And the sprayer is indeed fast and efficient -- when we can make it work, that is. Since we only use it once every year or so, we have trouble remembering exactly how to put it together and the steps for setting it up.

  • In 2012, it was a great challenge to assemble it the first time when we painted the fence. 
  • In 2013, we painted the exterior of our garden shed and had even more trouble getting it to work (we had to call the company that time). 
  • In 2014, we used it to paint the interior of the garden shed, although that didn't go too badly as I recall.

But we were still dreading the difficulty this year. The first paint had started wearing off the fence and we should have repainted it last year but never got around to it, so we knew there was no avoiding it this spring:

You can see in this photo from mid-March that the fence really did need to be repainted . This would have been a good time to paint it too, before the foliage grew up in front of the fence. However, our laziness and dread of using the paint sprayer caused us to delay until last week.

We overcame our dread and this time re-watched the instructional video again before starting and remembered to avoid some of the difficulties we'd had in the past, so the setup wasn't too bad and we got started fairly painlessly.

But there always has to be some kind of problem: after using the rest of a five-gallon can of leftover paint, we switched to the new can I bought, which apparently wasn't exactly the right kind of paint (it wasn't the plain white paint, but a kind meant to be tinted a color, which was too thick to go through the sprayer without the added tints). So the sprayer got clogged and the color was awful, a dingy off-white. So I had to take that paint back to Menards, which very kindly allowed me to exchange it, even though we had wasted a third of the bucket. We resumed with the right kind of paint and managed to finish by the very last light of dusk.

The next day, I repainted the section we had covered with the wrong sort of paint, with my daughter's help. The sprayer worked for a little while but then got clogged, so we just used brushes for the last bit. Grrr.

Anyway, the ordeal is over. I understand why many people have vinyl fences, but I love the real wood fence so much, and it is so much more appropriate for our old-fashioned farmhouse, that to me it's worth the day-long ordeal every few years. And it certainly does look better now:

The glow of the setting sun behind me has colored the fence a decidedly non-white color in this photo.
A closeup of the tulips against the freshly-painted fence. I think the crisp whiteness sets off the bright colors quite well.

We tried to use plastic tarps and large pieces of cardboard to prevent paint from spraying all over the place, but a fine mist covers many of the plants in the front border nonetheless, and I hope they will not suffer as a result (I'm particularly worried about some newly-planted delphiniums in the previous photo, because their very few leaves are covered with paint spray). We really should have painted before the plants got this tall.

The other end of the fence. The fresh white fence makes our house look dingy by comparison.
The inside of the fence.
Much improved.

We're both very glad that this job is completed and it should last for another few years.

Now we just have to paint our house... I think will hire someone to do this, but only because I'm afraid of heights. I'm really not looking forward to the expense, though: We got one bid for $5,500. Aaagh! That makes me tempted to climb up on a ladder with the sprayer.

What do you think we should do? Have you painted your house before, and how did it go? Thanks for reading! -Beth

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Mystery of the Droopy-Headed Tulips

These 'Don Quichotte' tulips in my pond gardens are the worst-hit ones. Why is this happening?

Yes, the name of this post sounds like the title of a mystery novel, doesn't it? But it's a real-life mystery to me why some of my tulips are suddenly drooping over (and others are not). I thought I might show my problem and ask if any readers have ever experienced this, and what might have caused it.

The temperature did get down to 28 degrees F (-2 degrees C) about a week and a half ago. Perhaps the stems froze and only a week later they began to droop as the tulips became past their prime. However, some tulips were much later than others to bloom, only starting a day or so ago and some have been blooming for weeks, and there doesn't seem to be any correlation between bloom date and drooping.

Another possible explanation is that the farmer who farms the fields around us was out spraying the fields with Roundup and 2,4-D on Thursday -- could some of the spray have drifted over and damaged the tulips? (He is sympathetic to my gardens: he was careful not to spray the edge next to our orchard because the wind was blowing in that direction, but it's possible that even from some distance the spray could have been enough to do them in.) However, not all the tulips in a given area are affected (at least not yet).

And I did spray most of my tulips with Deer Stopper, a spray containing mint and rosemary oils together with "putrid egg solids." (It really smells OK to me, like mint, not like foul rotten eggs, and it does seem to work pretty well.) But I guess it's possible some ingredient damaged them, although a Google search doesn't turn up any complaints about it.

It's also possible that because the deer did munch some tulip foliage before the buds formed, that affected them. But some of the droopy tulips are in areas where the deer did not get to them.

I understand that gardening is filled with unknowns, mystifying problems that afflict our gardens, and mysterious plant deaths. I get this. But I'd still like to know why this has happened (it hasn't happened before, at least not in the last five years or so).

Here are a few shots of the problem:

'White Triumphator.' Not looking so triumphant these days....

Pink tulips in the North Border. Very sad.

These 'Conqueror' tulips in the Yellow Garden are drooping, but the ones at the end of the path ('Golden Apeldoorn,' 'Kikomachi,' and 'Jaap Groot') still look fine. Hmmm.

More 'White Triumphator' in the White Garden.

These 'Spring Green' are truly a sad sight.

But these mixed Darwin Hybrid tulips in the Mint Circle are still upright (if almost done blooming).

And these 'Ollioles' inside my fence are fine too, as are a number of other tulips throughout my gardens.

It's a grave mystery. Has this happened to any of you? Thanks for reading and for your advice! -Beth