Monday, June 29, 2015

The Gloriousness of High Summer

The old saying, "Knee-High by the Fourth of July" doesn't hold true for corn growing any more -- it's more like Head-High with modern growing methods.

What a glorious time of year -- it's the height of summer, when lilies, roses, coneflowers and shasta daisies are all in full bloom. The weeds are also romping non-stop with all the rain we've been having, but I guess we take the bad with the good....

We've finished fixing our pond edge after last week's disaster, and I think it will hold for a while. The edge is now greatly strengthened by our new timber frame, although I may eventually need to replace the liner after all, as it doesn't seem to reach high enough in the corners now that we have a definite and slightly higher edge height. The water drains out in the top corners because of this, and if we want the water level to be just under the paving stones at the edge, we will need to replace the liner. But not right now, as the water lilies are blooming so beautifully.


And we are also somewhat distracted as we are leaving today for St. Louis, where my husband is having hip resurfacing surgery tomorrow morning. Surgery is always such a worrying thing when it's ourselves or our family members, even though the overwhelming majority of surgeries are quite successful in these miraculous modern medicine days we are fortunate to live in.

Anyway, before I head out of town, here are a few scenes from around our gardens in these flowery days:

The rainbow effect can be clearly discerned in my Rainbow Border, with the lilies blooming in a succession of colors.
A closeup of the white ones ('Bright Diamond') in the
White Section of the Rainbow Border.
'Iowa Pink' in the Pink Section, along with some pink
obedientplant that disobediently seeds itself around this
section and is almost ready to bloom.
'Blackout' in the Red Section.
'Liberty Hyde Bailey' in the Orange Section.
'Yellow Whoppers' along with 'Stella de Oro' daylilies in the Yellow Section.
 I also planted some greenish lilies in the Green Section, but they are a later blooming variety and aren't quite open yet (and of course blue and bluish-purple lilies aren't possible for those sections).

Pink lilies and shasta daisies in the North Border.
Orangey-red roses in my rose garden.
And pink roses too.
This bed on the north side of my garage is coming along well this year. I think the pink impatiens go well with the astilbes that are blooming near them, Clematis 'Multi-Blue' are also still flowering, and Ligularia 'The Rocket' is about to follow.
This part of the White Garden is also starting to see some flowers: perennial Baby's Breath, white coneflowers and a few lilies are blooming.

I hope your gardens are showing much of the gloriousness of high summer too. I will not be around for the next few days to answer comments, but I do appreciate and treasure each one, as always.

Thanks for reading! -Beth

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Garden Visitors + Pond Emergency = Busy Squared

My dear gardening and garden-blogging friends: I don't know how it could be two weeks since I last posted! But looking back on the past two weeks, it has been a rather busy summer time:
  1. Last weekend we had two groups of visitors over: first our church's new pastor and her husband for tea and a garden walk last Saturday, and then a group of parents with children about the same ages as our kids from our church for a grill-out potluck and garden walk last Sunday. Needless to say, we spent the week before trying to catch up with weeding, mowing and tidying both the gardens and the house!
  2. My parents then arrived on Tuesday for an overnight stay.
  3. Wednesday I came down with a cold, which I thought might be really bad allergies until other family members started getting it too. I felt pretty bad for a couple of days.
But most recently: While my parents were here Tuesday, we made the shocking discovery on our walk around the gardens that one of the large paving stones edging our pond fell into the pond as a result of the edge collapsing from our heavy rains of the past week, and the water level had alarmingly dropped six inches overnight! 

Before: All looked fine a couple of weeks ago.

I greatly feared that the stone had punctured the lining (although I would have supposed that our nearly 100% clay subsoil would have prevented such a rapid depletion of the water). Fortunately, when we partly refilled the pond, the water level stayed constant, so I can only surmise that when the stone fell in, the top edge of the rubber liner folded down and the water ran out of the side into the sod surrounding the pond. (I still don't know where approximately 250 gallons of water could have gone, but I guess that will remain a mystery....) At any rate, my husband and I have counted ourselves lucky that we don't have to remove everything from the pond and replace or try to patch the liner. 

During repair: The spot where Puppy is sitting is where the paving stone fell into the drink and the edge collapsed. I have removed most of the pavers in this photo and you can see that while the pavers on the short sides were supported by rigid metal bars, nothing but the earth edge was holding up the pavers on the long sides. I'm sure it was just a matter of time (it did hold up for three years) until the edge became structurally unsound. I'm just glad no one was standing on the stone when it happened! 

We've been working on building a lumber frame around the edge to support the stones -- something we should have done when we built it. I hope we'll finish repairing it in the next few days.

We first tried 4x4" lumber, but decided 6x6" would be more solid. We'll still use 4x4" on the short sides, bolting the corners together. Then we'll refill the pond, staple the liner to the lumber and replace and level the stones. Oh, the labors we gardeners take upon ourselves.... :-)

Anyway, that's what I've been up to in the past two weeks. But it hasn't been all work; my gardens have had some beautiful moments that I haven't been too busy to notice while outside working. Here's a few of them:

The delphiniums were at their peak a week ago. I think these are probably
'Pacific Giant' varieties.

This is the first year I've had any luck with sweet peas. I wintersowed them under milk jugs
along the east side of my house in late February, and finally started getting some flowers in
early June. I think they like the afternoon shade here, and I hope they will continue blooming
even in the heat of summer, although they are a cool-season annual. These smell wonderful
-- they are Burpee's 'Old Spice Mix'. 

The milkweed that sowed itself at the very front of my North Border is doing its job....  

More prairie goodness for butterflies (although none appeared for this photo), with cornfields beyond.

The hollyhocks are starting to bloom in the Front Border (actually just outside it, in the
driveway, where they prefer to seed themselves). Roses and yarrow and snapdragons
are merrily accompanying them.

More butterfly action among the delphiniums and daisies.

A clematis whose name I apparently didn't write down in my garden journal, one of two planted on our
gazebo. Very pretty purple flowers -- I suppose it could be 'Jackmanii'.

This view is back toward the house from our Flowering Grove, which we have planted with crabapple and other spring flowering trees. I just finished mulching the circles around the little trees last week. We've been striving for a "parklike setting" in this area, and it looks good at this time of year. 

One more shot of the delphiniums before they are gone for another year. (Actually, if I cut them back after they are done, they sometimes re-bloom in September, although not with so many or so tall flowers as in June.)

I hope you are enjoying your own June gardens and that you haven't had any garden emergencies as upsetting and work-requiring as my pond-repairing business, although I know that many of you have garden tours in your gardens, which are indeed a lot of work to get ready for. But June is such a beautiful time in our gardens that we should be sure we encourage ourselves to enjoy them.

Happy Summer Solstice, and thanks for reading! -Beth

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Garden Visit: Bickelhaupt Arboretum

Yesterday was my husband's and my 17th anniversary, and we had a nice outing with our children to Clinton, Iowa for the day, a drive of about an hour-and-a-half from our house. Our first stop was for lunch at the Candlelight Inn restaurant, which is located right on the edge of the Mississippi River, and because the weather was ideal -- mid-70s, sunny and with a pleasant light breeze -- we greatly enjoyed eating our meal on the restaurant's large elevated deck overlooking the river.

Then we visited the Bickelhaupt Arboretum, which is now owned and managed by Clinton Community College, but was established by Bob and Frances Bickelhaupt on their 14-acre property on the edge of Clinton, starting in the 1970s. The centerpiece of the Arboretum is the Heartland Collection of Dwarf and Rare Conifers, begun in 1990, and which in 2012 was named a Reference Garden by the American Conifer Society.

The collection is truly impressive. My husband and I are thinking about planting more conifers in our gardens, and our visit was very inspiring -- the variety of shapes and colors and textures of the different trees was extraordinary. The trees were uniformly healthy and vibrant, their placement was artistically pleasing and the simplicity of the conifer-only design was very appealing.

Don't get me wrong: my love of flowers is still paramount, but it would be nice to have some areas of my gardens that look as good (or maybe even better) in winter as in the growing seasons. I have been thinking about redesigning my North Border to include some evergreen trees and shrubs for winter interest, and our visit has provided me with much inspiration to do so.

Here are some photos of some of the highlights of the Bickelhaupt Arboretum:

The best section of the Arboretum!

The beginning of the path through the conifer collection. I love how the new growth on the low shrub at left is glowing in the sun (the sign was missing from the specimen, so I don't know what it is, unfortunately).

A lovely wooden bridge through the trees.

You can see the wide variety of the conifer trees. In the background on the other side of the stream at the bottom of the property is a large area of deciduous trees, many of them impressive in size.

The bench is made from stones that were originally cut to build a local building in
the 1850s. When the building was dismantled, the stones were purchased and given to
the Arboretum. We all thought that the tree to the left (a Bruns Weeping Serbian Spruce)
looked like an Ent, the tree creatures from the Lord of the Rings.

I particularly like the the gold-colored conifers.

Two more "tree monsters" schlepping along together ('Wingle's Weeper' Norway Spruce). 

The arboretum was admirably well-maintained, with very few weeds in the neatly edged and mulched beds, and trim, orderly lawn and paths.

A closeup of the beautiful cones on a tree that disappointingly did not have a sign -- most of the plants did have signs, but a few were missing.

The other areas of the garden weren't nearly as extensive as the conifer collection, but they were still nicely planned and enjoyable to walk through. The Hosta collection labeled the cultivars, so it was useful for people who wish to add to their own collections of Hostas. I saw several I'd like to have.

The Peony Garden contains about 30 peonies, including intersectional and tree peonies, as well as the old-fashioned herbaceous kind. This was definitely the right time to visit this part of the garden.

The Butterfly Garden will not be in full bloom until later in the summer, but it was still nice to see how it was designed, as we have been thinking about adding a butterfly area to our own gardens. In the background you can see that the Arboretum was set up for a wedding later that afternoon.

I found the undulating topography along the winding creek absolutely fascinating -- sinuous and dramatic. My photo certainly doesn't do it justice.

I highly recommend a visit to the Bickelhaupt Arboretum if you are close to Iowa or traveling along the Mississippi River, especially if you have an interest in conifers. We greatly enjoyed our visit and came away full of ideas for our own gardens. The Arboretum is open every day from dawn to dusk and is free to enter.

On the way home, I saw this field of wild mustard near our house glowing in the sun and had to stop and take a photo. It was really quite magnificent, a whole field of bright gold that my camera couldn't fully capture.

I hope you are also enjoying visits to inspiring gardens -- we gardeners can easily become preoccupied with our own gardens, particularly at such a busy time of year, but it's important to see other gardens to inspire us to improve our own -- plus it's just fun to enjoy a garden without the need to weed.... Thanks for reading! -Beth

Monday, June 1, 2015

Peonies and Other Late May Delights

Delphinium 'Bluebird' is starting to bloom in my Front Border. One of my favorite flowers,
probably because they are unusual for Iowa (due to our hot summers). They are certainly
glorious when they can be persuaded not to die and maybe even to flower as a bonus.
They seem to tolerate this spot in my garden for some reason, so I think
I'll let them stay.... :-)

My gardens are in full swing -- some of the most delightful flowers are blooming now: peonies, iris, clematis, poppies, lupines, field daisies -- and the roses and delphiniums are just getting started too. It's a very exciting time in the garden!

I've been pretty busy planting the last things I have left to plant, mostly annuals and a few perennials. Then I intend to mulch quite a few areas and will undoubtedly spend a lot of time getting pickup truck loads of wood chip mulch from our local landfill and putting it on some garden beds. The weeds are gearing up too, unfortunately, so this will be a crucial time to get on top of them.

And I've vowed that I will not make any new flower beds this year, but I'm thinking about doing a major overhaul of one of my larger borders next year, and I've been thinking about exactly how I might do that... we'll see. We gardeners are never satisfied, are we?

But back to this year -- here are a few things that are blooming in my gardens lately:

'First Arrival' Itoh Peony is indeed the first bloom from the
six new Itoh and tree peonies that I planted in April.
Very exciting! 

This 'Sarah Bernhardt' Peony I moved to the West Island last year is looking good. I love peonies!

Clematis 'Multi Blue' shows up well against my white garage. It blooms fairly well considering that it's on the north side of the building and rarely gets direct sunlight.

Clematis 'Henryi' is blooming nicely in the White Garden.

The Pond gardens are outlined in 'Sweetness' Dianthus that live up to their name -- the scent can be smelled at some distance. The 'Prairie Breeze' Buck roses planted in the corners of the four beds are also starting to bloom. And even the water lilies are blooming in the pond. Puppy approves.

A closeup of one of the water lilies.

Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum) is blooming for the first time since I planted it near my garden shed door.

An impulse buy from Menard's the other day, right next to my front gate.
I thought the birds were so cute!

I hope you are enjoying many lovely blooms at this wonderful gardening time too. Thanks so much for reading my blog when I know you must be incredibly busy in your own gardens!  -Beth