Sunday, October 18, 2015

Mr. Frost has visited my gardens

One of my last summer bouquets. The snapdragons are
still blooming, but the zinnias are done.

Friday night the temperatures dropped to 26 degrees by morning, and the many zinnias, cosmos, nasturtiums and four o'clocks in our gardens were cut down. My husband and I tried to cover one of our tomato plants, but apparently 26 degrees was too much for them, even covered with ill-fitting sheets.

Thankfully, I had enough advance notice to gather quite a few ripe and almost-ripe tomatoes to bring inside, and picked half a dozen flower bouquets to prolong the summer flowers. (I also compelled my children to pluck the leaves off of several basil plants so that I could freeze the ground-up leaves in olive oil for making pesto in winter.)

I'm not going to show any scenes of destroyed plants -- I only want to remember the lovely scenes from a few days ago. Here are a few of them:

These flowers are still blooming near the house, as it didn't get cold enough to damage the petunias, which are slightly more cold-tolerant than zinnias and other warmer-blooded plants. The 'Golden Celebration' David Austen roses smell lovely.

Alas, these stripey four o'clocks were quite sensitive. I saved seeds from them though, in the
hope that I will be able to grow some more with these stripey characteristics. (If not,
I like the solid colored ones just fine.)

The impatiens are done, but the clematis in my White Garden is still OK.

The salvia 'Victoria Blue' are still going strong, although these moonflowers, which I had completely forgotten I planted and discovered finally blooming only the other day, have succumbed. It was nice to see them for a few days anyway....

My husband planted these mums and nasturtiums, and I think they looked very nice together. It looks like you could almost warm your hands near them.

Just above the mums, some of the red cedars in our garage windbreak are absolutely covered with blue colored berries.

A scene from the Kitchen Garden, where I was harvesting tomatoes before the freeze. The nasturtiums were totally laid low by the frost.

A final autumn scene from the Kitchen Garden, with the chickens in the background. The remnants of sweet corn make a fall-like backdrop for the marigolds in the potato bed.

Of course it's sad when the flowers die off in autumn, although the frost could have been much worse (and in fact, could have been the thick snow that Kathy at Cold Climate Gardening had this weekend -- apparently my garden is in a zone slightly too warm to even be considered a "cold climate" by these extra-hardy gardeners, which surprised me). 

We still have many flowers and the next week or so is supposed to be relatively mild and warm. I feel fortunate that we still have our petunias and snapdragons still, as those are some of my favorites, but when they go, I'll be able to clear the beds and plant the bulbs I have bought: tulips, hyacinths and daffodils, which will be cheerful in springtime.

And I'm looking forward to being done with gardening for the year, as I have other projects that I want to work on this winter: I will continue to work on my Iowa garden history book, read more gardening books, focus on my kids' home school lessons, and get ready for the holidays. Also, I'm looking forward to planning my new Winter Border and Summer Border and thinking of ways to improve some other areas of my gardens. I have a full plate, and will be glad when I don't have to spend time mowing or gardening -- for a while at least; by January 15th, I will be incredibly impatient for spring to come, no doubt.

I hope you are enjoying a warm autumn and will experience a gentle transition to a cozy winter in your own gardens. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Autumn Really Is Here Now

Orange zinnias make for a nice autumn-themed bouquet.

Yep, Autumn really is here now, no denying it. It's been chilly and windy the past week, although it's been sunny too, so by mid-afternoon it's not too bad to work outside. I've been trying to do a few things around the gardens in anticipation of the end of the gardening season and the changes I want to make next spring:

North Border Improvements:

The new curvy front section of my North Border.

The biggest project I've been working on is the new curvy front section to my North Border. As I wrote in my last post, next spring I will move the flowers currently in the back section of the North Border to this smaller front section, and plant only evergreen trees, shrubs and plants in the back section, so I'll have a permanent Winter Border and a herbaceous Summer Border -- something to look at from my windows all year round.

My husband sprayed the grass last week and I rented a sod-cutting machine and used it to remove the sod, which I then had to pick up in small sections (sod is heavy!) and move to a large compost pile on the south edge of our property, using our pickup truck. My husband then tilled up the exposed soil. He'll spray any weeds that emerge at least once more before we plant anything there in spring.

The back left section of the North Border, which gets too much shade from the large ash tree at left for things to grow well there, is being returned to grass. I raked, seeded and watered it yesterday.

As soon as frost cuts down the annuals in the existing North Border, I will remove them, along with any weeds still growing there and anything else that I don't want to move forward to the herbaceous section next spring. That should make the reorganizing and replanting easier then.

All ready for planting -- now I just have to wait MORE THAN SIX MONTHS until mid-April, when the foliage of plants and bulbs will be up, to move them into their new arrangement. Guess I'll just have to be patient....

Seed Saving:

Another thing I've been doing is figuring out how to save seeds from my annuals -- something I've never tried before. I've always figured that seed packets are so cheap (only a dollar!), and I do enjoy buying them in late winter, imaging how lovely the flowers will be. But "only a dollar" adds up when you sow as many packets as I do in my large garden areas; I must spend at least $50 each spring on annual seeds, most of which are duplicates for large areas, things like zinnias, cosmos and four o'clocks.

These 'Old Spice Mix' sweet pea seeds were really easy to find and extract.
I'll still buy some annual seeds, particularly newer kinds of annuals that I haven't planted before or ones that I haven't been able to collect seeds for (or for annuals that are hybrids), but there's no reason why I can't save some seeds, especially from the annuals that are easier to do so for: zinnias, four o'clocks, marigolds, poppies, larkspur, etc.

These drying zinnia seeds are ones I'm saving by color (even though it's not
certain that they will indeed bloom in their parent's color, as they could have
been pollinated by pollen from a different color zinnia -- we'll wait and see!)

I'm also thinking about ways I could start more of my own annuals. I buy a lot of petunias, marigolds, impatiens and other common annuals as starts, probably spending $100 a year on them. I've justified it to myself because of the ease and the certainty (no depressing damping-off of seedlings, being able to choose colors by seeing plants in bloom before buying, etc.). And I know that it would take years to save the money buying starts to finance even a very small, unheated greenhouse. But I still think I could start some in my basement. I have a few shelves with grow lights that I've used to start vegetables in late spring with; maybe I can start some petunias and impatiens too? It'll be a project, one that will only cost a few dollars, and, if I fail, I'll just buy annual starts like usual -- there's really no downside to experimenting.

Bulb Planning:

The other usual activity for gardeners to undertake in the autumn is the planning, purchasing and planting of spring-flowering bulbs: tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, alliums, etc. Every year, those bright, colorful pictures on the packages turn me into a kid in a candy shop (usually with as little self-control as a kid -- with a credit card).

I generally have gotten most of my bulbs in past years at Menards, a local home improvement store, but a few weeks ago I walked into Costco and discovered their bulb display. Although their selection is limited, their bulbs are a much larger size and some are an even better deal price-wise. I usually also browse the catalog of and sometimes order from John Scheepers or their wholesale company, Van Engelen. Their bulbs can't be beat for selection and size/quality (although Costco's bulbs are their equal in size, impressively).

I suppose my splurge could have been worse....
 After my splurge, I sat down with paper and pencil and inventoried what I had purchased, made a list of where I wanted to plant bulbs, and decided which bulbs should go in each place. I'm still working on this and may still buy a few more things (I especially wanted to plant some Leucojum aestivum 'Gravetye Giant' after seeing it down in Texas last January, and only the catalog companies stock it).

Anyway, Autumn is indeed here, although if we're lucky, there will still be a few more weeks of decent weather to enjoy before it gets colder. Then, it's time to tuck in the last few bulbs, put away the hoses and gardening tools, and snuggle in for a long winter, while the garden sleeps its long slumber.

Still a few weeks left of flowers, if we're lucky. The zinnias, marigolds and salvias in the Rainbow Border are still gloriously in flower, which is a joyous thing to see in October.

I hope you are enjoying the transitions to Autumn in your own gardens, and that winter will be cozy -- and short -- for us all. Thanks for reading! -Beth