Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Sunroom Progress Report #1

Before: June 11, before any work was done to enclose our front porch.

These are exciting times around here, not just because it's summer and lots of flowers are blooming, but also largely because there has been rapid progress in enclosing my front porch into a sunroom where I can enjoy plants and flowers during our long, cold winters here in Iowa.

I have long desired a classic, glassed-in conservatory of the kind that are common in England, but the cost of constructing and then heating such a room is prohibitive here. Here in the US, with our extremes of heat and cold, a sunroom with a solid roof is much more practical.

We have a porch with a roof and floor already (it was enclosed with screens when we bought our house eight years ago, and we had those removed and ended up having to totally re-build the rotting columns and floor five years ago, so it's pretty solid). So I decided that the easiest and most affordable thing was to simply enclose our existing porch with walls and windows. (Here is my post last winter when I desperately longed for greenery amidst our snow-covered landscape, and considered the sunroom idea.)

I was somewhat concerned that I might ruin the look of our 1924 farmhouse (and I still remain concerned about that issue), but my winter desperation greatly outweighs those concerns. So after my very generous dad offered to help us with the cost, I called my builder this spring and we got started planning, and, finally, building!

The scene in the photo above was taken on June 11, a couple of days before construction began two and a half weeks ago. We invited some friends over and had a "porch farewell" party that evening, as that was the last time we would be able to enjoy our open porch (it was a bit sad thinking about it, but it was also about 95°F that day and almost every day since, which illustrates why we hardly ever actually sat on our porch: too hot, too cold, too windy, too snowy, too buggy, too humid, or simply too busy to sit outside at all).

Anyway, here is a progress report in photos, taken over the past two and a half weeks:

June 16: Little Kitty cutely reclining against the bottom sill. Top and bottom sills have been sealed against the existing porch with foam tape to keep out drafts, and insulation has been blown into the hollow porch columns through those holes that are visible in the columns.

June 21: The walls have been framed in to hold the windows (our builder used 2x6 construction to support the weight of the heavy double-window units. The ceiling has been framed down so that it can be insulated.

June 22: The next day, after the electricians have installed the rough electrical wiring. they'll come back to install the fixtures and baseboard heaters after the interior has been finished.

June 27: The spray foam insulation guys used tarps to enclose the porch and then spray 3-4" of closed cell spray foam in the ceiling, under the floor and in the wall space under the windows.

June 28: Yesterday, the biggest change of all: the windows were delivered and installed! Now the space feels like it's Inside, not Outside. The sliding glass door will be installed at the forefront of the photo after more of the interior finish work is done.

Still to be done:

  1. installing the dropped ceiling 
  2. finishing the interior with beadboard and wood trim (which I will then paint)
  3. installing the electrical fixtures: lights, fan, baseboard heaters, etc. 
  4. finishing the exterior with siding and exterior trim, which the builder will paint
  5. I will then paint the floor -- I'm thinking perhaps of a light gray and white stenciled design of some kind, but I'm open to suggestions....

The exterior.

As I mentioned, I'm still worried that I might be ruining the look of our old-fashioned farmhouse. Now that the windows are installed, they look absolutely huge to me, out of scale with the rest of our house. I had originally envisioned seven windows across the front (odd numbers being visually more pleasing), but my builder convinced me that three units of two windows mulled together would look less busy and give me more uninterrupted glass (which is good in a sunroom for functional reasons, obviously). And he is right that fewer windows are a simpler, more classic look, but I really am worried that the windows are just too large, especially because they are right out front and therefore look even bigger and more prominent.

Of course, there's nothing to do about it at this point, as $4,000 of special-order windows are already framed in and installed. I guess they do look like a similar size with our existing front door, which with its sidelight windows is even larger, and maybe after they are framed and sided in, they will look better.... Perhaps I'm simply suffering from a common case of "buyer's remorse" or second-guessing my own decisions.

And I really haven't permanently ruined our old house; no historic elements have been removed and if a future owner of our house doesn't like the sunroom, it can easily be entirely removed, leaving virtually no traces on the original design of the porch (which again, we already had restored to its original design five years ago even though it cost more to do it that way -- did I mention that the 90-year-old front header beam under the porch roof was sagging dangerously and we replaced it with an 28-foot-long, engineered-laminate support header beam, rather than change the original design of the porch by adding center supports?). I think we've been pretty sensitive to the historic elements of this house.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to the fun parts of this project: choosing some comfy wicker furniture, accessorizing with colorful pillows and an outdoor rug, and of course, filling the new space with lush, green and flowering plants that make me feel like I'm on a tropical vacation every time I enter the room.

When winter comes from now on, instead of this...

I'll have something more like this! No, my ceilings won't be high enough for
giant palms, but I'll still be able to have some pretty large plants in my own
bright and cheerful sunroom. (Pinterest)

I'll post another update on my sunroom project as we make more progress. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Monday, June 20, 2016

June Flowers

Delphiniums along my front garden fence. There are usually more of the pretty light blue ones, but Little Kitty took a nap among the foliage several weeks ago and smashed down the growing stems before I could stake them.... :-(  For such a cute little kitty, she sure can wreak things (she also killed a newly-planted magnolia tree last year by sharpening her claws on the trunk, and now I have to put chicken wire around all new trees). But these darker blue delphiniums weren't as comfortable to lie upon, I guess, so they look just fine.  :-)

We've had some hot days in the upper 90s this past week, so I've been limiting the amount of work I've been doing outside and working only in the mornings and evenings, sheltering in our air-conditioned house during the days. I've been doing a lot of watering too.

But the heat doesn't seem to have set back the flowers in any way. Here are a few highlights from around my gardens this past week:

The sweet peas and snapdragons on the east side of my house.
The sweet peas smell wonderful, although the heat is making them go to seed
more quickly than usual (I need to keep picking them and watering them.)

In the cutting garden, campanula (a biennial I planted last year), mixed bachelor buttons and larkspur beginning to bloom at the far end of  the bed.

Self-seeded blue bachelor buttons near the house.

Mixed Sweet Williams. I love all the different varieties, with their beautiful markings and patterns and colors -- they're every bit as interesting as primroses.

'Blueberry Hill' roses in front of the Tractor Shed.

'Bluebird' delphiniums, campanula, 'Johnson's Blue' geraniums and one single
allium caeruleum (I'm not sure what happened to the others I planted here...).

Red lilies, achillea and salvia in front of our addition. I wish I knew what kind of lilies these are, but I didn't record the cultivar when I planted them four or five years ago.

The Yellow Garden, filled with lilies, achillea and golden creeping Jenny.

The heat is continuing for the next ten days of the forecast, with nearly every day predicted to have temperatures in the 90s. I continue to hope for rain, as none of the storms that have dumped large amounts of rain on the Midwest seem to have included my gardens -- we are in a strange localized drought, having had barely an inch of rain for the past month. Apparently we are located in a "rain shadow" in which we can see rain in the distance that never seems to make it here. Here's hoping for a good soak before too much longer....

Happy Summer Solstice to everyone -- I hope you are not experiencing too much heat in your own gardens this month. Thanks for reading!  -Beth

Thursday, June 2, 2016

End of May Glories

The pond gardens are looking (and smelling) nice this time of year, with highly scented dianthus 'Sweetness' that can be smelled at twenty paces, 'Prairie Breeze' Buck roses, boxwood shrubs, and water lilies in the pond. The Garden Shed, Tractor Shed (with the new trellises I installed a few weeks ago on it), and little red Grand Chicken Hotel can be seen in the background.

The End Of May: what a glorious time in the garden! In my gardens anyway, as I think the flowers that bloom now are probably the loveliest possible and therefore I tend to plant many of them. It's not that I don't want anything blooming earlier or later on, but I regard this time as the most beautiful.

It's also the time when I'm usually winding down the spring gardening work, moving from a "making changes" and planting role, to more of a maintenance role: mowing, keeping the weeds under control, watering. And that's good, because it can start to get hot around the First of June, and these maintenance tasks can be done in cooler mornings and evenings, when it's a pleasure to be outside working among the beautiful flowers and lush, green plants.

Here are a few scenes from the past week or so:

Clematis 'Multi-Blue' on the north side of my garage.

One of the iris in my new Iris Border.

Itoh Peony 'Julia Rose'.

A single pink peony in the Rainbow Border.

Poppies and daisies in the Rainbow Border.

Iris 'Red at Night' in the Rainbow Border.

Amsonia hubrichtii (Arkansas Blue Star) in bloom.

'Bartzella' Itoh peony in my Yellow Garden.

'Mary Rose' David Austin English Rose in the West Island. I never got around to pruning this
rose in spring, and it seems to be happy with my neglect.

'Seminole Wind' climbing rose in my Front Border. This is the first year this rose has
bloomed so well, and is starting to get some height.

The 'Zepherine Drouhin' climbing roses in my Front Border are nearly the only plants left there, after my clearout this spring, but they're looking nice this week.

Little Kitty is looking cross in front of 'Blaze' climbing rose and a pink peony on the east side of my garden shed. This also is the first time 'Blaze has bloomed so well. I planted one on each side of the shed door, but the one on the left has died twice now. I have taken cuttings again from this plant and will try one more time, after which I will give up and plant something else -- clematis perhaps.

The view over the east fence and Herb Garden, with Sweet Williams and painted daisies in the foreground. (This bed used to be named the William and Mary Bed, because the 'Mary Rose' roses were here together with the Sweet Williams, but Mary has left William....)

One last look in the evening back toward the house and windmill, together with the Pond Gardens, Rainbow Border and Herb Garden.

The End of May: the loveliest phase, the peak of flowering, the most glorious time of year. I hope you are enjoying beautiful weather and glorious flowering in your own gardens as we enter this month of June. Thanks for reading! -Beth