Friday, November 3, 2017

Autumn Catch-Up

Autumn greetings from Iowa! It's been more than six weeks since I last posted, since, as I mentioned in that last post, I've been overwhelmed with all the work of remodeling a new space for my retail store, moving everything into the new space, and organizing it all, but things are finally starting to get settled there. My house went mostly uncleaned and my gardens completely untended for more than six weeks, and blogging had to fall by the wayside -- but now things are once again tidied up indoors and frost has taken care of many things outside, so I have time to make a quick report.

The big new addition to my gardens are the new greenhouse and cold frame that my handyman and I put together next to the garage. I felt that I really couldn't be a serious gardener unless I had at least a very small greenhouse in which to start seeds in spring, so I ordered one online last May, and finally assembled it in August:

The shiny new greenhouse, back in August, on a
paving stone base that I laid myself. The new cold frame
is just beyond.

Unfortunately, all the panels blew out several times (we live on a windy hill in open country), and this is what the greenhouse looked like by October. Even the door blew off -- Grrr. I had gotten the builder who remodeled my front porch into a sunroom to build a wood base around the bottom and to firmly attach the frame to the side of the garage, using spray foam to seal the gaps, so at least the frame didn't blow away. But the panels just wouldn't stay in, despite my buying extra clips to attach them, and then trying to tape the panels to the frame and to each other.

By last week with frost approaching, I decided that I simply hadn't used enough tape, and used a whole roll on both outside and inside to hold the panels in place. Not beautiful, but it seems to have held together thus far, and it's better than looking out in the morning to see polycarbonate panels strewn across the lawn.... I think I'll further batten it down by wrapping the whole thing in plastic sheeting, held on by -- yes -- more tape.

Since we got such a late start, all that's in the greenhouse this fall is a lone, sad-looking
tomato plant. It was mostly eaten by tomato hornworms (giant green caterpillars that my husband
picked off at least two dozen of ) so we have scant hopes for ripening tomatoes.
However, it's an experiment, to see how long the unheated greenhouse can keep the
tomato plant alive as temperatures get colder.

My husband also planted some lettuce and chard in the cold frame, but again, we got a pretty late start because the cold frame wasn't in place until late September.

We plan to use the both the greenhouse and cold frame only to extend the growing season in both fall and spring, and may heat the greenhouse only minimally, if at all, in springtime. My sunroom is pretty good for starting seeds until about the first of March, when the angle of the sun is too high to shine directly into the sunroom very much. At that time I plan to transport seedlings to the greenhouse to grow on, and a heater might not be needed much, if at all. (I did install an automatic opener on the venting window on the top of the greenhouse, to control for too much heat.)

At any rate, it will interesting to experiment with using the new greenhouse and cold frame, and I'm glad I finally have them -- I feel like "real" gardener now!

Some other scenes:

By late October, my Scented Garden around our patio, which I designed and made this year, was starting to look pretty over, despite some last blooms of the annuals. 

But alas, it was struck down by frost last week. The Four O'Clocks were utterly destroyed overnight.

In advance of the approaching frost, I had over the past month been bringing many potted plants inside to their winter home in my sunroom, which is pretty full again. A number of plants will also overwinter in my basement, under florescent lights. 

More house plants, back inside for the winter.

A nice spot for home school lessons with my two kids, as well as for reading alone and napping (preferably with cats). On sunny days in winter, this is my paradise, my tropical vacation right at home.

But very sadly, our outdoor cat, Little Kitty (next to the newly-planted Scented Garden in May) developed pneumonia, and despite my veterinarian husband's treatment, she died last week. We buried her at the edge of our windbreak. She was my outdoor gardening companion, often purring next to me as I planted or weeded, and is greatly missed.

There is still garden work ahead of me this fall -- bulb planting, some potted starts that I desperately need to get into the ground, tidying up annuals, etc. -- which I hope to do in the next week or two. But I actually find myself looking forward to winter spent among my plants indoors -- the sunroom has made all the difference.

I hope you are enjoying a gentle autumn in your own gardens, and settling cozily into warm sweaters and comfy slippers as winter approaches. Best wishes for the coming holidays, and Thanks for Reading. -Beth

Sunday, September 10, 2017

My New Scented Garden

Hello everyone -- I'm sorry it has been such a long time since I posted. Perhaps I haven't mentioned it before, but I own a small retail shop, and my one full-time employee has been on maternity leave since early July, so I've had to hire temp workers and spend more time there than usual. Additionally, the building in which my store leases space was sold and I've had to find a new space, which I'm preparing to remodel and move into in about a month.

Not to make excuses, but I've been distracted by all this, and unfortunately, my gardens have been somewhat neglected this summer, as has been this blog.

But one bright spot has been my new Scented Garden, which, perhaps because it's right next to my house, I have managed to look after, weeding for a few minutes now and then as I water the new plants. So even if the rest of my gardens don't look great, I can at least post about this one area that I've been enjoying all summer. Here's some background:

BEFORE: Last year, the patio was surrounded by roses (at right), perennials such as phlox and self-seeded hollyhocks, and annuals. This photo looks very pretty, but the rear beds were full of grass and weeds and needed to be re-done. Plus, the seating wasn't working for us -- the couch was placed there temporarily while our front porch was being enclosed into a sunroom, and the cushion always seemed to be damp or dirty. It was time for a re-vamp of the beds, and perhaps a table and chairs at which to have tea and enjoy the garden.

Last winter, I greatly enjoyed thinking about and planning a new garden to surround the patio. I read a number of books about various kinds of gardens and enjoyed considering how they could be achieved here in Iowa:

  • I first thought of making a tropical garden, full of bananas, cannas, potted palm trees and other exotic things that don't grow in Iowa without protection.
  • I also considered making a Mediterranean or Islamic garden, filled with fruit trees and some scented flowers, as well as some kind of water feature in the center.

But then the idea of a Scented Garden began to appeal to me, and I read probably a dozen books about fragrant garden plants. Scented plants are best placed close to the house, where they can be enjoyed the most frequently, and there are many plants of lovely fragrance that I hadn't grown before. So I planned what I would include, started annuals and perennials from seeds, and ordered several plants online to be delivered for spring planting.

Out with the old, in April.

In early March, I dug up most of the roses and moved them to other beds. I also moved a peony, a small patio peach tree and a mock orange tree from other areas to these beds, before they started leafing out.

Then in April, I got down to the real work outside:

  1. I dug out all the remaining perennials (except for two boxwoods and one of the original rose shrubs) and moved them to other beds
  2. Then I painstakingly dug through the soil to remove every last strand of runner grass 
  3. I next installed a plastic edging inside the brick edging to try to keep the grass from growing back into the beds
  4. Lastly, I added a thick layer of leaf compost to improve the soil
  5. By late April and early May, the beds were ready for planting

A clean slate, except for the plants mentioned above (and a few tulips I couldn't bear to dig out just yet!). I also left the grape hyacinths, as they are fragrant.

By mid-May, most of the plants had been planted. The mock orange shrub can be seen leafing out at left, several potted plants that overwintered in my house are on the patio, and I had bought a new table and chairs for the area. 

Here is a list of the many scented plants that I planted:

  • Mock orange Philadelphus 'Innocence' (moved from another part of my gardens)
  • 'Bloomerang' reblooming lilac
  • Rosa 'Sharifa Asma'
  • Rosa 'Jude the Obscure'
  • Rosa 'Golden Celebration' (two divisions that I moved from another location)

  • Dianthus (Pinks) - Fringed 'Rainbow Loveliness', started from seeds
  • heirloom Iris 'Queen of May'
  • heirloom Iris 'Plumeri'
  • Clematis montana 'Mayleen'
  • Chabaud carnations, started from seed
  • thyme
  • lavender
  • Berlandiera lyrata Chocolate Flower (a yellow daisy-like flower smelling of cocoa)

  • Polianthes tuberosa Mexican tuberoses
  • Hymenocallis Spider lilies (these still have not bloomed, and show no signs of doing so)
  • Cosmos atrosanguineus Chocolate cosmos
  • Gladiolus acidanthera Star gladiolus
  • Oriental lilies, pink mixed

  • Mirabilis jalapa Four O'Clocks 'Marbles Mix'
  • Zaluzianskya capensis Night Phlox 'Midnight Candy'
  • Petunia 'Old Fashioned Climbing' (so incredibly fragrant!)
  • Antirrhinum Snapdragons 'Royal Bride' (a white, scented variety)
  • Matthiola longipetala Evening Scented Stocks
  • Malcomia maritima Virginia Stocks 'Spring Sparkle'
  • Sweet Pea 'Cupani's Original'
  • Sweet Pea 'More Scent' (the name doesn't lie!)
  • Centaurea moschata Sweet Sultan 'Imperialis Mix' (sowed directly -- I don't think these ever came up; I'll try them again next year)
  • Nicotiana alata flowering tobacco 'Jasmine' (these were lovely and fragrant at night)
  • Nicotiana sylvestris flowering woodland tobacco (these were humungous plants -- 5 feet tall)
  • Heliotrope 'Fragrant Delight'
  • Basil
  • Lemon basil
  • Helichrysum italicum Curry plant
  • Wave petunias (I've noticed that the dark purple ones are highly scented, while other colors barely have any scent)

Potted tender plants:
  • Trachelospermum jasminoides Star jasmine (I've had this plant for nearly a decade and it's wonderful every summer)
  • Jasminum sambac 'Maid of Orleans' (this everbloomer was in my sunroom all winter and is one of my favorite plants)
  • Mandevilla laxa -- Chilean Jasmine (this was disappointing, as it bloomed only briefly and I could barely smell any scent -- I'll overwinter it in the basement and give it one more try next year)
  • A large orange tree of unknown variety that someone was getting rid of  (it was decadently fragrant in my sunroom in early spring, but has not borne fruit)
  • Calamondin orange tree (I just bought this, and it hasn't bloomed or flowered)
  • Gardenia (a swooningly heavy scent -- acceptable outdoors, but it would be overpowering inside)
  • Lemon verbena (I've had this shrub in a pot for almost five years, and its leaves are strongly lemon-scented when rubbed)

By the end of June, the Scented Garden has begun to fully bloom.

Another view from the opposite corner of the garden.

Sweet peas 'More Scent,' Snapdragon 'Royal Bride' and Old Fashioned Petunias growing on
a thrift store obelisk with Rosa 'Jude the Obscure'.

Ten-week stocks (Matthiola) that I started from seeds inside.

Potted Lemon Verbena, Jasmine sambac and Star Jasmine, all overwintered indoors. All smelled wonderful in July.

Flowering tobacco 'Jasmine' started from seed and planted along the fence. Fragrant at night

Polyanthes tuberosa Mexican tuberoses, dianthus, heliotrope, Curry plant, lavender and snapdragons.

Cosmos atrosanguineus Chocolate cosmos.

Four O'Clocks 'Marbles Mix'
Some leftover 'Naked Ladies' Lycoris squamigera sprouted up among the petunias, Four O'Clocks and patio peach tree.

Not everything that I planted in the Scented Garden grew well or has flowered, but most of the plants have done better than I hoped. My biggest complaint has been the unusual number of Japanese beetles that have devoured most of the rose flowers (but they seem to be fewer in number now, so perhaps I will be able to smell the roses if they bloom in autumn).

I was a bit worried about planting too many different scented plants in one area, that perhaps the scents would clash or be overpowering. But that hasn't been an issue, as they've largely bloomed over different periods or were most highly scented at different times of day or evening.

The overall effect of the garden has been delightful! There have been times when I could smell an intoxicating wave of scent from the old-fashioned vining petunias as I walked across my driveway toward my house. Late in the evening, the Nicotiana flowering tobacco opens its intoxicatingly scented flowers. And the 'More Scent' sweet peas have an innocent, lovely scent and have continued blooming even through the heat of summer here, aided by nightly watering and twice-weekly cutting for scented bouquets. My husband and I have enjoyed drinking our afternoon tea surrounded by scented plants this summer, and we occasionally sit outside here in late evening, especially when friends join us.

I've greatly enjoyed experimenting with growing new kinds of scented plants, and plan to continue trying still more plants and scents next year. I think my Scented Garden has been a wonderful success.

Thanks for reading! I promise I will try to post -- and read your posts -- more regularly as we go into autumn.... -Beth

Friday, July 28, 2017

July Flowers

The North Border has been a riot of flowers.

Hello everyone! July has been a very hot, and very busy month for me here in Iowa. Weeds seem to spring up and grow to chin height in just a few weeks during this time of year -- they are a constant challenge to gardeners, as is the muggy heat index that makes us want to avoid all work outside.

But there have been some moments of beauty in our hot summer gardens, and I've been able to take a few photos of them, usually in the somewhat cooler evenings. Here are a few scenes:

The new Scented Garden around our patio has been a lovely place to sit in the evenings.

A closeup of scented sweet peas, petunias and

Black-Eyed Susans in the Yellow Garden.

And some with green eyes as well.

The latest pot display near my front porch: Papyrus,
a Mediterranean Fan Palm, Agapanthus, white petunias
and blue-flowered Plumbago.

The White Garden, with 'David' phlox, Casablanca lilies and white coneflowers.

This is the first time I've been able to get Crocosmia to flower here. I planted bulbs one year, but they never even came up. I found three plants locally this spring, and they have put out flowers! I hope the relative warmth and good drainage in front of our south-facing house will allow these marginally-hardy plants to come back next year.

This flowering tobacco is monstrously HUGE in the Scented Garden. It smells wonderful,
but it sure does take over -- this photo was taken after I cut back many of the leaves and tied
it to the fence, to rescue the plants around it from being completely smothered.

As you can see in the last photo, the corn is getting tall around us -- summer is more than half over. I'm already making plans for changes to my gardens in fall, and thinking about fall bulbs, which will appear in stores in a week or two. Not long until school starts again too....

Hope you have been making the most of summer in your own gardens too. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Monday, July 3, 2017

Happy 4th of July!

My patriotically-colored flower pot display in front of our porch. This is the first year these Agapanthus, which I have been overwintering for two years, have bloomed! I thought that they and the Cyperus papyrus looked like fireworks, and the red-white-and-blue pinwheels were fun to add to their pots. They compliment the white Petunias, red Alstroemeria and blue Plumbago. Festive fun!

Happy Fourth of July! I hope you are enjoying high summer in your gardens. There are many things blooming here, and the extreme heat of a few weeks ago has moderated a bit, so it's been nice to spend some time outside again enjoying summertime.

In my last post, I showed some Before and After photos that showed some pretty weedy, unkempt garden areas, before I eliminated them. I promised I'd only show nice, flower-filled areas in this next post, so here are a few flowery scenes:

Volunteer hollyhocks in the Front Border, with farm fields in the distance.

Bachelor buttons in our front yard.

The North Border at sunset.

Asiatic lilies in the North Border a couple weeks ago.

Orienpet lilies the other day, with Achillea and self-seeded cosmos.

Phlox, yarrow and lilies.

The Yellow Garden, newly downsized and improved.

The Yellow Garden bathed in golden sunlight.

Lilies and coneflowers in the Rainbow Border.

Little Kitty in the new Scented Garden around the East Patio. It's lovely to sit outside with a cup of tea and enjoy the fragrant flowers. I'll post more about this new area soon. 

A beautiful evening looking across the Herb Garden to the view that sold us this house. 

Hope you are enjoying flower-filled summer days in your own gardens, and that you enjoy the holiday (for those living in the U.S.).

Tomorrow we will attend the local parade and potluck picnic in the tiny unincorporated town a mile from us. It's not even actually a town, just a four-way stop with a dozen houses, and the event is organized each year by the residents themselves and funded by donations in a can. It's become well-attended over the years, by hundreds of people, a retired-folks brass band, and dozens of parade entries, mostly spiffed-up classic tractors, nearby farm businesses and, of course, led off by area fire trucks and an anthem. It's truly America at its best and most independent, and I love to go every year. Now what potluck dish to bring....?

Happy Independence Day!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Before & After

Hi everyone! Before you read any further, I have to warn you that some of the photos in this post aren't pretty. I'm showing garden areas that were such failures that I got rid of them. My hope is that the "After" photos will make up for the ugly "Before" pictures.


I'm sure all gardeners must do it: make too many garden areas to take care of, get totally overwhelmed, and need to reduce some that aren't working. I've been reducing this year, as I've showed in some of my last posts.

A couple of posts ago, I included a list of my 37 (!) garden areas, ranked from best to worst in terms of their beauty and ease of maintenance. Those that scored the worst were generally those farthest from my house, and this spring I eliminated or reduced a number of those areas.

Those downsized areas are shown below on a map of my gardens, marked with large numbers on the map:

I drew this map in 2014 (so it doesn't show two newer garden areas at the top of the map: the redesigned North Border, and the new Iris Border). I'll have to draw another map later this year, because the following areas have now been eliminated:

1. The bed around the gazebo 
2. Parts of the bed around the garden shed
3. The ends of the Rainbow Border
4. The bed around the LP tank
5. The large area behind my house next to the Yellow Garden
6. A bed we made around a Forsythia shrub next to our driveway.

Here are a few Before & After photos of five of the areas to show my progress (I'm still working on number six):

1. The planting bed around the Gazebo 

I almost never go out to the gazebo at the far south end of our property except when I'm mowing near it -- it's more of a feature to look at and only occasionally sit in. So grass and weeds crept in and took over the beds. I recently removed the plants and shrubs and moved them to other areas that needed more plants.

WAY BEFORE: It looked so nice and so easy to maintain back in 2014....
BEFORE: Aagh! By last August it was in shameful condition. The floor needed to be repainted and weeds and grass were taking over the planting bed.
AFTER: Much better. Gazebo floor painted and all the plants removed, except a honeysuckle
vine on the back side. The grass has continued to creep in from the lawn -- which is now a good
thing -- but we'll remove any weeds and seed more grass seed this fall. 

2. The bed around the Garden Shed

This bed was just too large. I made the bed in order to make it easier to mow around the shed and under the two trees next to the shed, and to dress up the rather plain shed with plantings. BUT, because I rarely saw the back side of the shed, weeds and tree seedlings took over back there.

WAY BEFORE: Nice and tidy back in early 2014, right? What could go wrong?

BEFORE: By August 2016 the hostas had filled in pretty well, but so had a fair number of weeds and volunteer trees. Also, the old pear tree has been ailing for a few years now and several limbs have died or fallen.

BEFORE: This disgraceful view of the other end of the shed shows just how bad the weeds became last year, especially at left, in the mulched area behind the shed.
AFTER: Last month I dug out the weeds from either side of the shed door and outlined more manageable small beds with edging strips. I'll leave them empty this year to spray any remaining Creeping Charlie that I didn't get, and plant the beds with a dense planting of perennials and annuals next spring. To the left of the shed, I dug out the tree seedlings from under the large tree and mowed off the weeds -- in early autumn we'll till and seed grass there.

The view from the other side of the garden shed shows how the shape of the bed has changed. From our house (from left), this bed doesn't look any smaller than before, but it will be much easier to maintain now that I have consolidated the hostas in the remaining bed.

3. The Rainbow Border

This border was too long and not densely planted enough. It was 70 feet long, too long to weed all in one session, so I usually gave up three-quarters of the way through. The far end was therefore a total mess of grass and weeds. I put the last 15 feet back to grass, and also eliminated another ten feet from the beginning end (the left).

BEFORE: This photo, also taken in 2014, shows the entire length of the Rainbow Border. 

AFTER: A long-distance view of the new, shortened Rainbow Border, with the ends removed. It's now probably only 50 feet long, instead of 70 feet -- a more manageable size. (There are a few gaps in the border due to problems last year with invasive perennials; I'll fill in those gaps this year and next spring.)

AFTER: The far end of the border, showing the large section seeded back to grass. This end is at least 15 feet shorter.

AFTER: Much more manageable.

4. The LP tank area

WAY BEFORE: In spring 2016, the magnolia and flowering almond looked pretty nice planted in this mulched area.  Our LP tank and a large willow shrub are to the right. I thought about planting a few patches of dark pink tulips to bloom here at the same time.

BEFORE: Aagh!! Because the bed is on a slope and the wood chip mulch washed off when it rained, it was hard to keep weeds from growing here later in the season, as shown last August. It may not look like it, but I weeded this area a number of times last year and my husband sprayed the area repeatedly, all to no avail. Too much work; it was time to go back to grass.

AFTER: After I dug out the flowering almond shrub, my husband sprayed, tilled and seeded grass here. Much better.

5. The bed behind the house

This is the largest area that I eliminated. I made this area into a garden bed in 2014 because the ground was settling over the old cellar that is beneath the square part of the bed and I scalped the grass every time I mowed it before. But I never really figured out what to plant there, besides hostas and daylilies, and, of course, weeds took over.

By last year, the cellar below the bed was leaking was leaking pretty badly and looked like it might collapse. Last fall we had someone with a backhoe scrape all the dirt off the top of it, seal it with flashing and tar, and re-cover it with soil. They leveled the soil, and I hope it will be easier and less scalp-ey to mow now that we have grassed it over again.

BEFORE: I wasn't sure what I should do with the back of my house -- the area is so ugly, with the A/C unit and at least seven vents of various sorts jutting out from the back wall. I tried to make it prettier with daylilies and hostas, but they only bloom for a short period, and then weeds took over. Back to grass. 
BEFORE: Another view, further down toward the Yellow Garden, at far right. Uggh.
AFTER: This spring, I dug out all the daylilies and hostas, and my husband seeded the area back to grass. I planted a narrow strip of hostas along the house to make mowing easier. This area is never going to be attractive, what with the AC unit and seven vents coming out of the wall -- maybe some day I'll think of something more attractive to plant against the house, but for now, the hostas will do.

(BTW, those hostas are practically indestructible: I dug them out last fall, but didn't know where to plant them, and I ended up leaving the clumps sitting by the side of my garage ALL WINTER -- we had -10°F in December -- and they sprouted this spring and look great a month after planting them. Now that's a tough plant!)

AFTER: Much easier to maintain. 

I feel much better now that I have mostly finished these downsizing projects -- I'm thinking I might eliminate one more area this autumn, but otherwise I will see how much work it is to maintain my remaining gardens for the next year or so. Next summer I can decide whether there are any additional garden areas that I would be better off without.

It's so easy to bite off more than we can chew, but having reduced some areas is allowing me to focus more on the areas that are successful, and make them even better.

Thanks for reading -- I know the photos were hideous and the stories of failure and laziness were hardly inspiring. I appreciate that you read it!

Next time I'll show some pretty flowers and some of my most successful areas, I promise! -Beth