Friday, May 26, 2017

Late May Consolidation and Improvement

The Pond Gardens, with 'Prairie Breeze' Buck roses, 'Sweetness' dianthus and water lilies not quite open in the pond.

Greetings from late May! We've had some cool, rainy days, which has been great for the grass we've seeded to reduce the size of some our garden beds, but there have still been enough nicer days that I've been able to continue with my progress on downsizing and improving our gardens.

Last year, a number of my gardens were weedy and horrible looking -- I won't torture you with photos... This year I've been trying to get things under control. The first part of doing so has been to reduce the number and size of our garden areas.

Being a former financial analyst, last week I made a spreadsheet to evaluate all the garden areas that we have on our property (we quant nerds feel better when we do things like this). I came up with 37 garden areas -- not just individual beds, but areas -- like the Pond Gardens above are one area. Clearly that is too many for non-retired people like us to maintain.

I then rated each area on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being best, 1 worst), in terms of:

  1. beauty
  2. importance to the overall design of our property and gardens
  3. ease of maintenance
  4. current state of maintenance

I then averaged the scores to an Overall Satisfaction score and ranked them from best to worst.

My Garden Areas spreadsheet, listing our 37 garden areas, rated from best to worst. The areas farthest from our house generally fared the worst, as those are easiest to forget about and allow weeds to take over. The closer areas have been more closely looked after and improved each year.

The scores show that the areas that I had already decided to reduce or eliminate should indeed be reduced or eliminated. In fact, I've already gotten rid of, downsized, or re-designed (or am in the process of doing so) nearly all of the red-letter, worst areas at the bottom of the chart.

The second part of getting the garden under control has been to consolidate and more densely plant the remaining areas. The problem with some of the worst areas was that there weren't enough desirable plants planted closely enough, so weeds were able to take over. I have been moving plants from eliminated areas to the reduced areas, to plant more densely.

The third step has been to try to reduce the encroaching of weeds and grass, through border edging barriers and mulch. This makes for less work every year.

Here's a few of the newly re-designed areas:

The downsized and consolidated Yellow Garden, with new grass filling in the eliminated area. It is planted much more densely now, particularly in the shadier part near the house. I have added many plants this year and last year, and most clumps have increased in size to fill in. I think I will replace the yellow irises that have flopped over with shorter varieties after they are done flowering. I  will also install a metal edge around the garden to keep grass from growing into the bed.

The shortened Rainbow Border, with the colors mixed up and no longer in a strict rainbow progression, and more densely planted with generous clumps that will fill in to crowd out weeds.

This is the west side of our garage, which last year was a mess of daylilies and numerous weeds,
growing in a heavy clay soil. I dug out the daylilies and sprayed the weeds, then put a thick layer
of compost on top to make weeding easier and improve the soil. Then I planted about 50 boxwoods
that were planted around our garden shed, which is another area I'm reducing and consolidating.
I had bought these as extras in case I ever needed more boxwoods, as I'm worried about future
boxwood blight. The disease hasn't  yet reached Iowa, but I have no doubt it will before long,
and I don't want to order any more because it has been found in a number of other states.
At some point I might trim these randomly spaced boxwoods into shapes such as balls or cones
as they grow in size, and perhaps add a few clumps of ornamental grass for contrast in texture.

So the garden areas are slowly improving, and will, with any luck, be easier to maintain in future. Enough with hard work -- here are a few scenes from around the gardens:

My new iris garden has been flowering for the past few weeks:

With farmey scenery....

Showing the painted daisies, allums and peonies I planted with the irises.

Poppies in the center of the bed aren't blooming here quite yet. I will move some of the taller irises that flopped outward to the middle and move some shorter ones to the edges, to make the views better.

The water lilies are really blooming well this year, perhaps the best ever yet.

I close-up of the poppies just starting to bloom in the Rainbow Border.

Some pots in bloom in my new Scented Garden area around the East Patio. The large pots in back are jasmine and star jasmine just beginning to bloom, and lemon verbena.  The purple petunia on the table is a highly scented Wave petunia (only that color is so strongly scented, I've found.
And speaking of pots, I potted up these two pots of agapanthus at least two years ago, and yet they had never bloomed despite my wintering them in my basement during two winters. I had just decided last week to chuck them out and use the pots for something productive, and this week (of course!) I noticed that they had Finally sent up bloom stalks! I know these are grown in England and California quite commonly, but I've never seen anyone around here grow them, so I thought I'd give them a try when I saw the bulbs sold in a local big box store. Finally, the results I've been waiting for! Who says gardeners aren't patient?

And one more potted success: I didn't grow these beautiful pansies myself, but I did start the stocks (Matthiola) from seed back in mid-December in my sunroom, and they have finally begun to flower! (These "ten-week stocks" didn't exactly live up to their name, but then again I probably didn't provide optimal light and growing conditions either.) Stocks are one of my favorite flowers with their wonderful scent, and I feel quite happy that I was able to grow them myself.

Hope you are enjoying some successes and progress in your own gardens this month, and that you will enjoy lovely weather and plants flowering madly during the month of June. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Early May -- Making Progress!

My new Scented Garden around the east patio.

Does anyone else notice that early May has a shortage of blooms? At least in my gardens, the spring bulb excitement is usually done by the first week of May, but most of the irises and the peonies aren't open yet and the crescendo of roses and other summer flowers is still weeks away. And everything that does bloom in early May seems to be purple -- alliums, the early purple iris that were here when I moved here and the Dame's Rocket that has seeded around so obligingly. I probably need to plant some late tulips and some more early irises in a range of colors.

It's been pretty hot here in Iowa, with temperatures in the 80s recently (spring? what's that? Iowa has late winter followed by early summer), but it feels nice to be done with winter and work outside in the evenings. I've been slowly making some progress on the changes I've planned for my gardens this year. Here are a few scenes from what I've been working on, and a few (mostly purple) flowers too:

The big project for this year is the new Scented Garden around my east patio. I've removed everything from this area except one rose and a couple of boxwoods, and planted many plants with scented flowers. On the east side (the left bed in this photo) are a mock orange from another location in my gardens, a re-blooming 'Bloomerang' lilac, a scented clematis, some Oriental lilies, a couple of irises with light scent, flowering tobacco Nicotiana alata that I started from seed and and some star gladiolus.  On the west side (the right bed) is a metal obelisk  with 'Jude the Obscure' David Austen rose planted underneath, and two sweet peas on the sides of it, as well as scented old-fashioned petunias, stocks and snapdragons I started from seeds. The far bed contains a peony, a "Golden Celebration' rose, some dianthus started from seeds and several chocolate cosmos. The close bed has 'Sharifa Asma' rose, some dianthus and snapdragons from seed, fragrant tuberoses and hymenocallis bulbs. I hope none of the scents is too overpowering or that they clash with each other. (Note: The large box on the porch contains something I've long been wishing for that just arrived yesterday....)

Last weekend I spent a whole day painting our front porch and steps (with help from my 13-year-old daughter who painted the railings white), as well as another set of steps on the west side of our house and the floor of our gazebo, shown in the next photos. Last fall, we had our handyman cut out the corner section of steps, which were rotting, and build this new center section of railing, and now it's finally painted and makes our whole entrance area look better. I'll put more pots in the cut-out area as I bring the last overwintering tender plants outside and buy a few new ones that I can't resist this summer.

BEFORE: Last year, the gazebo looked pretty horrible -- the floor was desperately in need of re-painting and the beds I had planted around them were disgracefully infested with weeds and grass. Since the gazebo is so far from my house, I rarely remembered to maintain the beds. I am re-seeding the beds back to grass so that they are easier to maintain, part of my downsizing of gardens. I'm trying to eliminate or make smaller a number of areas that are farther from my house and consolidate the closer beds.

AFTER: The newly spruced-up gazebo. I'm still working on re-seeding the beds with grass,
but it looks MUCH better now.

I've downsized the areas directly behind my house as well. The area to the left has been planted with grass, which is beginning to fill in, and the Yellow Garden, slightly reduced in size, is on the right, still a work in progress.

Here's another part of the Yellow Garden, which I've planted with shady plants of green and golden foliage. This garden is on the north side of my house, so the part closest to the foundation is shady, but there are sunny areas farther from the house, to the left of this photo. I hope the hostas will fill in and cover this tricky area.

I've made this bed next to my front porch/sunroom a bit narrower and easier to maintain, and have installed a plastic edging inside the edger bricks. The bed was completely taken over by nasty runner grass of some kind, and I'm hoping the edging, which comes in three-foot by six-inch interlocking sections, will keep it out in future. I'll leave this bed empty this year to make sure the grass is gone before re-planting it next year (I'll remove the clump of iris when it's done flowering too, as it is also infested with grass runners). Sadly, my delphinium bed was also absolutely taken over by this nasty runner grass, and no amount of digging has been sufficient to control it, so I'm invoking the nuclear option for it too -- I've moved out the delphiniums and will dig out everything, install edging plastic, and leave it empty this year, spraying any surviving grass. Grrr! That nasty grass is making gardening much less fun. Must keep it out!

OK, enough with the projects and challenging problems. Here are a few nice scenes from my gardens:

OK, to my English garden blog friends, this may not seem like much in the way of primroses, but I've tried to grow them unsuccessfully for years, planting dozens of them and coveting their flowers without any luck. Last year I noticed that one kind had survived and actually came back and bloomed for several years! The common Primula vulgaris with the crinkly leaves are expensive, short-flowering annuals here in my gardens. It's the smooth-leaved Primula auricula pubescens that will survive, and our local nurseries carry them! I bought ten more plants this spring and planted them on the north side of my garage, where two had already survived from last year. With any luck, the new ones will come back and flower for me next year. Yay -- finally I can grow primroses too!

A closeup of the lovely primrose flowers.

'Renkaku' tree peony in the North Island, with the deep red 'Hoki' peeking out behind.

'Pink Poppet' weigela on the east side of the tractor shed. I have planted four clematis to grow up the trellises I installed last year, and can't wait to see them in a few years. Last year, the dark pink lupines bloomed at the same time as the weigela, which looked really nice, but no such luck this year.
The North Border in early morning light, with alliums and a few perennials blooming.

What's in the mystery box on the porch in the 2nd photo?
My new lean-to greenhouse kit! It's quite small, 4'x6' base,
but I think it will help  me start seeds in spring. My sunroom
was nice in late winter, but by mid-March the sun angle
 was too high to provide much direct sunlight.
This keeps the sunroom cool in summer, but wasn't ideal for seedlings.
 I saw this half off at (about $350) and decided to splurge.
I'll put it on the south side of my garage, and use it next
spring, moving seedlings there in March after starting
them in the sunroom. I feel like a real gardener now!

Hope you are enjoying your mid-spring days and making progress on your own gardening projects. And Happy Mother's Day to everyone who has embarked on the most worthwhile of "projects." :-)

Thanks for reading!  -Beth