Saturday, November 10, 2018

The White Stuff Has Arrived!

The grayscale view across the Pond Gardens this morning.

The First Snow fell last night and we woke this morning to a light layer of white covering everything. This is the snow that most people, even including myself, can be enthusiastic about: a novelty that changes the entire look of the landscape overnight, and which will likely be gone in a couple of days.

Snow at this time of year is fun. Hardly any shoveling needed, and it goes away quickly on its own. (Not the snow of February, which keeps piling on the snows of January, forming sharp ice layers between batches, becoming a gray, dirty mess that's so hard to shovel that people die of heart attacks trying to clear their front walks.) This is the fun sort of snow, just enough of it to look picturesque.

A view to the gazebo on the south end of our property.

White on white on white....

I've just about finished the last garden tasks that need to be done this year -- with the exception of planting a few last bulbs in my Front Border. The ground isn't frozen yet, so I hope to be able to do that in the next week or so.

Yesterday I finally drained, disassembled and stored away the fountain in my Paradise Garden -- I was waiting until the last decent moment to do it, because doing it symbolically meant the end of the gardening season. I know that it's actually it's been ending in stages, like bringing in the potted tropical plants, pulling out the annuals cut down by the first frost and planting bulbs for spring.

But the heart of any Paradise Garden is the water, and now the center of my favorite garden is gone. My husband suggested putting a Christmas tree in a pot there, and I wondered about a fire ring instead of a fountain -- but none of our ideas seemed right for such a garden. Better to wait for spring when it can be reborn to what it's meant to be.

The Fountain, the heart of the Paradise Garden, has gone to its winter storage.

Winter is definitely here.

It's probably time to pull out the mounds of petunias that improbably have stayed green all the way up to this point, far after our hard frosts. Oh, and to make my kids put away the patio furniture and grill.

Soon I'll put up the icicle lights across my front sunroom windows, which always looks cozy. My teenage daughter pointedly informed me this week that there are only six weeks until Christmas. It's fun to get ready for Christmas and stay warm and hygge inside with wood-burning fires, fuzzy blankets and purring cats.

Winter can be nice for a while -- I really don't mind it in December and January. I just wish it wouldn't go on for so long -- it would seem more special if it finished up in February, instead of March (or even April, like last winter). But I'll try to make the most of the enjoyable part of winter, and not think about the rest of it. Here's to an early spring!

I hope you are enjoying a cozy transition from autumn to winter in your own gardens and home this season, and that spring will come early for you too. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Sunday, October 21, 2018

It's Mid-October already... Frost! and other updates

My view from sitting on the sunny steps in my Paradise Garden, last week, with roses, marigolds and lovely pink flowering tobacco that flowered for five months.

Hello everyone, I don't know where the last month has gone since my last post, but we're certainly in the middle of Autumn now, aren't we? I've been preoccupied with trying to finish my book about Iowa garden history (and get image permissions, write a book proposal, find a publisher...). Researching and writing the book was the easy part!

But here's an update about what's been happening in my gardens in the past month:

The Pond Garden:

As you may recall from an earlier post, my Pond Garden area needed to be completely renovated. The pond liner leaked, and the four L-shaped beds had been invaded by grass that couldn't be weeded out.

Back in May, my long-suffering husband helped me dig out the water lilies that had taken over the pond.

We replaced the liner, and dug out the stones around the four beds. And there things remained for the rest of the hot summer.

Finally at the beginning of October when it was cool enough to tackle big jobs like this, we replaced the paving stones around the four beds. The pavers around the pond itself still need be adjusted a bit, but at least they're largely in place.

We installed metal edging around all four L-shaped beds as we were replacing the paving stones. This was a rather big job, but with any luck, the edging will inhibit the grass from taking over the beds again.

I still need to plant in the Pond Garden beds the nearly 200 Dianthus 'Sweetness' replacement plants I started from seed earlier in the year. Here they were back in July, and they're still sitting in exactly the same spot next to my house. This week I really hope to get those in the ground, and then next spring I can replace the garden phlox 'Bright Eyes' that were also planted in those beds.

The Greenhouse:

Another project that I hope I've taken care of is fixing my greenhouse:

Here it was back in late September, after the wind AGAIN blew out several of the panels and ripped off the entire door. The plastic and tape I wrapped around the greenhouse last spring did keep some of the panels from blowing out, but it was starting to come loose too. It was time to try something else.

I read online about how other people try to keep their greenhouse panels from repeatedly blowing out (it happens to most greenhouses of this design), and thought this idea of using wood to reinforce the panels was a good idea. I drilled through the metal supports at the corners of the greenhouse frame, and used screws to attach the ends of these wood 2x2s I had lying around onto the frame corners. I then attached each polycarbonate panel to the wood by screwing through each panel from the inside, using large washers. I then reattached the door. We'll see how this holds up through the winter....

The Last of the Beautiful Flowers, before.... Frost!

I've been enjoying some last beautiful, sunny days in my Paradise Garden over the past few weeks, knowing that soon enough it will be time to put this garden away for the winter:

The flowers still looked beautiful in the Paradise Garden in mid-October, although I had already moved the orange tree from this garden inside my basement in late September.

The marigolds were lovely, attracting a few last little white butterflies.

The last of the roses....

But the nights got colder and colder, dipping down below 32°F/0°C a few times....

The light frosts got the nasturtiums first...

...although there were still a few sunny days to enjoy the garden. I found myself gravitating toward the sunny steps in front of the sunroom, not sitting in the shady pergola as I had during the heat of summer. I think I may replace that "stairway to nowhere" with a proper bench next spring.

This morning I woke up to 25°F / -4°C, which finished off most of the annual flowers.

It's time to remove the remains of the annual flowers: the petunias, nasturtiums, marigolds and flowering tobacco. (Does anyone else plant that pink flowering tobacco? It bloomed beautifully with a wonderful scent from June to October here -- why isn't it more commonly planted?)

After the annuals are out, I'll be able to plant the tulips, narcissus and hyacinths that are waiting to be planted, so that next year I'll have something lovely to admire while sitting on the sunny steps in early spring (until I replace those steps with a proper bench, that is).

Last night we watched the last episode of the season of Gardener's World with Monty Don and his adorable dogs, Nigel and Nellie -- it really is the end of the gardening season once again, isn't it? Time to finish off the last jobs outside and move our attention to indoor pursuits:

All my tropical plants are now back inside my sunroom, where the low angle of the sun once again streams through the windows to make sunny days a pleasure to spend in here.

Here's to sunny winter days....

I hope you are enjoying the autumn in your gardens in these last weeks of flowers, getting your last projects finished, and that you're still enjoying some sunny days, whether outside or from the comfort of inside through your windows. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Friday, September 14, 2018

Mid-September Update

Yay! My Paradise Garden is free of netting.

Hello everyone, it's been a month since I last posted and wanted to give an update on what's been happening in my gardens. After our usual intense summer heat, we had a couple weeks in which it rained almost every day -- I almost forgot what it was to water all my pots every day, since I didn't have to do it for two weeks. The cool weather and near-daily rain was welcome after we had been dry for while.

I also would like to give a recap about my Big Net, in case people are wondering how that worked out. As you might recall from my earlier posts, we've had a horrible Japanese beetle problem here, and they were destroying my roses, especially in my new Paradise Garden. So I came up with the idea of draping a Big Net over that entire garden:

Here's the PG a month ago. The Big Net actually worked very well, keeping the JBs off my roses, and I didn't mind the net at all.

But then disaster struck:
On August 28, a tornado warning, a ton of rain, and a huge windstorm with gusts recorded of up to 80 mph blew through here. I was home at the time, and I looked out the front windows and saw the net blowing straight out, horizontally (toward the viewer in the above photo), and saw that some of the garden was uncovered. After it was safe to come out of the basement, I went outside and saw that the net had been Torn Asunder:

Shredded. Back to the drawing board....

After this calamity, I was able to use paper binder clips to pin together the net in spots so it covered most of the garden again, although I had to keep a close eye on it on breezy days and re-adjust the net frequently.

During the cooler, rainy weeks, I hardly saw any JBs, so I finally took down the remains of the net a few days ago (I saved the two-thirds of it that wasn't shredded, to use on other shrubs or fruit trees next year). There are still a few remaining JBs now that it's turned warm and sunny again, but only a few -- not the mobs of them destroying my roses like before. I just go out a couple times a day and knock them into my soapy water cup, and the damage is quite limited. They'll likely be completely gone in another week or so.

The netting structure, partly disassembled. It's all packed away carefully for next year now.

Free at last! Filled with butterflies and hummingbirds, it really is a flower-filled Paradise.

The net really did help my roses avoid terrible damage -- they look great right now, as do the dahlias, marigolds and other flowers that JBs love to wreak destruction upon. I'm planning to buy another net next year and make a few engineering modifications to next year's edition:

  1. I need to reinforce the net with some kind of weather-resistant tape where I attach the grommets along the sides (those hold the net in place during wind and make headroom to walk under the net along the sides. 
  2. I need to cover the ends of the wood slats on the pergola at the back of the garden (maybe with tennis balls or something round and smooth), because their sharp ends were what caused most of the tearing of the net.
We'll give it another go next June, and see if it will work better, even in high winds.

These make all the trial and error worth it. If a Big Net is what I need to enjoy
my roses, that's what I'll use.

Still a lovely spot to sit and enjoy my flowers....

The Clematis paniculata is blooming incredibly generously, considering I just planted it in May, and you can see scented tuberoses and lavender at center, and lovely roses and sweet peas across the path. Heavenly scents all of them.

After the next few days of continuing warmer weather, it looks like it will cool down here and that might be the end of our summer weather. Hard to believe autumn is upon us. I've bought a few spring bulbs that are waiting to be planted, and there are still several improvements I need to make to garden areas this fall -- but it's a lot easier and more enjoyable to work once it's cooler.

I hope you are enjoying beautiful fall weather in your own gardens (and a few more warm summer days too!). Thanks for reading! -Beth

Friday, August 17, 2018

My latest (crazy?) defense against Japanese beetles

The butterflies are magical, but they're not my only garden visitors....

It's official: the Japanese beetles are out of control. They're ruining my roses, hollyhocks and other flowers. I know they'll be gone before too much longer, but they've been absolutely horrendous this year and I don't see them being any better in future years.

I didn't mind them so much when I had few roses near my house, but now when I sit in my new Paradise Garden each evening surrounded with roses and other flowers, seeing the damage and ugly clusters of beetles really bothers me. I think my new garden is probably the nicest garden I have ever made, and I'm not going to give it up or stop growing roses in it, so what to do?

It's magical in the evenings, filled with butterflies, hummingbirds and scented flowers. The JBs hadn't gotten this rosebud yet for some reason -- but the next day it was destroyed.

This climbing rose growing on the arch over my front gate was repulsive! This foul sight greeted me every time I came home until I pruned the plant down almost to the ground in disgust.

My 'Sharifa Asma' rose, known for its scent and
beauty, was utterly defiled by the disgusting beasts.

Even the marigolds planted in my Paradise Garden weren't immune -- I was surprised, as they have long been thought to act as a repellent to other insects. But the JBs love them (although they don't seem to cause as much damage to the leaves and flowers as they do on roses).

Last month, I posted about the Japanese beetle problem, and at that point I felt pretty hopeful about my efforts to control them, but I think that was unrealistic:

1. Every evening I walk around with a container of warm soapy water and use a butter knife to knock off as many JBs as I can find into the container. This does seem to somewhat reduce the damage done by them, and it makes me feel better -- but this is not how I want to spend so much time in my gardens.

2. I don't want to use systemic insecticides because I don't want to hurt the bees, and they only reduce the problem anyway, not eliminate it. So instead, I sprayed an organic pyrethrin-based insecticide at dusk, after bees go to sleep. The pyrethrin did kill the JBs that were on the plants -- the ground under the roses was littered with their bodies the next day. But more showed up the next day and didn't seem to be affected by the residue. Also, it made my Paradise Garden smell like insecticide, not sweetly-scented flowers. Yuck.

3. I planned to treat my lawn for JB grubs this month to try to reduce their future numbers. But my two acres of lawn would have cost probably $150 to treat, twice a year, and I found out that the JBs can fly 3-5 miles, so more will simply come from miles away. Useless.

4. I treated my lawn with milky spore treatment about five years ago, but I've read that studies have shown it doesn't work very well. Ditto nematodes.

5. I wondered if a simple repellent existed, and I was excited to read that steeping red cedar planks in hot water would yield a spray that some people swore by -- free and easy! I tried it and I could certainly smell the cedar spray -- but the JBs didn't seem to mind it at all, and in fact the three test plants I sprayed had even more beetles the next day. Aaggh!


I apologize for my pessimistic attitude, but the more I research Japanese beetles, the worse this story gets -- next year and every year after that will probably be just as bad, if not worse. And my aesthetic problems with them pale in comparison to others' more serious problems. They cause millions of dollars in damage to crops and ornamental plants; last year, an Iowa winery lost $20,000 of their grape crop to the buggers. They're also destroying milkweed habitats that monarch butterfly populations depend on to survive. They only arrived in my area about a decade ago, and didn't seem so bad a few years ago because the unusually cold winter of 2013-14 knocked back their numbers. But I think this rebound is the new normal.

And it's not just a problem for Northeasterners and Midwesterners; Portland, Oregon has been quarantining and desperately trying to eradicate a suburban infestation of Japanese beetles that threatens the Pacific Northwest's huge agricultural sector.

Steadily moving west....

And they've already spread to Europe too: JBs were found in a nature reserve in northern Italy near Milan in 2014, and by last year they had already spread to southern Switzerland. Etymologists believe most of continental Europe, the UK, Ireland, parts of Australia and New Zealand are all suitable habitats for them. The Netherlands has long been dreading their arrival; since the 1950s they've had Japanese beetle traps at the international airport in Amsterdam to monitor for them. English gardeners had better enjoy their national love affair with the rose while they can.

Their invasion is inevitable everywhere, except very dry and extremely cold areas  -- I only hope that someone really smart will figure out how to eradicate them easily and cheaply.  They're invasive pests that shouldn't even be here, and we should target them for total continent-wide eradication, if it can be done without harm to other species or the environment (genetic engineering to render them sterile may be the safest way to do this).

But back to my own (admittedly minor by comparison) problem right now....

My Latest Desperate (Crazy?) Idea

If insecticides, hand removal, grub treatments, milky spore and repellents don't work, what else? Some people have put netting and row covers over fruit trees, berry bushes and grape vines, but I don't want to have nets over each of my rose bushes and on every marigold and dahlia, preventing me from enjoying their beauty. How ugly would that be?

But then I started to wonder: Could I put a very big temporary net over my entire Paradise Garden? That's where most of my roses are and where the JB damage bothers me most. I looked this up online and couldn't find any examples of other gardeners who have done this -- maybe that should tell me something.... I saw pictures of bird netting enclosures, net cages for fruit gardens, and netted cat enclosures ("catios"), but no beetle-netted flower gardens.

I'd need a pretty big net to cover my roughly 24'x27' Paradise Garden. However, I looked around and found beetle net sold in rolls 100' long by 14' wide on

And how could I support the net over my garden, so that I could still go inside and enjoy my garden? I'd need some structure that's inexpensive, easy to set up and take down, and not hideously ugly. I hit on something that I hope will work:

It's not too ugly, I think, for a temporary structure. It's a 10x20-foot shade canopy or carport frame (it comes with a cloth roof, which I'm not using), that I found at a local home improvement store for only $80.

When the net arrived last Friday, I unrolled all 100 feet of it out in our big yard, and cut it into three sections, each 33 feet long and 14 feet wide. I then sewed those three sections together by hand using nylon twine, making a 42-foot long, 33-foot wide net.

Getting the net over the top of the structure all by myself (family's away camping) wasn't the hard part. After that was done, I spent two days attaching grommets to both sides of the net, so I could attach the net to wires strung in front of my house and along our front fence, so the net won't blow away when it's windy.

It could look worse. I like to think of it as being like a Bedouin tent, in keeping with the Islamic-style Paradise Garden theme.

I have no idea if this is going to work. I've read that JBs don't usually fly along the ground, but swoop down from up high when they smell pheromones emitted by female beetles already eating flowers and foliage. So having a net over the top of this garden may exclude new ones from entering.

There were still a fair number of them already in the garden though, so I've been working overtime with the soapy water bucket to eliminate as many as possible from inside the net. I have noticed a lot fewer of them inside the tent after several days, and I see some on the outside of the net that can't get in. :-)

Hah! You just stay out there!

I'll only have to put up this temporary net for 8-10 weeks, from mid-June until late August each year. Then, I'll pack it away carefully until next June.

I feel a bit bad keeping the butterflies and hummingbirds out (they were so magical!), but they'll have free rein in this garden all during autumn, and I have numerous zinnias, phlox and other nectar-rich plants in other parts of my garden for them to enjoy during mid-summer. If the JB's must have those plants too, it won't bother me so much, as long as I have my safe rose sanctuary in my netted Paradise Garden.

If this works, it could be the best way to protect roses in JB-infested regions:

  • safe for the environment and other insects
  • temporary
  • less expensive than treating large areas of lawn for grubs
  • more aesthetically attractive than netting that places a barrier between us and our plants 
  • and effective!

Welcome inside the Bedouin tent.... I cut a door flap in the front of the net, to make it easier for people (not beetles) to enter.

I'll move a few more roses from other areas into the PG, and I think I'm just going to have to get rid of all my climbing roses, since needing to cut them back drastically each summer pretty much eliminates the entire purpose of climbing roses. I'll probably replace them with clematis or some other flowering vine that blooms before the buggers arrive.

I'll keep you posted about the effectiveness of my crazy big net.

Until then, I hope you have been enjoying lots of lovely summer flowers, not munched by insects, in your own gardens. Thanks for reading my very long post! -Beth

Look, no beetle clusters! Only lovely roses and sweet peas and petunias.
Maybe the net's not so crazy? :-)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The End of July, Already

Hello! It's hard to believe that July is nearly over and back-to-school is just around the corner already. It seems like this gardening season has simply flown by. But we did have a very late start to spring -- I wasn't able to do much work in our gardens until nearly the end of April -- so I guess that makes it seem like a shorter season. After a very hot June and early July, we're enjoying cooler weather the past couple of weeks, and that does make it seem like Fall is coming -- even though I know we'll have more days in the 90s before long.

At any rate, we've been enjoying our fall-like temperatures, and I've been able to do a bit of light work outside this past week in the pleasant evenings. And even though it feels like fall, the flowers we've been enjoying have definitely been high summer season flowers. Here are a few:

The new Paradise Garden is really filling in well, particularly the colorful annuals. I think that next spring I will remove the "stairway to nowhere" in front of the porch that is now enclosed into a sunroom. I'll probably lay paving stones on the ground where the stairs are and perhaps put another bench there. 

Another view of the garden from the other direction.

The 'Rooguchi' clematis I planted next to the pergola is blooming prettily.

This is the first time I've ever tried growing 'Sweet Sultan' Centaurea moschata, and the seeds I direct sowed in May have been blooming for the past few weeks. They're related to Bachelor Buttons, but are lightly scented and look a bit like thistles. 

Tall garden phlox along my front fence.
Self-seeded hollyhocks and pink flowering tobacco in the Front Border.
The Yellow Garden is looking golden in the setting sun.

Sunflowers romping away in the Kitchen Garden.

I had no luck growing gladiolus for cutting last year, but
these are looking better this year.

The gladiolus are certainly flamboyant, aren't they?

Hope you are enjoying many summer flowers in your own gardens these days, and that pleasant temperatures are in your forecast too. Thanks for reading! -Beth