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

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Rain and glorious roses -- and Japanese Beetles!

A deep pink rose (possibly Buck rose 'Hi Neighbor') planted with dianthus in my Paradise Garden.

Hello! The good news this week is that we've finally gotten some significant rain, after a month of zero rainfall. Thursday we got more than two inches, which, with the 3/4" we got a few days before, means we're back to normal precipitation for this time of year. A great relief -- I don't even have to water my numerous potted plants for a couple of days!

Everything looks fresh and green after the rain, and we've been enjoying lovely roses, lilies and other flowers the past few weeks. Here's a selection:

'The Fawn' rose and pink flowering tobacco against my front porch, on the edge of the Paradise Garden.

Another rose. I've moved my roses around so many times that I'm afraid I can't identify this one, despite efforts to keep track of them when moving them. This is probably a a Griffith Buck rose though.

The bubbling fountain with orange marigolds in the Paradise Garden.

But all is not perfect in my Paradise Garden.... we've been INVADED! Yes, by the same Japanese Beetles that have been wreaking increasing havoc in the Midwest in recent years. They've been observed in the United States for more than a century, but have been present in Iowa for only the past decade -- and last year was the worst infestation of them on record. I don't know how this year compares scientifically yet, but by my own observation and the many news stories appearing across the Midwest such as "The bug that ate Omaha," I'd say that they're pretty prevalent this summer.

They've clustered on my roses, devouring the flowers and leaving the leaves as skeletonized webs. They've done the same to our lovely hollyhocks, and even chawed down on marigold flowers and foliage (I'm quite surprised any insect likes such strongly-scented foliage).

Six or eight years ago, I treated our lawn with milky spore powder (a bacterium that is toxic to JB grubs), but I'm not sure that it has done much to help, since I still see plenty of grubs (one of the stages of Japanese Beetle life) under our turf in the areas I treated. But other than that effort, I've done little to battle them, mostly trying to ignore them and the damage they leave in their wake.

Until now.

This is only one Japanese Beetle -- usually a rose is covered in a large cluster of the buggers.
Puppy knows there are moles under our lawn, and the moles are there because they like to eat the JB grubs. This part of our lawn isn't too chewed up yet, compared to some other areas that I'll spare you from seeing.

Until now I've mostly tried to ignore the JBs, but last week I decided that, now that most of my two dozen or so rose plants have been moved to my Paradise Garden right next to the house and I can see how much damage the Japanese Beetles are causing, that it's just not acceptable if I can do something about it. It's not just the ugly clusters of beetles covering my rose flowers, but the unsightly skeletonized leaves of the roses bushes and hollyhocks. Enough.

My strategy is a four-pronged one:

1. Every evening when the JBs have settled down on my plants and are less likely to buzz around, I walk around with a container of warm soapy water and a butter knife. I use the knife to knock off as many JBs into the container as I can find (some evenings I've done away with 100+ of them). I've been doing this for about a week now, and I'm certainly seeing a lot fewer of them than when I started. It could be that their active phase, usually only 6-8 weeks, is nearly at an end, or perhaps the big rain we got the other day knocked them all to the ground (where they are busy laying their dastardly eggs...), or because of the cooler weather we're enjoying after the rain. Removing them by hand does help though, because when feeding on plants the JBs emit a pheromone that attracts even more beetles to the plant -- each one you remove prevents several more from being attracted to the same plant. It's important not to squish them though, because that releases even more pheromones. (And it would have been better if I'd started doing this as soon as they first started appearing -- but it wasn't until last week that I'd had enough of them.)

2. I sprayed an organic pyrethrin-based insecticide on my roses, hollyhocks and marigolds. I did this at dusk, after the bees go to sleep, to avoid harming them (there is no residual effect on bees, but it can harm them if they visit just-sprayed plants, so late dusk is the safest time to do this).

3. I am planning to treat my lawn for grubs in the next month, to try to knock back the future numbers of JBs, as well as reduce the mole (and dog) damage to our lawn. Because there are no neighboring lawns near me (my property is surrounded by corn fields) this may be more effective than for gardens in cities or towns.

4. I may try another milky spore treatment of my lawn, for the same reason.

Next summer, I will keep my eye out and start the soapy water treatment as soon as I see the first JBs, to get a good start on them before they attract large numbers. 

I may be fooling myself into thinking that I can do anything to eliminate this serious pest, but even if I can reduce their damage by 50% or so, that's still something, especially in my Paradise Garden, in which roses are one of the starring plants.

But enough about the Japanese Beetle scourge -- luckily, they don't seem to have developed a taste for many other flowers (yet...). Here are a few others:

We haven't yet had to deal with the dreaded Lily Beetles that have ruined these amazing plants for our British gardening friends (and I pray that we won't have to for some time yet). They sure are looking nice this time of year, and smell wonderful.

After my potted jasmine plant (Jasminum sambac) died this spring, I was on the lookout for a replacement. I found two -- a regular single-flowered form like I had, as well as this new double-flowered one, 'Summer Soul." A wonderful scent....

I'm never failed to be amazed by the size of the flowers on hardy hibiscus plants -- they really do look tropical!

A pelargonium I ordered for the first time this year called Geranium 'Appleblossom Rosebud,' an older heirloom variety, c1870, that is said to have been Queen Victoria's favorite geranium. If the story's true, I can see why.

It looks like we'll be enjoying cooler weather here for the next week or so, which is a relief after our usual summer heat. It's been pleasant to work outside, and I've actually been able to keep reasonably on top of the weeds this week, which is a great improvement over last year's weed-fest, and makes me feel a lot better about my gardens in general.

Hope you are enjoying beautiful weather and adequate rain, and that your gardens are not too terribly plagued by pests of any sort. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Mid-July Scenes

An unidentified (but beautiful) pink rose in the Paradise Garden.

Greetings from the peak of summer! We finally got a bit rain last night after nearly a month without any at all -- which is strange, because other parts of Iowa have had so much rain that they have suffered serious floods. The forecast calls for a few more rainy days next week, so I hope we're getting back to normal amounts of precipitation and not heading into a drought.

It's been a couple of weeks since I have been able to post, mostly because I bought a new computer last weekend (the old one was making ominous grinding noises that I don't think were merely coming from a clogged fan). It's taken nearly a week to get my files transferred and software installed -- and I still haven't been able to successfully install Photoshop, which I used to edit my photos, despite a number of tries and much time wasted chatting with Adobe help.

But apparently Microsoft's photo editor can do basic editing (and is quite easy and quick to use as well), so that's what I've used for this post. I hope the photos will look OK.

Anyway, I wanted to share a few pictures of what's been looking nice around here, especially an update of what's been happening in my new Paradise Garden:

The Paradise Garden at dusk, when this garden is most beautiful and inviting.

The plants are starting to fill in a bit, especially the annuals and dahlias.

Vibrant colors of Wave petunias, marigolds and dahlias.

I've been impressed by the growth rate and rapid bloom of this bush-type dahlia 'Jaipur'. 

The Persian carpet colors of the annuals were a big part of my design for this exotic garden.

Exotic fruits are another key feature of this garden. I'm so excited that there are figs on my new fig tree! (Chicago Hardy)

Orien-pet lilies and pink flowering tobacco, each one vying with the other to release the most intoxicating scents in the evenings. These are planted against the front porch/sunroom, on the edge of the Paradise Garden.

Yellow orien-pet lilies in my front border, on the outside of the fence. I moved these here in May, which I worried wasn't a good time to do so, but they don't seem to have minded in the least, except for being a bit shorter than last year.

Around the corner on yet another side of the fence is this Rose of Sharon
that I planted about six years ago. It's never looked as good as it does this year.
One of my favorite self-seeding annuals, snapdragons -- I'm never sorry to see these popping up anywhere
in my gardens!

Every year, I usually experience a period of blahs during July, probably due to the days starting to become shorter -- I know I'm not the only gardener to feel this. Also, most of my planned garden projects are usually wrapped up by this time, and often it's too hot and muggy outside to do much of anything anyway (and weeds tend to take over during such periods, which is discouraging too).

But we're predicted to have a few cooler days this coming week, and I still have some small projects that I want to get done this year, so maybe I'll be able to work on a few this week.

And I feel pretty good about the improvements that I've made to my gardens this year, so this July seems like it's OK. Hard to believe back-to-school is just around the corner already, but that happens every summer (and undoubtedly feels much worse for kids!).

Hope you are enjoying a few cool days during the height of summer, and that your own gardens are filled with beautiful flowers and foliage. Thanks for reading! -Beth