Saturday, November 2, 2019

Autumn, then Winter

A view across autumnal cornfields. Just about time to harvest....

Greetings! I don't know where the weeks went, but we're deep into autumn already. We've been enjoying some warm sunny days though, so it's mostly been pleasant so far.

Up until the past few days, we'd had a few light frosts and even a couple of harder ones, although many flowers still had their blooms, so it's been lovely to sit outside on sunny days to enjoy the garden. Here are a few photos of my Paradise Garden, where I like to sit, from the past two weeks:

The garden was still looking pretty nice a couple weeks ago. Whenever the sun came out, I sat on the bench at far right against the house. That south-facing position takes full advantage of the sun, and the brick pavers it sits on absorb the heat and feel great on bare feet in autumn and early spring. (I just added that bench this spring.)

Still lovely and flower-filled....

...and beautifully scented from the the flowering tobacco and the especially from the tuberoses, shown here with the olive tree in a pot.

But the best part has been sharing my garden with our two new cats, that we got as kittens this past summer. When we got them in July and August, they were still too little to go outside safely, but now that they're larger, they love it, especially on warm sunny days. (Our house is 200 yards from a sparsely traveled gravel road and surrounded by corn fields, and they never wander very far away from our house, often staying inside the little picket fence.)

Meet Oreo, who looks very photogenic among the flowers.

And Noodle, who is the sweetest, friendliest kitten ever, and purrs more than any other cat I've ever met.

Fun times!

Roses still blooming a couple of weeks ago.
Beautiful, sunny and flower-filled: a lovely view from my bench in the sunshine.

Winter comes early

But this past week, the weather got worse: the temps dropped down to 20°F or even lower -- and it even snowed twice midweek:

I looked outside Tuesday morning, and this is what I saw.

But the sun started coming out...

...and pretty soon the snow started to melt.

And we get hit again...

Unfortunately, we got another, even bigger snow only two days later. It's very unusual for us to have snow in October here in Iowa -- usually it's December before we get a whole inch of snow, let alone that much twice.

Happy Halloween! After the first snow was gone, we got this much heavier amount of snow only two days later.

But I'm OK with winter coming -- we've really enjoyed a pretty nice autumn thus far, and I can't plant my spring bulbs until the flowers are done. (We're into November now -- time to plant those bulbs that have been sitting in my study since early September).

Plus, I've been busy with other projects besides my gardens: I've spent a great deal of time since August (when I last posted -- good grief!) working on getting my book about the history of ornamental gardening in Iowa ready to print. I sent off to a digital printing company for a proof copy in September, and unfortunately, the the print quality of digital printing presses isn't quite up to what I'm looking for, especially for color images. So now I'm planning to have it printed by an offset printer in China (despite the tariffs). It will have a full-color interior, and I've been working to make the pages as colorful and beautiful as possible these past six weeks. I'm looking at a publishing date in May now.

The colder days ahead will give me plenty of time to put the finishing touches on my book and get it printed after January 1st. It's hard to think of the year being almost over already - but there it is.

I hope you have been enjoying lovely warm autumn days in your own gardens, and that you have plenty of indoor projects and hobbies to occupy you during the non-gardening season this winter.

Thanks for reading! -Beth

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Big Net 2.0

Greetings! Those of you who read my blog post last August may remember my idea last year to defend my roses and other vulnerable plants from the Japanese beetle scourge: The Big Net.

As I wrote then, the JBs have gotten worse every year since I've been gardening (they were hardly seen in Iowa when I moved to my current house and started gardening seriously a decade ago). They've really made gardening a lot less enjoyable during the period from late June to early September (although there may be fewer of them this year, or at least they may be less active, due to the cooler weather we've been having, compared to last year).


Last year, I tried just about everything I read about: insecticides, deterrent sprays, milky spore, knocking them off into a cup of soapy water each evening. But nothing really worked. I didn't want to put nets over each and every flowering plant, so I bought a temporary metal structure over which I draped a big net to cover one whole flower garden area, my Paradise Garden, in which most of my roses are located.

As you may recall, the net worked pretty well last summer to keep the JBs off the roses and other flowers in my Paradise Garden -- until a storm with gale force winds of 70 mph tore the net in several places. I was able to clip the pieces together enough to hold up until the end of summer, but I vowed to try again, with several modifications:

Last year, I attached the grommets (that tethered the net to wires on each side) directly into the netting, but the wind tore the grommets right out of the net. This year, I reinforced the lines of grommets by inserting them through strips of back-to-back weather-resistant Gorilla tape on both sides of the net. We'll see if this helps....

The other major tearing of the net last year occurred where it was draped over the wood pergola at the end of the garden: the sharp ends of the wood tore into the net and the wind pulled the net so hard that it continued the tear nearly clear through the entire width of the net. This year, I covered the ends of the wood with hollow golf balls and a couple of small plastic pots stuck on the ends of the wood. Again, we'll see....

I moved most of my remaining roses into the Paradise Garden this spring, and gave away my climbing roses, which, unlike rose shrubs, can't be simply cut back after their first flush of flowers, as it defeats the whole purpose of climbing roses. Marigolds and daylilies are also attractive to the JBs, so most of those are planted in this area too. And I can move any potted plants that are targeted by them under the net as well.

The Result:

Since I put the net up several weeks ago, the number of JBs in my Paradise Garden has been greatly reduced (somehow a few still seem to be getting in, but not very many). My roses are starting to look healthier and less eaten than they were after the arrival of the JBs at the beginning of July until I got the net up several weeks later.

It's been nice to simply sit and enjoy my garden, smelling the flowers, and lightly puttering around deadheading and pulling a few small weeds like usual, instead of being aggravated by the bugs ruining my flowers. We'll hope that this continues for as long as the JBs are around.

Here are few scenes of the Japanese beetle-free beauty under the tent:

Buisson (bush-type) dahlia 'Jaipur,' starting to bloom in front of self-seeded tobacco and petunias. I can't believe how well these new French dahlia hybrids from Ernest Turc bloom, 3-5 feet tall and no need for staking. I really wish that more of them were available here in the United States (Brent & Becky's Bulbs has a few varieties, but I want more kinds!)

Pink flowering tobacco, lavender, petunias and 'Rooguchi' clematis, top.

Daylily 'Pardon Me' and petunias.
Roses (I think this might be the Buck rose, 'Hi Neighbor,' but I can't be certain) and lavender.

Oriental lilies and 'Persian Market' daylily.
Tall pink 'Ruby' snapdragons and other flowers.

The most enjoyable time in this garden is in the cool of evening and nighttime. I found this solar-powered LED lamp at Theisen's farm store this spring, and the cut-outs in the metal cast a beautiful pattern that fits in well in my Islamic-style Paradise Garden. 
Here's what the lantern pattern looks like when I set the lantern on the paving stones in the garden. It's really pretty magical at night.
Daylily 'Red Volunteer'.

This garden truly is my paradise. I've enjoyed making other garden areas, but never derived so much joy from maintaining and inhabiting a garden area as I have with this one. (And look at those roses, beautifully free from munching beetles!)

My revised Big Net seems to be doing the job. I hope the information about my trials and errors with it will be helpful to others trying to deal with the Japanese beetle scourge. Midwesterners can still grow and enjoy roses!

I hope you are enjoying your own gardens, filled with blooming flowers, and free from insect damage, as we reach the height of summer. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Saturday, July 20, 2019

My English garden visits

Greetings! Last month my family and I spent 2&1/2 weeks in England, and I thought I'd share a few moments from the beautiful English gardens I visited while there.

My trip wasn't all gardens: we traveled with another family we know, and it rained nearly every day we were there (apparently, it was the wettest June on record, with flooding in parts of the country). Both factors meant that I wasn't able to see every garden that I wanted to. But I did manage to make it to some of the most well-known of England's famous gardens.

Please forgive the length of this post, as I'd like to simply share a few photos from each garden in this one post and not write a series of more detailed posts over multiple weeks.


My family flew to London two days before the other family we traveled with, so that we could spend a couple days in Kent before returning to London to meet up with them. We took a train to Maidstone, where we rented a car and drove south to the tiny village of Sissinghurst, where we stayed in an ancient cottage listed on Airbnb.

Driving on the WRONG side of the road was terrifying -- my husband did the driving, but we were all terrified, all the time. And the cottage was picturesque, although the doorways were so low that my poor husband still has scars on his scalp. But it was a great adventure to spend time there, and that's how we were able to visit the first of the gardens on my list (shown in the first photo), the most famous of England's countless gardens, Sissinghurst Castle & Gardens

Here I am standing in the Rondel, the round space shown in the first
photo. The iconic Sissinghurst tower is in the background.

I've read about Sissinghurst and Vita Sackville-West for nearly two decades now, and it was wonderful to finally set foot in this most famous of gardens. This first day of our trip (June 6, my husband's and my 21st anniversary!) was the sunniest, warmest day of our entire two-and-a-half weeks in England, which made our visit to Sissinghurst truly lovely (although it was difficult to get good photos in the bright sunshine).

The rose gardens were at their peak and were the most beautiful flower gardens I've ever seen.

A small corner of the incredibly lush rose gardens.
My pictures don't do the rose gardens justice -- every ancient brick wall was covered with climbing roses heavy with bloom; every bed was stuffed full of roses, peonies, delphiniums and other perennials in flower. 

Here I am in a corner of the famous White Garden.

Sissinghurst wasn't as crowded as I had feared it would be on such a beautiful day. There was a coachload
of German tourists and many other visitors, but most had left by mid-afternoon, and by four o'clock, we had
the entire garden nearly to ourselves. It was a magical day, the nicest anniversary we've ever had.

Great Dixter

Because England's 2nd-most famous garden is only 20 miles from Sissinghurst, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit Great Dixter while down in Kent. Unfortunately, it rained heavily for nearly our entire visit there, so I didn't enjoy my visit there nearly as much, or appreciate the design and planting of the garden areas as much as I might have, had they been less sodden.

Here I am after the rain briefly stopped, in front of Christopher Lloyd's medieval house (now a museum), with the collection of potted plants that this doorway area is known for.

Rain on the pond in the Sunk Garden, designed by Lloyd's father in 1921.
The Long Border, 330 feet long and 15 feet deep: succession planting on a heroic scale.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

After returning to London, we met up with our friends at our hotel in the Bloomsbury area of the city and did some sightseeing for the next five days. My husband and I skipped the Tower of London and instead hopped on a train to Kew Gardens, and enjoyed the afternoon's excursion to one of England's largest gardens (330 acres of gardens, glasshouses, and a research herbarium that houses the "largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world"). We couldn't see all 330 acres, but were able to take in most of the highlights of the gardens. Several of those:

In front of the magnificent Palm House, built in the 1840s.

The interior of the Palm House is filled with exotic plants.
Behind the Palm House, the rose garden was in full bloom.
My husband was dwarfed beneath this colossal chestnut-leaved oak. Planted in 1846 by Kew's
first Director, Sir William Hooker, from an acorn collected from the Caucasus region, it stands
over 120 feet tall and is the largest of this species in the British Isles. Kew's arboretum areas
are among the most magnificent in the world.

Regent's Park

My family had a good time at Winston Churchill's war bunker, but since I don't like crowded or underground places, I spent that morning stopping by the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street, and then walking next door to Regent's Park. I had no idea what the park would be like -- and I found that it's 400 acres of the usual lawns and trees, with Queen Mary's Garden (opened in 1935) at its center. I quite enjoyed walking through the parkland and gardens.

Beautifully landscaped municipal park settings....

Families enjoying the lovely morning....
But then I stumbled on this.
The English sure don't do roses on any sort of small scale, do they? The huge, be-swagged, Rose Garden apparently holds London's largest collection of roses -- 12,000 of them, planted in 85 single-variety beds. And that's in addition to the other 18,000 roses planted in other parts of Queen Mary's Garden. And they were nearly all in full bloom when I stumbled on this display. I had no idea that Regent's Park is famous for its roses, so this really was quite a surprise to come upon so unexpectedly. A wonderful surprise!

Thornbury Castle Gardens

After London, we traveled by train to Oxford, then rented a car and drove south to Bath, then west to stay for two nights in Thornbury Castle (now a hotel) near Bristol. The Castle has beautiful gardens -- perhaps not commensurate with National Trust-level gardens, but lovely nonetheless -- and we had the gardens nearly to ourselves, which I think greatly adds to the enjoyment of a garden.

The tower of Thornbury Castle (built in the early 1500s) can be glimpsed beyond this part of the garden, and the ancient walls enclose the entire garden. (I don't think geraniums look this blue in the Midwest -- I don't know if it's the different quality of the light or the moist conditions, but they never look this vibrant in my gardens.)
A bee hive set into one of the ancient garden walls and surrounded by lovely roses.
Matilda, the Castle cat, liked to follow us around to keep an eye on us.

We really enjoyed our stay at Thornbury Castle.


After leaving Thornbury, we drove east to the Cotswolds area, and stayed at an Airbnb in the small village of Bourton-on-the-Hill. I wasn't sure if I'd get a chance to visit Hidcote Gardens, despite staying only 20 minutes away from England's #3-most-famous garden (no accident, that!). But the weather looked to be nice enough, and one morning my husband suggested that the two us drive there while the rest of our traveling companions slept in. I'm so glad we did!

The White Garden at Hidcote.
The famous Red Borders.
Hidcote's Long Borders. Stunningly lovely!
My husband in the area named "Mrs. Winthrop's Garden" by garden creator Lawrence Johnston for his mother.

Hidcote felt like the largest of all the gardens I visited, despite being only 10 acres in size -- but they are 10 mostly intensely-gardened areas and garden rooms, more than 30 in all. The gardens just went on and on, and we actually didn't have time to see all the areas. (It made me tired just thinking about maintaining it all!) But each room was an incredibly beautiful garden in itself, and the whole constitutes a truly great work of art. After Sissinghurst, this was my favorite English garden.

A Few Other Gardens

Being a garden-lover, and in England, I managed to find many other garden spots to enjoy while there, but this blog post is long enough already, so here are just a few last highlights:

Bourton House Garden was literally two blocks away from our Cotswolds cottage, so we all walked over on the last morning before our trip back to London to fly home. It was a wonderful garden, a hidden gem filled with topiary, garden rooms, exotic plants and a high outlook over the Cotswolds. Very enjoyable.

Chastleton House is a fascinating country house that was built in the early 1600s, which successive owners never had the money to completely remodel or update, so, unusually, most of the rooms still reflect their original design. In 1991 it was given to the National Trust, which made the controversial decision to leave it in pretty much "as-is" condition, reflecting how people lived in it during the 19th and 20th centuries. The gardens, however, have recently been restored to their 1830s layout and 1920s planting design (while the topiary in the area above is at least a century old, the flower beds had been turfed over in the mid-20th century, and were only re-planted in the concentric beds this spring).
The transportation center in Bath had this imaginative display... well as this jasmine-woven wicker chair. Heavenly!
Finally, this garden is actually a one-ninth-scale replica of the tourist village of Bourton-on-the-Water (not to be confused with the village where we stayed, Bourton-on-the-Hill). We were excited to see a model village after watching the movie "Hot Fuzz," in which a model village featured prominently in the film's sinister village. (This model village wasn't sinister at all, and was actually pretty fun to see!)

My family and I had a good time seeing places in England that we've been reading about or watching on television. As a garden enthusiast, I was so happy to finally visit a few lovely English gardens, and despite the rain, I greatly enjoyed every garden I saw.

But it's good to be back home (and the weeds certainly didn't wait for me!). It seemed strange that it was almost July already and 90°F, when it was barely June and rainy when we left. Since it was rainy with temperatures in the 60s most of the time we were in England, I've only slowly become acclimated to our Midwestern heat (hot & windy, with temps near 100°F this weekend!)

I've been incredibly busy since our return getting ready for last weekend's Open Gardens Weekend, a new event for our local public beautification charity, Project GREEN. My garden wasn't open, but I was chair of the event, and since we haven't done it this way before (any garden can open, and attending the event is free, sponsored by local businesses), we're still figuring things out. But now that it's over for this year, I can relax a bit and rest up from traveling and everything else.

It's truly good to be back home, and I hope you've enjoyed seeing a few of the gardens I was lucky enough to visit in England. Thanks for reading! -Beth