Monday, May 15, 2023

My New Garden Project


Greetings! I'd like to share with you my new garden project, which I've been thinking about doing for some time now. (I apologize for the long post.)

I've noticed for some years now that I enjoy the gardens that are closer to my house much more than those areas that are farther away or located in places where I rarely see them. This makes sense, of course, and not just because I'm able to enjoy them more often because they're closer. Also, I remember to maintain them, which is much easier when they're right outside my door, and so they are more successful garden areas -- which are much easier to enjoy than garden failures.... :-)

So, I've been thinking that I might get rid of one or two of my more distant areas, and make better use of a spot in front of my house.

Here's my front yard last summer. My Paradise Garden is to the right, just out of the photo, and there were two rectangles of grass at the foot of my front steps.

And here's the Paradise Garden last July, with the center grass section at forefront. This garden area is pretty easy to maintain.

My Paradise Garden right next to my house is so much easier to maintain than other areas, both because it is close to my house (I can pad out in bare feet and casually pull a few weeds), and because the garden beds are surrounded by paving stones, so nasty runner grass isn't always invading the beds like it does in beds in other parts of my property.

So in late April, I paid my teenage son to use a sod-remover (a manual one that you kick with your foot, which he was able to get the hang of using) to remove the grass in the corner section of my fenced yard (see first photo).

Then, I used a shovel to excavate several inches down, where garden paths would be laid...

...ordered a bunch of pavers, gravel and sand to be delivered, and paid my handy son to help lay the paths. I then began to dig over the planting areas to loosen the soil that had been below the sod.

I'll plant the two triangular beds with annuals this year (probably this week), in case there's still some runner grass in the soil that needs to be eradicated. (I tried to pick out as many roots as possible when digging over the beds--that's what the bucket was for--but I probably missed some.)

I'm hoping these beds will be much easier to maintain than some of my other garden areas. I haven't yet decided what to call this new garden: the Corner Garden? the Diagonal Garden? the Triangle Garden? Hmmm... what do you think?

But I must eliminate some more difficult garden areas in exchange for this new one--that's my rule: any new garden must be offset by eliminating two old garden areas (or a much larger one).

So, I'm afraid I will be getting rid of a garden that hasn't been working so well for the past year or so: the Rainbow Border.

I made the Rainbow Border back in 2012. At first, I tried to plant it in sections with flowers in the order of the colors of the rainbow: ROYGBIV.

Here's a long-distance view of the Rainbow Border back in 2014. The Orienpet lilies made a pretty good show in July, preceded by early June perennials and followed by zinnias and other annual flowers.

After a while, the Orienpet lilies I planted declined and mostly disappeared--I think it's possible that the red cedar windbreak behind the border interfered with their ability to grow in that spot. Some perennials seemed to do better, so I let go of the ROYGBIV plan and mixed up the colors, but still tried to stick with brightly colored flowers in all colors of the rainbow.

This looked pretty good for a few years. Here it was in 2019 and 2021:

Very colorful in late May/early June....

This was a respectable perennial border, even in June of 2021.

But there were some problems with the Rainbow Border: first, it was infested with grass that was impossible to dig out. I sprayed that grass with Ortho Grass-B-Gone, which did help, but I don't think it took care of the problem entirely. And the red cedar windbreak behind it was probably not so good for the plants.

And the border looked OK around June 1st, but looked ratty later in summer, because the annual flowers I planted there never seemed to grow very well.

In mid-July 2022, the border just looked ratty, weedy and blah. Maybe that was just a bad year, but this made me wonder why I still have this border.

The Rainbow Border is a fair amount of work to maintain--which, when it looked good, didn't bother me so much. But hard work and bad results is tremendously discouraging. 

So, I've made the decision to eliminate the Rainbow Border, and move the best of the remaining plants to other areas in my gardens that need additional plants:

This border in front of my house, shown in 2020 after I fixed the edging, still doesn't have enough planted in it. I removed the two large clumps of yarrow/Achillea and moved them to my Yellow Garden, and this fall or next March, I will move many of the Rainbow Border May/June perennials here.

My Yellow Garden behind my house could use some of the yellow flowering perennials from the Rainbow Border.

And my Front Border in front of the white picket fence might look nice with a few of the Rainbow Border plants.

Anyway, that's what I've been working on, thinking about and making decisions about this spring. I'll show the results of my changes over the next year as they occur.

I hope your own gardens are easy and enjoyable to maintain, and thanks for reading about my efforts to make mine easier. -Beth

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Spring is Here!


Greetings after a long winter! Somehow it's already May, and it seems like most of Spring has snuck by me.

There were some nice days in April, but also some stretches of cold, wet, windy days, so I've done very little in my gardens until recently.

But it certainly seems like I've been busy all winter -- a quick update on what I've been up to: 

  • My retail store was destroyed in early October, and finding and remodeling a new space, re-ordering all the inventory and furnishings, and getting going again was incredibly time-consuming through February (I'm still dealing with the insurance).
  • Then I got terribly sick with influenza in mid-December, which took over a month to recover from; followed by two colds, one three weeks ago from which I'm only now feeling strong enough to work outside after. 
  • My husband had hip replacement surgery several weeks ago and he's needed my help
  • and I published my latest garden history book last week:

My book is about a Japanese garden builder who lived in Chicago during the early 20th century. In my earlier book, Iowa Gardens of the Past (2020), I included a short section about a c.1930 Japanese-style garden in Muscatine, Iowa, now part of the Muscatine Art Museum grounds. The museum director asked me to look into the history of their garden, and I discovered that it was likely built by that Chicago garden builder. But almost nothing was known about him, so I wrote a book about his life and work (he built numerous rock gardens and Japanese-style gardens throughout the Midwest). This was really quite fascinating -- I learned about Japanese samurai (his father was one), the Japanese-style gardens built at World's Fairs, classical Japanese garden manuals, Chicago history, and many other topics -- as well as the stories of the wealthy clients who hired him to build gardens for them. Perhaps obscure, but tremendously interesting work.

But spring marches on, no matter how many other things we're doing. Here are a few pictures of some spring scenes around my gardens from the last month:

This "patio" dwarf ornamental peach tree has never bloomed more a few flowers in the decade I have had it, so I was astounded by the copious flowering this spring! I guess the weather was just right this year, plus, I did cut back some of the limbs last fall -- perhaps that further stimulated it. Whatever the cause, it's been beautiful.

This Magnolia 'White Rose' in my North Island flowered well this year too.

The North Border is looking pretty good this spring. My teenage son put two loads of wood chip mulch on last fall as a birthday present for me, and it's much less weedy than usual -- I'll have to stay on top of the weeds this year...

This Korean Spice Viburnum makes the whole yard smell wonderful.

Not so many tulips this year -- I planted a bunch of them two autumns ago and they made quite a show last spring, but only a few are left among the self-seeded bachelor buttons coming up.

This tiny fern-leaf peony is doing well in my Paradise Garden right next to my front porch, where I can see it up close and personal.

And this is the newest addition to our household: meet Henry (1/2 Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, 1/2 rat terrier). He has a rather bad dog mischievous look on his little face, don't you think? He does still need to be trained to not chase our two cats, and I'm discovering that he likes to "help" me in the garden rather too much. But he'll soon pull more than his own weight in the garden, by keeping away deer, rabbits--and the coyotes that we see encroaching in the corn fields around us (I feel uneasy letting our cats out at night, where they really want to be on warm nights, since our last dog, Puppy, died last autumn at age 14).  

We have finally been enjoying a few days of nice weather this week, and it's been good to be able to get outside and start clearing out the beds I haven't been able to get to yet. And I have been working on a new garden project, which I'll show in my next post. 

Until then, I hope you are enjoying some beautiful warm late spring days in your own gardens. Thanks for stopping by! -Beth