Saturday, June 15, 2024

Late Spring: Roses & Cornflowers


Hello! My gardens looked pretty nice during early June this year: we had significant rain nearly every week during May, so the lawns have looked lush and green, and the annual flowers I planted have become established.

But the main stars have been my roses, and the self-seeded cool-season annuals that have looked great this year: the snapdragons, oxeye daisies, and in particular, the numerous bachelor buttons or cornflowers that have filled in empty spots with a blue haze of lovely little flowers.

The roses have bloomed beautifully this year. I've been sprinkling All-In-One Rose & Flower Care on the soil under them four times a season since spring a year ago. They had been completely defoliated in early spring the previous couple of years, due to the rose sawfly larvae that appear in April and totally munch the leaves. I think preserving the leaves, together with the fertilizer, has made the shrubs much more vigorous and they look great this year. (It's too bad the Japanese beetles will destroy them starting next week when they arrive on schedule.)

These snapdragons seeded themselves here, and the dianthus has survived several years in this spot (the only one left of a dozen I planted about five years ago. It's just random chance that the snapdragons match the dianthus and the David Austin English Rose next to it.

You can see how the batchelor buttons have filled in and added color at a time when not too many annuals are blooming yet. I'll pull them out after they've finished flowering and seeded a bit.

This rose, 'Lovely Fairy,' has tiny hot pink flowers, and really does look lovely with another randomly matching self-seeded snapdragon, as well as the batchelor buttons and a deep purple Wave petunia in a pot.

And in the most unusual color matching incident, the batchelor buttons under the pergola are not the usual cornflower blue, but instead an inky deep blue, matching the clematis growing above them (click to enlarge). I remember that the original packet of seeds I planted more than a decade ago was a mixed-color selection, but it's almost a bit.... unsettling that so many randomly self-seeded combinations match so well....

My Paradise Garden has really outdone itself this year. This is by far the best garden area I've ever made. Sometimes I'm astounded by its beauty, and it's really pretty easy to maintain and to enjoy.

The blue batchelor buttons look beautiful with these bell-shaped 'Rooguchi' clematis too. Their friendly blue faces, like the snapdragons, are welcome anywhere in my gardens that they want to plant themselves!

The Yellow Garden behind my house looked very nice when the Bartzella peony and the yellow baptisia were blooming. The marigolds have already grown much larger than when I took this picture a couple of weeks ago. (The secret to allowing them to establish is the mulching to prevent them from drying out before they can establish--I found a new mulch supplier nearby who sells finely shredded wood and bark chips, much nicer than the free coarse wood mulch from the landfill.)

And this year, I further reduced the nearby border against the back of my house, and seeded new grass in the removed area this spring, which is filling in nicely. This area began as one large garden that swooped out in a curve, with a stepping stone path through it. It was too difficult to maintain, so I've been reducing it over the past 6-8 years. I think this will be much easier to keep tidy.

Anyway, that's what's been blooming in my gardens during early June. I'll write another post soon about several of the other parts of my garden that are looking much improved this spring: my new front deck with pot arrangements, my tropical garden, and others.

I hope you have been enjoying beautiful blooms in your own gardens this June. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Friday, June 14, 2024

2024 is half over... Post #1


Greetings! I cannot believe that it's already mid-June in 2024--where has the year gone? I took pictures of my gardens intending to write a post in spring, but I got distracted finishing some writing projects and then working in the gardens, and ended up putting off posting until now.

I'll show a few highlights from this year in two posts: this one will show some scenes from winter and spring. Then I'll make another post for summer to date.

Heap Big Snow

This past winter really wasn't bad as far as Iowa winters go--with the exception of one horrendously big snow and unusually cold temperatures in January. But December and February were exceptionally mild months, and spring arrived early this year.

We got nearly two feet of snow in a few days during mid-January (several days before the Iowa political caucuses, when it would maximally inconvenience and even threaten the safety of the unprepared candidates and journalists traveling here).

Unfortunately, my neighbor who has plowed our driveway for the past 15 years retired from his snowplowing work last fall. He assured me back in November that he would be happy to still plow our driveway because he lives so close and we're never in a hurry to need it done--but then he suddenly decided the 24" was just too much, leaving us in the lurch because we hadn't arranged anyone else in advance.

I desperately asked him for a recommendation for someone else and happened to get hold of the guy he knew on his cell phone while he was plowing the church parking lot near our property. He agreed to plow it the one time (very sadly, as he had been in his truck plowing for about 16 hrs straight at that point), but he told me he couldn't accept any new clients going forward, despite my generous payment out of gratitude.

He was able to plow most of our driveway--except the highest-drifted part between our front fence and our windmill, which was too big for his truck plow. It had drifted up to my chin, and because my husband was away, I had to shovel most of it myself by hand.

Here are a few photos from our Heap Big Snow in January:

A view from our front porch right after the storm. I was pretty worried about the yew tree against the garage wall, which is usually an upright V-shaped tree nearly as tall as the garage roof. I waded through 30" of snowdrift to use a broom to laboriously knock off most of the snow, but it was bowed down like this for several days. Thankfully it returned to its usual shape within a few weeks. 

You can see the chin-high drift outside the fence. That was a lot of work to shovel....

Brrr! And the wind chill factor was even colder than what our thermometer read. Those poor journalists visiting Iowa had a pretty hard time of it.

But there was a cool solar halo due to the snow crystals in the air.

An Early Springtime

Thankfully, the snow didn't last long. It mostly melted within a week or so, and then the temperatures were marvelously warm. I sat outside on our porch numerous times during February, and the winter aconites bloomed nearly a month earlier than usual:

The winter aconites bloomed by the 10th of February this year.

We had some tree work done in February, on an Ash tree that is slowly succumbing the Emerald Ash Borer and will likely need to be completely removed in a few years, and also for some evergreen trees in our windbreak that have listed against other trees. This work is too dangerous for my husband to do, so we called a pro:

You can see the dead limbs on the ash tree on this 2022 photo.

Our ash tree is now limbed up quite a bit. I had removed the collection of tree peonies behind that tree last fall, and moved them to our west terrace, so the falling limbs didn't damage anything there.

Another interesting incident involved the white pergola that had been on the west terrace for more than a decade. Last spring, we removed it and the two supposedly white-blooming wisteria that were growing on it, because they never once bloomed and made the area dark and gloomy by mid-summer every year.

I also cut down and moved some of the boxwoods on the west terrace (this rather looked like total carnage last spring).

The west terrace now has fewer boxwoods outlining only the outer edge, and features the tree peonies from behind the ash tree. I think it looks much tidier now, and I can enjoy the peony blooms close-up, followed by some annual blue salvias.

We also had the small side steps to our house replaced because they were completely rotten, and I had my son use some leftover pavers from a project last year to make a small paved area for a bench on either side of the steps. We sit here much more often now and can enjoy the view to the west--and it's no longer gloomy!

We moved the white pergola to the edge of the driveway last year because I thought I might sell it on Craigslist, but then I realized it would exactly fit inside the entrance to the pond garden area. This is the only photo I could find of it there last fall. I was just getting used to seeing it there this spring, when Something Happened....

Big Wind

On April 16 of this year, Iowa experienced a major severe weather event: there were tornadoes near Des Moines, and we had 50-60 mph winds here. I was home when the worst of it hit, and even though I usually ignore most weather warnings, the wind became so intense for a few minutes, with the rain driven sideways from west to east so furiously, that even I went down to our basement for a couple of minutes, until it lessened. The fierce intensity of that wind was pretty scary, I have to say.

I looked outside afterwards and didn't see too many limbs down, so I thought we'd mostly escaped. But when my husband got home from work he noticed this:

This is the windbreak shown behind the windmill at left in the last photo, on the east edge of our property. Apparently the wind was so fierce that it picked up the entire pergola and hurled it into the windbreak, crumpling it irreparably. I didn't stake it down because I thought it might be safe from wind because there was no fabric canopy or anything on the top to act as a sail, and the bottom was much heavier than the top. But I was wrong.

(I did have the gazebo at the end of yard shown in the last picture tethered down by having pressure-treated lumber posts sunk into the ground and bolting the frame to the lumber--precisely to avoid the roof catching the wind like an umbrella and sadly finding pieces shattered over the next three fields.)

Here's a closeup of some of the tender new growth on a herbaceous peony in our west yard. The wind hacked off the growth like a machete. I've never seen anything like this before.

I guess I was right to seek cover in the basement during that storm....

There goes the pergola to the landfill. Our old pickup truck
looks like something from "Sanford & Son." :-)

Pretty Springtime

Lest you think that Iowa is just one weather catastrophe after another, I'll end by showing a few pictures taken on the usual calmer, nicer days:

Grape hyacinths (muscari) and Basket-of-gold (Aurinia saxatilis) in the front border along the driveway and fence (pre-weeding).

Some early pink tulips, more grape hyacinths and some bachelor button or cornflower foliage (Centaurea cyanus) that have seeded all around my garden and look great now that they're blooming.

These grape hyacinths show a gradation of color from deep blue to pale blue. I don't remember planting this different kind, but I must have done so.

Stripey "Carnaval de Rio" tulips.

That's some pictures from winter and spring that I meant to post back in April. I'll post again with more recent photos of the progress I've made in getting my gardens ready for a group visiting later this summer.

I hope you are enjoying lovely days in your own gardens. Thanks for reading! -Beth