Monday, January 23, 2012

The Arbor Bed Unveiled

Frequent readers of this blog may have noticed that throughout the past season, I continually referred to "the new arbor bed," yet other than showing different plants blooming there, I never really featured  this new garden area.  Now that it's winter and I'm cooped up inside, I finally have time to sort through last year's photo files and show you the finished ( if a garden is ever "finished") project.

It all started with a bench . . . an arbor trellis with an attached bench, to be exact.  Purchased at an end-of-the-season clearance sale in the fall of '09, the long box containing the pieces of the arbor bench was temporarily placed in the garage.  For a year and a half, we walked over that box, tripped on it, and stubbed our toes on it, while I debated where to put the new arbor.  Various sites were dismissed--too shady, poor soil, too many tree roots, or too far from a water source.  Finally, as I was working in the then-new lily bed the following summer and wishing I had made it even bigger, I decided why not take advantage of the space behind the lily bed and create a bigger garden area there?

My back yard is not your typical rectangular yard bordered by a fence or property lines; instead it's a circular area bounded by a gravel drive that goes from the house to the barn and various sheds on the property.  The old house where my husband grew up once stood here, and remnants of that homestead still exist, including part of a sidewalk, a well pit, and an old cistern.  A small vegetable garden was created in the back "corner" (not visible here), and a year or two later, I planted the small butterfly garden between the well pit and the cistern.  When I decided to add the arbor bed on the north side of this area, I began to dream of eventually turning most of this space into one big garden.  It's an ambitious dream--and one that may require more negotiation with Mr. Procrastinator--but perhaps one day I'll see it fulfilled.

While the new garden was still just a dream, I had two special visitors that fall of 2010--Cheryl, who came all the way from England, and Lisa from Greenbow in southern Indiana.   Both of them have a much better eye for design than I do, and as I explained my plans, they offered some valuable advice.  Later, after she had returned home, Cheryl even sent me a drawing of what the new garden could look like.

Any heavy object in sight was grabbed to weight down the paper until the compost was delivered.
Once the decision had been made--and Mr. "You Have Enough Flowers" realized how determined I was--I began the preparations in the fall of  2010.  An oval area about 23 feet by 15 feet was first covered with paper and cardboard, then leaves, and topped with a load of compost.  Winter provided plenty of snow for ample moisture and time for the soil to settle before planting the following spring.  I have learned that when spring comes, I would rather be planting than digging, so it was a thrill to have a brand new flowerbed all ready to plant when the spring of 2011 rolled around.

"Winter Interest"
Before the planting began, however, many, many hours were spent planning the garden.  Armloads of books were carted home from the library nearly every week during the winter, and many a cold night was spent thumbing through the pages and copying ideas and plants I liked into a notebook.  Eventually, the jumbled notes were turned into pages with columns, grouping plants by height, then color, and finally season of bloom.  From these, I drew a rough diagram on graph paper, trying to pay careful attention to spacing--for once!

By the end of the summer, the hyacinth bean vine completely covered one side of the arbor.

Spring finally arrived, and the first order of business was putting together the arbor bench and situating it in just the right spot, the focal point of the garden.  I enlisted the aide of Son #2, who is handy at such things and fortunately did not inherit the procrastination gene in our family.  He and Husband put it together in short order, and after some careful measurements, I placed it in the center of the bare flowerbed.  Spring rains kept me from planting yet, which was probably a good thing, because strong storm winds blew the bench over several times.  I realized it needed a firm anchoring and purchased some rebar, pounded it into the ground, and then slipped the legs of the bench over the rebar.  This held the bench firmly in place all summer, but as you can see in the earlier winter photo, in the past month the bench has now become the "Leaning Bench."  Some adjustments will definitely have to be made this spring.

Ignore the background, please:)
At last I could begin planting!  One of the design tips that Lisa and Cheryl pointed out to me is that an arbor should open to a view.  As you can see in the photo above, the view beyond the arbor is anything but attractive--grain bins, ugly fuel tanks, and electrical wires are hardly what I want visitors to notice from my garden.  I was thinking more of the view from the bench, not through it--a view of the lily bed, the sidewalk garden, and the trees lining the driveway and in the front yard.  However, I realized they were right, and while I couldn't get rid of the objects in the background, I thought I might be able to obstruct the view, or at least offer some distractions.

Centered behind the arbor I planted a smoketree with two 'Morning Light' Miscanthus on either side of it.  I'm hoping that in time they will grow tall enough so that this is what someone will notice when looking through the arbor.  To the right (south) of this planting, is a small Viburnum 'Cardinal Candy.'  I've wanted one of these ever since I saw it in a garden catalog covered in masses of bright red berries, but it didn't do very well during the summer's drought. I'm keeping my fingers crossed it makes it through the winter and puts on a growth spurt this year.

Tarzan approved of the final color scheme.

Deciding on a color scheme also took some thought.  Inspired by a smaller but similar island bed I had seen in a local garden, I thought at first I would plant a white garden. But, as Cheryl said, a white garden needs some contrast to keep it from becoming monotonous, and frankly, I like color too much.  A garden design book about color schemes stated that blues and purples were soothing colors and provided depth to a garden, which was exactly what I wanted, especially when the lily bed in front of this garden is filled with a kaleidoscope of hotter colors. 

'David' phlox
I planted more white-blooming flowers than I ever have in any other garden area.  'David' phlox, 'White Swan' echinacea, a division of my white 'Becky' daisy, along with several varieties of white annuals provided the foundation of the garden.

Shades of blue and purple with accents of pink complemented the white. Blue Delphinium added a true blue in the summer . . .

 . . . and 'October Skies' asters picked up the color in autumn.

Agastache 'Heat Wave' wasn't the soft pink I intended,
but this was such an outstanding plant, I wasn't about to complain.

The blue/white/purple/pink color scheme definitely soothed me during the hot, dry summer.

But things don't always go according to plan in a garden:  this red, white, and almost blue grouping was purely accidental when I planted some free red gomphrena seeds close to the beautyberry bush and some white nicotania.

The color scheme was also ignored when I was choosing vines for the trellis.  I chose this 'Don Juan' climbing red rose for one side, because I had to have red roses.  I'm considering planting a clematis to climb up the other side, but for the first year I opted for an annual vine instead.  The purple hyacinth bean vine did so well that I will probably plant it again this year and wait to decide on a perennial replacement. 

Another element I wanted to add to this garden was fragrance.  Whenever possible, when I had a choice to make between different plants or cultivars, I tried to choose one that was noted for its fragrance.  Oriental lilies like this 'Casablanca' above were planted in the back north side of the bed; although they didn't do very well this past year, I'm hoping for a better show this season.  Small lavender seedlings, the phlox, a 'Ruby Spice' clethra, as well as the annual nicotania also helped to add some fragrance to the garden.

A garden, no matter how small, isn't created in a year.  I knew as I drew up plans last winter, that what I envisioned in my mind might not look as good in reality.  I didn't want to plant the whole area in perennials and shrubs that I might later regret; besides, the budget wouldn't allow that all in one year.  So I intentionally left the front area of the garden for annuals.

There was plenty of room behind the bench for an old favorite--tall pink cosmos 'Rose Bon Bon.'

A new favorite--shorter white cosmos, 'Knee High Sonata' was planted on the side border for all to see.
And when I looked at all the bare soil not covered by the small first-year plants, I decided to fill in some of the areas with more annuals grown from seed.  The result was a mass of blooms, especially in late summer and early autumn.

The garden on an early fall morning. One of my goals this year is to take better photos of it!

Side view of the garden, facing north, in early fall

Was I happy with the results?  Definitely.  Is the garden "finished"? Of course not.  There were disappointments, to be sure, like the Japanese anemones that never bloomed or the small Amsonia hubrichtii that didn't put on the expected fall show or the butterfly bush that mysteriously died.  But they can be replaced this spring, if need be.  And there is still some tweaking to be done as well as projects to finish, like adding some pavers in front of the bench as well as fixing the tilting bench itself.   Many spring bulbs were planted this fall, but whether I planted enough remains to be seen when spring comes.  I'm glad there is still work to be done here--otherwise, whatever would I do all summer??

Monday, January 16, 2012

Bloom Day: January 2012

Well, it's finally here--winter has arrived!  After weeks of an unusually mild winter, Mother Nature has decided it was time to get down to business. On Thursday a few inches of snow fell and the wind began to blow, causing slick roads and numerous drivers to land in the ditch.  The temperature plummeted with wind chills below zero one night.  Just two days before, I was hanging up bedding on the clothesline in the warm breeze and noticing surprising spots of green here and there in the garden.

The ruffled kale and pansies in a container outside the patio door were looking so good for January.  I had intended to run out and take a photo Thursday morning when the first snowflakes began to fall . . .

 . . . Oops!  I guess I waited too long.

While the kale may be in hiding, the snow does add some appeal, helping to create that much-desired winter interest in the garden.  Sedum 'Autumn Joy' always looks good with a little frosting of snow.

'Morning Light' Miscanthus in a sea of white makes me realize I really should add more grasses to my garden.

My favorite, though, is the still the beautyberry, adding some swirling accents in the snow.

There are still berries clinging to its branches.

The only real color outside is not found in my garden, however.  If you look very, very closely, you'll see a spot of red in this photo.  The cats were enjoying their early morning bird-watching through the picture window and were excited to see this cardinal at the bird feeder.  Naturally, the minute I grabbed my camera he decided he would fly off to safer ground.

This year I'm not going to complain about the snow or even the cold . . . at least not for awhile.  This is what winter should be like here in Illinois, and the garden can use the moisture and insulation of the snow cover.  The change in seasons always makes me that much more appreciative of spring.

In the meantime, I'm bringing a little spring indoors--my first attempt at forcing paperwhites. Hopefully, they will bloom about the time I'm finally get tired of winter.

This post is part of the monthly celebration of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted the 15th of each month by Carol of May Dreams Gardens.  Carol is a colleague of such noted experts as Hortense Hoelove (see previous post) and Dr. Hortfreud.  If you haven't already done so, be sure to visit her for a look at blooms--some without snow!--from all over the world.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Seeking Advice from Hortense Hoelove

For those of you unfamiliar with the name Hortense Hoelove, Hortense is often a guest blogger at May Dreams Gardens, answering gardening questions.  I'm not sure what Hortense's credentials are, but if Carol thinks she's qualifed enough to take over her blog once in awhile, then that's good enough for me.   She was the logical person to go to for the answer to a question that has been bugging me for over a year.

Dear Ms. Hoelove,

Something has been nagging at me for some time now, and I hope that you can help me.  A year ago I decided to dig up another area of the back lawn to create a new flowerbed.  Usually I don't consult with my husband before doing such things, but I thought it would be courteous of me to mention it to him since he is the head of lawn mowing here.  To my surprise, he wasn't very thrilled with the idea and told me, "You have enough flowers."  "Enough flowers"??  I've never heard this phrase before and wondered if there was such a concept.

When I created the new lily bed, I kindly made it longer than intended for ease in mowing around it.

I do believe what my husband was thinking was "Great--another doggone flowerbed to have to mow around," but that is not how he voiced his objection.  Fortunately, he eventually changed his mind (after some subtle persuasion that included a promise by me to mow this whole area) and even was helpful enough to help me spread compost all over the new garden area last fall.  But his comment still haunts me--did I miss something in my MG classes two years ago?  Is there a book or magazine article that explains this gardening theory?  Are there bloggers out there who have posted about their finished gardens with just the right amount of flowers?? 

Without the new Arbor Bed, I never would have had the space to plant more than one phlox.

Now I understand that there may be people who have turned every square inch of their lawn into a garden and really don't have room to add one more plant without taking something else out first.  But space is not an issue for me.  I developed this obsession with gardening only a few years ago, and my garden is very small compared to others I have seen.  I still have a few acres of virgin soil here, and unless I win the lottery and can afford outside help to remove all the lawn, I'll never run out of room for gardening!

OK, I admit it--I'm addicted to heucheras . . . and hydrangeas . . . and daylilies . . .

Perhaps my husband was thinking I have become too obsessed with gardening.  I suppose some people might even call me a plant "addict."  During the long winter months I get my garden fix by looking at books and thumbing through plant catalogs.  By spring I have a long list of new plants that I really must have in my own garden.  As if that wasn't enough, when I read garden blogs, I'll see photos of other plants that I don't have and that the writer is raving about.  If I had the time and energy to double or triple the size of my garden, I still wouldn't have room for all the gorgeous plants that I want!

Not a penny was spent on these ruby-red lilies, passalongs from my aunt.

Some family members (who shall remain nameless here to protect the guilty) think my addiction may be going too far and that I'm investing their inheritance in flowers and foliage instead of mutual funds. True, I do get a little carried away each spring, buying trunkloads of annuals, as well as new perennials.  And, of course, how can anyone pass up the fall clearance sales?  But I do try to save some money by starting some plants from seed, and then there are the free passalongs I get from friends and other gardeners.  Besides, my needs have changed in recent years, and I very seldom go clothes shopping anymore.  The money I once spent on clothes goes to plants instead, and plant shopping is so much more fun--almost everything comes in my size!  Another point I make to those non-gardening family members is that everyone needs a hobby; mine happens to be gardening.   I would bet that if I were a golfer, I would probably spend twice as much just on green fees alone.

I can never have too many coneflowers!

Dear Hortense, if you can find the time to answer this pressing question soon, I would appreciate it. If there is such a thing as "too many flowers,"  perhaps you could suggest a 12-step program for plant addicts like me.  The new garden catalogs are coming in every day, and I'm already developing plant lust--Help!! 



Update:  Hortense Hoelove has kindly answered my question and given some wise advice, which you can read here, if you are having similar concerns.  Mr. McGregor's Daughter also gave some keen insight into the male psyche of those non-gardening spouses, which can be read here.  Thank you, ladies!  I feel so much better now--let the dreaming and garden planning begin!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Look Back at 2011

Happy New Year to everyone!  A new year always brings the hope for better times and the chance to start afresh, oftentimes with plans to make important lifestyle changes. I've made my usual resolutions--eat healthier, lose some weight, exercise more, etc., etc.  I've also promised myself to make some changes in the garden this year.  Before I completely forget about 2011, however, I wanted to take a look back at the past year in the garden to remember what worked and what needs to be done.

The lily bed in January '11
January picked up where December '10 left off--snowy and cold--and ended with a blizzard that paralyzed much of the Midwest.  I can remember watching the news videos of Chicago traffic stranded in the snow on Lakeshore Drive after I had spent a day walking in the spring-like warmth of Portland, Oregon.  Each night I called my husband and talked to him after he had put in another 12-hour shift of plowing snow.  I was so thankful I had skipped town just in time, but payback came when I landed in Indianapolis the next week and had to spend an hour chipping ice off my windshield before I could drive home!

I spent the endless days of winter, though, checking out armloads of gardening books from the library and making detailed plans of the new arbor bed I had prepared the previous fall.  Dreams of the ultimate perfect garden kept me going through those cold, gray days of January and February.

Diane, yours truly, Monica, Lisa, Beckie, and Linda,  March '11
Even March started out cold, as Beckie, Lisa, and I had to bundle up to go to the Chicago Flower and Garden Show where we met up with fellow garden bloggers Diane, Monica, and Linda.  But it was a typical March--one week cold and snowy and the next with days in the 70's.Anxious to get a headstart on the gardening season, I started a few seeds indoors along with some winter sowing begun in February.

By March 15 a few little snowdrops--my first ever--and crocuses were blooming, 
and the foliage of tulips and daffodils were emerging.

My favorite place to be in the spring--my front yard.

Finally, the calendar said it was spring, but it was really April before it arrived in my little corner of the world. Spring--my absolute favorite season of the year!  Nothing makes me happier than seeing the first blooms on the redbud tree and then the crabapples burst forth in full bloom.  Garden work was delayed as the proverbial April showers turned into downpours, and strong winds blew away the crabapple blossoms much too soon.  But at least we were spared the floods and devastating tornadoes that hit many other parts of the U.S. this year.

'Professor Rontgen', a ruffled orange beauty with petite 'Fur Elise' in the foreground, both newcomers this year.

Finally, it was tulip time!  I'm not sure if I like tulips so much because of their unique beauty or because they are the ultimate symbol of spring for me.  Whatever the true reason, they are my favorite springtime bloom  and worth every minute spent on aching knees planting them each fall.

Spring was a whirlwind of activity as we prepared to leave the country for Daughter's wedding in Cancun and then, on our return, preparing for the wedding reception here on our front lawn in early June.  All I remember about May (after the wedding, that is) is furiously planting, weeding, mulching, and generally trying to get everything spruced up by the fourth of June.  Still, I took some time to enjoy the new irises--all passalongs--blooming for the first time in the lily bed.

'Rocky Mountain Blue' columbine, mid-May '11

I was also thrilled to see the first-ever blooms on the columbines in the shade garden.

Summer started early with some of the hottest days in early June, including the day of Daughter's reception.  June seems to be a transition time in my garden, with not a lot of blooms, but the shade garden was at its peak.  Summer blooms seemed out of sync, with the lilies later than usual and the coneflowers appearing earlier than usual. One of the highlights of the June garden was my first success in growing poppies from seed.

Agastache 'Heatwave' mid-August '11
After consistent rain throughout the spring, the water supply suddenly dried up in July, and we went into a second summer of severe drought and high temperatures.  After working feverishly in the garden all spring, I became a little lazy and ventured out to work only in the cooler hours of early mornings before heading back to the comfort of the air-conditioned house.  Much of that time seemed to be spent in the new arbor bed (subject of a post soon to come) weeding and watering all the new plants.  I fell in love again---with agastaches!  These first-timers in my garden thrived in the heat and drought and were a hit with bees and butterflies alike. 

'Limelight' Hydrangea September 'll
On a local radio show devoted to plants, one of the plant experts commented this fall that this had been a great year for hydrangeas--but not in my garden!  The drought seemed to hit them the hardest, even though I was diligent about watering them regularly.  The 'Endless Summers' produced lots of new foliage, but not many blooms.  The new Hydrangea paniculata 'Vanilla Strawberry' produced blooms, but they were much smaller than I expected.  It's the only paniculata I have planted in full sun, and I'm beginning to wonder whether that was a good idea.  We'll see how it does this year.  But the worst was my new 'Pink Diamond,' the hydrangea I thought I had killed last year.  It had some scrawny foliage, so I know it's still alive, but not a single bloom.  Only good old 'Limelight' (not so old, actually) lived up to my expectations, looking as glorious as ever by the end of the summer.

Looking back through last year's posts, I realized I never mentioned much about my vegetable garden.  Since I'm already turning this post into a novel, it seems, just a brief recap of the veggie garden:  spinach and lettuce did well in early spring, but the sugar peas were planted too late to pick more than a handful.  Green beans were a success as usual, with enough to put up in the freezer, but the squash and cucumbers were a disappointment.  The green peppers were a complete failure--they failed to grow past their original size and didn't produce any fruit at all, a mystery I have yet to solve.  The tomatoes were the biggest success, next to the green beans.  I planted half the number I usually do, but they still produced more than enough for us.  For the first time in several years, they weren't affected by tomato wilt, perhaps because of better spacing and the sturdier tomato cages I invested in this year.

As if to make up for the hot and dry summer we endured, Mother Nature rewarded us with a glorious fall.  The natives went crazy in the butterfly garden.

Front corner of the arbor bed, with petunias, zinnias, white cosmos, and pentas vying for attention with the fall-blooming 'October Skies' asters.

The new arbor bed reached its high point in the fall, with all the late-blooming annuals finally blooming.  With the warm temperatures, most of the annuals lasted until late October.  The warm and sunny days stretching into November also meant I had plenty of time to get fall clean-up done and some new bulbs planted for the coming spring.

By December, the garden had been put to bed for its long winter's sleep, but winter seemed slow in coming.  A far cry from 2010, the snowiest December on record,  2011 ended with only one light snowfall and some unseasonably warm days.  With Christmas preparations uppermost in my mind, I forgot about the garden until this week when I finally had time to look back and reflect on it.

Shade Garden, mid-July 2011.  I love it, but I wish I'd paid more attention to spacing!
If you've made it this far, thanks for hanging in with me on this long-winded review.  To be honest, this review of 2011 is as much for me as for any readers willing to trudge through it.  Although I was better about keeping a garden journal this year, every little bit I can do to remember details helps.  It's always good to look back at the past and remember our failures and successes, so we don't make the same mistakes again--though I'm sure I will be making lots of gardening mistakes once again in 2012:)  One of the biggest mistakes I've made, I realized this year, is planting everything too close together, in trying to fill up every inch of bare soil I see.  This year I've vowed that instead of adding another new garden area, I'm going to re-work the ones I have and try to give all these plants some breathing room!

And so we put away the calendars for 2011 and begin anew with 2012.  I'm looking forward to the next few months looking through gardening books and catalogs, once again planning that elusive perfect garden.  Happy Gardening in 2012!