Sunday, September 14, 2014

The flowers just keep going....

I immediately identified with Casa Mariposa as she remarked in her latest blog post that she always feels surprised that her gardens continue to bloom this late in the year, even though she planted everything herself and should, of course, know what's in her own gardens. I feel exactly the same way. Even though we've had some chilly nights (and a couple days that were 25 degrees below the average temps for this time of year), my gardens continue to surprise me with many flowers:

My delphiniums have re-bloomed for the first time this year, and although this secondary flush is shorter in height than the June flowers, that means they are easier to stake than the earlier ones (nice for the lazy gardener!).


This combination of aster, mum and annuals at the corner of the border around our house addition is a study in bold colors, with orange, purples, blues and dark reddish-pink. I think I like these colors together.
These low purple asters edging my Front Border are
a lovely mix of light and darker shades.

The cosmos and zinnias are still a riot in the North Border. I want this show to go on forever.

These perennial sunflowers, helianthus 'Lemon Queen,' are just right for the sunny south side of our garage.
This is just three plants -- they like to fill in (and up).
The Yellow Garden is filling in quite nicely for being less than six months old. The yellow butterfly bush (the tallest thing on the right side of the stepping stones) is very close to blooming. I will make sure I get some photos of it when it does, as I've never had luck overwintering them here in Iowa. We'll try again this year.
The four o'clocks are in full swing here in the Peony & Rose bed. I planted these because I read that they are poisonous to Japanese beetles and I did notice that a few weeks ago when I saw the beetles, the roses not surrounded by four o'clocks were attacked, but the roses surrounded by them were mostly left alone. Wow, one of my ideas might actually have worked! I'll test my theory again next year.

A pretty pink 'Clara Curtis' mum in the North Border.

Dahlias and zinnias in the Cutting Garden. These pink dahlias might be the nicest I've ever grown.
I will definitely try to save these over the winter.

I switched out my pansies for yellow mums, marking the change from
summer to autumn. Window boxes are always so cheery, don't you think?

I'm so glad we (might) have at least another month or so to enjoy these late flowers. I still have mums that haven't quite bloomed yet, so I'll have even more to look forward to, and I'll try to post photos of them when they are at their peak autumn glory (there's a particularly impressive orange one that I refer to as being "hu-mum-gous" that never fails to knock me out with its size and color).

I'm just starting classes for my county's Master Gardener program, so I'll be busy this fall, but I hope to learn a lot of interesting things that will not only help me make my own gardens more beautiful, but also allow me to get involved in helping others make their own gardens more beautiful and productive. I'll try to occasionally post about what I'm learning as I go through the program. Wish me luck!

To a late and warm winter -- and thanks for reading! -Beth

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Garden Visit: Larry Rettig's Historic South Amana Gardens

One of the gardens that I have wanted to visit for some time is that of Larry Rettig, a gardener living in South Amana, Iowa, who I first became aware of through his columns on Dave's Garden. I was quite excited to learn that he had published a book about Amana Gardening and his own garden last year, and I immediately requested that our local public library purchase it, so that it would be available for residents to read. (I reviewed his book in one of my posts last winter.)

In his book, Larry insisted that he is happy to give tours of his garden to interested visitors upon request, so I emailed him at the address he provided in the book and I finally got to see his gardens last weekend!

Larry lives in South Amana, one of the seven villages of the Amanas, a fascinating communal order founded in 1856 that continued until the 1930s, and the villages of which are now a National Historic Landmark. He and his wife, Wilma, live in the brick house built in 1900 that Wilma was born in. 

Wilma's mother maintained a large vegetable garden that Wilma's grandfather established at least a century ago, as well as several ornamental beds that she established in the 1940s, after the communal order (which forbid ornamental gardens) was disbanded and became a for-profit corporation.

Because of its historic status, the garden is listed in the Smithsonian's Archives of American Gardens, one of only around a dozen in the state of Iowa to be included.

Larry and Wilma still maintain the large vegetable garden, which they use to save seeds for a seed bank of historical Amana/German heirloom vegetable varieties, as well as for vegetables for their own table. But they have vastly expanded the ornamental areas (and purchased an adjacent cottage and attached land to further expand the physical boundaries of the garden as well), and Larry has collected many rare species as well as common plants. 

Here are some photos I took on my visit:


The side of the brick house that Larry and Wilma live in, immediately adjacent to the driveway. There are a number of vines growing on the old-style trellis that most houses in Amana used for productively growing grapes, as well as some rare species petunias that Larry received seeds for from a plant explorer whom he knows.

The lath house that houses a bench and numerous potted tropical plants that must be moved inside during
winter. He has a total of nearly 200(!) pots that he waters, cares for and moves outdoors and indoors
in spring and autumn.

The historic ornamental garden bed that Wilma's mother laid out in the 1940s. The 'Annabelle' hydrangeas are the original plants that were planted in the 1940s and still survive and thrive in this location. I had no idea that this variety was that old (here's an interesting link to its history).

A birdbath that Larry found in a dumpster and imaginatively filled with plants
 that resemble a spouting fountain and water running over the sides. Very clever!

The adjacent cottage property that Larry and Wilma bought and restored. The cottage had originally been used as the communal child care facility (because the community women worked during the day gardening and cooking for the commune). The fence was copied to match the original fence and beds both inside and outside it are filled with cottage-style plants. 

The Little Free Library that Larry and Wilma have made out of a display cart that they owned, along a footpath that runs through the village.

A mimosa tree that is actually growing in the ground here in Iowa.
This south-facing bed is evidently protected enough to allow it to survive
even last year's terrible winter, and there is also a much larger crepe myrtle tree
a few feet away. Hoorray for micro-climates!

A long perennial bed that runs along the orchard.

The grassy lawn to the right of the last photo, where the Rettigs have hosted several weddings. Larry and his father built the trellised screen house in the corner in 1990.

The part of their vegetable garden that is devoted to seed saving for their historic
heirloom seed bank.

An apple tree of unknown variety that is apparently grown from a cutting taken from an
old apple tree that was proven to have been planted by Johnny Appleseed himself.
The one apple in the photo is the first this tree has ever borne!

A whimsical tree face, with a little tree gnome peeking out of a "window"
 in his tree house.

Larry thinks these lush-looking ferns are probably as old as the house, as it was
common to dig them out of the woods and plant them on the north sides of houses
at the time the house was built, around the year 1900.

A Chinese Seven-Son Flower tree (Heptacodium miconioides). This is Larry's second
of these trees (the base of the trunk of his first one can be seen behind this tree
-- he had to cut it down when it died of a mysterious ailment that not even
horticultural specialists could diagnose).


Larry and Wilma's gardens are planted with a mix of rarities brought back from plant-hunting expeditions and many common historic plants that would have been grown in an Amana garden a century ago. Touring his gardens was a lovely experience and I learned much about growing both the rarities and the more common plants here in Iowa. I highly recommend visiting him yourself if you are in southeast Iowa (you can contact me using the "Email Me" button at right, and I can put you in touch with him if you are interested).

Many thanks to Larry for taking the time to show us around his beautiful gardens!  -Beth

Sunday, August 31, 2014

August Roses

The most beautiful time of year for roses is, of course, June (as every gardener knows). But if the weather is right, I've noticed that there can often be two more flushes of bloom (in addition to periodic individual flowers): one in August and one more right before frost. Here are a few photos of some roses in my gardens during August:

Light pink roses in my rose cutting bed. I've moved these around so many times that I can't remember the varieties -- although I did put tags on them and could go find out if I really needed to and could overcome my natural laziness... 

A photo of my rose cutting bed. I've interplanted the roses with four o'clocks, which I've read are poisonous to Japanese beetles, and I hope this will minimize the damage those buggers cause (and at the very least, the annuals will camouflage the defoliated, spindly legs of the roses later in the season when they look their worst).

A single red bloom, with bright yellow four o'clock
(perhaps not the best color combination, but the
mixed seed packet results in random colors, and these
roses are mainly meant for cutting and taking
inside the house.)

More red roses.


These ones look a little nicer with matching four o'clocks behind them, instead of bright yellow.

Yellow 'Happy Child' David Austen rose on the east side of my house.

'Seminole Wind' (aka 'Rosarium Uetersen'), a climbing rose in my front border. I replaced the 'New Dawn' roses that were growing up each side of the arch over my front gate a year and a half ago with these, for two reasons: first, because 'New Dawn' was too pale pink in color to look good against the white wood, and second, because it never repeated bloom for me (I've read that there is a new breeding strain of 'New Dawn' being sold widely that doesn't repeat like the original strain -- or it could just be that it didn't like the full sun, regular watering, and feeding I gave it...) I've moved the 'New Dawn' to the front of the chicken enclosure in our kitchen garden, where it doesn't occupy such a high-profile spot.      

The other side of the arch, with the other 'Seminole Wind' climber, with petunias and snapdragons. I really do like this deeper pink color much better than the pale 'New Dawn,' and I've read that it blooms generously throughout the summer and fall. I'm excited to see it flower in the second year, since many climbing roses don't bloom much at all for 2-3 years (the first year they grow roots, the second year they grow in height and the third year should be full of glorious flowers to reward our patience). 

I've been enjoying this second flush of rose flowering, and I'm also looking forward to the final, late bloom period too. In some years, I've had roses in flower as late as mid-November, even after most other annual and perennial flowers are gone (and in other years, October sees out the last of the roses). Here's to a late and warm winter this year.

Thanks for reading! -Beth