January 28, 2013

A New Window to the Garden

Forgive me for straying off the topic of gardening, but I'm been directing my creative energies inside lately.  Recently we added a new window to our living room.  Learning photography has made me more aware of lighting, and I really disliked the cold, dark feeling that came from having only north-facing windows in this room.  So we removed a corner gas fireplace that we never used anyway and cut out a window on the east wall (on the center right side of the photo above).

Here you can see the new seating area around the new window, complete with a reading light for each chair.  The morning light through the window is wonderful, and the room is significantly brighter in the afternoon.  I enjoy being able to glance outside at the garden while I'm sitting at the piano.  You'll also notice the metal leaves sculpture on the wall, which has a funny story behind it.  It belonged to my husband's grandmother, and his cousins used to joke about who would take the ugly thing when she passed on.  We did take it, spray painted over the bronze finish with a pewter color, and now we get compliments on it all the time.  A peony from that grandmother's garden is growing right outside this window as well.  

As remodeling projects often do, our project kept getting bigger.  We ended up buying several new pieces of furniture and rearranging everything.  The couches are now centered on the windows to the backyard.  Thankfully the glare off the snow makes it difficult to see the sad state of my backyard right now.  Over the past few years I've been working on the front yard and shoving all sorts of random plant purchases in the backyard.  I'm hoping to get some landscaping projects finished in the backyard this summer, which will improve the view.

Here is a view of the piano with my favorite painting by Abbott Fuller Graves hanging above it.  I love the sun-speckled, overflowing garden that surrounds the front door in the picture, and the shutters are my favorite color of blue-green.  This painting has been an inspiration for my own garden.

I put together a new photo wall with family photos by my talented friend, Randi.  I'm still undecided on whether to repaint all the black frames grey or not.  What do you think?  A grandfather clock that was actually made by my husband's grandfather is on the right.  I'm so glad we were able to make room for this special clock in our living room with the remodel.

Another little project I finished last weekend was sewing a new valance for the kitchen window with fabric to match some of the throw pillows in the living room.  It helps tie the rooms together.  Of course the gardener in me loves the plant motif on the fabric!  I enjoying bringing the garden indoors with houseplants and various plant-themed decor.  I'm glad the garden has been asleep for the past few months to give me time to work on these indoor projects, but now that they're mostly finished I'm looking forward to spring outside. 

January 23, 2013

Icy Daggers in the Garden

We had some interesting frost formations outside the other day.  They looked more dangerous than delicate - like thorns or daggers or something nasty to touch.  The photo above shows twigs on a 'Kwanzan' cherry tree.

Here is the frost on a 'Green Tower' boxwood.

You can see the boxwood looks a bit faded from the winter cold, but this type doesn't turn completely bronze.  Our new front door is in the background - I love the extra light it lets in through its south-facing window.

A clematis vine growing on the east side of the house gathered some frost.

The branches of my dogwood trees have such a pretty form in winter.  When it snows, the twigs catch big clumps of snow like hands with fingers outstretched.

Here is one of my two frosty 'Blue Moon' wisterias.  I planted them two years ago and hope that this year they'll finally bloom.

Hopefully the earliest crocus will start flowering next month.  I heard birds chirping outside today, though spring is months away.  I'm enjoying the garden through the windows until then! 

January 9, 2013

Better Annual Flower Designing

During my first year of designing with thousands of annuals for the gardens at the Spokane LDS Temple, I learned a few things about planning annual flower beds.  Here are some ideas that I kept in mind when planning for the coming year.

1.  Where plants have room to grow up, out and down in pots and raised beds, you really need to use high performing plants that will grow exuberantly.  Proven Winners and other high performers are worth the extra money here.  Conversely, inexpensive old favorites can be a good choice in beds where there's only room to grow up and a little ways out.  For example, we can get Supertunias from our grower for around $3.00.   Other compact petunias are about $0.30.  In pots with limited space to plant but plenty of room to grow, a Supertunia is a good choice.  In a bed where we don't want the plants to grow over the sidewalk, I can plant 10 compact petunias for the same price.  This will immediately make the bed look full, and later in the season those inexpensive petunias won't have grown 3 feet wide over the sidewalks.

2.  Plan for color in cool weather and hot weather.  Because we're in a valley bottom frost pocket, we don't plant most annuals in the ground until the end of May.  Sometimes we get warm, sunny weather in June and the plants start growing quickly.  But some years it stays cool and rainy (last year it was 45 degrees F at noon one day in mid-June), and the heat-loving plants sulk all month.  So it's important to mix plants that love cool weather with plants that love the heat.  It's not very expensive to buy some lobelia or sweet alyssum to include in a flower bed, and those plants bloom well during the cool weather.   Last year I also appreciated the immediate impact of the lime green leaves of 'Marguerite' sweet potato vines.  Then when temperatures finally climbed in July, the petunias, zinnias, and other heat-lovers started growing and blooming happily. 

3.  Yes, a random mix of colors will often turn out pretty, but a planned color scheme will make a stronger impact.  Us gardeners appreciate texture as icing on the cake, but color is what everyone will notice and appreciate.  Taking time to plan before you start buying plants is well worth the effort.  In the coming year I'm looking forward to a bed that includes every bold hue from the rainbow, an area with dreamy pastels punctuated with lime green, a raised bed with a rainbow sherbet color scheme, and a bed with a classic mix of pinks and blues (really blue-violet to non-gardeners). 

4.  Mix old favorites with something unexpected.  At the temple gardens our focus is providing a beautiful, uplifting, serene setting for all the people who visit.  This includes older people who will appreciate the plants they've grown for decades as well as brides who will appreciate something fresh and trendy.  So I've included the geraniums, snapdragons, sweet alyssum and petunias that my grandmother loved in her garden, but I've also added something interesting to each bed.  These fun twists include 'Cinderella Double Lime' lisianthus, 'King Tut' papyrus and 'Rustic Orange' coleus.  By using a mix of plants in each area, we ensure that something will succeed no matter what mother nature throws out that year.

5.  Speaking of mixes, I think petunias are a great addition to any mix.  I used to put petunias in the same unfavorite category as marigolds, but I have since learned to appreciate their strong supporting role in mixes (though I still think they're boring on their own).  I can't think of another annual with as many color and growth habit choices as petunias.  Our grower has had great success with Supertunias, which put all their energy into flowering since they don't make seed (unlike Wave petunias).  That means no deadheading, hallelujah!

6.  Oh, deer.  We have problems with deer in areas outside the temple fence.  Here is a short list of annuals that are fairly deer-resistant:  lobelia, sweet alyssum, salvia, snapdragons, ageratum, annual vinca, zinnia, lantana, dusty miller, verbena and heliotrope.

7.  Perennial gardening is a waiting game, but annual gardening is a race.  Start off fast with an immediate liquid fertilizing after planting, plus a slow-release fertilizer to carry through the season.  Use your fingers or a trowel to make a little trench along the edge of the flowerbed and throw the soil into the center.  This gives water a place to collect instead of running out, and keeps your sidewalk cleaner.  Spread a 2 inch layer of fine mulch right after planting to keep the roots cool and moist while they're getting established. 

If you have other tips about designing and growing great annual beds, please leave a comment and share.  Good luck on your annual beds this coming season!