Category Archives: Garden

Watering Gardens of Worry in Fall Heat Wave


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Browning ferns in odd late September heat. The calendar says fall, but the weather says heatwave.

A former professor of mine posted an interesting video on Facebook recenlty, a Vox commentary on how news media use a war analogy to cover natural disasters, especially hurricanes.

One point of the commentary is that positioning Mother Nature as the enemy in a heroic survival struggle absolves humans from a more difficult conversation. Such as, who put all those expensive developments on barrier islands? If a dam fails and 70,000 people have to flee—what does it say about that dam idea? And isn’t climate change influenced humans and a real thing?

Mother Nature isn’t our enemy. Earth does not have to mean, but be. It’s up to us to understand and do what life has always done: Adjust.

I am not trying to belittle or trivialize the struggles or tragedy humans face. We’re all in this together. I and my wife are conversing about which aid agency we will donate to, and I’m worried about in-laws in Florida and an in-laws family in Puerto Rico.

Instead, what I’m thinking about is how tragedies tug at our hearts in the short run, but sometimes we increase risk in the long run. We should be careful about earthquake resistant construction, about leaving flood plains open for water, about farming practices in Iowa that will absorb more water and leave less runoff.

Sadly, that does not seem the mood of the times. We fuss about how we react and think less about how we act.

This morning was a weekly ritual, these days. I unwound my garden hose and sprayed on the backyard gardens, trying to save what can be saved in this odd, hot, dry fall.

Ferns are browning—not a serious problem, honestly, because I know from experience most ferns just let their tops die in a drought and emerge again when the wet returns. But young bushes, trees and perennial flowers planted this year are at risk. Given heat in the 90s, I should be watering maybe every other day, but I only have time for once a week due to the crush of school work.

So, I do what I can and do what we always do—hope for the best. And hope I’m not wasting too much precious water. We’ll see what comes back next year. If a few flowers expire in my gardens, I’m aware that’s a pretty minor issue compared to flooded homes or lost lives.

Still, I’m trying to adjust to Mother Nature in the short and, I hope, longer term. My heart was a bit heavy as I sprayed my garden, despite the assistance of two young grandchildren who helped lighten my mood a bit.

I was wondering about what it would be like to be in oppressive heat on a tropical American island with no power and no way to contact relatives to let them know you’re OK. Puerto Rico, Texas, Mexico—I hope we do what we can to help you. Thoughts and prayers are just the start; treasure and action must follow.

And I hope we learn.

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Planting Before Father’s Day and After


Iowa Tiger Lily

Iowa Tiger Lily

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Iowa Tiger Lily

Lilies! They abound in the garden right now—especially the tall native Iowa Tiger Lily, commonly seen in ditches around the state. I planted some in my gardens so I can enjoy them up close—and they are my favorite lily. They are pretty, large and very hardy—compared to hybrid lilies which seen likely to fade in a few years, these lilies are tough.

And they spread, which is there one downside. Anyway, some recent garden pictures here in my Facebook floral gallery.

The Friday before Father’s Day, when plants went on sale at a local HyVee Drug Store, I picked up some comfort plants. None are new to my gardens, although some represent species that have died out. In past years, for instance, I had some nice Hollyhocks, but have not seen them for several years. I keep trying to plant new ones, but seem to have trouble getting these started—still, two Hollyhocks were among the comfort plant purchased, along with two Foxglove, two Butterfly Flowers (a kind of Milkweed) and two Shasta Daisies.

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To make room in a fairly sunny area (all of these are sun-loving flowers), I dug out some native Tiger Lilies, which ended up moved to other backyard gardens.

And today, more than a week later, I saw some inexpensive peony roots at a farmers market in Hiawatha, and bought one. More lily relocation was done to make room.

My wife is convinced the new peony looks terrible, and she is right, but my experience with transplanted peonies is that the tops often die, but that doesn’t mean the plant won’t come back. Anyway, I hope this one does because it’s supposed to be pink—a color of peony I like, but don’t happen to have in my gardens.

We had plans to add a new garden in back this summer, but it looks like that project may get put off. Time is getting away, as it often does. Still, it always feels like an act of hope to put new flowers into the garden—so here’s hoping for future Hollyhocks, Peonies, Daisies, Foxglove and Milkweed!

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Friday Floral Feature: The Week the Tick Magnet Appeared


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An awesome opossum visits the yard.

Not the chick magnet—the tick magnet. I was eating a late breakfast in the sunroom that overlooked our back yard, when I noted a freaky, scary looking creature casually ambling across the yard.

Behold the opossum. North America’s only marsupial, and about as ugly a critter as you would ever hope to see.

I went and got my 4-year-old granddaughter, who was staying with us for the day, and we watched the possum. It noticed the attention and darted off. Although they look fierce, most sources say the nocturnal opossum is generally shy and tries to avoid people. This one was certainly true to form.

And of all the native mammals to spot in my yard, honestly the freaky looking possum probably is about the least problematic. Squirrels dig up blubs and sometimes even bite holes in your eaves to set up house in your attic. Woodchucks chew woody plants. And rabbits—don’t get me started. As I’ve written on this blog before, if God were a gardener in the Midwest and Eden was in Iowa rather than Iraq, it wouldn’t be the serpent who messed up paradise. To an Iowa gardener, our native snakes are benign, helpful presences. No—in the Iowa Eden, the Devil is personified by that destructive critter second only to Bambi in its capacity to wreck havoc in the garden—the bunny.

That rascally rabbit.

Anyway, so what we saw was a possum. And, if it were a rabbit, I would immediately go outside and sprinkle around that kind of animal repellent that seems more like a prayer ritual than anything that has an actual impact on the universe, but we do what we can. For a possum? Meh.

It’s a tick magnet. Possums don’t pose any threat to plants, but are insect eaters, and, according to Iowa lore, their favorite snack is the tick. So you’re welcome to hang around my yard as much as you want Mr. (or Ms.) Possum. Ticks carry disease, and Possums eat ticks. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Anyway, in other garden news this week: Snow! Not winter snow, summer snow. Early each summer, the cottonwood trees release their seeds, and we have the faux snowfall that heralds warmer weather. Tuffs of fluff are in the air.

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Cottonwood seeds on front porch rocking chair.

Also, most peonies are still in the bud stage, but a clump in front picked this week to bloom. I know some gardeners don’t like peonies because they are associated with ants, but ants are everywhere and I don’t quite get that attitude. I don’t do anything to prevent ants on my peonies—they in fact are eating nectar the plant is producing with the intention of attracting ants, so I let nature be. The theory on the Iowa Extension site I consulted is that ants helps prevent pests. They are not required for peonies to bloom, but helpfully remove the waxy nectar film, and thus promote blooming—mostly, they are a neutral presence the plant may have evolved to attract just because other bugs don’t appreciate crowds of ants.

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And Irises are in bloom. Both Peonies and Irises appeared around town a couple of weeks ago, but my gardens are in a strange time zone where everything seems to bloom a little later. That’s OK with me, as long as the plants boom!

I’ve also been impressed with the bloom time of a Clematis in front that produces giant blue flowers. They flowers are in no hurry to fade, and there are many more buds. The Clematis season should go on for a while, since some plants in back are just starting to bud.

Anyway, it’s another rainy day today. I hope you enjoy some of the flower images from sunnier days this week.

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Friday Floral Feature: The Maybe Milkweed Week


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What do you think? Is it Milkweed?

Hope springs eternal in the spring. This week saw Dwarf Lilac in full bloom, a second Clematis with giant flowers take center stage in my front garden, and something else. Or so I hope.

Maybe Milkweed?

We’ll see. My gardening heart has been broken many times by this tough but hard to get started Iowa perennial flower. Of course I want Milkweed in my garden. It’s the only kind of plant that a Monarch Butterfly will lay eggs on, and the decline of the Monarch is at least associated with the decline of Milkweed in the Iowa countryside.

So, I try to do my part. Year after year, I sow the seeds. And year after year, nothing.

Last year, I purchased some “Butterfly Flowers” at a nursery. It’s a variety of Milkweed, and two of the purchased plants are coming up again this spring, which is nice.

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Yes, Milkweed–plant I bought last year is coming back.

But the common wild Milkweed plant grows larger and is preferred by the butterfly. It is a bit odd, I suppose, for a flower gardener to try to raise plants hoping that caterpillars will devour them, but that’s the way it is.

And the “weed” in Milkweed’s name is simply a mistake. It’s a pretty native perennial flowers, and all of us who grow anything to look at in our gardens ought to plant it, especially now. MMU, I’m looking at you.

Anyway, back to my garden this week. Something is coming up in front—something that popped up suddenly this May, just when Milkweed should appear.

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Peony after Wednesday night storm. Many in town are in bloom, but not in my gardens yet.

Sadly, there are lots of plants that look like this when they are young, but at least Milkweed is among them. After years of frustration, is this the spring when Mother Nature took pity on me?

I vote “yes,” although my vote means nothing. We shall see. At least I know that the store-bought variety of Milkweed has appeared this week, and that makes it a good week in the gardens.

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A second Clematis–with dramatically large flowers–bloomed this week.

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Friday Floral Feature: Dandelions Rule


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Phases of dandelion in my back yard–and yes, there is lots of creeping charlie, too.

I surrender. Dandelions were deliberately brought to the Americas by Europeans, so why fight any more?

Pretty yellow flowers of spring, summer and fall—I may spray now and then to knock you back, but that’s more for show or to get along with the neighbors. I can’t get rid of you, so I may as well learn to like you.

The gardens seem more summer like, these days. Early peonies have bloomed and quickly faded; the later smaller varieties of pink lilacs are getting ready to bloom. I’ve had one clematis plant spring forth in flower, and another that should break into flower soon.

And dandelions, which seem to be everywhere, offering their tempting pom poms to grandchildren who can’t resist the temptation to puff the fluff. Even the yellow flowers can turn chin or nose a fetching vermilion.

You win, dandelions.

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Friday Floral Feature: The Lawn Was Mowed


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Clematis buds are close to opening.

It happened this week—Tuesday night. I started the lawn mower for the first time in the spring of 2017.

It was a bit of an ordeal. It took something like 25 tries, but I got the mower going and completed the first mow in front.

I have not mowed in back yet—grass is much sparser there and I don’t mow that yard as often.

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Creeping Charlie in bloom.

In the gardens this week, I have grown impressed by both Lilac and Bluebells, spring flowers that have some staying power. Magnolia came and went quickly, ditto crab apples. But Lilacs and Bluebells soldier on, as the gardens shift from early to mid spring.

It will be crisp tonight, with a minor risk of frost. But overall, the weather in Iowa has been warm. I may even water a bit tomorrow, if I can eke out a few minutes.

Anyway, I already shot some images for next week’s update, since technically this update ends on Friday, May 5. On May 6, both early Peonies and a Clematis bloomed. Stay tuned for next week’s post!

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Lily of the Valley starting to bloom.

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Even oak trees are waking up.

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Friday Floral Feature: Stolen Tuesday Flower Photos


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Lilac in bloom. Sweet smelling time!

I already wrote about planting seeds with the aid of two granddaughters, so I’ll let that just be part of the Earth Day march for science post.

This week, cool April weather returned. We’ve had a generally warm and pretty April, but in the second half of the week, cold and clouds rolled in. It rained, and snow was also in the air, although I did not see any of the white flakes, and I’m OK with that.

While lows have been in the 30s, thankfully we have not really had a freeze, and with April entering its final days, I would expect that the weather trend soon will be much warmer.

Before the rains moved in midweek, on Tuesday morning I did a very quick walk in the gardens about before leaving for work, and I made some flower images in a few stolen minutes during the attractive golden light of morning.

I’m glad I have several different types of crab apple tree. Some are already getting past prime, but others are just coming on. In the front yard, the larger white crab apple is shedding many of its pedals, while its pink-and-white cousin (both trees were tiny twigs when they went into the ground on the same day, part of the same Arbor Day Foundation set) is just getting into its prime.

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Tulip in back garden.

Same story in the back yard—some crab apples are getting beyond prime bloom time, others are just kicking in.

The Moscow Lilac is at its peak and may be faded when sunshine returns. Redbuds, for the most part, are starting to put out leaves, so the pretty pink flowers aren’t going to be around long. One darker Redbud in front, however, is just getting ready to bloom.

Bluebells are still blooming well. Some Lily of the Valley have heavy looking buds, just getting ready to bloom. Early peonies are going to pop any day now—maybe once the sunshine returns.

Well, cool rainy days aren’t the best days to be outside. Still, to a gardener, cool damp days at this time of year are welcome. New grass is sprouting in back. And the grandkids and I recently planted seeds—and you know what they say about April showers.

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Crab apple in front yard.

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